Friday, December 4, 2009

The Uncertainty of Truth

The title of Gabriel García Márquez’s CHRONICLE OF A DEATH FORETOLD (Vintage, 1982) is true to the nature of the novel; it embodies two of the novel’s key characteristics. Notably, these two distinct characteristics—its straightforward writing and its indirect, nonlinear narrative—create an ongoing juxtaposition that enhances the aspects of each and consequently provide depth to the novel. Márquez’s ability to achieve this seemingly awkward marriage stems from his practice of telling/showing several things at once and from his exploration of the contrasts and inconsistencies inherent in trying to reconstruct an event that happened decades in the past.

Early in the story the narrator, a friend of the murdered Santiago Nasar, summarizes some of the accounts he received from the many witnesses of the murder as such:

Furthermore: all the many people he ran into after leaving the house at five minutes past six and until he was carved up like a pig an hour later remembered him as being a little sleepy but in a good mood, and he remarked to all of them in a casual way that it was a very beautiful day. No one was certain if he was referring to the state of the weather. Many people coincided in recalling that it was a radiant morning with a sea breeze coming in through the banana groves, as was to be expected in a fine February of that period. But most agreed that the weather was funereal, with a cloudy low sky and the thick smell of still waters, and that at that moment of the misfortune a thin drizzle was falling like the one Santiago Nasar had seen in his grove dream.

This particular passage is characteristic of many in the novel as it demonstrates how Marquez effectively achieves the odd combination of certainty and uncertainty.     
·         Straightforward writing: It conveys basic information in a seemingly clear way, yet manages while being straightforward to also reveal the actual lack of consistency on basic points. Here the inconsistencies include characteristics of the weather and whether or not Santiago’s comments referred to the weather or some other quality of the day.
·         Indirect narrative (voice of the narrator): Concrete details are woven together with inconsistent details. In this section the concrete include the time of Santiago’s death, the matter of death, that Santiago was in a good mood, and that he spoke to many people between 6:05 and 7:05.
·         Revealing much in a few words: This short passage includes elements of the plot—when and how Santiago was murdered, that there were many witnesses—characterization—Santiago, as a wealthy successful citizen, was someone others paid attention to, Santiago was casual and “friendly” and, setting—the town was near the sea, with a nearby banana grove, the month was February, and that there was a thin drizzle of rain.

Toward the end of the novel, the straightforward writing begins to overshadow the indirect narrative as the narrator gradually sets aside contradictions and a truth begins to emerge.
On the morning of his death, in fact, Santiago Nasar hadn’t had a moment of doubt, in spite of the fact that he knew very well what the price of the insult imputed to him was. He was aware of the prudish disposition of his world, and he must have understood that the twins’ simple nature was incapable of resisting an insult. No one knew Bayardo San Román very well, but Santiago Nasar knew him well enough to know that underneath his worldly airs he was as subject as anyone else to his native prejudices. So the murdered man’s refusal to worry could have been suicide. Besides…his reaction (at impending death) was not panic, as so often been said, but rather the bewilderment of innocence. (p101)

In this passage, the narrator’s voice is stronger, more assured. Because this shift in voice from surreal, questioning, and uncertain, as it is in the beginning, to analytical and journalistic, as it is toward the end, occurs gradually it is convincing. Also, the contrast from the beginning to the end adds emphasis and power to the conclusion of the story; it adds a sense of finality that would not be as well achieved without the gradual shift.

Despite the power of the ending, the conclusion of the novel, while convincing, may or may not be satisfying to the reader. The narrator does achieve closure and the perspectives of witnesses regarding Santiago are provided and explained, but the reader is made aware of the narrator’s perception that Santiago, “died without understanding his death.” Santiago’s lack of understanding is problematic. The reader is left wondering that in life there is no certainty and pondering which matters more the quest for truth or the actual truth itself.

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