The plot of this short novel is quite simple. The elderly and impoverished colonel has been waiting for fifteen years to receive a pension check for his service in the army. The cultural context of the story is during what is known as la violencia, a civil war between liberals and conservatives in Colombia that lasted from the late 1940’s into the 1960’s. Nine months previous to the opening of the story, the colonel’s son, Agustín, had been killed at a cockfight for distributing secret political literature. The colonel is torn between his desire to keep his son’s prizefighting cock in order to enter it into the cockfights in January and his need to sell it to provide food for himself and his wife. The story focuses primarily on the colonel’s pride in trying to conceal his indigent state and his often ironic and bitterly humorous response to his situation.
The central metaphors in the story are the pension, which never arrives, but for which the colonel never ceases to hope, and the fighting cock, which also represents hope, as well as his son’s, and thus the whole village’s, political rebellion. In desperation, he does decide to sell the cock to the exploiter Sabas, who gives him considerably less money than he originally promised. When the villagers snatch the bird and enter it in the trial fights and the colonel sees that it lives up to its reputation as a prizefighter, he decides to give the money back and keep the bird. Even…