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Dylan Rivera

Mrs. Balka

IB English HL 1

13 November 2018

Prompt 8 - Diffusion of Responsibility

One may say that when a person’s character is tested in the most difficult of

times, it is that person’s true character that shows. Those who do nothing in a time of moral crisis

often assume that it is unnecessary for them to get involved over something that does not concern

them - a phenomenon known as the diffusion of responsibility. This vice is tackled in Gabriel

Marquez’s novella Chronicle of a Death Foretold, as that way of thinking is the reason why

possibly innocent Santiago Nasar dies. Marquez argues that this mob mentality is ultimately

harmful to the community, demonstrated by the guilt many people had afterwards, the difficulty

in actually killing Santiago, and the final allusion to the Good Samaritan.

The people of the town felt an intense guilt relating to Santiago’s murder, even 30 years

later. This is immediately seen when Marquez uses the motif of smell to symbolize the shared

guilt by the town, as when Maria Cervantes explains why she could not take off the narrator’s

shirt - “I can’t’ she said. ‘You smell of him,” (78). This instance of smell referring to Santiago’s

brutal murder, on top of the fact that the Vicario brothers tried endlessly to wash their clothes in

order to eliminate the smell of Santiago, is a prime demonstration of the town’s disgust with the

murder - an action they simply let occur. Even people who did not directly take part in killing

Santiago such as Maria felt this way and disgusted when presented with the smell of Santiago -

symbolizing an unfair death that they perpetuated. Furthermore, the fact that Santiago’s mother
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could never forgive herself for the omen Santiago had that she misinterpreted is a notable

demonstration of guilt that reflects the attitude of the town. Even Santiago’s mother felt terrible

for what happened as she did not properly warn Santiago the day of his death when he had a

dream that hinted at his eventual murder. Evidently, this sentiment is important to recognize as it

is Santiago’s mother herself that realizes this and admits her part in failing to warn Santiago. As

both women in these examples display remorse when presented with the memory of Santiago, it

is easy to infer that the rest of the town would feel similarly due to their lack of action.

Furthermore, the difficulty in killing Santiago hints at how the town is responsible for

Santiago’s horrific and unjust death. When the narrator describes the actual killing of Santiago

he states that Pablo screamed, “you can’t imagine how hard it is to kill a man!” (118). This

desperate exclamation reveals much: as easy as it may have appear to kill someone considering

how armed and prepared the brothers were, it was still nevertheless difficult. It took lots of time

to finally kill him - meaning, the town and other bystanders had lots of time to intervene. A

killing that could have finished within a few seconds was extended to a longer period of time due

to the fact that nobody intervened to stop the Vicario brothers, both of whom deep down did not

want to actually carry out the slaughter. In addition to this revelation, Marquez’s use of

descriptive imagery is a key factor in grasping how difficult it was to kill Santiago, as he informs

the reader that Pablo “slashed” out Santiago’s intestines. Immediately, the audience is repulsed

by this vile act that the narrator describes so delicately. Ultimately, it took a slash into Santiago’s

stomach to kill the man, an act that can be seen to represent the “end” the brothers wanted to put

to the situation that nobody tried to stop. To the killers themselves, this was a last resort to a

killing they did not want to undertake, but rather an event the townspeople let happen.
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It is the allusion to the Good Samaritan at the end of the novella that finally hints at

Santiago’s innocence and ultimately the shared guilt of the town. After Santiago was stabbed

numerous times and the Vicario brothers fled, Santiago got back up again and “started to walk in

a state of hallucination, holding his hanging intestines in his hands,” (119). By accurately

describing the incident as a scene of a harmed man getting up and walking in spite of nobody

going to help him, Marquez makes this obvious connection to the Biblical story of the Good

Samaritan: both men were along a road, robbed of their humanity, and nobody came to help

them. In this sense, they are both innocent and it is those around them who are at guilt for not

intervening. This is reaffirmed by how Santiago, only moments before he finally collapsed, even

appeared to be smiling and physically well kept even as nobody got involved or even offered

help. The Good Samaritan is referenced here as nobody came to help as an innocent man was

dying. Once again, by doing this and connecting Santiago’s innocence to the Good Samaritan,

Marquez demonstrates how it was truly the diffusion of responsibility that led to Santiago’s

death and puts the guilt of the murder in the hands of the townspeople.

Looking at the shared guilt by the town, the difficulty in killing Nasar, and the reference

to the Good Samaritan, Marquez clearly shows his opposition to diffusion of responsibility. By

partaking in this phenomenon, everyone who is a bystander is guilt in Marquez’s eyes.