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Garcia Marquez opens his first chapter in the tone of a eulogy. He is describing an old man who is feeling his age in every moment he is alive. His thoughts are of his accomplishments and of his continued observance of the same customs he has kept for many years. The tone of eulogy is, however, irreverent while still retaining some affection. For instance, the good doctor, who has always refused to give pain medicine to old people, now gives himself so much that he has to calm his fears of an overdose or a dangerous mixture of drugs with the use of camphor. He has to take all his drugs in secret so no one can know he is too proud to admit his mistake.
The reader is kept in suspense throughout the chapter, first upon seeing a dead man, an old friend of the doctorís. Then with the mysterious elements that surround him, the doctorís naming him so reverently an ascetic saint. Then, the eleven-page letter is never read aloud nor are its contents revealed except in the most vague terms. The reader hopes that with the doctorís drive to the old slave quarters, the contents of the letter, why it so disturbs the doctor will be revealed, but instead more mystery is shown in the person of the unnamed lover of the late Jeremiah de Saint-Amour. The doctor thinks several times that this news could change his very regular life, but nowhere in this chapter does the reader hear what the news is. Why is all this suspense here? For one, it makes the reader want to keep reading, setting up a basis for later chapters to fill in the blanks in the readerís knowledge. Second, it demonstrates the doctorís character. He is astonished by it, while his wife scarcely listens to it and thinks itís totally unimportant. As it turns out, only this second element is fulfilled in the novel. After this chapter, the reader hears little more of Jeremiah.
Garcia Marquez follows his description of the exoticized woman with a brief history of the colonial city and its division along class and race lines, with descendants of Spanish colonists guarding their light skin as if it were sacred and the decedents of the African slaves adding life to the city in a slight permutation on the noble savage theme of the nineteenth century. That is, the idea set up is that civilization corrupts and those farthest from it are closest to nature, more natural. The problem with such a romanticization of poverty is that it keeps poverty in place. The rich are looked upon scornfully as denatured and pitiful, but they retain their place on the side of reason and property.
Garcia Marquez writes this chapter in a very characteristic way for him. It is his habit in most of his fiction to write with the present, past, and future in the forefront of the readerís mind. So the reader will see lots of predictions of the future and lots of evocations of the past. For instance, in the description leading up to the introduction of the bird into the household, the narrator says "he never imagined that his hasty generalization was to cost him his life." The hasty generalization was, of course, that no animal should live in the house that could not talk. His wife got a bird that could talk, and he died trying to retrieve the bird. Hence, Garcia Marquez introduces the end of the story just as he is telling its beginning, so the reader waits for the moment this end will come, knowing all along that it will come. Another example of this habit of bringing past, present and future together in the narrative line occurs when the portrait depicting the doctor reaching out for the bird is described, it is seen moving from one prominent place in the city to the next until the reader sees that "Years later, it was pulled down by art students and burned in the Plaza of the University as a symbol of a time they hated." In this instance, the reader must wait to see what happens until another chapter. As it turns out, this never happens in the time of the novel.