The Value of Honour in Latin American Culture

“The brothers were brought up to be men. The girls were brought up to be married” (p. 30). Honour is an aspect of life that has always been greatly valued in Latin American society or culture. For men, honour is simply acquired or shown through three main things; courage, assertiveness (strength), and authority, particularly over women. On the other hand, for women, honour simply lies in the question of whether or not they had been involved in a sexual relationship outside or before a marriage.The males of the society are expected to protect and defend this honour and any failure to do so doesn’t only result in the diminishment of the women’s honour, subjecting her to ridicule, but that of their own. This importance or value of honour in Latin American society or culture is one of the main issues that Gabriel Garc�a M�rquez manages to cover in his short novel, entitled Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Through his use of several narrative techniques, characters, and motifs in the novel, the degree to which honour is valued in a small Columbian town is made clearly apparent, allowing the reader to become that much more acquainted with Latin American culture.One of the main themes or motifs in the Chronicle of a Death Foretold is revenge. Although it’s learnt early on in the novel that Santiago Nasar dies, the question of how and why he dies are left unanswered until later on in the novel. By the last chapter, however, not only is the way in which Santiago’s murder took place made clear, but so is the motive. As said by Pablo Vicario, “it was a matter of honor” (p. 49). According to Angela Vicario, Santiago Nasar was responsible for taking away her virginity before marriage – her honour.In the defense of this honour, Pablo and Pedro Vicario set out to kill Santiago, reflecting on the courage and assertiveness that distinguish ‘honorable’ men from ‘dishonorable’ men in Latin American society. Marquez purposefully uses twins/two murderers to emphasize on the point that Santiago’s death was not only their fault, but the entire town’s responsibility (collective responsibility). Nevertheless, in preparation for the murder, “the Vicario twins [firstly] went to the bin in the pigsty where they kept their sacrificial tools and picked out the two best knives: one for quartering…and the other for trimming.” (p. 51). At this point, we’re not only given the impression that Santiago’s murder was going to be gruesome (foreshadowing), but that it was inevitable.This inevitability is made further evident when given the impression that Santiago’s murder was simply an act of tradition – a sacrifice, particularly through the line: “they sharpened them on the grindstone, and the way they always did: Pedro holding the knives and turning them over on the stone, and Pablo working the crank” (p. 52). In addition, Marquez’ use of sacrificial imagery throughout the novel also contributes greatly to this notion. Take into account such phrases as “carved up like a pig” (p. 2). In fact, a comparison between Santiago and a pig is drawn towards the end of the novel, when Pedro looked to stab his heart during his slaughter: “he looked for it almost in the armpit, where pigs have it” (p. 120).Nevertheless, when murdering Santiago, in order to ensure his death, the Vicario twins stabbed him several times, leaving him with seven fatal wounds and damaged organs. On the last page, we learn that he was stabbed to the point that “his own viscera [was visible] in the sunlight” (p. 121)! In court, the Vicario twins’ lawyer simply argued that the murder was a “homicide in legitimate defense of honor” and won the case, illustrating that ‘honour’ is valued to a large extent in the small Columbian town – a town that represents Latin America as a whole (p. 48). Therefore, through the illustration of revenge, Gabriel Garc�a M�rquez manages to cover the importance of honour in Latin American society or culture.Another one of the main themes or motifs covered in the Chronicle of a Death Foretold is the difference in the position of both men and women in society. As stated by the unknown narrator early in the novel, “the brothers were brought up to be men. The girls were brought up to be married. They knew how to do screen embroidery, sew by machine, weave bone lace, wash and iron, make artificial flowers and fancy candy, and write engagement announcements…[my mother] thought there were no better-reared daughters (Poncio Vicario’s daughters). ‘They’re perfect,’ she was frequently heard to say. ‘Any man will be happy with them because they’ve been raised to suffer” (p. 30).Therefore, women are essentially powerless in this town, while men are born with/hold the key to all the control and authority. For instance, while men are expected and allowed to pursue a career, similar to Angela’s father, or decide on whom they want to marry, similar to Bayardo San Roman, women are simply expected and allowed to do one general thing – get married and have children. They usually don’t even have any say in who they marry, similar to Angela’s mother, which explains why “they’ve been raised to suffer”, and their only job or chores are those of the household. Drinking alcohol and visiting the local house of prostitution, both considered as mundane acts among men, would be considered highly dishonorable among/for women.This not only illustrates the double standards that are present in the town, but the tradition of machismo – which relates to honour (men) – which is also seen in the Allende’s The House of Spirits, where Esteban, with immunity and without fear of punishment, essentially grabs and rapes any woman he wants. This powerlessness of women or male superiority is shown in the Chronicle of a Death Foretold through several of the story’s relationships, which, in turn, further reveal the level of importance of honour in the small Columbian town.For instance, take Pablo Vicario and Prudencia Cotes into account – when the twins passed by her house for a cup of coffee and left, “Prudencia Cotes [simply] stood waiting in the kitchen until she saw them leave by the courtyard door, and she kept on waiting for three years without a moment of discouragement until Pablo Vicario got out of jail and became her husband for life” (p. 63). In addition, according to the unknown narrator, if the twins hadn’t murdered Santiago Nasar (in defense of their sister’s honour) “she would never had married him”, further reflecting on the courage, assertiveness, and authority over women that distinguish ‘honorable’ men from ‘dishonorable’ men in Latin American society (p. 63). Therefore, through its illustration of the difference in the position of both men and women in the society of a small Columbian town, the novel manages to cover the level of importance of honour in Latin American society and culture.Lastly, through the use of such narrative techniques as jumbled chronology, as well as several literary devices, Marquez manages to further and more interestingly portray/put together the motifs, which depict the degree to which honour is valued in Latin American culture. To begin with, regardless the novel’s title, the story isn’t actually told in chronological order. For instance, we’re informed that Santiago Nasar dies in the first line of the novel; the second chapter, on the other hand, goes back in time and covers the background of the wedding, as well as Santiago’s condemnation; the fourth chapter informs us on the aftermath of the murder; and the fifth chapter simply builds up to the murder.Marquez possibly incorporates jumbled chronology in the Chronicle of a Death Foretold for two reasons: firstly, to simply recreate the way in which things or events are discovered in real life in the novel; and, secondly, in order to emphasize on the issue of ‘contradictions’ (reliability of memory) which come about throughout the entire novel. For example, on the second page of the novel we’re told that “many people coincided in recalling that [on the day in which Santiago died, it] was a radiant morning” (p. 2). Not too long after that, however, we’re informed that “most agreed that the weather was funeral, with a cloudy, low sky…” (p. 2).An example of a device used by Marquez which also adds to the novel’s contradiction (and themes) is clothing, employed to portray the way in which others in the story viewed certain characters in the novel, particularly Santiago Nasar and the Vicario twins. For instance, we’re told early in the novel that “[he] put on shirt and pants of white linen, both items unstarched, just like the ones he’s put on the day before for the wedding” (p. 3). The key word from the passage is ‘white’, giving us (others) the impression that Santiago is clean and pure. This, however, serves as a contradiction to the impression that we’re given towards the end of the second chapter of the novel -Santiago’s condemnation. In addition, the use of clothing as a device and it’s relevance to the importance of honour also relates greatly to the Vicario twins.Towards the end of the novel, we’re informed that “the knife [the twins were using to kill Santiago] kept coming out clean”, implying that their clothes were left pure and clean from the attack (p. 119). This notion of still being clean regardless of the commitment of a bloody and gruesome crime reflects on the community’s attitude towards the incident – “it was a matter of honor”, justifying the murder; therefore, deeming the Vicario twins innocent (p. 49). For that reason, through the use of such narrative techniques as jumbled chronology, as well as such devices as clothing, Marquez manages to further and more interestingly portray/put together the motifs (revenge and the position of women and men), which depict the degree to which honour is valued the small Columbian town – in Latin American culture.

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