To understand the role of religion in "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, first we have to understand the setting of plot, the era where the story has been set, the society and community it deals with. The work is set in an unnamed, remote part of Colombia. The novel is considered by many to be loosely based on the killing of Kitty Genovese in New York City in 1964.
For the novella that continues to win well-deserved accolades for its multi-faceted qualities since it was first published in 1981, the plot is disarmingly and deceptively simple: narrated in journalistic investigative mode, it pieces together and recounts how the Vicario brothers set about and finally avenge the honor of their sister, Angela, who gets married to the wealthy and suave Bayardo San Roman in a lavish ceremony but is spurned on the wedding night itself and returned in disgrace to her parents because the groom discovers that she has already been "deflowered". Pushed against the wall, Angela accuses Santiago Nasar , another wealthy inhabitant of Arab descent , of being her violator.
It is generally considered by most readers that the initial chapters lay bare the religious and spiritual makeup of the townspeople but I believe that religion is subliminally present even earlier, within the title of the novella itself. The very word " Death" is integrally and inextricably linked with matters religious. Afterall, aren't the mysteries surrounding birth and the eventual inevitability of death and its varied reasons (sudden, accidental or planned) the moot points of religion? Man, since times immemorial has looked heavenwards beseeching answers to numerous unsettling and puzzling questions with which our lives are beset with every hour of the day; from the mundane prosaic familiar everyday things to the agonizing ones about sorrows, deaths and destruction unleashed by natural calamities, freak accidents or brute force perpetrated by man himself. Religion has sought to provide succor and solace to its distressed seekers. Religion is meant to be a cohesive force, helping society to bond better and progress in a civilized manner. For the same purpose, religion, with its commandments and rules and laws and codes of conduct, monitors people's way of life to ensure that humanity and sanity remain intact and that the world does not disintegrate into a chaotic blood-thirsty mayhem of madness.
Instead, in the milieu presented to us in the novel, what we witness is the entire principle and driving force of religion being turned on its head. Over the years religion has been reduced only to its attendant corrupted man-made paraphernalia; traditions, customs, rituals, offerings, pomp, omens, superstitions, intuitions and divinations. Religion, in its grotesque form, is amply manifested in the novel.
The news of the impending arrival of the Bishop to their town also reveals their religious makeup. "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"(1). The failure of the Bishop to dock there for no ostensible reason other than that he did not like the town is read by me as a failure of that particular brand of religion too, to safeguard the death of Santiago Nasar. The novel is replete with references to Christianity and Catholicism. But the treatment of the same by the people is again a reinforcement of the fact that religion does not hold any profoundly exalted and revered position. There is hardly any religious fervor in Santiago Nasar's desire to wait for the bishop's boat despite his mother's dissuasion. For him, the primary incentive is the pomp and regalia of the Bishop's arrival. Religion, it is obvious, has become more of a spectacle.
With words like "pontifical dress of Santiago" (6); skepticism of Bishop's stop (7) Bishop not getting off his boat (16) the bishop's fetish for cockscomb soup (16); the mechanical sign of the cross (17) etc,...
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