Carlos R. Rodr ́ıguez, a friend of Garcıa Marquez (1927-2014) and well-known literary critic, wrote that if One Hundred Years of Solitude had not secured the road to Stockholm for Garcıa Marquez to receive the Nobel Prize in literature, Love in the Time of Cholera would have done so. Although with reservations, the critic considers Love in the Time of Cholera superior to One Hundred Years of Solitude (239–244). Love in the Time of Cholera may be seen as the product of a more experienced author, who no longer needs the resources of magic realism and ambiguity to surprise the reader. There are other critics, by contrast, who find strong similarities between Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude. Kathleen McNerney, for instance, finds that Florentino’s letter writing can be thought of as constituting the novel itself, just as Melqu ́ıades’ parchments tell the story of One Hundred Years of Solitude (McNerney 79). McNerney also points out the obvious about the novel by saying that the story is framed around an unusual love triangle (McNerney 74). The love triangle can be called unusual because one of the lovers is not physically involved but instead waits more than fifty years for his turn. It is also an unusual novel because the greatest lovers of all time have always been depicted as young, not old. With Garcıa Marquez’s novel, readers around the world are reminded that love is ageless, in the sense that lovers do not have to be young to fall in love. Although falling in love may indeed be a common practice among the elderly, societal and cultural etiquette views such love as inappropriate and even shameful, as the character of Ofelia, Fermina’s daughter, expresses it in the novel. However, neither the aging of Florentino and Fermina, society, nor anything else can interfere with the sublime love the old couple shares.
Love in the Time of Cholera, like all Gabriel Garcıa Marquez’s works, explores the solitude of the individual and of humankind. In this novel, the existential anguish of feeling alone is portrayed through the solitude of love and of being in love.
Curiosity and suspense are two key words in understanding the plot of Love in the Time of Cholera. The reader feels the curiosity of a private detective in trying to figure out who Jeremiah Saint-Amour is, why he committed suicide, and what he wrote in the eleven-page letter he left for Dr. Juvenal Urbino. Who is Jeremiah’s lover, and who is this man named Florentino Ariza? The latter shows up at the doctor’s funeral and tells the widow: “I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love” (64).
The novel’s opening chapter foreshadows the importance of Dr. Juvenal Urbino and his wife, Fermina Daza, but most readers would not expect this since Dr. Urbino dies before the end of the first chapter. Naively, the reader may expect to see Dr. Juvenal Urbino bury his friend, Jeremiah Saint-Amour, at five in the afternoon. Instead, in disbelief, the reader learns that the doctor dies, after lunch on the same day, for the absurd reason of trying to catch a parrot. The narrator continually contradicts any suppositions readers may have made regarding the plot. This type of narrative stimulates readers to continue with the long, and at times slow-moving, love story.
The plot of Love in the Time of Cholera is, among other possibilities, about learning to wait, about perseverance and endurance, and about never forsaking the object of one’s love. However, it is also about eternal fidelity and everlasting love, as Florentino Ariza stated it in the previous quotation.
Subsequent chapters take readers back in time to a story of love at first sight. If the novel followed a traditional linear plot line, it would have started with the second chapter, when Florentino, at age eighteen, meets Fermina, who is thirteen. The background of the plot is that of a port city, Cartagena de Indias, in the coastal northeast of Colombia, which has suffered through cholera panic and countless civil wars. The different social spheres of the plot’s background depict an impoverished and dying wealthy class; an emerging middle class, which includes foreigners; and the poor classes, which make up two-thirds of the total population. The poor classes include mulattos and blacks, plus a few Chinese who account for a small Chinatown of four streets.
Nothing seems impossible for the young lovers, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza. While the two seem determined to fight for one another against all odds, Fermina’s father, Lorenzo Daza, an illiterate Spanish immigrant, is equally decided to marry Fermina well. He strongly believes in upward mobility, and his last resort is his daughter’s wedding. Florentino, being poor, is not a choice of whom Fermina’s father will approve, but Fermina persists in her relationship with Florentino despite her father’s wishes. However, after receiving four years of love letters, poems, telegrams, and music written and played just for her, Fermina suddenly tells Florentino that what she feels is not love. It is all an illusion, a spell she no longer believes in and wants no part of. Her reaction seems as unexpected and childlike as her reaction when they first met.
What readers thought was a perfect example of a fairy tale is thus ended by a stubborn young protagonist. Is Fermina indeed out of love or is her statement a reaction to her father telling her they are ruined? She turns her back on Florentino but he does not give up. Instead, he waits for the opportunity to reassure her of his love when they meet once again: fifty-one years, nine months, and four days later, at the funeral of Fermina’s husband, Dr. Juvenal Urbino.
During those years, with Florentino Ariza out of the picture, Dr. Juvenal Urbino’s persistence triumphs over the indifference of the young and beautiful Fermina. They first meet as doctor and patient (140). Dr. Juvenal Urbino goes to the wrong house, looking for an eighteen year-old girl who is supposed to be suffering from symptoms of cholera. Perhaps because he pays no attention to Fermina’s flowering beauty, she thinks he is a selfish man, unable to love anyone other than himself. Fermina’s father, however, is very taken with the doctor’s family name. Eventually, the beautiful young girl, who is scorned and ridiculed by the social group to which Dr. Urbino belongs, goes on to marry the town’s most eligible bachelor. Her wedding is splendid and unforgettable. The ultimate glory of the wedding is that the three-term president of the country attends (188). Does Dr. Juvenal Urbino love her? According to the omniscient narrator, Juvenal Urbino is aware that he does not love Fermina. Although he marries her out of physical attraction and even vanity, on their honeymoon he realizes that he could, indeed, fall in love with her.
Their Paris honeymoon lasts sixteen months, and the small-town girl learns of fashion, art, and literature. In this city, where Dr. Juvenal Urbino went to medical school, the young couple wants to see Victor Hugo, the French romantic writer, for whom Dr. Juvenal Urbino has a special liking, but they have to be content with the shared memory of glancing at Oscar Wilde (the Irish writer, poet, and dramatist who died in Paris). By the time the young married couple comes back to Cartagena de Indias, Fermina is six months pregnant with her first child.
After seeing Fermina coming out of church, pregnant with her first child, Florentino Ariza makes the decision “to win fame and fortune in order to deserve her” (199). He decides to wait “even till the end of time” (199). However, in a prejudiced society, economic success is not enough for a man whose bloodlines are unknown. Florentino Ariza was baptized, although he is a bastard, “a child of the street” in Spanish vernacular. He is the son of an unwed mother and a father who died without leaving him anything. Florentino’s mother is herself an illegitimate child. Despite this background, Florentino Ariza manages to work his way up to become president of the River Company of the Caribbean—the only such company existing for the past one hundred years. During the entire time while Florentino waits to talk to Fermina again (fifty-one years, nine months, and four days), he never stops thinking about her, but he has many affairs, which he refers to as noncommitted love. He keeps a diary (actually, twenty-five in all), where he records the affairs of 622 lovers all grouped under one title: They (the feminine plural form in Spanish is Ellas). Some of these affairs appear as subplots interconnected to the main plot. These female lovers, each with their own strong will and sexuality, contribute to the strengthening of character that Fermina would observe later on, and even admire. Most of the lovers are widows. However, there are also married women; single women such as Leona Cassiani, with whom his affair lasts, off-and-on, for thirty years; prostitutes; and an incestuous affair with America Vicuna, a fourteen-year-old blood relative, who is entrusted to him by her own parents. Most readers, whether male or female, would question Florentino’s conduct in light of his vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love to Fermina. What kind of man could be so callous as to mislead a fourteen-year-old relative (who ends up committing suicide)? Is this something only a bastard, a son of the streets, would do?
Florentino feels inferior to Dr. Juvenal Urbino. They are members of two very different social classes, which is also true of Dr. Juvenal Urbino and Fermina Daza. However, the two classes converge into one for Juvenal and Fermina. This is not the case for Florentino and Fermina, despite Florentino’s accomplishments and contributions to society.
Fermina becomes a faithful and loving wife. She fulfills her obligations both as wife and mother, and she grows to be the perfect consort for an important public figure. They have a son, Marco Aurelio, who becomes a doctor, thus continuing the family tradition; and a daughter, Ofelia, who is as beautiful as Fermina Daza was when she was young. Fermina’s father, Lorenzo Daza, was a successful outlaw who was asked to leave his country because the governor of the province knew he had ignored all human and divine laws (254). When Lorenzo Daza dies, Fermina does not wear mourning but cries for him secretly. Fermina’s strong character hardly ever breaks. Among the few times she does break is when her husband is adulterous. At age fifty-eight, the specter of infidelity enters the heart of Dr. Juvenal Urbino. He has an affair with Miss Ba ́rbara Lynch, “a tall, elegant, large-boned mulatta” (292), who is a doctor of theology. Fermina’s anger, interestingly enough, is not so much because of her husband’s infidelity but because her honor is the subject of gossip and, also, because Barbara Lynch is black. As a result of her husband’s indiscretion, Fermina leaves the house for two years. She goes to live with her cousin Hildebranda in the countryside.
After reading about all these happenings, the reader is brought back again to the present time. It has been two weeks since the doctor died and two weeks since Florentino spoke to Fermina. It is at this point that the plot continues.
Fermina and Florentino’s love story can be clearly seen in two parts. The first is when Florentino ingeniously, but unsuccessfully, tries to conquer Fermina’s love. Although he is not experienced, he manages to win her attention and innocent teenage love until she comes to realize that she does not love him. The second part takes place at the end of their lives. She is now seventy-two years old and he is seventy-seven. He persists in his love for her, and Fermina, although still firm and strong of character, accepts him.
The abundance of literature that Florentino Ariza absorbed in his childhood and his extraordinary ability to write are two elements that contribute greatly to the novel’s plot. Florentino wins Fermina over, both the first and the second times, with the letters he writes to her. The first time they are both teenagers. Their relationship, at that time, is exclusively based on Florentino’s love letters, to which Fermina responds with equal passion. They hardly ever have a chance to talk, to interact, or to get to know each other. Their relationship during the first part, although strongly passionate, is rather precarious. The passion they both experience is such that Florentino proposes and she accepts. However, their childlike game has gone too far and the spell is broken for Fermina.
When they meet again nearly sixty years later, for most of which time Fermina was married, she rejects Florentino once more. It is at this time, nevertheless, that Florentino starts to write to Fermina again. His letters are formal in the beginning, in an effort to console her, but later he changes to a seductive mode. Florentino is not as graceful and handsome as Dr. Juvenal Urbino, but the power of his penmanship and his wholehearted insistence give him the edge that he needs to win her love. His tenacity—obsession, even—convinces Fermina that it is never too late to love. The novel ends on this upbeat note.
Although labyrinthine, the plot of Love in the Time of Cholera is rather accessible, even for first-time readers of Gabriel Garcıa Marquez. One can easily recognize the causality of events, even though they are not presented in strict chronological order—the novel begins in medias res (in the middle of things). The plot begins with the teenage love of Florentino and Fermina. The crux (the central or critical point) and longest part of Love in the Time of Cholera is what happens while Florentino and Fermina live separate lives. This time frame allows for personal growth and the maturation of the concept of love. The denouement coincides with the last chapter of the novel. Near the end, Fermina muses over how a person can be happy for so many years, through good times and bad, without even knowing if the emotion was really love (399). The novel culminates with the couple making love again and again. This is an elderly couple that is happy to be together and to be alive. Their relationship seemed hopeless except for Florentino’s chronic romanticism and tireless desire to love Fermina. However, what unites this couple in love is the combination of Florentino’s perseverance and Fermina’s strong character. In the end, it is Fermina who faces the toughest battle in order to love. The battle that seems to summarize her will and determination is the one against her own daughter, Ofelia, who believes that love at her mother’s age is revolting. Ofelia insists that Florentino’s reputation, as everyone knows, is that of a pervert, and that Fermina’s relationship with him will only do harm to the family’s name. Fermina’s response is a categorical, “they can all go to hell” (392).
GENRE AND NARRATIVE STRUCTURE
Love in the Time of Cholera is an intentional return to nineteenth-century realism and the outright fantasy we associate with Garcıa Marquez is absent, asserted critic Gene H. Bell-Villada (Bell-Villada 191). However, although there is plenty of realism in Love in the Time of Cholera, realism alone does not circumscribe the novel. Realism, in its purest form, rejects imaginative idealizations in favor of a detailed reality and sometimes focuses on triviality and the sordid aspects of life and nature. Realism is obvious in Love in the Time of Cholera in the portrayal of people’s attitudes, physical settings, and material conditions. The descriptions of Florentino, Fermina, and Juvenal Urbino in the novel are so detailed and complete as to make them picture perfect, in the sense that the reader can almost see them as if in person; this technique is highly favored by realism. The same is true for the deplorable conditions in which the poor live, which is certainly emphasized in the decay of nature along the Magdalena River. The reality of the description discloses the exploitation of a dying nature. It is interesting to note the parallelism between the aging of Florentino and the decay of nature in the scenes where he takes the second trip down the Magdalena River, this time with Fermina. Furthermore, like a realist novel, Love in the Time of Cholera favors the lives of the middle and lower classes. The time frame of the novel, on the one hand, also calls for realism, for realism was most prominent in France between 1850 and 1880, around the time when Fermina and Juvenal Urbino lived in Paris for eighteen months. On the other hand, between 1880 and 1910 most Latin American writers began experimenting with realism as a literary form and the Latin American countries experienced social and cultural changes along with foreign investment. In Latin American literature this new reality adopted the French and Spanish tradition of realism, which tries to depict a faithful representation of life.
While this is indeed true for a realist novel, it is not necessarily the case for Love in the Time of Cholera. The detailed representation of both people and nature in Love in the Time of Cholera seems to come up short when it comes to the idealization of Fermina by Florentino. The concept of love itself loses its entire realist meaning and changes the novel into a realist romantic novel, which is a combination of the two. Unlike the objectivity of realism, the love of Florentino for Fermina is totally subjective. Like a true romantic, Florentino believes in the idea of dying for love. He dresses in black, the favorite color of romantics; he reads and writes poetry; and his face is pale like the descriptions of romantic poets. While love as a theme does not necessarily call for romanticism (love in literature can be traced as far back as the Middle Ages), Love in the Time of Cholera depicts love both realistically and romantically.
Unlike many of Garcıa Marquez’s works, including his first book, Leaf Storm, Love in the Time of Cholera does not reflect an experimental structure. There is no shift in viewpoint and no use of stream of consciousness, two rather typical examples of experimental structure in Garcıa Marquez’s writing. However, the structure at the start of Love in the Time of Cholera will not seem strange to readers of Garcıa Marquez. As is the case with most of his writing, Love in the Time of Cholera starts with a technique most commonly used in motion pictures: in medias res, or in the middle. At the very start of the novel the reader is presented with a dead man that the reader knows nothing about. The omniscient narrator provides any and all information. The death of Jeremiah Saint-Amour, a secondary character, provides the opportunity the narrator needs to talk about love between socially and economically displaced blacks, in the same way that the death of Dr. Juvenal Urbino provides the opportunity to talk about love among the ruling class. The death of Dr. Juvenal Urbino also takes place in the first chapter when he is eighty-one years old. The first chapter, which opens in medias res, sets up the story, which is told thereafter in chronological format, which is easier to read but not often used by Garcıa Marquez. The events are narrated in a linear fashion, following the lives of Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza. (The narrative structure of the novel could have started with Chapter 2 had it been a completely linear narrative.)
An interesting way of viewing the structure of Love in the Time of Cholera is suggested by the epigraph that appears at the start of the novel, which suggests that the structure be viewed as a song, a vallenato. The epigraph reads:
The words I am about to express:
They now have their own crowned goddess.
Leandro D ́ıaz.
To Florentino, Fermina is indeed the diosa coronada, the crowned goddess. Florentino repeats the verse verbatim at least five times throughout the novel. The first time is when Florentino sees Fermina dressed in what looks like a Greek tunic, with a garland of fresh gardenias in her hair that “made her look like a crowned goddess” (74).
Where does this epigraph come from and who is Leandro D ́ıaz? The epigraph itself is part of a vallenato, a musical genre that normally talks about folk heroes, love affairs, and other quarrels and was influenced by a combination of African, European, and folkloric Indian sounds. Leandro D ́ıaz is among the best-known singer/songwriters of such genre. However, vallenato music is an obscure genre hardly known outside Colombia. Why then would Garcıa Marquez select such a little-known musician? The epigraphs in Leaf Storm (1955), Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981), The General in His Labyrinth (1989), and Of Love and Other Demons (1994) bear the names of people who are highly recognizable. The epigraph in Leaf Storm is by Sophocles, one of classical Athens’s three great playwrights (the other two being Aeschylus and Euripides). The epigraph in Chronicle of a Death Foretold is by Gil Vicente, a Portuguese dramatist of the sixteenth century who wrote both in Spanish and Portuguese. The General in His Labyrinth contains an epigraph by Simón Bolívar, the South American liberator. In Of Love and Other Demons the epigraph is by Thomas Aquinas, the Italian religious philosopher of the Middle Ages turned saint who, to date, is still one of the most influential theologians of the Catholic Church.
Garcıa Marquez’s choice of a relative unknown, Leandro Dıaz, is consistent with his tendency to favor popular culture, which he views as the source of all culture, and it also signals the autobiographical nature of the story, which mirrors the love relationship between his own parents.
Another point regarding Garcıa Marquez’s selection of this musician relates to the manner in which he sometimes thinks of his writings. The Colombian magazine Cambio (Change) quoted him as saying that One Hundred Years of Solitude is a 400-page vallenato and Love in the Time of Cholera, a 380-page bolero. Bolero is another form of Latin American music, whose dance is also known as bolero. While the vallenato talks about single folk heroes, such as Colonel Aureliano Buendıa in One Hundred Years of Solitude, boleros normally depict love songs where the lovers go through penance, suffering, and often rejection, as in Love in the Time of Cholera.
Character development in Love in the Time of Cholera depends both on the consciousness of the omniscient narrator and on the consciousness of the characters as they interact in the novel’s story line. Love in the Time of Cholera presents fewer characters than One Hundred Years of Solitude. The illusion in the former, however, is the same as in the latter. A reader envisions tumultuous crowds, large gatherings, parties, celebrations, and crowded neighborhoods with lots of people on the streets. They see a moviehouse with no empty seats, vibrant cities and towns, and people everywhere: at church, traveling, walking down the streets of Cartagena de Indias, the Colombian country side, and the streets of Paris. Most of the people in these crowds are only references without names. Some of them exist in the memory of the reader for what they were doing at the moment of the narrative, as if in a snapshot. The president of the republic is merely an enunciation, as is Dr. Adrien Proust, the father of the famous French writer Marcel Proust, and the twenty-eighth president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson. It is the same with other established literary figures, fashion designers, and generals who participated in the Colombian civil wars. They come in and out of the narrative as a sketch. Although this is true for most of the minor characters, the main characters are carefully and meticulously drawn.
Fermina Daza, Juvenal Urbino, and Florentino Ariza are developed from a social and psychological viewpoint. These viewpoints are strongly enriched by the moral and religious principles that the characters share. Whereas Fermina and Florentino appear as the two pillars on which the novel stands, Juvenal Urbino is strong enough to shake the structure and change the course of the narrative. Through the plot, which is seemingly simple yet abundant in detailed information, the reader gains extensive knowledge of who Fermina, Juvenal, and Florentino really are. The reader may end up judging them, but the author does not; without judgment, the narrative includes their likes and dislikes, preferences, shortcomings, reactions, and ambitions.
Fermina’s character is developed in three clearly defined phases. These three phases are marked by significant details within the novel. The first phase can be observed when she is a teenage girl living in her father’s house. At that time Fermina is described as long-boned, slim, with steel-blue hair and clear almond eyes, and an inborn haughtiness, diligent, and of strong character (41). She loves flowers, birds, and domestic animals. Fermina’s haughtiness, stubbornness, and cleverness can be seen when her father sends her away, on a journey to forget (102). However, the plan does not work, as the two young lovers find a way to communicate by telegraph. When Fermina returns, a year and half later, her father thinks that his daughter has forgotten her young lover. However, when she opens the balcony window the morning after their arrival, “she no longer thought of him as the impossible sweetheart but as the certain husband to whom she belonged heart and soul” (121). Most readers are therefore astonished when she decides to end the relationship, which she now sees as a chimera. With her first sight of Florentino after their long separation, the spell is broken. She argues that their love is just an illusion (126). The reader may think that her reaction is immature (recall that she is only seventeen), but the author does not comment.
The second phase in Fermina’s character development starts with the realization of her father’s dream “to turn his daughter into a great lady” (100). Lorenzo Daza wants a propitious marriage for his daughter Fermina, which results in a marriage of convenience to the renowned doctor Juvenal Urbino. Throughout her marriage, she adapts to an upper social class but never fully embraces it. She turns into a serious, faithful, and responsible woman. Hers is a stable, perfect family: a hardworking husband and two children, a boy and a girl. Of the three phases of her life, this is the longest and most tedious.
The third phase in Fermina’s character development comes when she reencounters Florentino at the death of her husband, after fifty-one years, nine months, and four days. Fermina behaves as a respectable widow, mature and self-controlled, but Florentino eventually manages to win her over. She then gives herself totally, generously sharing with him a kind of love perhaps neither had ever experienced before.
Dr. Juvenal Urbino de la Calle is meticulously developed. As readers we become aware of the smallest details of his personality and of his roles as doctor, professor, socialite, and even lover, both faithful and unfaithful. He is the personification of correctness. In all aspects of his life he seems perfect: socially, aesthetically, economically, religiously, and (almost) morally. He is the scion of a distinguished family. He completed advanced studies in medicine and surgery in Paris. He is knowledgeable in his field, in literature, in music, and in fashion; he is captivating and seducing; he is a good dancer and pianist; he possesses all the graces to make him, at the age of twenty-eight, “the most desirable of bachelors” (128). He favors classical music and prefers French literature to Spanish authors. For this purpose, he has a bookseller who periodically sends him the latest publications from Paris. Among other authors, he reads Anatole France, Pierre Loti, Remy de Gourmont, Paul Bourget, Oscar Wilde, and Victor Hugo (195–97). Although he is a practicing and extremely pious Catholic, who invokes the Holy Spirit and punctually attends all religious functions, he is unfaithful to his wife. He betrays her with Barbara Lynch, a beautiful mulatta with whom he enjoys the pleasures of a passionate affair (291–304). Consistent with his religious and moral principles, however, he repents. He confesses to his wife, asks her to forgive him, and remains faithful until he dies. However, behind all this correctness, his real self is somehow camouflaged. Indeed, he is conscious that he is not in love with his wife. He loves her exterior, but they are not compatible in temperament.
Florentino Ariza, in very many ways, is the antithesis of Dr. Juvenal Urbino. He is everything Juvenal Urbino is not. He is homely and sickly looking, has no sense of fashion, comes from a poor and broken family, holds no university degrees (in fact, he may not have finished high school), is not a practicing Catholic, prefers to read minor Spanish authors, is not a socialite, and seems to have no direction in life. However, of all the characters, he is the one who feels love the most; he loves passionately and with tremendous abandonment.
As with Fermina, Florentino’s character can be seen in three stages of development. The first stage presents Florentino as a phantom-like character. He lives a quiet life, passing unnoticed in the crowd. His only reason for existence is to watch Fermina walk through the park on her way to school and back. Other than the time he spends as a clerk at the post office, he passes most of his time reading and writing love letters to Fermina. This platonic love, which is more spiritual than physical, ends after three years with a vitrious rejection by Fermina. However, the flame of his passion for her does not fade. He waits—for fifty-one years, nine months, and four days—to reiterate his love for her.
The second developmental stage, which covers the near half-century between their meetings, turns Florentino into a man of business and of great social and economic success. His phantom-like appearance is now only the disguise for a life of indiscriminate sex. He had wanted to keep himself a virgin, to honor Fermina, but fails. From writing letters to Fermina in the first stage, he turns to writing a diary of his love affairs, and in twenty-five booklets he records 622 entries. Despite these many affairs, however, he remains single, hoping one day to marry Fermina. However, he may never have imagined how long he would have to wait.
The third stage finds Florentino an old man, bald and wearing dentures. His love for Fermina has not changed, but neither has her stubbornness, for she rejects him again at her husband’s funeral. This time, however, the rejection lasts only two weeks. Over the course of the following year, in the same way he did when they were young, Florentino writes Fermina 132 letters, and this time he wins her love. Florentino Ariza is given a second chance, and this time he is ready. He has undergone a complete metamorphosis, including his dress code (the only thing he would not change before). Florentino, from the start, is a kind of Eros (the god of love in Greek mythology), and it is his character that sustains the narrative.
It is interesting to see how Garcıa Marquez plays with the symbolism of names, as if he wanted to challenge the reader’s response regarding the moral values of Florentino. Florentino Ariza is a son of the streets, a bastard, by the mere fact that his father would not recognize him; son of the streets in Spanish is hijo de la calle. This is very close to the name that Dr. Juvenal Urbino holds proudly as part of his noble name: The doctor’s full name is Juvenal Urbino de la Calle, with a capital C.
There are also many secondary characters whose presences contribute to the changes the main characters go through. Aunt Escola ́stica is a loving, illiterate spinster who raises Fermina as if she were her own until the day her brother realizes that she is responsible for letting Florentino come close to his daughter. Then he sends her, penniless, back to San Juan de la Cie ́naga.
Lorenzo Daza, Fermina’s father, is an upstart who leaves Spain looking for a better future. In the Colombian mountain region, in San Juan de la Cie ́naga, the illiterate Spaniard’s good fortune begins when he marries Fermina Sa ́nchez, a rich farm girl whose parents are against her love for Lorenzo Daza. Lorenzo Daza’s wife gives birth to a girl called Fermina, like her mother. After his wife’s death, Lorenzo, his daughter, and his sister, Escola ́stica, move to the coastal city of Cartagena de Indias. Although lacking social skills, Lorenzo Daza buys and remodels an old colonial house in the Park of the Evangelists. A strong disciplinarian, he rules his house with an iron fist. He lacks the company of friends, enjoys drinking, and gets involved in illegal business.
Among the long list of 622 lovers are several worth mentioning, including Leona Cassiani, Sara Noriega, Olimpia Zuleta, Prudencia Pitre, Angeles Alfaro, and Ausencia Santander. Leona Cassiani represents, by far, the longest of the 622 affairs. Sara Noriega, who is overweight but happy, can be best described as a “Fat Venus.” She is particularly important as a lover because she is Florentino’s projection as a poet. He stays with her for several years, and records in his diary that he loved her. She is forty years old, ten years older than Florentino, yet she cannot climax unless she sucks on an infant’s pacifier (238). Olimpia Zuleta is among the shortest-lived affairs. She is a married woman whom it took Florentino six months to seduce. Olimpia finally gives in to desire and goes to bed with him, on a beautiful afternoon in one of his riverboats. However, an obscenity written by Florentino on her belly causes the story to end in tragedy. That same night, when Olimpia goes to bed, “having forgotten what was scrawled there,” she undresses in front of her husband, who, with a single slash of his razor, cuts her throat (263).
Prudencia Pitre is a widow like many of the women whom Florentino recorded in his diary. However, Prudencia Pitre is known as the Widow of Two because she has outlived two husbands. Like all his lovers, Angeles Alfaro, a music teacher whom Florentino describes in his diary as “the ephemeral one,” teaches Florentino something about love. He records that with her (although he had already experienced this before), “one can be in love with several people at the same time, feel the same sorrow with each, and not betray any of them” (328). Ausencia Santander, like many of the female characters in Love in the Time of Cholera, displays a total independence regarding her sexuality. It is unclear, says the narrator, whether her husband left her or she left him. Hers was a conventional marriage. They had three children, the children got married, and she began to see men at her own desire. Besides teaching him about love, all his lovers, argues Florentino Ariza, contributed to his need for being loved, for understanding love itself.
Florentino’s long list of lovers seems to contribute more to Love in the Time of Cholera than the character development of Fermina’s son and daughter; Marco Aurelio Urbino Daza and Ofelia Urbino Daza.
It may seem obvious that love is the central theme in Love in the Time of Cholera. However, the theme of love in this novel is multifaceted; it can be looked at from different perspectives. Among other thematic possibilities are the evils of a socially divided city and the implicit acts of reading and writing. All these themes, however, are intertwined and, as a result, it is difficult to separate one from the other. The theme of love, however, is the only one that encompasses them all, and it is therefore examined in the most detail.
The impetuous, idealistic, strong, and youthful love between Florentino and Fermina is totally platonic. It starts with a look, which soon turns into a gaze. Theirs is certainly the “look of love.” Florentino, at that time an apprentice at the Postal Agency, takes a telegram to Lorenzo Daza’s home address and sees the young girl reading. Fermina raises her eyes to see who is coming “and that casual glance was the beginning of a cataclysm of love that had not ended half a century later” (68). Florentino’s love is awakened first. When it starts, he is content to sit in the park by her house, to see her walk by four times a day, always in the company of her aunt, Escolastica. As Florentino feels his love grow stronger, he moves from the passive mode of seeing to a more active mode, that of writing. To declare his love to her, he writes a sixty-page letter using both sides of each page. Thus starts an epistolary love affair of immeasurable frequency and intensity. It is precisely the letter writing, and not the physical encounters, that makes their love possible. In fact, over a three-year period they only have the opportunity to talk three times. The first time is an afternoon at the end of January when Florentino wants to give Fermina a letter but she rejects it, arguing that she does not have her father’s permission. The second time is a week later, when she accepts the letter and they exchange only a few words. The third time is to receive an answer to his letter; since she has none, he insists, saying that it is a lack of courtesy to accept a letter and not to answer it. That is the last time they talk for over fifty years. Their epistolary is all they have and is what causes her expulsion from her school. Fermina’s father tries to convince her that love at her age is an illusion; he wants her to beg for forgiveness to get back into the Academy and offers her help finding happiness with a worthy suitor (99). However, Fermina, as her name implies, remains firm in her love for Florentino and does not give up. In despair, after talking with Florentino, who has also decided not to give up, Lorenzo Daza decides to take his daughter away to make her forget. They go back to the small town where they came from, San Juan de la Cienaga. Paradoxically, although their postal contact does not stop while she is away, a love that seemed eternal crumbles when she, once again, sees him. After coming back from her trip, Fermina writes Florentino a two-line letter asking him to please “forget it” (126).
Another facet of love, no less interesting than the first, is that of love between the married couple, Fermina Daza and Dr. Juvenal Urbino. Although the omniscient narrator suggests that Fermina married for convenience, there are ample suggestions that this sentiment changes over time. She enjoys her wedding trip, lovemaking, and living in Paris. After sixteen months, upon returning to Cartagena de Indias pregnant with her first child, she feels like “the happiest woman on earth” (194).
After some years, the couple goes back to Europe to renew a love that was beginning to decay because of the drudgeries and sameness of the daily routine. As a result of this second honeymoon, Fermina comes back pregnant once again. The instances of love that she shows for her husband are many, particularly the gestures of love in their old age. In the last few minutes before his death, the omniscient narrator discloses that between them there was indeed a true love, a love that Dr. Juvenal Urbino seemed to realize he had failed to communicate to her, when he speaks his last words, “only God knows how much I loved you” (56). Dr. Urbino is more a spiritual man than a physical one. He loves Fermina conceptually, for being his wife and the mother of his children, rather than for being the woman she is. He is rather incapable of looking at sex without pondering the scientific insight regarding how the human body functions. His moral and religious values do not allow him to be a good lover, at home or elsewhere. With the sensuous and sexual, young, beautiful Miss Lynch, the sex act becomes comical but sad. He spends the exact amount of time needed to give an injection during a routine visit (298). However, for Fermina, being conceptually happy is not enough. After returning from the honeymoon happy and remaining so for six years (until they move to their own house), she feels like a prisoner in a strange house and, even worse, that she is with a man who was not her dream (249). During that time, Fermina comes to believe that behind the professional authority and worldly charm of her husband there is a hopeless weakling (250). When they move into their own house, things are not much different. While she is loved, catered to, and even feared in public, at home she feels like a deluxe servant, not a loved wife (268). While discussing this second facet of love—the love between Fermina and Dr. Urbino—it is worth noting what Fermina feels for Florentino. Although she represses any feeling toward him, the narrator reveals that she often thinks of him. During the fifty-one years while she is married to Juvenal Urbino, she thinks of Florentino with compassion and nostalgia; she even feels tormented by guilt (247).
The third facet of love is described in the last chapter of the novel. Fermina is now seventy-two years old and Florentino is seventy-seven. He feels he has the right to make up for lost time and on the very day of her husband’s burial, he expresses once again his vow of everlasting love, but again she rejects him.
Although Florentino and Fermina are now an elderly couple, their ability to deal with love seems unchanged. Once again, the means of bringing them together is letter writing, which is how they express their feelings. This time it is Fermina who writes first, sending a three-page letter full of insults. Over the following year, Florentino writes her 132 letters. He starts writing once a week, then twice a week, and then every day. While Fermina does not answer any of the letters, she keeps them to find solace and to reflect upon Florentino’s writing. On the first anniversary of her husband’s death, Florentino attends the memorial mass, without being invited. This is his chance to talk to Fermina again. She greets him and thanks him for coming.
Two weeks later Florentino comes to visit her. Although he is uninvited and unannounced, she receives him, nevertheless. Hereafter, their Tuesday visits are as frequent and consoling as the letters, and they become great friends. Fermina’s son approves of their relationship, but her daughter does not. Ofelia tenaciously opposes, arguing that love at their age “is revolting” (392). Neither Ofelia, the rumor of Florentino’s homosexuality, nor anything else convinces Fermina to stop seeing him. Instead, she accepts Florentino’s invitation to go on a riverboat cruise along the Magdalena River. Playfully, Garcıa Marquez gives the boat the name New Fidelity. The couple’s unstoppable drive to be together is finally realized.
A different facet of love that the novel brings to the reader’s attention is unfaithfulness. Violating the marriage vows, Dr. Juvenal Urbino embarks on an extramarital affair. Contrary to his impeccable correctness at home, in public, and in his profession, Dr. Urbino breaks social and racial codes and, after thirty years of marriage, falls in love with Barbara Lynch. Thirty years younger, the beautiful twenty-eight-year old mulatta causes the marriage to crumble. Dr. Urbino’s desire for Ba ́rbara Lynch is out of control. He thinks of her all day and, incapable of stopping his passion, he feels the torment of guilt. After six months he ends the affair, but Fermina leaves him and stays away for two years.
Florentino Ariza enjoys yet another kind of love, if, indeed, promiscuous affairs with over 600 women can be described as a form of love. As a kind of hunter, Florentino engages in casual love. Florentino responds to raw desire. His sex partners are simply outlets to appease his desire and ward off his desperate solitude. Regardless, however, he feels they all teach him something.
The second theme in Love in the Time of Cholera is the division of classes in society. The difference between rich and poor in the novel is remarkable. Although the novel does not suggest the existence of any turmoil or open conflict between the different social classes, the disparities are obvious to the reader. The social, economic, and racial scenery of the novel brings to the forefront a small group of rich, white people, among which the Urbino de la Calle family is one of the most prestigious. This group constitutes the ruling class: it includes civil authorities, the high ranks of the military, and a few impoverished aristocratic families. Different racial groups make up the balance of the classes and represent the majority: Chinese immigrants, blacks, mulattos, and Indians, many of whom live in abject poverty. A good number of these people work as slave-like servants in the households of the wealthy.
The novel repeatedly takes notice of the differences between the rich and the poor. While the rich live in the ancestral homes in the district of the Viceroys and the residential district of La Manga, the aspiring middle classes live elsewhere. The poor live in a section of the city where the landscape includes pestilence, unnumbered houses, loud music, and children running around nude—a part of the city not surprisingly known as the old slave quarter—which is a death trap for the poor (23).
The rich in the novel attend lavish parties. They accompany their celebrations and dances with string quartets, bands, and orchestras playing music by Mozart and Schubert. Although the poor are seen everywhere, the rich do not mingle with them. Upward mobility can be achieved through economic success, but entrance to social clubs of the elite is reserved for legitimate descendants, born into families with an ancestral name. The marked stratification of class is observed everywhere. At the cathedral, for example, the first few pews are reserved for their lifetime owners, whose names are engraved on copper nameplates on the back of the seats (360). The rest of the congregation can sit elsewhere; however, the poorest, being mostly mulattos and blacks, must sit in the back.
The novel also suggests that the boundary between rich and poor is not insurmountable. It is interesting to note that Lorenzo Daza, although a plebeian by birth, changes his fortune in life, as well as that of his daughter. Fermina, who because of her manners seems to define a new type of societal class, is the product of a well-thought-out, well-executed plan. First, Lorenzo Daza moves from the countryside to the coastal city to provide his daughter Fermina with the formal instruction she would need. He registers her in a religious school for rich girls. Then he manages to marry her to Dr. Juvenal Urbino. With this marriage, Fermina enters a social and economic world totally different from her own—a world she is not prepared to move into. Upon her return from her honeymoon and for six consecutive, painful, and hateful years, Fermina undergoes the “training” that her mother-in-law puts her through. While she learns and adapts to her new social class, she never fully abandons her roots, and she maintains her spontaneity, her love for nature, and a touch of crudeness in her speech.
Florentino Ariza is another example of someone who successfully changes his lot in life. Unlike Fermina’s change of fate, his is the result of a decision of his own, made, not for upward mobility, but to make him worthy of Fermina’s love. For thirty years, he works at all types of jobs within the River Company of the Caribbean, ending up as president of the Board of Directors, general manager, and, eventually, owner. He restores his house to reflect his new social economic status but also to be prepared to be worthy of Fermina Daza when his next opportunity comes along.
Another salient aspect on the theme of class division is the incorporation of mulattoes into different subplots within the novel. Jeremiah Saint-Love, the mulatto who kills himself at the outset of Love in the Time of Cholera, is Dr. Juvenal Urbino’s friend. Two mulattas presented in the novel are alternately treated both as object and subject. Barbara Lynch, some may argue, is the object of an elderly, powerful man who wants her for sexual favors. However, Dr. Urbino also expresses love for her. Leona Cassiani, also a mulatta, goes to all public functions with Florentino Ariza. She gains the respect of those with whom she works at the River Company of the Caribbean and moves into the highest ranks of the company. Florentino falls in love with her but she rejects him. In spite of this, however, they remain good friends.
An interesting aspect of the theme of a socially divided society is that it appears to be deteriorating. Fermina Daza, Florentino Ariza, and Leona Cassiani seem to signal a change in the social order, and to offer the availability of upward mobility. The old, rich, aristocratic, and insulated world of the elite, the highest social level (represented by families like the Urbinos de la Calle), is disappearing. Although the instances are many, the reader notices that the actions of Dr. Juvenal Urbino de la Calle seem to make the loudest statement of this change. First, he marries a woman outside his social class. Second, he moves from his former palace of the Marquis de Casalduero to a new house in a neighborhood of the nouveaux riches (the new rich). Third, and probably most significant, his family name will no doubt die with his children. His children, says the narrator, were two undistinguished ends of a line. His son, Marco Aurelio, continues the narrative, has done nothing worthy of note—he has not even produced a child. His daughter, Ofelia, has three daughters but no sons. Thus, the name, the tradition, and the old social order symbolically die with Dr. Urbino’s children.
SOCIAL AND HISTORICAL CONTEXT
The reader may have the feeling that this is just a strange love story, but it is far more: the civil unrest, superstition, civil wars, disappearance of a colonial power, and birth of a new middle class that surround the love story are of significance in themselves. Garcıa Marquez goes to considerable efforts to document the historical setting of this novel. He uses actual historical figures such as the president of Colombia at the time of the tale, Rafael Nunez, a statesman and writer born in Cartagena de Indias (a favored physical setting of Garcıa Marquez’s work), and several liberal generals in the Colombian armed forces, including Ricardo Gaitan Obeso, who, in fact, fought against the government of President Rafael Nunez. President Rafael Nunez and General Gaitan Obeso represent the two great opposing political forces in Colombia’s government and in Garcıa Marquez’s writing. The president was a member of the Conservative Party and the general was in the Liberal Party. The setting of Love in the Time of Cholera also includes, although as mere references, actual historical events such as the War of a Thousand Days and the massacre of striking banana workers in 1928.
Love in the Time of Cholera, on a much smaller scale than One Hundred Years of Solitude, is concerned with the Colombian civil wars of the last part of the nineteenth century and the violence of the first two decades of the twentieth century. These historical and political concerns, however, may pass unnoticed by the reader because that indeed is the intent. If One Hundred Years of Solitude disguises these concerns through the uses of myth, fantasy, hyperbole, and magic realism, Love in the Time of Cholera disguises them through its depiction of a long, sometimes exasperating, love affair. However, the cholera that appears like a sign in the title of the novel is, in fact, a bad omen and can be seen as a symbol of the historical violence that Colombia continues to undergo.
The superabundance of information in Love in the Time of Cholera will go unnoticed unless the reader is inquisitive and meticulous. For example, when Garcıa Marquez describes Fermina’s bird, he says that it was bought right before the last civil war based on a rumor of an upcoming visit by the Pope. The government spread the rumor to scare the liberals. The reader, on the one hand, has to understand that the concept of a civil war is used to describe the ongoing political wars of liberals against conservatives that lasted through the 1960s; and, on the other hand, that the papal visit is indeed fictional, for no Pope ever visited Colombia until 1973. If the reader pays attention to references like this, then the novel can be seen to denounce what the government wanted to hide: the killings of people who appeared floating in the Magdalena River. There are allusions of discontent against the conservative government throughout the novel. Even the parrot, the indirect cause of Dr. Juvenal Urbino’s death, shouts, “long live the Liberal Party damn it, a reckless cry that had cost many a carefree drunk his life” (33).
The time frame of the narrative pays close attention to a bygone era, some readers may say, and pays no attention to the violence that Colombia was undergoing in the mid-1980s, when Love in the Time of Cholera was published. There are readers, though, who may see the many references to violence, political turmoil, corruption, and the devastation of nature, along with the cholera in the title, as a way of pointing out that violence is a constant element of both social and political life in Colombia. If Love in the Time of Cholera were to be seen as irresponsible for not dealing with the oppression, violence, and the social and economic disparities that Garcıa Marquez is known to denounce, then the reader would still have to consider the treatment that Garcıa Marquez gives to love in this novel. Love in the novel is not carefree, easy flowing, spontaneous, and idealized. Although Florentino idealizes Fermina and the love he feels for her, everything around him is hostile. The narrative does not make life easy for an illegitimate child, Florentino, just because he is in love. As literary critic Jose Luis Mendez wrote, the social conventions, the economic ambitions, the ideological and political prejudices, and even the twisted understanding of patriotism, interfere with everyday life and the way the characters love and make love (Mendez 196). While it is true that love triumphs in the novel, Garcıa Marquez is not providing a model where love escapes social and biological laws, but rather the opposite. Love in the Time of Cholera refuses to accept the conventional time frame for falling in love and ignores the limitations thought to be imposed by aging; it rejects the fact that prestige and social rank must, in the end, destroy love, but furnishes the narration with the social and economic components that interfere with the love between Florentino and Fermina and between Dr. Juvenal Urbino and Fermina. Florentino has to undergo the transitional changes both socially and economically that make him deserving of Fermina’s love, and Fermina has to learn the manners of the social group that she marries into when she marries Dr. Juvenal Urbino.
The comparison between One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera observed by many readers and critics is perhaps inevitable. Almost everything Garcıa Marquez has written since the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude in 1967 is compared to it. One of the best comparisons is that of sociologist and literary critic Jose ́ Luis Me ́ndez who points out that in One Hundred Years of Solitude there is no hope for starting anew, but in Love in the Time of Cholera there is hope for salvation through the power of love. The universe described by the narrative voice in One Hundred Years of Solitude is, in the end, completely destroyed “because races condemned to One Hundred Years of Solitude did not have a second chance on earth,” as the narrator explains in the closing paragraph of the novel (448). In Love in the Time of Cholera, however, in the end, the characters that inhabit the novel do not perish. The novel does not end with the total destruction of the universe it has created. A second chance on earth, which was denied to the characters of One Hundred Years of Solitude, is given to those who love in Love in the Time of Cholera.
Love is seen as the redeeming force that saves both humanity and its history. Love, then, appears as a driving force that defies everything. As if in biblical terms, the narrator seems to state that it is not yet too late to stop the end of humanity and to reach out for justice and happiness. However, there is no naive idealism in the narrative voice of the novel. Nothing is taken for granted, and the narrator is ready to remind us that the world around the characters of Love in the Time of Cholera is too oppressive to ignore. That is why the riverboat in which Fermina and Florentino travel, although utopian in its intent, sports a flag signaling cholera and cannot find a secure port to dock. The novel ends with the reader wondering if Fermina and Florentino will ever be able to come ashore and exercise their second chance. Love, to Garcıa Marquez, is a kind of philosophical tool, a way of looking at the world. As the sociologist and literary critic Jose Luis Mendez pointed out, Garcıa Marquez expressed this philosophy “on love” three years before the publication of Love in the Time of Cholera when he addressed the Nobel Academy in Stockholm. On the occasion of accepting the Nobel Prize, Garcıa Marquez delivered a speech that argued against the scientific possibility of a nuclear disaster. In closing, Gabriel Garcıa Marquez spoke of a new utopia:
Where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness possible, and where the races condemned to One Hundred Years of Solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth. (Garcıa Marquez 1988, 91)
If the reader fails to see the political turmoil behind the story it is understandable, for once again, as in all of Gabriel Garcıa Marquez’s writings, Love in the Time of Cholera is multilayered and can be read from multiple perspectives, depending on the reader. The art of storytelling is in the foreground, and this time readers of Garcıa Marquez will come away feeling they understand the book: it is a love story where reality is all around. It is a novel that is both romantic and realist.
ALTERNATIVE READING: FEMINIST THEORY
When a reader first hears the term feminist, he or she may immediately think in terms of the status of women. Feminism can be studied from different viewpoints: linguistic, political, economic, sociological, psychological, biological, or other. For some critics from developed nations of the Western world, it is nearly canonical that feminist literary criticism began with the women’s movement that followed World War II. For such critics, the two most commonly referenced authors are Simone de Beauvoir and Kate Millett. However, dating the origin of feminism to these two authors seems rather simplistic if the reader realizes that the two books selected by such critics were not published until 1949, for Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex) by Beauvoir; and 1970, for Sexual Politics by Millett. In The Second Sex, Beauvoir examines how male authors have developed female characters in literary texts.
The fight for equal rights for women, in whatever manner, however, goes back much further than 1949. By the turn of the twentieth century there was already a movement for women’s suffrage (the right to vote). In fact, the struggle for women’s rights may have started as early as the eighteenth century. Indeed, Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792.
Nowadays, and as early as the late 1960s, those interested in feminist theory approached it as a subject of study in colleges and universities around the world. In a general way, feminist theory aims to accomplish the following:
• To review, expose, and critique those standards where the orientation is patriarchal, whether in literature, politics, civil rights, power, sexuality, race, and other aspects of life;
• To recover texts written by women that have been either forgotten, lost, or neglected;
• To understand the cultural parameters involved in the construction of gender and identity.
Many feminist critics, to some degree, continue to be misunderstood in the belief that the issues investigated by feminist theory not only have to be women centered, but also have to be seen from a woman’s point of view. This not only excludes women who may look at a text from a viewpoint that disregards gender issues, but also prevents men from doing a feminist reading of any given text.
From a pedagogical point of view, feminist theory can be accepted as a method or technique to study a text. As such, the critic questions longstanding, dominant, male ideologies and patriarchal attitudes and interpretations of literature. Is such an approach more or less feminist because a male rather than a female critic carries it out? There is debate among feminists themselves on this question. According to American feminist writer and celebrity of the women’s movement in the early and mid-1990s, Naomi Wolf, feminism “should be broadly understood as a humanistic movement for social justice” (139). Feminists in Latin America, possibly to gain support, sponsor the values of maternity and wifehood. They believe that these two roles bring reforms, first within the family, and thereafter within society as a whole. In literature, the Mexican writer Sara Sefchovich observes this in her novel La senora de los suenos (1993).
A feminist reading of Love in the Time of Cholera would show how the female characters are portrayed in the space and time where they live in the novel. Clearly, not all the female characters in the novel are alike, nor are the central female characters treated alike. A feminist reading might consider whether they reacted and responded in a manner often described as feminine (not feminist), regardless of social class, race, and education. The rich and educated women of the novel are not necessarily the ones with the strongest character or the women whom the male characters desire sexually, but they do exercise their own sexuality. The female characters in Love in the Time of Cholera are in control of their sexuality. They are developed as free, strong, and independent. They do not correspond to a stereotype, a ready-made model repeated by both male and female writers, where Latin American women are voiceless and submissive.
While Love in the Time of Cholera depicts such disparate female roles as those of mother and prostitute, neither one of the two characterizations lacks voice or will. The world of the novel is a matriarchal one. Without his mother, Fermina Daza, and all the women that come in and out of Florentino’s life, the novel could not develop in the manner it does. Florentino Ariza and Juvenal Urbino are not sexist; they do not see women as inferior beings. Although, in itself, this is not a novel that shows the battle of the sexes, the roles played by women are the strongest. Even though written by a male, the novel points out significant signs of a matriarchal universe. To this extent, Gabriel Garcıa Marquez has expressed, in an interview with Ana Cristina Navarro, that women are the strong being, and thanks to them history is able to continue its normal course. My women, says the Colombian author, are more in touch with reality. They have their feet firmly planted on the ground. They are solid, patient, true. And Garcıa Marquez adds, men are creatures of dreams, capable of the most crazy and magnificent actions, but unable to be patient or trustworthy. They are weaklings in the face of adversity. They search for support in women, who are as firm as rocks. This, he concludes, is how the world is in Macondo and elsewhere.
Fermina Daza is certainly Florentino’s sweetheart, and at the time of their youth, around the mid-1800s, she believes in romance and the power of the written word. To Fermina Daza, Florentino’s letters carry more meaning than her own studies, her father, or even the Church. Her world, at the age of seventeen, is interrupted by her interfering father but never completely dominated by him. Garcıa Marquez provides her with a voice of her own. It is hard to imagine a young woman of the nineteenth century more independent than Fermina Daza. It is she who ends the relationship between herself and Florentino. She was fully aware when it started, and she calls it off without a tear or a fight, remaining in complete control. To neither of the two loves of her life— Florentino Ariza or Juvenal Urbino—is she an object. At all times she projects herself as a subject. She is a woman who is aware of her roles as mother, wife, friend, and public person. Fermina is stable, strong, confident, and poised. She knows exactly where she has been and where the winds of life are taking her. She fights for what she wants, and against a social world she does not embrace, old and decaying traditions of the noble families, hypocrisy and gossip, Ofelia, her own daughter (to defend Florentino), and her right to love and be loved.
Whereas the strength of Fermina is observed throughout the length of the book, the novel opens with the weakness of a male character who kills himself because he cannot endure the prospect of getting old. Jeremiah Saint-Amour, a photographer of children, commits suicide because he is turning sixty years old. Saint-Amour (the name translates into English as Saint of Love) is, without a doubt, the opposite of Fermina.
Love in the Time of Cholera contorts the roles of male and female characters that we are used to observing, but it does so without being biased or judgmental. Whereas the reader makes the association of a “Saint of Love” with Jeremiah’s last name, Garcıa Marquez describes the black Haitian character as a saint but, he adds ironically, “An atheistic saint” (10). Another instance of contorting roles comes with the violence and sexual abuse inflicted on women during rape. Feminism looks at rape as a form of cultural oppression. In rape, women are treated as sex objects. The psychological scars of rape are so deep that most women have difficulty ever seeing themselves as subjects of love again. In Love in the Time of Cholera, this situation is inverted. The sexual assault is on a man, Florentino Ariza, whose rape is the result of a plan elaborated by the perpetrator in its smallest detail. As is expected in any rape, Florentino is desperate to know the identity of the violating mistress. It is interesting to note that the object of the rape, a male, feels gratitude. This version of rape, which inverts the structure of oppression in which the victim hates the perpetrator, is also observed in a female character. Leona Cassiani, like Florentino Ariza, is also raped in the novel. The circumstances for them both are similar. The victim is taken by surprise, the clothes are ripped off, and, in a forceful, frenetic fashion, he or she is raped. Florentino Ariza never sees the face of his perpetrator, nor does Leona Cassiani. However, both Florentino and Leona long to see that person again. Leona Cassiani goes on to say that she could recognize him in a crowd of a thousand men because of his shape and size and his way of making love (313). Leona spends years looking for him, not to turn him in to the authorities but to love him.
Garcıa Marquez not only inverts, but also subverts, the traditional way of looking at rape. The inversion comes from having women rape men, and the subversion by changing the feeling of hate into one of love. Neither Leona Cassiani nor Florentino Ariza develops a form of hatred of the opposite sex, as is expected to occur with rape. In fact, the two of them triumph in their own right and fall in love with each other. Leona, however, is the stronger of the two. While it is true, according to feminist author Simone de Beauvoir, that “all oppression creates a state of war” (717), the war that these two fight is one of self-growth, self-love, and self-respect.
In Love in the Time of Cholera the female characters are active beings in control of their own lives. There is no need to change from oppressed to oppressor, as some feminists would want, because there is no feeling of inferiority among the women characters. As the tone of the novel is ruled by love, the women do not have to dominate the men in order to defend themselves. There is no room for what Naomi Wolf calls “victim feminism” because there is no hatred within the female characters. In victim feminism, women look at themselves as weak beings, subjugated by men, and therefore must deny and attack the values and truths of what might be considered patriarchal. The women characters of Love in the Time of Cholera do not show such a reaction. In achieving economic independence (a basic feminist principle), none of the female characters resorts to victim feminism. Victim feminism, states Naomi Wolf, “depends on influence or persuasion rather than on seeking clout in a straightforward way” (Wolf 136). Tra ́nsito Ariza, a single parent and Florentino’s mother, manages to single-handedly buy and restore a colonial house, run a small private business, and even lend money to the rich. In addition, she spends time with Florentino, sharing with him her love for reading. The best example of a triumphant woman and the antithesis of victim feminism is Leona Cassiani. She is, without a doubt, a self-made woman. Black, young, and pretty, she is first taken for a prostitute. However, what she wants is employment. The head of personnel at the River Company of the Caribbean, where Florentino works, gives her the lowest-level job, and Leona Cassiani performs that job with seriousness, modesty, and dedication for three years (222). Meanwhile, driven by self-pride and obvious self-assurance, she studies English at home and takes an evening class in typing. This ambition comes from a woman whose only formal education is elementary school and the School of Millinery (where one learns to make hats). Her determination pays off; Leona Cassiani eventually becomes economically independent, a homeowner, socially active, and the personal assistant to Leo XII, president-owner of the River Company of the Caribbean. Florentino Ariza falls in love with her, but the night he declares his love, she answered “it was too late” (207). From that night on, “Florentino Ariza understood at last that it is possible to be a woman’s friend and not go to bed with her” (227). This exemplifies the right of exercising complete control of one’s sexuality and the right to be heard, two valued aspects of feminist theory. The female characters of Love in the Time of Cholera (some more than others) all have a voice of their own and control over their bodies, and they all look at themselves as subjects. Women like Fermina Daza, Leona Cassiani, and the Widow Nazaret are all capable of breaking away from the state of affairs they are in—the social order in which they are born. They manage to overcome inner conflict and even trauma in order to live a life of fulfillment and, better yet, a life where the love they feel rules.
Love in the Time of Cholera fares well under a feminist reading because it vindicates the possibilities of women triumphing over the prejudices of age, race, and social class. There are instances of violence against women and women who are voiceless and weak, common traits of patriarchal writing, but those instances are not the focus of the novel; they are peripheral. They confirm the fact that, although both males and females have the possibility to overcome everything and anything before them, there are obstacles that not all can surpass. Just as Jeremiah Saint- Amour committed suicide to keep his promise of never getting old, so does Ame ́rica Vicun ̃a, who is young and beautiful and leaves no note. However, their deaths seem to reaffirm the thirst for love of Fermina and Florentino.
America, September 3, 1988: 159.
Bell, Michael. “Not Flaubert’s Parrot: Love in the Time of Cholera.” In Gabriel Garcıa Marquez: Solitude and Solidarity. Ed. Michael Bell. Modern Novelists. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993. 106–26.
Bell-Villada, Gene H. “The Novelist of Love.” In Garcıa Marquez: The Man and His Work. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990. 86.
Choice Journal, September 1988: 26. The Christian Science Monitor, May 12, 1988: 20.
Economist, January 1988: 308. Library Journal, March 15, 1988: 113.
Me ́ndez, Jose ́ Luis. Co ́mo leer a Garcıa Marquez: Una interpretacio ́n sociolo ́gica. 2nd ed. Puerto Rico: Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1992.
New York Review of Books, April 28, 1988: 35. New York Times Book Review, April 10, 1988: 1. Newsweek, April 25, 1988: 111.
Rodr ́ıguez, Carlos R. “El amor y el co ́lera en tiempos de Garcıa Marquez.” In Repertorio cr ́ıtico sobre Gabriel Garcıa Marquez. Ed. Juan Gustavo Cobo Borda. Vol. 2. Bogota ́: Instituto Caro y Cuervo, 1995. 239–44.
Simons, Marlise. “Garcıa Marquez on Love, Plagues, and Politics.” New York Times Book Review, February 21, 1988: 1, 23–25.
Time, March 28, 1988: 131.
Tratos y Retrators: Relations and Portraits. Dir. Silvia Lemus. Trans. Carla V. Smallwood. Films for the Humanities and Sciences, 1998.
Source: Rubén Pelayo – Gabriel García Márquez A Critical Companion (2001, Greenwood)
Categories: Latin American Literature, Literature, Novel Analysis
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