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World Literature 1

In: English and Literature

Submitted By rawsonl121
Words 1179
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Liam Rawson

World Literature Assignment 1
An analysis of the role of minor characters in The Visit and Chronicle of a Death Foretold in establishing a collectivistic or individualistic society.
March 13, 2011
Word Count: 1073
Rawson 1 Without any characters; there is no story. Every tale needs a knight in shining armor to save the endangered princess or a misguided hero to meet a tragic end. A protagonist and an antagonist are the most basic of writing conventions and are crucial to the story. It is important; however, to not overlook the roles of minor characters in the plot. For example, Snow White would have been a radically different story without the seven dwarves. This exemplifies how minor characters can drastically influence the outcome of a story in a number of ways. In both Durrenmatt’s The Visit and Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the minor characters have an influential role in determining the fate of the protagonist. These minor characters are used by Durrenmatt and Marquez to establish an individualistic or collectivistic society within their works and by doing so isolate the protagonists and lead them to their deaths. In a collectivistic society, the people tend to view themselves as part of a group and hold the needs of the group over that of the individual. This is the society which Durrenmatt has presented in The Visit. In Durrenmatt’s The Visit, the town of Guellen is populated by minor characters lacking any names. Throughout the play, the villagers are simply referred to by the occupation which they hold within the town. Mayor, Priest, Schoolmaster, Doctor, and Policeman are just a few of the names given to Guelleners. Durrenmatt presents these characters this way to establish that the town of Guellen is a collectivistic society. The minor characters are named this way to portray them as a part of a greater entity. They function solely as pieces to society of Guellen. As well as their own names, the villagers lack their own distinct personality. Instead they all react to a situation as a whole, with the mayor as their voice. For instance, when Ill seeks refuge from Claire in the Policeman and the Mayor they respond identically “Peculiar. Highly peculiar” (Durrenmatt, p.54). Also, as Ill attempted to leave the town of Guellen, the villagers all unanimously chanted “We’re letting you pass, we’re letting you pass.”
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(Durrenmatt, p.61). The Guelleners speak in unison once again when convicting Ill to death. They repeat after the mayor, “Not for the sake of money, but for justice and for conscience’ sake.” (Durrenmatt, p.94). From this, it is evident that minor characters establish a collectivistic society in The Visit. Contrary to this, Marquez uses minor characters to create an individualistic society in Chronicle of a Death Foretold. In an individualistic society, people tend to view themselves as individuals and act upon their behalf. This is the case presented in Chronicle of a Death Foretold. As opposed to The Visit, the minor characters of Chronicle of a death Foretold are given names, personalities, and individual goals; all characteristics of an individualistic society. For example, Bayardo San Roman is an arrogant wealthy man with a goal of marrying a beautiful young woman while Purisima del Carmen is a strict mother concerned about raising her daughters to become good wives. These characters are primarily concerned over what benefits themselves. Bayardo tears old man Xius from his hilltop house to satisfy his needs with no regard for the feeble old man. “You could hear the tears bubbling inside his heart.” (Marquez, p.37). These are classic characteristics of an individualistic society. Even though drastically different societies are presented in The Visit and Chronicle of a Death Foretold, a similar effect is achieved in the plot. In both works, the type of society leads to the isolation of the protagonist and their inevitable death. In The Visit, the town of Guellen is in the mist of economic depression. It is described as “Vegetating…And rotting to death” By the townsfolk (Durrenmatt, p.12). As a collectivistic society, it is the united interest of the villagers to return Guellen to its once prosperous days. A beacon of hope is presented to the town through Claire Zachanassian when she offers them one million dollars if they kill Alfred Ill. Not shortly after, the collectivistic mentality of Guellen decides that the individual can be sacrificed for the benefit of the whole. Through this, the main protagonist Alfred Ill is ostracized from everyone he knows. In the period between the offer and his death, he knows that the
Rawson 3 town will choose benefit itself from his sacrifice. Ill becomes isolated by these events because of the collectivistic society he lived in. He is hopelessly alone against the goliath that is Guellen. Even his own wife and kids are willing to sacrifice him for the needs of the masses. Eventually the town collects on the bounty that Claire had declared on Ill. At the end of Ill’s life the citizens declare “Protect all our sacred possessions…Let us go and enjoy our good fortune.” (Durrenmatt, p.102). Without remorse, the collectivistic town of Guellen reaped the benefit of sacrificing the individual. A similar outcome is created in Chronicle of a Death Foretold from a very different circumstance. Angela Vicario was arranged to marry Bayardo San Roman and complete her mother’s desires for her. She disappoints her mother greatly however, when Bayardo discovers that she was not a virgin on the night of their wedding. This act instills a personal goal within the Vicario household to retrieve their lost honor. The Vicario brothers set out to kill the man that had taken their sister’s virginity, Santiago Nasar. Since they live in an individualistic society, the brothers place there need to regain their families honor over the individual rights of another man. This prioritization of the self over others is what isolates Santiago Nasar and leads to his death. The rest of the town knows about Santiago’s impending doom, but are lethargic in their reactions because it does not directly harm them. This bystander apathy is from the individualistic society they live in and leaves Santiago to face his death alone and uninformed. The role of minor characters is not something to overlook. They can greatly influence the outcome of a story as seen in The Visit and Chronicle of a Death Foretold. In both works, minor characters were used to establish the society as individualistic or collectivistic. Both Durrenmatt and Marquez created these societies through the minor characters in order to isolate the protagonist. Although the scenarios of the two works were drastically different, the outcome was similar.
Word Count: 1073
Rawson 4
Works Cited
Bowles, Patrick, trans. 1962. The Visit. By Friedrich Dürrenmatt. London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 0224009141. Trans. of Der Besuch der Alten Dame. Zurich: Verlags AG Die Arche, 1956.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Chronicle of a Death Foretold: a Novel. New York: Vintage International, 2003. Print.

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