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Gabriel Garcia Marquez incorporates and emphasizes different symbols such as the falcon, linen and boat to help foreshadow and characterize the murder of the main character, Santiago Nasar, in the novella “Chronicle of a Death Foretold”. Even if the readers know that Santiago Nasar will be murdered from the first sentence of the book, they are always searching and believing that something will prevent his death from occurring. The author uses symbols present in the Latin American culture to build up tension and suspense in the novel as they reaffirm that his death was destined and nothing or no one could have prevented it, destroying the readers’ hope.
The first symbol readers are confronted with is an animal, the falcon, which appears in the epigraph. The falcon in Christian tradition is a symbol which represents evil. The wild falcon is a predator that attacks other birds. Garcia Marquez uses lines from a poem of a 16th century’s poet, Gil Vicente, as the epigraph to the novel: “The hunt for love/is haughty falconry”. These verses are a summary of the entire novel and serve to foreshadow Santiago Nasar’s death as his alleged love story with Ángela Vicario provokes his assassination by her brothers to defend the family’s honor. As the hawk who once sighted the prey relentlessly goes after it, the brothers Vicario once they know the name of the man who deflowered her ordain to take his life. When analysing the diction, one can note that three words “hunt”, “haughty” and “falconry” characterize the dynamic part of the book while only one word, “love”, gives us the motif. In addition, the imaginary of these verses underlined by the use of the words “hunt” and “falconry” appeal to the readers’ senses by creating the image of an animal being hunted. Moreover, these two words are associated with the animal kingdom which leads the readers to characterize Santiago Nasar’s death with animal-like qualities such as inhuman, brute violence, grotesque and irrationality. This will result in being the case as his death was inhuman, symbolized by the use of crude pig knives to kill him. Brutal as he was stabbed repeatedly, almost slaughtered, grotesque as in the last moment of his life he was holding his intestine. Irrational because although everyone knows that he will be killed, no one will act and prevent it from occurring. This epigraph builds up tension in the readers as they know that the book will be about the search and murder of a man characterized by brute violence and inhuman qualities.
The novel is set in a small village in South America which has very strong Christian religious roots; therefore, the second symbol representing death is linen as this was the cloth used to wrap Jesus Christ when he died. Santiago Nasar is described several times with characteristics and symbols resembling Jesus Christ. “Santiago Nasar put on a shirt and pants of white linen, both items unstarched, just like the ones he’d put on the day before for the wedding” (page 3). The fact that Santiago Nasar wears white linen clothing recalls Jesus Christ and foreshadows his death. In the Jewish tradition, in preparation for the burial, the body is thoroughly cleaned and wrapped in a simple, plain linen shroud. Jesus, too, was wrapped in a linen shroud and buried. The author dresses Santiago Nasar with white linen as if he were already dead, telling through the symbolism that his fate has already been written. Furthermore, this quotation shows that white linen clothes were his dress code for special occasions and he was unconsciously going to a special occasion, much more special that the arrival of the bishop, his own death. This is underlined by the use of the word “unstarched” as the bands with which dead bodies were wrapped in were unstarched as they needed to be flexible, while clothing, especially ceremonial clothing in South America, are always starched so that the clothing looks ironed and keeps its shape. This foreshadows that Santiago Nasar’s death was predicated. The Vicario brothers had predicted to kill him ever since they were told he was the one who took their sister’s virginity and they announced it to the whole village.
Jesus Christ’s death was also predicted as it was mentioned by Old Testament’s prophets, and later predetermined by Christ himself at the last supper increasing the similarity with the novel. In addition, the white colour in the Christian religion is associated with purity and innocence: this foreshadows the fact that Santiago Nasar like Jesus Christ, once again, was killed for sins he had never committed, but rather for the traditional values and sins of their respective societies. Santiago Nasar was blamed unjustly on the basis of Angela Vicario’s simple words and from that moment he was destined to die in order to uphold the traditional code of honor since the Vicario’s family would regain its honor only with Nasar’s death. On the other hand, Jesus Christ was killed to uphold the tradition of the Jewish religion as he defied and outraged the Rabbis by claiming He was God. The use of the symbol linen makes the murder of Santiago Nasar similar to the one of Jesus Christ; he was the lamb that had to be sacrificed for the collective sins of the town and his death was written in destiny.
On the first page of the book we are introduced to another symbol representing death, the boat. “On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on.” The author tells the readers right away that Santiago Nasar will be killed and at the same time, he introduces the symbol of the boat, a boat that should arrive that day at the village. The importance that Santiago Nasar attaches to the boat arrival is so great that it appears to the readers that the boat is coming especially for him. The boat has always symbolized the means of transportation between the world of the living and the dead. Both the Egyptians and the Greeks imagined that the soul of the deceased was carried on a boat between the world of the living and the dead: the Underworld was separated from the world of the living by a river. The boat really comes for him and instead of running away, he wait for it, for his death. The structure of the sentence is typical of journalism, simple and linear; it contrasts with the narrative content, which is full of references to the classical tradition and Latin American literature. The boat is described again when departing on page 15: “It appeared at the bend in the river, snorting like a dragon, and then the band of musicians started to play the bishop’s anthem, and the cocks began to crow in their baskets and aroused all the other roosters in town.” The boat is parallel with the visual imagery of a dragon. The dragon is seen as the strongest and most feared animal as it spits burning fire which can further make an allusion to hell.
The departure of the boat is followed by crows from the cocks. The cock has more than one meaning as a symbol: on the one hand, it represents virility and also lust, that are the reasons why Santiago Nasar will be killed, but on the other hand, there is also the warning cock of St. Peter which reminds us that Peter denied the Lord and let him go to his fate, which is actually what the villagers will do by allowing a murder to be committed. The crow of the cocks therefore foreshadows the actions of the villagers failing to alert and prevent the murder. The diction used in this quotation makes constant reference to the animal kingdom as the author declares that the cultural context of the citizens will make them act inhumanely and irrationally during the murder.
Santiago Nasar’s death was announced in the first line of the novel and so it happens. In fact, death is the main character of the novella: in every page the reader can find a reference to his death either directly or indirectly through the use of symbols. Moreover, the dichotomy between the style typical of the news as it is also indicated by the title of the novella and the content which enhances in the dynamics of the story of the role of the symbols we have analyzed: the falcon, linen and boat. The symbols allow his death to be foreshadowed, characterized and declared well before it happens. In my opinion, death is the driver of the action as if the characters were only puppets. However, Gabriel Garcia Marquez is able to keep the tension and suspense till the last sentence, which leaves this remarkably thoughtful, precise and uniquely styled novella opened to the readers’ interpretation.
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