Appearance in Chronicles of a Death Foretold
By: Monica Burch
Appearances matter more than reality in Chronicles of a Death Foretold. The people within the novel claim to care about honor, but in reality only need the appearance of honor. As long as this appearance endures, the reality of the situations is unimportant. However, when the appearance fails, the townspeople have to face their own emptiness and actual lack of honor. The town does not explicitly understand if they are lacking actual substance; they only believe they care because they uphold the appearances accepted by their society. Of course, once Santiago is murdered, everyone claims it was honorable, and yet the town still falls apart. While the town believes they care about honor, Santiago’s murder forces them recognize their actual lack of substantive honor.
The Vicario women represent the woman’s role in maintaining the appearance of honor through remaining virginal. Pura Vicario does everything she can, to make her daughters seem like the virginal beauties the town wants them to be. She makes sure everything she teaches her daughters will help them appear honorable. The Vicario women’s ability to make fake flowers exemplifies this understanding of maintaining the façade, as fake flowers represent the fake virginity of women. By making artificial flowers, these women know how to appear virginal when they actually are not. Pura even goes as far to not let Bayardo and Angela appear alone together in public even “two months before she got married” in order to maintain her daughter’s appearance of innocence before marriage (37). Of course, Pura does not care that her daughter is not a virgin, as long as she seems like one on her wedding night, producing the coveted “stain of honor” (38). In fact, Pura only beats Angela after she fails to fake the honorable stain, representing the societies preference towards lying to maintain the façade of honor. These women continually uphold these appearances because they understand the town’s accepted meaning for appearances.
On the other hand, the men in Chronicles of a Death Foretoldmust maintain their hypermasculinity to appear honorable. Many of the men throughout the novel attempt to display their macho attitude through different circumstances, in order to maintain their honor through a presentation of strength. Practically all of the men can be found at the local brothel, even the narrator who has a close relationship to the brothel owner. While in reality, men interpret honor depending on their own personal beliefs, but in this novel the men as a community have to decide to only put on an act that they have honor. In fact, many of the men are compared to actors or related back to movie scenes. By comparing the men in the novel to actors, the novel is directly representing the false reality these men maintain. Just like in film, the men are actors, only playing the part of a man with honor.
Bayardo San Roman is the ultimate actor. Upon his arrival, Bayardo already captures the attention of the town with his ability to seem hypermasculine. Even though many can somewhat see through his persona, Bayardo is still able to make them accept him for the act he puts up. While Bayardo is considered the peak of manliness, he is also described as looking like “a fairy,” a typically feminine trait (26). Bayardo presents himself in a particular way on purpose, but these observations of him as fairy-like, represent the true undertones of Bayardo, showing his outward appearance is only an act. Yet, since Bayardo at least puts on the act, the rest of the town can ignore the other signs that might hint at his true nature. In fact, Bayardo spends a great deal of time covering up his true self, as pointed out by the narrator when he says, “he had a way of speaking that served conceal rather than reveal” (26). Bayardo is the best of the town at putting on this act, which is represented by the towns adoration for him. Bayardo presents himself obviously different from his reality, and the town accepts this, showing the depths at which this town is willing to ignore the truth and except what appearances are presented. To prove himself, Bayardo even pushes to seem more masculine than the athletes of the town, challenging the town’s swimmers and leaving “the best behind by twenty strokes in crossing the river bank” (27). Bayardo tries desperately to prove the appearance of his worth. While some question some of his less masculine traits, this challenge of strength makes the town view him as “swimming in gold,” further representing that the town is willing to ignore obvious signs of femininity in Bayardo because he is able to give a strong performance of honor (27).
Interestingly, when Bayardo falters in his act, people of the town like him less. Bayardo does not fool the narrator or his mother in the end. At one point, Bayardo is described by the narrator as “more serious to me than his antics would have led one to believe, and with a hidden tension that was barely concealed by his excessive good manners” (28). Bayardo is cracking under his appearance, somewhat revealing his true self. When Bayardo slightly reveals himself to people, they distrust him because the act is gone, revealing his true lack of masculinity, and thus, honor. Once Bayardo shows some of his true nature, the town trust him less, showing to just what length the town goes in caring about appearances; it does not matter what is honorable, only what seems honorable.
Pedro and Pablo Vicario are no exceptions to this upholding of a façade of masculinity. The brothers had such a strong belief in maintain their false honor that they murdered an innocent man, just so the town thinks they have avenged their sisters own last honor. The twins continually pushed the idea that the murder was “a matter of honor” (49). While they seemed determined, it became clear this was just an act, but whether it was an act or not made no difference to the town; it was practically celebrated. Just like Bayardo, Pedro is compared to an actor. While shaving Pedro is described as looking “‘like a killer in the movies’” (63). Pedro looking like a movie-star-killer, instead of a regular killer, represents how even the town viewed their actions as a spectacle. The twins even spend a great deal of time trying to get people of the town to stop them, this way they seem honorable for at least trying, but don’t actually have to kill their friend. The brothers further reveal their discomfort for the murder when their description of the search for Santiago is riddled with inaccuracies. They claim they visited the brothel to find him, yet the narrator was there and never saw them return and neither did the brothel owner. The pair’s actions represent the lengths at which people in the town are willing to go in order to maintain their honor, even if it goes against their very being. This act was so against the twins being, many doubted its validity: “who the fuck would ever think the twins would kill anyone, much less with a pig knife” (69). The twins were trying to find someone to spare them “from the duty fallen on them” (57). Unfortunately, they were getting pressure from the town to actually go through with it, as represented by Pablo’s fiancé saying: “I never would have married him if he hadn’t done what a man should do” (62). While the twins subconsciously knew they should not commit the murder, they upheld the façade for the sake of their families supposed honor.
Because no one will stop them, the twins ultimately commit the murder; however, the murder’s lack of honorable appearances leads to the town’s down fall as they are unable to pretend the murder was just. The twins only go through with the killing because the town never intervenes. The boys were looking for a sign that not killing him would still maintain their family honor, but a majority of the town wanted the murder to happen. The twins told practically everyone what they were doing, many believe in hopes someone would intervene. However, once Pedro and Pablo commit the murder, the rest of the town scrambles to find a way to protect themselves against the reality of Santiago’s innocence. Just as Angela did not produce a stain of blood, revealing her lack of honor, the twins are unable to produce a stain from Santiago, showing that the murder is lacking honor. When stabbing Santiago, the twins recalls not seeing blood a first, representing the lack of honor in the act of murder. Without this metaphorical stain of honor, the twins have no justifiable reason for the killing. Further, because the town let Pablo and Pedro commit the crime, they too are guilty as if they themselves had wielded the carving knives. This leads them to fight to prove their innocence through testimony, but there are cracks in that too as no one’s stories lines up. The murder was obviously not honorable both in reality and in appearances.
The town cares more about the appearance of honor than actual honor. Many of the men and women within the town understand they can do whatever they want, as long as they can hide behind the screen of appearance. However, this also leads to people acting in ways that go against their personal beliefs, in order to appease the societal idea. Of course, when the screen is pulled back, many have to face this truth of their own lack of honor. Once the twins commit the unjustifiable murder, they along with the rest of the town have to understand their previous way of living allowed them to contribute to the murder of an innocent man. Relying on appearances doesn’t work for the town as no one can uphold the appearances well enough to hind the truth. Once this truth I revealed, everyone must scramble to protect themselves against their very own truth of lacking any actual substance or honor.
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. Chronicles of a Death Foretold. Vintage Books, 2003