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In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Gabriel Marquez uses diction to show how traditions have gradually lost their meaning in Colombian society, leading the readers to question their own motives for following customs. Wrong motives could often hurt human relationships, so people should not value tradition before individuals’ well-beings. The characters in this book are contrasted with each other to show the changes in the meanings of traditions. The Vicario twins represent the change of honor and Pura Vicario and Colonel Lazaro Aponte represent the forgotten responsibilities of their parts in society. These show the reader Marquez’s criticism on the current immoral system of following traditions in the community.
One way traditions have gradually lost its meaning is shown through the use of diction of two characters, as one represents tradition back when it was a way of life and the other represents tradition that has become an excuse for wrongdoings. Pedro represents the tradition back when it was a way of life. When his sister, Angela, is returned, the tradition of maintaining honor determines Pedro to kill Santiago. When the townspeople ask him why he’s looking for Santiago, he replies “spontaneous[ly]”(54) that Santiago knows why. The use of the word “spontaneous” shows how he is used to it. He has lived through his life with traditions, so they have become a way of life for him. This is important because Pedro emphasizes that Santiago knows what he has done and has to accept his fate just like he is accepting his fate to go after Santiago. Because Pedro choses to live by traditions, his fate is foretold. Pedro fulfills this duty of killing Santiago by killing him with words. Even though he acquires physical weapons, he tells everyone about his plan. It seems almost as if he wants someone to stop him. When Colonel Lazaro Aponte later takes away his knives, he believes that his duty is over. This is significant because if Pedro wanted to kill him physically, he would have not told anyone, because if the town knew, someone might have tried to stop him. But the fact that he did shows how he was willing to kill him by just his words. He kills Santiago by the repetition of his answer, “He knows why”(54). Pedro kills Santiago with words by spreading word of Santiago’s sin. When everyone in town knows what Santiago has done, their views of him changes; people respect Santiago less than they did before. Pedro kills Santiago without damaging others’ well-beings and still gains honor for his sister. He anticipated what his actions could result in. On the other hand, Pablo believes that the only way for him to fulfill his duties is by physically killing Santiago. Pablo decides to kill Santiago and uses tradition as an excuse to justify his immoral action. Pablo convinces his brother that they have to kill him and sharpens the second pair of knives. Pablo claims that “before men” the killing was a “matter of honor”(49). The fact that he states “before men” shows how he did it for himself. He is using the fact that the killing is a matter of honor to reason it. This is significant because honor has lost its meaning. Instead of preserving honor by killing, he reasons the killing by honor. In the end, both brothers kill Santiago. However, one does it because it is his way of life while the other does it without any justification. This leads the readers to question what we truly do when we follow traditions, as some require us to hurt other people. And if we have the wrong motives, we may kill someone, whether it is by words or weapons, the way we do not intend to.
Another way traditions have lost its meaning is shown by Pura Vicario and Colonel Lazaro Aponte. They forget their true roles in society and worry about their appearances. Pura Vicario forgets the meaning of mourning when she mourns for her deceased child. Her mourning is described to be “relaxed inside the house but rigorous on the street”(31). A natural instinct of mourning is crying no matter the situation. However, Pura Vicario does not cry inside her house. Pura is putting on a show because she wants the public to see that she is mourning but does not cry inside the house. Also, the word “relaxed” means free from anxiety. Pura does not care about her child inside the house and follows a set of rules, which is to mourn in public. People worry about their outside images more than their genuine beliefs, but this should not be the case. Colonel Lazaro Aponte also only fulfills the most apparent deeds of his job as a mayor. Similar to Pura Vicario, he does not care about what happens in the town when he is supposed to. For example, he does not question the brothers about their intentions when he sees them with knives(56). This is important because he is supposed to stop any killings, but he does not even warn Santiago. If he truly is the mayor, he could have done so much more because he is the most powerful person in town but he does not. His action on the day of Santiago’s death is described to be the “final proof of his silliness”(57). The word silly shows how the people will not rely on him. People are supposed to go to the mayor for help and advice, but they view him to be silly, a man with no common sense, because he has failed to execute his tasks. Also, the words “final proof” show two things: he has always been this way and people no longer consider him as a mayor. These two characters fail to carry out their proper roles in society. However, Marquez is not saying that they are the only guilty people who valued appearance over responsibility. Even now, people tend to, but should not, forget the true meaning of their part in society.
Through the use of diction, Marquez portrays the defects of following traditions in the Colombian society. Traditions were so ingrained in their brains that they used them as excuses for our wrongdoings and forgot our roles in their community. But this is not to claim that they are simply the only ones guilty. Nowadays, everyone is so accustomed to certain beliefs that we do anticipate the outcome of our actions. We often fight and argue, which damage our relations. We should fix our traditions to make sure every one of us support the prosperity of all.
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