Presentation and Role of Religion in Chronicle of a Death Foretold Essay
Presentation and Role of Religion in Chronicle of a Death Foretold
Chronicle of a Death Foretold is set in Columbia, where the extreme theocentricity means every character’s actions are intrinsically affected by religion. Whilst Marquez also explores much deeper religious issues, the action of the novel centres on the God-fearing townspeople allowing the murder of Santiago Nasar, which clearly contradicts the Christian commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’1 Since female virginity is so venerated in the Catholic faith, when Santiago is accused of taking Angela Vicario’s virginity, her life would be worthless without it, and Angela’s brothers are charged with redeeming her honour.
The novel can boil down to the assertion that a man died because of the teaching of both the Catholic Church, and the embedded paganistic values that are subliminally prioritised. The novel presents characters using religion to give meaning to their lives, and Marquez satirises this role accordingly2. Evidence of Marquez’s satire of religion’s malfunctioning role is; “If God hadn’t rested on Sunday, he would have had time to finish the world. ”3
There is a subtle sense that Marquez hopes to probe and engage the reader’s opinions on religion by displaying both sides of the argument in his characters – those that are superstitious, and those who are religious. In practice, most characters are of both camps, which points to a mockery of religion. The theme of mockery is perhaps the strongest idea relating to religion to be conveyed by the novel. As an atheist, Marquez appears dedicated to accentuating the hypocrisies of the Catholic Church, saying himself, “Fiction was invented the day Jonas arrived home and told his wife he was three days late because he had been swallowed by a whale.
”4 This satirical quote highlights Marquez’s belief in the deceit of the Church, even from its conception; strongly suggesting the whole business is fraudulent. Marquez’s use of Christian references and symbolism lend a deeper meaning to the text, implicating the characters and events at a subtextual level. The majority of the character’s names are theological, however it is more revealing to note some of the names that do not hold religious connotations, such as Placida Linero5, who is a well known “(dream) interpreter”6, and Luisa Santiaga, a notorious precognitive.
These are two older members of the community who prioritise superstition and the paranormal over religion; therefore indicating a revival of paganism. Perhaps Marquez is suggesting that paganism is constantly just beneath the surface of South American culture, since honour is a remnant of paganism which has survived colonisation and the introduction of Catholicism. That religious authorities were powerless to stop Santiago’s murder (even if they had wanted to) indicates that the underlying pagan culture is the stronger.
A fascinating double standard is the town prostitute, Maria Alejandrina Cervantes, in whom Marquez has chosen to represent the Virgin Mary, the most pure and chaste woman. This character maternally mourns Santiago’s death. In fact, Maria’s role extends far beyond prostitution. Although she “did away with our (Santiago’s) generation’s virginity”7, she is described as apostolic, and is repeatedly reported as having taught the young males crucial lessons about marriage, love and life. The character that ran about the town minutes before Santiago’s death, attempting to warn him is ‘Cristo Bedoya’.
‘Cristo’ means ‘bearer of Christ’; in a sense, Cristo bears the burden of Santiago’s death. Santiago’s ranch, the ‘Divine Face’ is almost a pun, being a derivation of the phrase ‘Divine Countenance’, which means ‘the Face of God’. Perhaps a further mockery of Catholicism is the idea that ‘the Face of God’ was passed on by an Arab (who, presumably, was not Christian). The significance of these Biblical names is to enable the reader, especially a Western reader, a reference point, since they will already be familiar with the theological implications, but unfamiliar with the South American culture.
The reader will also discern the scores of parallels able to be drawn between Santiago and Jesus Christ, making Santiago a literary ‘Christ-figure’. Both were somewhat outcast, in Santiago’s case because he was not a native Columbian. This makes it easier for the town to allow Santiago’s death, and make him the scapegoat. The town’s unwillingness to save Santiago is similar to the Jews choosing to have Jesus killed rather than a murderer. In both cases, those who had the chance to save the innocent man felt terrible afterwards.
Jesus had foretold his own death, and although Santiago was blissfully unaware of his demise until it befell him, the narrator states ‘never was there a death more foretold. ’ In dying for the sake of Angela Vicario’s honour, Santiago is sacrificed for the sins of others, which was also Jesus’ purpose in dying. In addition, the seven fatal wounds Santiago suffers probably represent the Seven Deadly sins. Even the way in which Santiago was murdered is akin to the Romans’ killing of Jesus. “The knife went through the palm of his right hand and then sank into his side up to the hilt.
”8 The Romans ensured their victims were dead by stabbing them in the side, their hands having been pierced by being nailed to the crucifix. Incidentally, the Vicarios’ knives “kept coming out clean”9, which denotes Santiago’s innocence. This is amplified by his Christ-like appearance that day, dressed in white. Finally, since Santiago eventually dies in the kitchen, this could reflect the image of eating the body of Christ in the Catholic mass. Since the chronicle is written twenty-seven years after Santiago’s death, the reader is able to observe with a degree of objectivity the affect it had on the townspeople’s lives.
One in particular is the town mayor, Colonel Lazaro Aponte, who as a result of the incident became “a spiritualist. ”10 His faith was not the only character’s to falter under the strain of justifying murder. In fact, the faith of the older generation seemed already to have dwindled, as is notable in Placida and Luisa. The younger generation, including the narrator and Angela follow suit, as Angela states “The only thing I prayed to God for was to give me the courage to kill myself…but he didn’t give it to me.
”11 She also resents the gluttony of the Church12, asserting that she “didn’t want to be blessed by a man who only cut off the combs for soup and threw the rest of the rooster in the garbage. ”13 Angela’s radical discontent with the Church is presumably Marquez’s suggestion of a wider disillusionment with religion, beginning to seep through the more contemplative members of the novel’s characters, and perhaps even the real South American people. The immoral waste that Angela refers to is part of a much wider hypocritical routine.
This includes the “mechanical”14 blessing the Bishop bestows upon the town as he passes by, not bothering even to stop the boat to greet his flock. This event indicates the Church has long-since ceased to be a charitable establishment, and is now effectively a totalitarian state. One under the directive of the Bishop was the narrator’s sister; “My sister the nun, who wasn’t going to wait for the bishop because she had an eighty-proof hangover. ”15 In addition, the juxtaposition of the Virgin Mary’s name with the local prostitute, who lives “in a house with open doors”16 presents an appalling blasphemy.
These two representations go beyond mockery of Catholicism, and enter into sacrilege. Finally, Father Amador says plainly that the Vicario twins are “perhaps (innocent) before God”17. This embodies the ultimate corruption of the values of the Church – to condone murder and to profess the twins’ innocence directly contradicts the word of the Bible, and critically impairs his pastoral role. The non-linear style of the novel revolves constantly around Santiago’s death, (‘“They’ve already killed him. ”’18 and “whose sentence has always been written.
”19) With each revolution of the spiral story, more detail is displayed and more characters’ recollections revealed. This constant reminder to the reader that Santiago will die, as opposed to a linear story with a final climax, simulates the nature of the killing, with the entire town aware. By placing the reader in the position of those who share in the guilt for Santiago’s death (who (pour) “in to testify without having been summoned”20), Marquez succeeds in making the reader uneasy, and therefore challenge the morality of the culture and the religion that dictates it, as well as their own nature.
The guilty conscience the reader develops cannot be laid to rest, due to the unresolved and ever-present death achieved by the non-linear style. Marquez uses characters to present arguments regarding attitudes towards life, and the religion that presides over them. In particular the rejection of religion in favour of the more traditional paganism, which is beginning to seep through the Columbian society, despite religion’s stranglehold. By Marquez’s characters sharing their opinions, the reader in turn considers his own stance and questions religion’s role, which is no doubt Marquez’s objective.
It can be assumed that any reader of the novel would also reach Marquez’s satirical judgement of the role of religion. Bibliography The Bible. King James Version. 1769 Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Chronicle of a Death Foretold. London, Penguin Books, 2007 http://www. goodreads. com/quotes. 2012 Goodreads Inc. Mar G. Berg, Repitions and Reflections in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California. http://authors. library. caltech. edu/18939/1/HumsWP-0110. pdf