Saturday, December 18, 2010

Essay on Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Essay on Chronicle of a Death Foretold

In Chronicle of a Death Foretold and The Cherry Orchard the motives behind revenge stem from insecurity and gaining acceptance. The Vicario twins callously murder Santiago driven by their faith in preserving the traditions of the Church while Lopakhin orchestrates a bloodless revenge against the Ranyevskies in order to gain their acceptance and equal status. Both these acts of revenge are based on insecurity on part of the institutions that the twins and Lopakhin are committing the vengeful actions: the Church and capitalism. The Church seeks to reinforce its position in peoples’ lives and needs to set an example while Lopakhin wants his capitalism views to be respected and integrated into the existing upper class. Therefore, revenge in Chronicle of a Death Foretold and The Cherry Orchard is a route to uphold the ideals of the respective institutions the Vicario twins and Lopakhin are attempting to endorse.

The Vicario twins’ retribution against Santiago is driven by their duty to uphold the traditions of an indifferent institution which merely seeks a way to recover its influence. It is self-evident that the twins commit the killing in the name of the Church because they flee to the church after the crime believing that they are “innocent before God and other men” (49). They carried out the murder firmly believing that their actions are justified by God but their ‘duty’ comes under question as the Church for whom they are taking such a fateful step is shown as pompous and distant. The image of the bishop on his boat already illustrates the distance between the ordinary folk and the Church. The body of water between the people and the boat symbolizes the disparities and strained relations between these two factions. The expression on the bishop’s face is characterized as “without malice or inspiration” (16), thus demonstrating his apathy and symbolically the Church’s indifference. His arrival in a modern steamship accompanied by a band represents the flamboyance of the Church which partly explains the disillusionment of the people with the institution. In order to drive the flock back to the faith and tackle this sense of insecurity, the Church has to set an example to remind people of the consequences of straying from the faith. Santiago is the sacrificial lamb and the scapegoat who will be ‘sacrificed’ to recover the institution’s name.

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The Church demands revenge in order to uphold honor as it deems that the sacrifice of a possibly innocent soul is secondary to putting the people back in line. The killing of Santiago, due to the fact that he steals Angela’s virginity, will induce respect and obedience for the Church once more. Parallel to the church, capitalism has transformed itself into a religion that is similarly insecure about its social position and hopes to ascend to the same level of respect and authority as the aristocracy.

Lopakhin’s revenge against the Ranyevsky family stems from his pride and desire to overcome the feeling of insecurity facing his fledgling capitalistic religion.

Lopakhin views the new ideas of capitalism as his gospel due to the fact that he has built up a fortune from nothing using his capitalistic methods and wits. The downside of his swift ascent into prosperity is his excessive pride in his capitalistic tendencies and a burning desire to overcome his humble background and feel accepted within the upper echelons of society. Lopakhin is a character whose ideas and propensities are ridiculed by the upper class which sees “what a drab life [Lopakhin] leads what kind of nonsense [he speaks]” (361). These comments logically hurt his pride and add fuel to his desire for revenge against the Ranyevskies. This fact becomes overtly plain when he buys the cherry orchard, the symbol of power of the aristocracy, and vents out all his pride and self-satisfaction for making his pedigree proud and acquiring the respect and clout of the upper class. His self-admiration and approbation of his ancestors reaches a zenith when he exclaims that “if only [his] father and grandfather could rise from their graves and see…how their Yermolai…he’s bought this estate, the most beautiful place on God’s earth” (383-84)! Despite all his smugness, Lopakhin does not covet the displacement of the upper class but merely desires that his capitalistic ideals be incorporated into the upper class, and capitalism be treated with reverence by the elite of Russia. The sense of insecurity of capitalism is shared by the Church as they both feel they need to strengthen their place in society. The new church based on mercantilist principles is attempting to gain acceptance and respect in society so it wrests the cherry orchard from the aristocracy believing that this acquisition will bring them the esteem reserved to the upper class and put the capitalistic middle class at the apex of the social ladder. However, Lopakhin underestimates his upper class opponents and in the end he becomes the epitome of a tragic figure.

Lopakhin’s placid revenge against the aristocracy is driven by his objective of garnering respect and social position for his middle class brethren however the more effort he puts into attaining the goals, the more he distances himself from acquiring these objectives. Lopakhin’s quest to eradicate capitalism’s sense of insecurity manifests itself through his attempt to marry into the upper class to fulfill his desire for assimilating the ingenuity and perseverance of the middle class with the social status, refinement, and respect of the nobility. However, his commitment to his business affairs is so total that “he’s getting rich, he’s occupied with business, and he has no time for [Varia]” (343). His work undoes all his efforts to intermarry with the aristocracy and fulfill his goals. This idea of “old money” uniting with “new money” could have been the first mechanism in erasing capitalism’s insecurity. Lopakhin detaches away from his target when he vents out all the self-gratification bottled up inside him following the purchase of the orchard. What could have been the symbolic acquirement of upper class clout and respect turns into a vulgar display of self-esteem that repels the aristocrats away rather than uniting both classes together. Lopakhin’s vulgar conduct is characterized through the stage directions which reinforce his self-pride through his laughter, stamping of foot, and uncouth behavior when he “pushes a small table accidentally and nearly knocks over some candle-sticks” (384). This behavior is not befitting a gentleman who is seeking respect and acceptance for his ideals, and further makes him a tragic figure as the more endeavors he inputs into attaining the goals; the more he separates himself from them. Therefore, Lopakhin reigns supreme over the social hierarchy but he does not gain the respect, sense of aesthetics, refinement, and status that a merger between the “old and new” money would have given him.

The gory killing of Santiago Nasar as an act of vengeance on behalf of the Church is highly successful in instilling the people with fear and respect for the Church. The Vicario twins kill Santiago in revenge for taking Angela’s virginity in one of the most brutal methods possible as the murder is readily analogous to the “carving of a pig” (2). Even the auditory imagery of Santiago “[moaning] like a calf” (120), during his stabbing suggests that this callous treatment is normally reserved for animals bound for slaughter. This already sickening murder is further exacerbated by continuous hints that Santiago may be innocent and “died without understanding his death” (102). It is clear that the Church needed a scapegoat whose “martyrdom” would wipe out their insecurity. Santiago is unlucky enough to be “sacrificial lamb” whose “martyrdom” would allow the Church to regain its former influence. The use of primitive, debauched but very telling elements by the Church definitely puts the people back in line as “people talked of little else for years to come” (110). The brutal effectiveness of the Church’s methods has reaped great respect for the Church which is not motivated by benevolence but rather by intimidation and raw violence.

Despite geographical and cultural boundaries, religious institutions might have some commonalities after all. The use of revenge, for example, is a reminder of the mutual machinations both institutions use to their advantage. The extent of change that has taken place in the world is quite palpable as both churches have not been able to keep pace with change and consequently feel insecure. Despite their diminished status, both organizations bounce back and carve out a significant niche for themselves in the society they are part of. These institutions both use revenge in order to accomplish their agendas but only the Church, utilizing crude violence, is successful in its goals. Thus, the extent at which religious institutions go to regain their influence is unfathomable and highlights the thirst for power that almost all religious bodies possess.

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