Strange Pilgrims: Themes & Analysis

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will analyze and examine the themes from Gabriel Garcia Marquez's short story collection 'Strange Pilgrims.' This book is made up of 12 stories about Latin American travelers.

Magical Realism

Think about some of the stories you wrote five years ago. How do they compare to the stories you wrote in the last month? Hopefully, your writing has improved over time, there may be common themes or styles that you have maintained over the past several years.

Imagine searching through 20 years' worth of your own writing for common themes. This is how Gabriel Garcia Marquez created the short story collection Strange Pilgrims. As he examined his past work, he struggled to remember what was happening in his life that led to each of the 12 pieces that were chosen for this book. His memories were so hazy that he was unsure which ones actually occurred.

Marquez used his inability to ''detect the dividing line between disillusionment and nostalgia'' to rewrite the stories using magical realism. Magical realism is a literary genre that is often used in Latin American literature in which the author adds some elements of fantasy or magic into otherwise realistic stories. Let's find out more about the themes in these stories.


One of the themes detected throughout the collection is death. The following are examples of the stories that depict the theme of death:

''Bon Voyage, Mr. President''

In ''Bon Voyage, Mr. President,'' a former president goes to Geneva for medical care and is told by his doctor to ''Put your affairs in order…the sooner the better.'' Homero, an ambulance driver, and his wife, Lazara, attempt to cheat the politician by selling him funeral arrangements, but end up nursing him back to health.

''The Saint''

''The Saint'' is the story of a seven-year-old girl who dies, but does not decompose as expected after 11 years. ''In fact, when they pried the lid of the coffin, they could smell the scent of the fresh-cut roses with which she had been buried.'' Her father, Margarito Duarte, takes his daughter's body to the Vatican in Rome and attempts to have her canonized.

''The Ghosts of August''

''The Ghosts of August'' is the story of a family vacation to Tuscany. The family stays the night in a haunted castle. Ludovico, the man who had built the castle, had ''stabbed his lady in the bed where they had just made love, turned his ferocious fighting dogs on himself, and was torn to pieces.'' When he wakes up the next morning, the vacationing father finds himself in Ludovico's room in a bed with blood-soaked sheets.

''Maria dos Prazeres''

''Maria dos Prazeres'' is the story of a 76-year-old prostitute who is making her own funeral plans after ''it had been revealed to her in a dream that she would die.'' During bad weather, she hitchhikes home. When the man that offers her a ride asks to come to her apartment, she is convinced that he is the Grim Reaper, but he is just a customer.

''Seventeen Poisoned Englishmen''

''Seventeen Poisoned Englishmen'' is a story about Prudencia Linero who travels to Rome from the Argentines to visit the pope. When she arrives, she sees a corpse floating in the water, but no one seems concerned. At the hotel, the elevator stops at a floor where seventeen English tourists are sleeping in chairs in the hallway. Disgusted, she requests a room on a different floor. Later, she learns that they ''were poisoned by the oyster soup at supper'' and all are dead.


''Tramontana'' is the story of a major weather event in Barcelona which is said to bring madness to those who endure it. The tourists from around the world have different responses to the impending tramontana. The boy from the Caribbean is terrified because he has experienced a tramontana before and is not sure he can survive another. In the end, his fear causes his demise as he ''in an effort to escape an ineluctable death, threw himself from the speeding van into the abyss.''

''The Trail of Your Blood in the Snow''

''The Trail of Your Blood in the Snow'' is the story of a wealthy Columbian, Billy Sanchez, who is on his honeymoon in Europe when his bride, Nena Daconte, cuts herself on a thorn and begins to bleed. At first, he doesn't notice the seriousness of her injury, but he eventually realizes she needs to go to the hospital. Billy becomes disoriented by the strange customs of the Parisians that he encounters and is wandering aimlessly through the city when Nena dies.

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