Inclusion/exclusion: the abject other and its absolute passage to social order in Chronicle of a Death Foretold.
The abjection of the Other becomes one of the subtexts of the story, and the image of the boat one of its early representations. When on the day of the murder the ship arrives with its load of strangers, the locals immediately perceive the dangerousness of a possible intercultural negotiation with the newcomers. The narrator describes that day as a "distressing Monday" (3). Indeed, very early on in the story, the reader perceives this sense of distress but cannot yet identify what causes it. As the tale unfolds, s/he notices that, in the collective imagination of the inhabitants of the town, the appearance of the steamboat must have been associated with an image of otherness that makes them uncomfortable. The memory of what Ibrahim Nasar, who "arrived with the last Arabs at the end of the civil wars" (11), did to their place must have been still vivid in their mind. By then, the town warehouse "was in disuse," and Ibrahim Nasar bought it "at a cheap price in order to set up an important store that he never did establish, and only when he was going to be married did he convert it into a house to live in" (11). At first, the man wanted to transform the warehouse--a sort of monument, so to speak, which even if in disuse reminds the community of its own history--into a shop, then when he married Placida Linero, he converted it into a house. The detailed description of the house, to which Garcia Marquez dedicates an entire page of the novel, suggests that the makeover must have bothered the locals who now survey closely Ibrahim's investment. The community saw Ibrahim's deal as a destructive maneuver for the town. Like many other colonizers, Nasar had enough capital to buy off properties that should have rather remained in the hands of the locals. But this is not the only reason the locals feel antipathy for Ibrahim; what disturbed them most is that Nasar altered the town's tradition which still conceives of the house as being a locus of happiness and prosperity. The community grew agitated seeing Placida Linero being segregated in her own house. Her people were able to observe that she was oppressed and lonely; they saw that she "would sit [on the wooded balcony] on March afternoons to console herself for her solitude" (11).
Placida's misfortune destabilized the social rules that regulate and protect domestic happiness. According to the locals' mindset, the house is a place where family happiness should come to place, therefore it is an important investment in the economy of the Vicario family too. Conscious of such investment, Angela chooses "the prettiest house in town [which according to her] was the farmhouse belonging to the widower Xius'" (35). In Garcia Marquez's unnamed place, spouses, generally, are emotionally and practically attached to their house, and they hardly decide to sell. Clearly, the widower Xius has no intention to vend his because that house reminds him of his deceased wife; however, after Santiago makes him an offer that Xius cannot refuse: the man gives up, but he gives up the house and everything else belonging to him, thus giving up both body and soul. "'He died because of that,' Dr. Dionisio Iguaran said. 'He was healthier than the rest of us, but when you listened with the stethoscope you could hear the tears bubbling inside his heart" (37). By selling the house, which was keeping his domestic affections alive, the man inevitably dies. Ibrahim Nasar failed to comprehend the town culture that came to resent him and his progeny for that. After the ordeal, the locals directed their frustration to his son. Thus, along with Angela's honor, Santiago's death helps to restore the social and domestic stability that Ibrahim disrupted.
Ibrahim is not the only immigrant whose memory incites cultural unrest. Even Bayardo San Roman, who seems to understand the reason the widower Xius does not want to sell the house, thus anticipating a sort of smooth integration with the natives, stirs suspiciousness. "A very strange man has come," writes his mother to the journalist, "[...] and nobody knew what he had come for" (26). But Bayardo's project is clear: he wants to settle in the community and build a railroad. The plan is alarming because building a railroad is even more disturbing than buying a warehouse and transforming it into a spoiled nest for newlyweds. Shortening physical distances, and creating communication between places and peoples, a train, like the boat, would make the community even more vulnerable to alien influences. The town does not feel comfortable to have Bayardo around, and "his golden eyes," the journalist says, "had caused the shudder of a fear in [his mother]. 'He reminded me of the devil,' she told me, 'but you yourself had told me that things like that shouldn't be put into writing'" (28). Like Ibrahim Nasar, Bayardo too wants to get married to imprison his wife. Preluding to the impossibility of a romantic relationship between the two, the narrator gives a morbid description of the first time Bayardo sees Angela: "'When I wake up,' he said [to his landlady], 'remind me that I'm going to marry her'" (29). His ultra-confident attitude must have disturbed the natives who conceive of his marriage as an "outsider's scheming" (32). They resent him so much that, after the assassination, "still, no one had thought of him until after the eclipse of the moon the following Saturday" (84). This is how the narrator interprets the feeling of his community towards another settler who tried to destabilize its social order.
Bayardo is another foreigner who arrived in town by boat. According to Christian tradition, the boat symbolizes the medium on which the worshippers embark to defeat the danger associated with passions and with the loss of faith. (1) However, in the novel the boat plays a more subtle role than just that of rescuing the faithful, because it "didn't stop [to rescue the worshippers]. It appeared at the bend in the river, snorting like a dragon" (16), and Margot continues:
The boat whistle let off a shower of compressed steam as it passed the docks, and it soaked those who were closest to the edge. It was a fleeting illusion: the bishop began to make the sign of the cross in the air opposite the crowd on the pier, and he kept on doing it mechanically afterwards, without malice or inspiration, until the boat was lost from view and all that remained was the uproar of the roosters (17).
The ship, leaving a "shower of compressed steam," represents the distress the locals face when the vessel approaches their shores. That the bishop does not stop proves that the clergy cannot be trusted. The locals anticipate the bishop's behavior: "Placida Linero was right: the bishop didn't get off his boat" the journalist says (16), giving an insight into the sense of disillusion and betrayal that the community feels when it sees the boat. According to Placida, the clergy hates her town (8); in turn, the locals consider him a foreigner, an abjection, and thus reject him. In regard to the bishop, Angela says, "the fact is I didn't want to be blessed by a man who cut off only the combs for soup and threw the rest of the rooster into the garbage" (39). To Angela, the bishop's conduct is repulsive and she cannot identify with him. The hopelessness to recognize herself in the minister's manner reflects the inevitable schism between the clergy and the locals who conceive of him as the Other. Since the boat transports the ministry, the vessel comes to represent the threshold between the community self and the Other. This schism though is never absolute. An analysis of the image of the boat in Foucauldian terms helps explain its symbolic meaning in Garcia Marquez's novel.
In his Madness and Civilization, Michel Foucault discusses the image of the ship as that which represents the threshold between deranged and sane people. He focuses specifically on the "creation" of madness as a social scapegoat, and even if the Chronicle of a Death Foretold is not a story of derangement, Foucault's idea of "absolute Passage" clarifies the function of the boat in the novel. The philosopher notes:
The madman's voyage is at once a rigorous division and an absolute Passage. In one sense, it simply develops, across a half-real, half-imaginary geography, the madman's liminal position on the horizon of medieval concern--a position symbolized and made real at the same time by the madman's privilege of being confined within the city gates: his exclusion must enclose him; if he cannot and must not have another prison than the threshold itself, he is kept at the point of passage. He is put in the interior and exterior, and inversely (Foucault's emphasis 11).
In Angela's story, the boat is the medium that allows this exclusion/ inclusion of the Other in the community. Indeed, the bishop is neither totally excluded as he can be seen "on the upper deck, beside the captain's cabin [...] in his white cassock and with his retinue of Spaniards" (17), nor is he completely included. That "almost everybody" waits for him indicates that the majority of the community holds strong religious belief, respects the bishop as a spiritual messenger, and allows his inclusion, but simultaneously, the minister's physical absence determines his exclusion from the community. "Yes, even without the bishop's blessing, the festival took on a force of its own so difficult to control that it got out of the hands of Bayardo San Roman and ended up being a public event" (39). Here, the partygoers, as if possessed by an unexpected energy, dispel the sense of neglect that the bishop, with his egotistical attitude, instils in the locals. At the same time though, the "shower of compressed steam" remains, leaving the natives nauseated, a feeling that will strongly influence their attitude towards those who offend or try to destabilize their social order.
In Garcia Marquez's town, the Other can never be totally jettisoned, nor can it be completely internalized. Its abjection activates a dynamic relationship in which its presence becomes necessary to determine the subjective self. The clergy's presence will be felt throughout the story and equally rejected. This dynamic connection is clear in the scene where Father Amador confesses that "he had in fact received Clotilde Armenta's message and others more peremptory while he was getting ready to go to the docks" (70), and discloses the reason he did not stop the crime: "'You have to understand,' he told me, 'that the bishop was coming on that unfortunate day'" (70). The external (yet internal) presence of the bishop influences the nonintervention of the priest, inaction which he will regret as the crime is consumed: "At the moment of the crime he felt such despair and was so disgusted with himself that the only thing he could think of was to ring the fire alarm" (70). This moment of disgust allows the inclusion of the bishop as that presence which prevents the priest from changing the course of the events, and simultaneously, allows the rejection of the bishop as his influence causes Father Amador's inadequate response. It is a subtle connection in which, on the one hand, seen as abjection, the Other is discarded, but on the other hand, the Other finds its place as an alter ego in that same community that desires its elimination. According to Julia Kristeva in her Powers of Horror:
[...] there is nothing either objective or objectal to the abject. It is simply a frontier, a repulsive gift that the Other, having become alter ego, drops so that "I" does not disappear in it but finds, in that sublime alienation, a forfeited existence. Hence a jouissance in which the subject is swallowed up but in which the Other, in return, keeps the subject from foundering by making it repugnant. One thus understands why so many victims of the abject are its fascinated victims--if not its submissive and willing ones. (9)
A dynamic relationship with the Other is necessary to the assertion of the "I," the subject, which without its abjection is hardly able to define its self. And even when it defines its self, its identity can be but just a "forfeited existence." In other words, it is much better for "I" to confound its self with the abjection than risk losing its subjective identity. It is a relationship of complicity, and its dynamism consists in that the subject always at work with its abjection, and interacts with it to establish its self. The abjection is internal to the Vicario's community, and yet constantly pushed away, but the more it is pushed away, the more essential it becomes to give meaning to social structure/ the community self. After his death, Santiago becomes a presence difficult to dispel. "Everything continued smelling of Santiago Nasar that day. The Vicario brothers could smell him in the jail cell [...]. 'No matter how much I scrubbed with soap and rags, I couldn't get rid of the smell,' Pedro Vicario told me" (78). In the game of inclusion/exclusion, the community faces its abjection (Santiago), which is never completely discharged. Kristeva examines this in terms of the relationship between the subject and the improper/unclean. When she analyzes food loathing, which in the economy of Garcia Marquez's story can be analogous to the smell of blood, she notes:
'I' want none of that element, sign of their desire; 'I' do not want to listen, 'I' do not assimilate it, 'I' expel it. But since the food is not an 'other' for 'me,' who am only in the desire, I expel myself, I spit myself out, I abject myself within the same motion through which 'I' claim to establish myself. (Kristeva's emphasis 3)
The smell of Nasar's blood represents an interaction between the subject and its abjection. The community feels the need to exclude that smell because it is disgusting. Maria Alejandrina Cervantes, for instance, refuses to have sex with the narrator because, she says, "you smell of him" (78). Simultaneously though, these people keep Santiago's cadaver intact and lock up "those shitty dogs" (74) when, according to Divina Flor, they try to eat the man's entrails (73). To make sure that the dead body is preserved, "Cristo Bedoya had put the intestines back in place and wrapped the body in linen strips" (74) so that the body could be exposed to public view. "They'd brought in fans from the bedrooms and some neighboring houses, but there were so many people anxious to see [the body] that they had to push back the furniture [...]" (73). The moment in which Santiago is rejected to establish myself, myself makes the man's abjection necessary to its existence. The abject Nasar finds a niche, a distinctive place, in the community that supports Nasar's murder, yet mourns his loss as it cannot really dissociate myself from the man's physical presence.
Santiago Nasar is the abjection par excellence and, after Angela loses her virginity, his murder is essential to strengthen social order. Whether or not he really violated Angela's honor, he is the perfect scapegoat the community uses to reestablish its inner balance. That Santiago is depicted as an abjection and a scapegoat is clear from the onset. Margot says, "but no matter how much they tossed the story back and forth, no one could explain to me how poor Santiago Nasar ended up being involved in such a mix-up" (my emphasis 21). Obviously, this is the point of view of a woman who may feel some type of connection with the man; nevertheless, it indicates beforehand that Santiago could be innocent and that somebody should pay for the wrongdoing the Vicarios face. Nasar is abject enough to serve as sacrificial animal. From the beginning, the narrator describes him as a womanizer: "Santiago Nasar grabbed [Divina Flor] by the wrist when she came to take the empty mug from him. 'The time has come for you to be tamed,' he told her" (9). Like his father, he too tries to seduce a woman who works for him; and Victoria Guzman defines him in the following terms: "He was just like his father [...]. A shit" (10). The legacy of the Nasars is doomed from the moment Ibrahim arrived in town. Santiago is a man who deserves a violent death because, like his father, not only is he a womanizer, but he is also a blanco.
When Victoria Guzman reproaches him for trying to assault her daughter, she says, "Let go of her, white man" (9), indicating that the natives see Nasar as a blanco. According to Marc J. Osterweil's analysis of the Jewish and Arab diaspora in Bolivia, blanco is a category of extranjero as gringo is, but contrary to a gringo, a blanco belongs to an upper social class (such as that of Nasar). Osterweil notes that being considered blanco is a form of respect towards the rich Arabs and Jews, and that the unprivileged Arabs are still considered simply extranjeros, an adjective that carries more pejorative connotations. By calling Santiago "white man," Victoria, who belongs to a lower class, shows reverence, but at the same time, due to the man's behavior, she also disregards him, and "white man," especially in the English translation of the novel, sounds more prone to be interpreted as blanco than as gringo, suggesting thus a racial separation between the woman and Nasar. It shows not only resentment towards a womanizer, but also towards his foreignness, an attitude that has a precise historical basis.
The literature on the Arab diaspora in Latin America illustrates the racial struggle that Arabs face in their adoptive country. Albeit Osterweil focuses mainly on the successful integration of the Arabs and Jews into Bolivian society, also acknowledging that it has not always been the case, and in one of his notes he reports the words of an Arab-Bolivian student who claims:
We want to be considered Bolivians and we feel that we are Bolivians. I never say that I am arabe or turco--I always say that I am Bolivian. Look, my father was born here and I too. We are both Bolivian citizens. It is other people--Bolivians--who differentiate us. They think of us as extranjeros. It is due to envy--they perceive of us as wealthy. When they see us they think of getting more money out of us in the market. Gringo is applied racially--only to those of us who are blancos. In contacts--when we have fights or disagreements, they will call us turcos to insult us. When one goes to parties, also, you can see us on one side in a group and the Bolivians in their group. But generally we mix a lot. (Osterweil 164)
In the novel, the narrator also notes this inclusion/exclusion of the Arabs:
The Arabs comprised a community of peaceful immigrants who had settled at the beginning of the century in Caribbean towns, even in the poorest and most remote, and there they remained, selling colored cloth and bazaar trinkets. They were clannish, hard-working, and Catholic. They married among themselves, imported their wheat, raised lambs in their yards, and grew oregano and eggplants, and playing cards was their only driving passion. (81)
This typical depiction of the Arab immigrants suggests that while this population of immigrants remained and operated in their target cities, they were not totally integrated as they conducted their lives according to Arab traditions. Regarding Santiago, the reader deduces that he too must have been just half integrated as the people in town do not really want to save him from being murdered. Yamil Shaium, "one of the last Arabs who had come with Ibrahim Nasar, had been his partner in cards until his death, and was still the hereditary counselor of the family" (103), and is the only one who tries to prevent the crime. This detail sheds light on the position of the entire community towards the foreigners and on the ultimate purpose of Santiago's murder. It proves the strong sense of partnership the Arabs share as well as the indifference of the natives; it also indicates that, in the reality of the novel, due to their small presence in the community, the Arabs are vulnerable, unable to defend themselves from the locals who want to protect their endangered identity. That "Faustino Santos [...] perceived a glimmer of truth in Pablo Vicario's threat, and [...] asked him jokingly why they had to kill Santiago Nasar since there were so many other rich people who deserved dying first" (53-54), showing that the discourse on class plays a seminal role in this honor killing. To be foreign, rich, and Ibrahim's son, who first attempted to destabilize social order, is very unfortunate for Santiago whose story becomes a public matter.
The relationship between Arabs and natives often involves a class struggle. Louise Fawcett and Eduardo Posada-Carbo note that the integration of Arabs and Jews in Colombia was not always "too rosy." "The immigrants," they say, "did, of course, encounter obstacles to their socio-economic advancement. There was some prejudice, and local resentment against the turcos largely directed against their rapid success in the commercial field" (72). Fawcett and Posada-Carbo also report the words of a Colombian newspaper, which points out the jealousy these immigrants arouse: "It is surprising to see how the Turks prosper in Colombia. They arrive in the country with their cases full of trinkets and in no time have made a fortune. Almost overnight they become wholesale traders with considerable capital. Where lies the secret?" (70). Clearly the native people envy the immigrants' success, and the Vicario community in the novel is not less concerned about the fortune gained by the Nasars in town. It proves again that the locals use Santiago as a scapegoat to reestablish the social balance threatened by the presence of the foreigners. These people want to prove that even though "money makes [Santiago] untouchable" (101), he is still subjected to the social rules of a place that rejects him and his financial success. More than avenging the family honor, Santiago's murder is necessary to exclude the stranger from the community. If the Vicarios' honor were the sole concern, indeed, once regained it, Angela would see her place reinstated in society, but the story unfolds differently, and the woman moves away. She herself becomes a sort of extranjero whom the narrator hardly recognizes: "When I saw her like that in the idyllic frame of the window, I refused to believe that the woman there was who I thought it was, because I couldn't bring myself to admit that life might end up resembling bad literature so much" (88-89).
Charged with disappointment, these words reveal the possibility that the honor killing is an excuse to fulfill a more urgent social purpose: the exclusion of the foreigner from the community. To compare Angela Vicario's life to (bad) literature implies that her entire tale is fictitious, invented, and not only because she created the matrix of the crime, but also because the narrative (re)makes the cultural significance of the honor killing. The narrator's comment suggests that the entire case has been a pretext to exclude that which in the community disturbs the most: "Not everybody loved Santiago Nasar so much, of course. Polo Carrillo, the owner of the electric plant, thought that his serenity wasn't innocence but cynicism. 'He thought that his money made him untouchable,' he told me. Fausta Lopez, his wife, commented: 'Just like all Turks'" (my emphasis, 101). Of course Santiago's presence becomes problematic to some, and of course he is chosen as the perfect abjection to be jettisoned through honor killing.
According to the literature on conflict communication, the practice of honor killing involves more than just domestic relationships. Not only the family history of the victim, but also the cultural and historical frictions between countries may shape, ratify, and define the crime. Honor killing is often the dramatic result of the politics embedded in a community. To understand this type of crime one should consider how multiple environmental contexts influence human behavior. In other words, honor killing implies much more than the relationship between two families whose reaction to an offence is determined by cultural and political expectations. According to Dorjee Tenzin, Noorie Baig, and Stella Ting-Toomey, a social ecological perspective of the crime "involves both interpersonal factor such as incommensurate moral orders, role membership expectations, institutional procedural breakdowns, and communication malfunctions" (7). Garcia Marquez's novel captures these ecological aspects of the crime. The Vicario twins are not the only ones to desire Nasar's death; the community too demands his dramatic expulsion. The narrator explains this point early on when he tells in detail how Victoria Guzman and her daughter came to know about the brothers' intention: "they had been told it by a woman who had passed by after five o'clock to beg a bit of milk" (12). Whereas at first the women claim they were not aware of the imminent murder, later Victoria confesses to the narrator that '"I didn't warn him because I thought it was drunkards' talk,' she told me. Nevertheless, Divina Flor confessed to me on a later visit, after her mother had died, that the latter hadn't said anything to Santiago Nasar because in the depth of her heart she wanted them to kill him"' (13). These women want Santiago killed because he abuses them (l3); thus, the honor killing is not a business that concerns only the Vicarios, but social forces of exclusion are at work in the execution of the murder. Indeed, if a poor woman begging for milk knows about the twins' project, it is plausible to believe that the entire community knows about it, but nobody tries to prevent it.
Above all, what makes this honor killing a public affair is that the family, which should avenge its honor, is not the sole protagonist of the tale, and actually, its own story is almost marginal. Poncio Linero, the pater familias who should be one of the main characters in this crime, is rather described as "sitting alone on a stool in the center of the yard [...] the guests stumbled over him, confused him with someone else, moved him so he wouldn't be in the way" (44). True, Poncio "had lost his sight" (40), and his disability prevents him from being directly involved in the crime, but he continues to be a minor character throughout the novel, and instead of rejoicing as the family honor is regained, he dies a short time after the crime: "'His moral pain carried him off,' Angela Vicario told me" (83). The emotional pain of seeing the twins imprisoned must have greatly influenced his wellbeing. However, this pain, one would imagine, should be lessened by the certainty that Santiago's death restores Angela's honor. But this is not the case for the Vicarios who, following the mayor's advice, "left without anyone's noticing, sheltered by public exhaustion, while the only survivors of that irreparable day among us who were awake were burying Santiago Nasar. They were leaving until spirits cooled off, according to the mayor's decision, but they never came back (82). Clearly, Santiago's murder represents much more than just the result of a clash between two families.
For the community, the family honor is a convenient ruse to finally confront the Nasars whose foreignness and wealth destabilize social order. The town buries Santiago while the Vicarios are either dead, imprisoned, or exiled. The locals try to jettison the Other, but this latter inevitably stays. To Nasar are dedicated the first and last words of the novel. The character's description opens and closes the story which unfolds following a narrative circle: it starts at one point and ends at the same point. It starts with Nasar's image as he waits for the bishop's arrival; it continues with the man's inevitable exclusion; it returns to his abjection, eventually, keeping its rests, guts and everything, under native soil. Contaminated by the foreignness of the Other, through honor killing the community finds again its identity, myself. Yet not totally satisfied with its "forfeited existence," it includes Santiago's remains, which become symbolic of a necessary dynamic struggle that allows the subject to find its self. The inclusion/ exclusion of the Other is a crucial element of the novel; it represents the never-ending conflict between the "I" and the "non-I," between who dominates and who refuses domination. Garcia Marquez's story takes place in a specific part of the world, and talks about a specific culture, but the text is cosmopolitan and dispenses with a definite historical and cultural context. What happens to the Vicarios and the Nasars might occur virtually everywhere an abject one threatens the identity of the self.
Louisiana State University
United States of America
Chevalier, Jean, Alain Gheerbrant, and John Buchanan-Brown. The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols. London, England: Penguin Books, 1996. Print.
Dorjee, Tenzin, Noorie Baig, Stella Ting-Toomey. "A Social Ecological Perspective on Understanding 'Honor Killing'; an Intercultural Moral Dilemma." Journals of Intercultural Communication Research. 42.1 (2013): 1-21. Web.
Fawcett, Louise, Eduardo Posada-Carbo. "Arabs and Jews in the Development of the Colombian Caribbean 1850-1950." Immigrants & Minorities: Historical Studies in Ethnicity, Migration and Diaspora. 16:1-2 (1997): 57.59. Web. 4 April 2014.
Foucault, Michel. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. New York: Vintage Books, 1988. Print.
Garcia Marquez, Gabriel, and Gregory Rabassa. Chronicle of a Death Foretold: A Novel. New York: Vintage International, 2003. Print.
Kristeva, Julia, and Leon S. Roudiez. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982. Print.
Osterweil, Marc J. "The Economic and Social Condition of Jewish and Arab Immigrants in Bolivia, 1890-1980." Immigrants & Minorities: Historical Studies in Ethnicity, Migration and Diaspora. 16.1-2 (1997): 146-166. Web 4 April 2014.
(1) In the The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier, Alain Gheerbrant, and John Buchanan-Brown discuss the meaning of the symbolism of the boat in various cultures, included Christian culture. The boat, they claim, is an imagine present in many civilizations and it represents a "crossing made either by the living or by the dead" (106).
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|Date:||Jan 1, 2015|
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