The setting of a novel often plays a major role in a novel, in certain instances even acting as a separate character in and of itself. In world literature works such as Chronicle of a Death Foretold and The Stranger, many aspects of the stories, especially behaviors, actions, and beliefs are controlled by a prevalent cultural setting. However, Mï¿½rquez and Camus use the settings and their cultural implications with very different purposes. Camus uses the setting to enhance and draw attention to Meursault’s alienation from the rest of society, and therefore the rest of humanity. Garcï¿½a Mï¿½rquez uses the aesthetic of a small village and the actions of the villagers as a whole to implicate all of the characters in the murder of Santiago Nasar.
In The Stranger, Camus’ existentialist novel, Meursault is a Frenchman who lives in Algeria, an Arab country, which at that time was a French territory. There are many tensions that result from the fact that he is an outsider living in a foreign country. This forms the basis of his existence as an anomaly to society. The Arabs are represented as violent and mysterious, while the Frenchmen, such as Raymond and Meursault, are examined in detail and have developed characters. The Arabs are not given any dialogue during their encounter on the beach:
When we were just a few steps away from each other, the Arabs stopped. Masson and I slowed down. Raymond went right up to his man. I couldn’t hear what he said to him, but the other guy made a move as though he were going to butt him … Meanwhile Raymond had landed one too, and the other Arab’s face was bleeding. Raymond turned to me and said, “Watch this. I’m gonna let him have it now.” I shouted, “Look out, he’s got a knife!” But Raymond’s arm had already been cut open and his mouth slashed. (Camus 53-54)
This tension is also demonstrated by the earlier incident in which Meursault agreed to write a cruel letter for Raymond, his friend and also a Frenchman, to his Arab girlfriend, even after Raymond had just confessed to beating her until she almost bled to death.
Throughout the entire length of The Stranger, we see Meursault as separate from the rest of civilization. He is a perpetual observer and never a participant:
A little later the local boys went by, hair greased back, red ties, tight-fitting jackets, with embroidered pocket handkerchiefs and square-toed shoes. I thought they must be heading to the movies in town … At five o’clock some streetcars pulled up, clanging away. They were bringing back gangs of fans from the local soccer stadium. They were crowded onto the running boards and hanging from the handrails. The streetcars that followed brought back the players, whom I recognized by their little athletic bags … I recognized the distinguished little man among the others. Children were either crying or lagging behind. Almost all at once moviegoers spilled out of the neighborhood theaters into the street. The young men among them were gesturing more excitedly than usual and I thought they must have seen an adventure film. (22-23)
In this scene, he is both physically and psychologically removed from the setting of the activity. Other such passages are common in the novel, with Meursault simply narrating his observations of other people, all the while not partaking in their activities. Even when he describes his personal encounters, the tone is detached and he provides minute and detailed descriptions as if he is separate from the situation and is an outsider to even his own life:
I was sitting cross-legged on my bed and Salamano had sat down on a chair in front of the table. He was facing me and he had both hands on his knees. He had kept his old felt hat on. He was mumbling bits and pieces of sentences through his yellowing moustache. He was getting on my nerves a little, but I didn’t have anything to do and I didn’t feel sleepy. Just for something to say, I asked him about his dog. (44)
In removing himself from the society, Meursault is in a way adhering to the principles of existentialist philosophies. Although his self-isolation is perhaps unintentional, it is a result of his apathy towards the sentiments of humanity. He places himself above what he considers to be human frivolities. In a way, his self-isolation can be seen as a declaration of his supremacy over humanity and religion, or even a kind of self-consecration. The people cannot accept him as a part of society and therefore condemn him to be executed. At the end of the novel, he accepts this death as the only way to escape the inferior civilization and does not succumb to the will of the chaplain. Camus’ theory of the absurd is illustrated here, when Meursault recognizes the absurdity of human life, the meaninglessness of existence, and “the gentle indifference of the world” (122).
In the Garcï¿½a Mï¿½rquez’s magical realist novel Chronicle of a Death Foretold, we are presented with the idea that each member of the village is responsible for the murder of Santiago Nasar at the hands of the Vicario brothers. In a small village, such as the one in which the story takes place, all of the residents are connected and maintain very close communications. It is assumed that any news will be transferred very quickly among the villagers. However, not a single villager warns Santiago Nasar of the Vicario brothers’ plans, even though they declare their plans publicly and to many people:
Pedro Vicario asked Clotilde Armenta if she had seen any light in the window [of Santiago Nasar’s bedroom], and she answered him no, but it seemed like a strange thing to be interested in.
“Did something happen to him?” she asked.
“No,” Pedro Vicario replied. “Just that we’re looking for him to kill him.”
It was such a spontaneous answer that she couldn’t believe she’d heard right. But she noticed that the twins were carrying two butcher knives wrapped in kitchen rags. (Mï¿½rquez 54)
In using the setting of a small village, Garcï¿½a Mï¿½rquez is able to convey the implication that the entire village is guilty of Santiago Nasar’s murder. The numerous missed opportunities of multiple characters to warn Nasar places the guilt not solely upon the Vicario twins, but also each member of the community. Even many who did not miss opportunities did not have the initiative to warn him, and the ones who did try were mostly too late. The narrator’s mother, Luisa Santiaga, even declares, “It isn’t right that everybody should know that they’re going to kill her son and she the only one who doesn’t” (22). It is perhaps because the villagers simply assume that somebody else has taken the liberty of warning him.
However, another assumption that may have resulted in the lack of forewarning was a very cultural one: that the murder would take place to avenge the honor of Angela Vicario. In such an old-fashioned small village, many the characters justified the murder and allowing it to happen by declaring it a matter between the two families that they had to choose sides on. Prudencia Cotes, Pablo’s fiancï¿½e, even declared that she “never would have married him if he hadn’t done what a man should do” (62). Others turned to superstition to justify their actions. Luisa Santiaga, who wanted to warn Santiago, stated that she had “to take the side of the dead” (23).
The wedding that took place the night before the murder was a very elaborate and traditional one, with the entire village participating in it. As a result, many villagers were still inebriated and when people they heard the plans of the Vicario twins, they either did not comprehend or “thought it was drunkards’ baloney” (52).
Another cultural implication of the small-village wedding was that the bride would be a virgin on her wedding night. When Angela Vicario was discovered to be impure, Bayardo San Romï¿½n, her husband promptly returned her to her parents’ house. At this dishonor, Angela’s brothers were horrified and promptly decided to take avenge their family. The villagers agreed that the twins were justified in their actions and that they were “innocent…before God and before men” (49).
In these novels, both Camus and Garcï¿½a Mï¿½rquez weave in subtle plot elements and details through their development of the novels’ respective settings. Although both settings are based on real places, the threads of reality and the authors’ imaginations have become so intertwined that in each novel they form one cohesive setting. The authors both consider culture as a major facet in these settings and cultural assumptions are highly important in the stories: providing a basis for Meursault’s self-alienation and a core for the entire story of Santiago Nasar. In both cases, the traditions of culture served to implicate the characters of Meursault and Nasar.