Menace and threat are two elements in fiction that often help to create tension and build towards a climax. These components are evident in David Malouf’s “Fly Away Peter” and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” under two overarching themes: sense of duty and violence. Through the perspectives and experiences of different characters in the stories, both Malouf and Marquez develop the concept of peril that is sustained throughout their stories of war and murder.
In “Fly Away Peter”, Malouf introduces the notion of threat in the context of war – a place where people, including peace lovers like Jim, are forcibly drawn into. Jim is invited by Bert to ride on the bi-plane and Malouf reveals his “blood fear, a bone fear, of leaving the earth” and is thus portrayed as being resistant to change. When the war arrives, he feels “panicky” on this new and “dangerous slope” that had once been “ground [that]… stretched away to a clear future” Brisbane is “sliding” towards Europe and the war as it is a duty befallen on patriotic men to prove their worth in defending the honour of their country.
Many people seem to be supporting this view; Jim meets a girl who says “passionately” she would “want to be in it” because it is “an opportunity”, and similarly his father feels it is a “chance to reach out and touch a unique thing”. Malouf thus draws our attention to Jim’s change as he “slide[s] with the rest… down into the pit” of war with “superstitious dread” and juxtaposes this to his initial “uneas[e]” about the “new presence” of bi-planes and man-made technology. This creates a sense of foreboding and threat, further emphasized by warnings such as “catastrophe” and “madness”, as Jim plunges into a brutal world of war from his sacred haven in the sanctuary (“the light, and then the dark”) to fight for his country.
On the other hand, Marquez expresses the idea of threat in “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” through the rigidness of the townspeople in their ideas regarding tradition and family honour. To uphold the honour of their sister, the Vicario twins perceive as their duty to kill Santiago who supposedly took her virginity. However, this crime is largely condoned by their Catholic society and even Father Amador the priest pronounces their innocence “before God”. Marquez presents a town where first-degree murder is justified in the name of the cult of virginity and it is the responsibility of the men in the town to defend this tradition. Prudencia Cotes “would never have married [Pablo] if he hadn’t done what a man should do”.
Her mother tells Pedro and Pablo them “honour doesn’t wait” and Clotilde Armenta voices her sympathy in saying it is a “horrible duty that’s fallen on them” as they are duty-bound to avenge Angela. The twins are forced to conform to society’s expectations of masculine assertiveness even if they “couldn’t sleep for the rest of [their lives]” on their conscience. In killing Santiago, the twins have “proved their status as men [and] the seduced sister was in possession of her honour once more” in defending the validity of their culture. The town can be viewed, to an extent, as dysfunctional and a tense atmosphere is present throughout the book as readers know the threat of this cult will result in an innocent man’s death.
The theme of violence is exemplified in many characters and through the eyes of Jim, we see the menace posed in Man’s capacity to cause suffering and death in “Fly Away Peter”. Even before the war, violence is hinted as being part of daily life when Jim witnesses the killing of a lone man “with his hands over his face with blood between them” as “another figure, hurling itself from the shadows, brought him down”. Although Jim has always been consciously rejecting any notions of violence, he discovers “black anger” in himself and a potential for violence when he faces Wizzer’s bullying later. He is shaken to realize that he has come “closer to his father’s [similar] nature” of violence unwittingly to the extent that he does not wish “to be confronted with some depth in himself… that frightened him and he doesn’t understand”.
Killing in war is also epitomized by the brutality of Clancy’s death where Jim experiences for the first time Man’s ruthlessness on a personal level. Clancy’s senseless death comes as a shock to him and Jim is greatly affected by this; “the hosing off never… left him clean” and often “woke from nightmares drenched in a wetness that dried and stuck”. Malouf forcefully juxtaposes the previous setting of Jim “buttering slabs of bread” with the diversely opposite scene of Clancy’s accident, effectively demonstrating the harsh reality of war. Clancy’s passing further shows another step in Jim’s loss of innocence as he feels touched by the horrors of war and menace is manifested in “Fly Away Peter” through the ordinariness with which violence presents itself.
Violence is a dominant theme in “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” as it is in “Fly Away Peter” as it leads to the ultimate menace of Santiago’s death. It is a minor yet significant part of everyday life for most of the town; Victoria Guzman “[disembowels] rabbits… pull[s] out the insides… by the roots and throw[s] the steaming guts to the dogs” and Leandro Pornoy dies “gored in the jugular vein by a bull” – all of which are accepted by the town matter-of-factly. The murder of Santiago is brutal as his “liver was almost sliced in pieces”, his “pancreas [was] destroyed” and there were “perforations in the transverse colon and… small intestine” among other injuries.
His death has been “brought on by any one of the seven major wounds” and this reflects an unnecessary level of violence on the part of the Vicario twins. Even after his death, Santiago’s autopsy is mishandled as “a syrup-coloured liquid began to flow from the wounds, drawing flies, and a purple blotch appeared on his upper lip and spread out very slowly… up to his hairline” and Father Amador remarks “it was as if we killed him all over again after he was dead”. Through the use of violence in the lives of common people and graphic imagery illustrating the aftermath of a murder, Santiago’s killing mirrors the menace in which the town is under in their acceptance of the idea of violence.
The themes of male duty and violence in both “Fly Away Peter” and “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” develop the concepts of threat and menace. Malouf uses Jim’s dilemma in enlisting for the war to highlight the threat of the blind trend in which men fight to prove their masculinity even though it results in countless lives lost and Jim’s experiences in the war that draw on the idea of menace in the form of violence. Conversely, Marquez develops the notion of threat through the tradition of the town surrounding Angela Vicario’s enigmatic predicament which precipitates the menace of Santiago’s murder wherein violence plays an important role. A tense and portentous atmosphere is thus crafted in both books as the authors expand on these themes, building up to a final climax.