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World Lit Essay – Chronicle of a Death

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Religion has been a vital part of society throughout history, it is therefore not surprising that it is major in the in throughout the novels One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Religion plays a fundamental role in both novels, however also a very different role in each. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is more interested in ridiculing religion; however he also uses religion to expose the personality of many of his characters by their attitude towards religion. Alexander Solzhenitsyn does not bring religion into his novel until the closing stages but it plays a large role in the protagonists changing attitude towards his life.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold intertwines the themes of religion and honour. The two major themes progress the plot forward while revealing character personality. The protagonist of the novel, Santiago Nassar, is still young and yet to see the hypocrisy of the clergy that his mother forewarns of. She says

“He’ll give an obligatory blessing, as always, and go back the way he came” (Marquez 8)

This is true, with the bishop failing even to get off the boat for a town that relishes his arrival and have prepared greatly. The bishop is also hugely wasteful, demanding that many roosters be killed merely for their cockscombs as to be used in his favourite soup. Catholicism is a religion that is supposedly based upon the worship, amnesty and acceptance. However this particular religious leader, who should play a prominent role in teaching the religions followers of these values, does not even abide by the basic teachings and even shows a lack of interest to the people of the town.

“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”(Marquez 17)

He seems to show little devotion to his faith merely making a “mechanical cross” to his followers and has no “malice or inspiration” when doing so. This showing hypocrisy as a man who does not even promote catholic teachings within his own actions is an important figure within the church. Marquez creates a satire of this so called authority figure and this exposes the people of the town to be close minded people who will still follow a man who has created such a facade around himself. This being the key role of the bishop in the novel, to expose the people of the town. The author continues to expose the apparent hypocrisy of religion within South American countries.

The other key character within the novel relating to religion being Father Amador, who plays a much more important role within the plot of the novella. Father Amador is the local priest who is a prominent member of the community. He is foretold of the proposed murder of Santiago Nassar yet turns the other cheek towards the actions as he feels that religion allows the killing to occur. He believes this because it is a murder required to protect the honour of a family, it must go forth. This is the general attitude of the town, in which so many of them know of the murder yet so few take action. Marquez asks the question, how a town with such a strong religious culture can turn their backs on a murder of this sort.

Religion in the town is more of an obligation than a choice; this attitude even extends to the bishop. However this obligation in the end leads to the death of Santiago Nassar and it must be pondered whether without the strong religious background of the town and the fear of not going to heaven would this murder of occurred?

One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovich does not contain religion throughout like Chronicle of a Death Foretold, however when religion comes to the fore in the novel it leads to a very important progression of Shukhov’s character. The majority of the religious material comes towards the end of the novel after Shukhov has had a “good day” in his prison camp. He begins to discuss the concept of religion with the Baptist Alyoshka. Alyoshka has an incredible resilience and is very kind character, who keeps going through the small things such as reading his gospels each day.

Alyoshka is an amazement to Shukhov, he cannot understand how he can give so much without asking for anything in return. This philosophy intrigues Shukhov and leads to one of the most vital conversations throughout the novel. Shukhov has a sceptical view of religion

“Because all these prayers are like the complaints to the higher-ups -either they don’t get there or they come back to you marked ‘Rejected'” (Solzhenitsyn 139)

In some respects religion in the novel is shown to reflect the communist system, to reflect the camp and further show the hypocrisy of the system as is shown here. Shukhov tells a story of the priest in his local town and how he is rich yet the rest of the town struggles, how this should not be true as the fundamentals of the religion he is teaching argue against this. However Alyoshka argues that this is one case and it is not the correct attitude to have, claiming that you cannot pray for possessions or freedom but must rather treasure the inner strength that god can give.

“Ivan Denisovich, you mustn’t pray for somebody to send you a package or for an extra helping of gruel. Things that people set store by are base in site of the Lord. You must pray for the things of the spirit so the Lord will take evil things from our hearts…” (Solzhenitsyn 140)

This conversation leaves Shukhov with a great deal to think about, he appears to take a lot of what Alyoshka onboard with him and appears to be stepping closer towards an inner peace that Alyoshka has possessed about throughout the novel. Religion in this novel in some aspects is used to show one form of survival within the gruelling life of prison camp. However it also has a profound effect on the protagonist, Ivan Denisovich. Shukhov, who has remained sceptical of religion throughout his prison life and even his life, however he has been changed by the wise words of Alyoshka, and this is key to the novel. Religion has changed the way the protagonist sees the world. The closing lines of the novel show that Shukhov has become a more positive person and this can partly be put down to the conversation with Alyoshka.

The two authors have portrayed and used religion very differently within their novels; one shows the negatives of religious obligation and the outcomes of such a lifestyle while the other shows a much more positive outlook towards religion, portraying it as a means of survival when times are tough. However what is common between Marquez and Solzhenitsyn is that both comment on the hypocrisy of religion. Marquez has used religion and honour to drive the plot of his novel and expose the weaknesses of many characters, where as Solzhenitsyn has used religion to show the strengths of character and a positive change within the protagonist. Religion plays a key but contrasting role within the novels; Marquez sets out to satirize the religious structure of Latin America where as Solzhenitsyn comments that religion can be an important role of anyone’s life.

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