Chronicles of a Death Foretold is a story told by a man that returns to Colombian town 27 years after a baffling murder of his friend. Everyone knew about the impending murder, yet no one did something to stop two brothers from murdering the man accused of taking their sister’s virginity. This story is a detailed account of the moments leading up to the murder and what happened after. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut is a story based on the life of an American man who went to war, survived it, and attempted to live a normal life after that. He went through horrifying incidents during the war when he was captured by the Germans and put to work in the camps. This essay examines how the notion of “agency” works and its consequences in Chronicles of a Death Foretold and Slaughterhouse-Five.
The notion of agency relates to the capacity of an individual to take his own decision independently from the societal and cultural norms. In Chronicles of Death Foretold, town inhabitants strongly believe in family honor and would do anything to protect it. They consider themselves to be very civilized and fervently believe in cultural and traditional doctrine. Many of them let cultural norms and established traditions manipulate them, and will go to great lengths to exercise this “agency”. Nobody questioned brothers’ decision to do something to protect the honor of their family since a person without honor was considered an outcast of the community. The strong belief in honor influenced all the characters’ actions and decisions in this book. The Vicarios brothers killed Santiago in order to restore their sister’s honor. On the wedding night her husband found out that she was not a virgin. This was considered a great dishonor to the family; Angela’s mother even beat her for that. In this community, the wrong was used to justify another wrong, which is why most people did nothing to prevent Santiago’s murder. They believed that killing was an adequate punishment for taking someone’s virginity. In the morning of the murder, opinions of the town population differed strongly; some thought that Santiago’s lack of concern for his impending death could be because he was innocent, the others asserted that he had resigned to his fate or was too proud to bother with the fact that he had ruined a lady’s life. The colonel, butcher, and the milk merchant heard the brothers plotting the murder and did absolutely nothing to prevent it. For a community that believed so strongly in the concept of honor, they should have known that the two brothers were not joking and meant to kill Santiago.
Another cultural norm of this society was reflected in attitude towards the virginity. Women were supposed to be virgins when they got married, and if they were not, it was considered as a big disgrace to her and her family. This explains Angela Vicario’s family reaction to her loss of virginity. In this society, women were classified either as saints or whores (Marquez 34). This is evident from the way Santiago treated his fiancée and his cook’s daughter. The poor were preserved for abuse while the high class women were preserved for marriage and suffering: “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. 'They're perfect,' she was frequently heard to say. 'Any man will be happy with them because they've been raised to suffer.“ (Marquez 34).
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Marriage in this society was out of obligation; Angela got married because her suitor had money. The irony of the situation is that she married someone she did not love and when he found out that she was not a virgin he felt wronged and returned her to her parent’s house. People thought that Santiago deserved to die for dishonoring Angela and her family, but nobody seemed to be concerned with the idea that he was unfaithful to his fiancée. Before killing Santiago, the brothers did not even bother to verify if he was indeed the perpetrator named by the sister.