Discuss the power and authority of death in Love in the Time of Cholera.

In Love in the Time of Cholera, the power and authority of death is a primary theme, suggesting from its title the specter of sickness and mortality. Cholera is a bacterial infection of the intestines that is often fatal, spreading through contaminated water and unsanitary environmental conditions, and its symbolism as a backdrop for Márquez’s epic tragicomedy functions to suggest the ubiquitous presence of death in the air and water of his beloved Colombia early in its independence.

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All of the novel's major characters are motivated in some way, whether consciously or unconsciously, by an effort to forestall the inevitability of old age and dying, and it is this personal relationship with mortality that drives the characters’ choices and development.

For example, the novel opens with Dr. Urbino’s...

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All of the novel's major characters are motivated in some way, whether consciously or unconsciously, by an effort to forestall the inevitability of old age and dying, and it is this personal relationship with mortality that drives the characters’ choices and development.

For example, the novel opens with Dr. Urbino’s being summoned to the death of his friend and chess equal Saint-Amour, a passionate, life-loving Haitian refugee with a shadowy past who has committed suicide at age sixty rather than face old age and decay. The previously unknown details of his friend’s earlier life disturb the characteristically unemotional and disciplined Urbino, who soon after falls to his death while attempting to retrieve his pet parrot from a tree.

The irony here is that for Urbino, a man whose life’s work has been to improve sanitary and health conditions for the poor minority underclasses through the eradication of cholera, such an undignified death doesn’t suit a man of such respect and prominence. Márquez makes this central point from the beginning, that death is nature’s indiscriminate leveling force—as inevitable for the colonial aristocrat as it is for the formerly enslaved. Immersing himself in science and public health has allowed Urbino to exert effective control over some deadly environmental conditions, and in saving others, he has been able to redeem himself from facing his own mortality and reflecting honestly on his life.

Yet, Márquez is hopeful and optimistic for the progress of humanity and the possibility of enduring love even in the face of inevitable mortality. The aptly named Saint-Amour’s (St. Love) and the hapless Urbino’s deaths both happen from “unnatural” causes but also finally provide a resolution for the novel’s main love story. Fermina’s and Florentino’s romance had been unrequited for over fifty years until Urbino’s death allows the true lovers their destiny and a chance to spend the rest of their lives together.

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