Chronicle of a Death Foretold and The Assault
Plato once said: “In their misfortune, people tend to blame fate, the gods, and everything else, but not themselves” (Plato). This notion is proven true both in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 1981 novel, Chronicle of a Death Foretold (CDF), which entails an investigative depiction of the events leading to a citizen’s death in a small-town in Columbia, and Harry Mulisch’s 1982 novel, The Assault, which revolves around the journey of a young man coming to terms with the death of his family during the liberation of Amsterdam. Chance is often defined as the occurrence of events without any distinguishable intention or cause and is a vital element in both novels. Mulisch and Marquez both incorporate chance in their novels in order to portray the causation of these violent incidents and their aftermaths. However, the methods and role chance plays in their novels differ.
Marquez instrumentalizes chance as the scapegoat for Santiago Nasar’s violent death, even though the true cause is traced back to miscommunication and a flawed value system. All citizens of the town believed Santiago’s death to be a result of fate and claim that “there had never been a death more foretold” (Garcia Marquez 50). Even the town priest, Father Amador, blames coincidence for the murder because it took place the same day as the bishop’s visit. Father Amador forgot to warn Santiago’s mother because “the bishop was coming” (71) and he became distracted. The irony that the priest was not alarmed by a possible murder that contravenes multiple religious precepts enforces Marquez’ criticism of the flawed views of the community and their inability to accept blame for their actions. Although the priest blames Santiago’s death on chance, he still suffers from “despair and [is] so disgusted with himself” (71). Thus, Marquez illustrates how, although chance is blamed by those complicit in the crime, this does not allay their guilt. Moreover, the Vicario twins’ dialogue, and their constant voicing of their intentions, portrays their desire to be prevented from murdering Santiago. Their reluctance is further substantiated as they “looked at [Santiago] more with pity” (15) than with rage or hatred, and easily abided by Clotilde’s request that they “leave him for later” (14). This indicates that even though the Vicario twins were victims of the societal values, they still had a choice in whether or not they would murder Santiago. Although they blame chance and believe it was “[destined] by God” (49), they made a conscious choice to murder Santiago, thus, eliminating chance as a justification for their actions. However, some events that indirectly lead to Santiago’s death were coincidental. For example, when Bayardo awoke just as Angela “crossed the square” (28) and decided it was she he had to marry. This could be considered happenstance, and it was due to their relationship that the Vicario’s honor was tarnished and had to be restored. Thus, if they had not met by chance, and Bayardo had courted a different woman, Santiago’s death may have never occurred. Nevertheless, Santiago’s name translates to St. James, who was the first apostle to suffer martyrdom due to false accusations made against him. The symbolic meaning of Santiago’s name implies that his death was an intentional sacrifice made by the town and the murderers, supposedly for the greater good. The town deliberately did not prevent his death because Santiago’s sacrifice “was a matter of honor” (49). Therefore, although some indirectly related events leading up to Santiago’s murder may have occurred by chance, the multiple opportunities to prevent the crime indicate that the underlying cause of Santiago’s death was not chance. Rather it was used as a justification by those complicit in the crime.Mulisch portrays the death of Anton Steenwijk’s family as coincidental, however, in contrast to CDF, this is actually the case in The Assault. Firstly, the Steenwijk’s house was invaded by the Krauts because Fake Ploeg was shot on their street by the communist Resistance. Takes, who was partially responsible for Ploeg’s death admits that he knew this event would have repercussions, but did not intend on harming Anton’s family. Takes believes it was simply chance, that Anton was affected, because if the Steenwijks had “rented another house in another street” (Mulisch 113) they would still be alive, and Takes could not predict “which house […] would get it” (113). However, similar to Father Amador’s dilemma in CDF, Takes believes Anton’s misfortune came about by chance, yet he still feels the need to “justify [himself] to Anton” (112). Likewise, Anton, who is aware that his family’s death was a result of chance, still blames himself for being left alive, because since his family was executed, he expected “[he] would have been killed too” (58). This indicates how even in cases where chance can be blamed for an unexpected result, it does not alleviate the feeling of guilt. Moreover, the symbol of Anton finding a dice in his pocket after the murder of his family and his relocation to his uncle’s house, illuminates how Anton was a victim of fate. Throughout the novel, Mulisch associates the dice with the symbol of fate, and during the first episode, Anton is compared to a pawn “being moved across the board” (16). Thus, the incident that caused Anton’s misery, was a result of chance and fate, since there was no evident intent for his misfortune. Although characters in both novels blame the violent incidents on chance, this is only the case in The Assault. However, both authors emphasize that blaming chance for an unfortunate outcome, does not reprieve one’s guilt.
Furthermore, Marquez illustrates how the townspeople in CDF took very deliberate actions to come to terms with the death of Santiago and their role in his misfortune. In particular, Angela Vicario, who initially incriminated Santiago and gave the Vicario twins the responsibility of killing him, resorted to “writing letters with no future” (Garcia Marquez 94) to Bayardo San Roman, possibly in the hopes of becoming a “virgin again just for him” (94) so that he would take her back. Consequently, after seventeen years, Bayardo showed up at Angela’s house to get back together with her. Both of these choices were deliberately made, possibly to give Santiago’s death purpose, since through Santiago’s death, Angela “was in possession of her honor once more” (84). Despite their insistence that Santiago’s death was subject to fate, both are fundamentally aware of their consequential role in his murder, and therefore take these steps to justify their actions. Similarly, Colonel Aponte, who did the bare minimum to prevent Santiago’s death, as he did not take the threat seriously, decided to become a “vegetarian as well as a spiritualist” (77) in hopes of receiving clemency. Moreover, “for years [the entire town] couldn’t talk about anything else” (97) because “none of [them] could go on living” (97) with the knowledge that they were responsible for Santiago’s death. Marquez portrays the irony of the town blaming chance, since the citizens truly are responsible for Santiago’s death and in reality are unable to convince themselves otherwise. Chance acts as a scapegoat for Santiago’s death, in order to preserve the town’s pious exterior. However, since conscious choices caused Santiago’s death, taking deliberate action is the only way to reprieve the town’s guilt and pardon their sins.
Contrastingly, the events after the incident in The Assault, were all subject to fate. These events gradually allowed Anton to face his past and move on with his life. Firstly, as an adult, Anton coincidentally encountered Fake Ploeg Junior and Cor Takes and recognized that they could empathize with his anguish. Moreover, Anton realized that Fake suffered a worse fortune, as Fake was only qualified to “[work] in an appliance store” (Mulisch 87), and is characterized as an “aggressive” and “threatening” man. Similarly, Takes is characterized as a “sloppy, unhappy drunk [living] in a basement” (141), whereas Anton has a family and a stable job. Anton’s realization that he is not suffering alone is the key to his recovery from the incident. Additionally, after avoiding all events related to politics, Anton suffered from an unbearable toothache, which unexpectedly lead to his participation in the demonstration against nuclear arms. Anton’s experience is depicted as “dreamlike” (169), “peaceful” (172) and a “euphoria” (169). Through the diction used to illustrate Anton’s experience, Mulisch portrays how this demonstration allows Anton to face his past. Thus, Anton’s acceptance of his past is a result of a series of coincidences. This is a direct contrast to CDF, where after the violent incident, the only way to cope with the violent incident is to take deliberate steps to justify one’s actions. However, similar to Marquez, Mulisch illustrates how the causation is significant for the resolution. In this case chance was the cause of the incident and thus, chance was also critical for the resolution for those affected by the incident.
Throughout CDF and The Assault, chance plays an important role in the events leading up to and resulting from the violent incident. Marquez depicts chance as a scapegoat for the incident, which the inhabitants readily accept, even though it is not the true cause for Santiago’s death. On the other hand, Mulisch uses chance as the actual cause and resolution of the assault, even though many of those affected by the repercussions have difficulties accepting this. This enigma around whether chance can be used as a legitimate reason for misfortune, is something people face in everyday-life. This is often referred to as the “blame game”, in which humans blame unexpected results on coincidence or fate, because they cannot gather the courage to take responsibility for the consequences of their choices.