Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1899
It is tempting to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera as a romantic and sentimental story in which love prevails over time and death, and patience and devotion are rewarded with a happy ending. The temptation derives from Garcia Marquez's misleading narrative that invites, or rather deceivingly manipulates readers into believing that Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza's belated union represents a victory over individual and societal adversities, prejudices and conventions. However, disguised beneath the surface of the melodramatic plot lies a critical, sometimes satiric examination of many of the elements that appear to contribute to the novel's charm, but actually undercut much of its romanticism and sentimentality. In addition to the themes of love, aging and disease highlighted in the novel's title, the text also explores issues such as suicide, gerontophobia (the fear of ageing), dishonesty, modernization, and social and environmental responsibility. The novel does celebrate human love and sexuality—at any age—but it does so while revealing many of the repercussions that may result from false or unrealistic notions of what love is.
Critical analyses of Garcia Marquez's novels often include a discussion of magic realism—the interweaving of realism with the fantastic and the surreal. Love in the Time of Cholera does contain certain elements of magic realism, but they are less prominent than in previous works. As a result, it is usually examined without an extensive discussion of magic realism. Instead, most critics tend to agree that the novel blends social realism with elements of sentimental literature. One recent discussion by Claudette Kemper Columbus, for example, has suggested that the novel, which is set in the final decades of the nineteenth century and first decades of the twentieth century, is a satire aimed at supposedly enlightened societies on the verge of entering the twenty-first century. And another critic, Robin Fiddian, has read the novel as a reflection on the moral and ideological short-sightedness that threatens the future of South America.
A need for social change is implied through the novel's opening scene. Jeremiah de Saint-Amour's suicide is motivated by the fear of growing old and alludes to a difficult and, for some, troubling question, can old age be an exciting and productive period of human life? Jeremiah de Saint-Amour obviously did not think so, and planned years ahead to end his life when he turned sixty. It becomes evident throughout the novel that Saint-Amour's fears about old age are shared by many in his society. Fermina Daza's daughter, Ofelia, becomes extremely upset when she learns that her elderly mother has a "strange friendship" with a man: "love is ridiculous at our age," she shouts to her brother and his wife, "but at theirs it is revolting." Dr. Urbino Daza, Fermina's son, initially supports the relationship because of the "good companionship" it gives his mother and begs Florentino to continue seeing her "for the good of them both and the convenience of all." However, he reveals his true feelings about the elderly when he and Florentino get together over lunch; he explains that the world would make more rapid progress without the burden of old people because "humanity, like armies in the field, advances at the speed of the slowest."
The societal attitude towards old age is perhaps best summed up by an "absent-minded voice" which is overheard making a comment about Dr. Urbino's rapidly ripening corpse "at that age you're half decayed while you're still alive." Florentino and Fermina's union at the novel's end transcends these prejudices and unjust social conventions and suggests that one's later years can be a vital and exciting time in one's life. But...
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