Social Concerns / Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 791

In some ways," remarked Garcia Marquez in an interview with Marlise Simons, "all my books are about love. In One Hundred Years of Solitude (1970), there is one love story after another. Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1983) is a terrible drama of love. . . . This time love...

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In some ways," remarked Garcia Marquez in an interview with Marlise Simons, "all my books are about love. In One Hundred Years of Solitude (1970), there is one love story after another. Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1983) is a terrible drama of love. . . . This time love is more ardent. Because two loves join and go on." Referring to Love in the Time of Cholera, Garcia Marquez admits to crafting a deliberate and clearly sentimental celebration of the theme of love. This is a novel of passion, romance, pursuit, rejection and at long last fruition. Youthful love is portrayed against aging as well as ageless love. Yet inherent in the novel is a complexity of purpose which enables Garcia Marquez to explore a far more intricate landscape. What on the surface appears an old-fashioned love story is in effect a tale ravaged by the passage of time. For some, love endures, but for others, love fades from view or disappears entirely. For those without love, existence is consumed by the "torrents of memory," old age becomes a wearisome companion, and the joy of living is silenced by the inevitability of death. Set in an unnamed Caribbean port city, seemingly a composite of the Cartagena and Barranquilla of Garcia Marquez's early career as a journalist, the novel spans a period from the late 1870s to the early 1930s. Intertwining the lives of his three principal characters, Garcia Marquez blends the precise detail of ordinary life with the extraordinary pageantry of human experience. The novel begins on a Pentecost Sunday when the eighty-one year old Dr. Juvenal Urbino returns home agonizing over the suicide that morning of a beloved friend. He promptly meets his own death by accidentally falling from a ladder while attempting to capture a pet parrot from the top of a mango tree. It is this incident which at once evokes the distant longing of unrequited love and predetermines the future course of the novel. In mourning for her husband, the newly attired widow Fermina Daza is approached by Florentino Ariza who repeats to her a vow made fifty-one years, nine months, and four days before "of eternal fidelity and everlasting love," As the inconsiderate Fiorentino is shown a rather hasty exit, the destiny of the would-be lovers quietly enters through the same door. At this point, Garcia Marquez returns some sixty years to re-create the story of each of his protagonists played out before a backdrop of progress, passivity, civil war, and cholera epidemics.

Modeled in part on the courtship of his parents, the relationship between Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza begins when the two meet and fall in love, an affair carried out by letter, telegram, and serenade. When the romance is discovered by Fermina's father, he hurriedly takes her away on what becomes a "journey of forgetting." Upon her return, Fermina rejects Florentino and eventually marries the far more eligible Dr. Juvenal Urbino. Devastated by the rejection, Florentino embarks on his own journey only to return determined to win back Fermina's love. The task proves more arduous than anticipated, and Florentino must wait nearly half a century to realize his objective. In spite of his declaration of fidelity, Florentino is hardly idle in his vigil, recording in some twenty-five notebooks entries of 622 long-term liaisons, that is "apart from the countless fleeting adventures that did not even deserve a charitable note." Meanwhile, he dedicates himself to the pursuit of fame and fortune in preparation for his final conquest, rising to become head of the River Company of the Caribbean. In the end, love does indeed triumph; at least a kind of love. The lovers are finally united when he is seventy-six and she is seventy-two. This time they journey together up river aboard the New Fidelity, raising the yellow flag of cholera to prevent them from ever again touching shore. Yet the romantic idyll is deliberately clouded by the encroachment of a world defiled by disease, decay, and impending death. In essence, the lovers have little in which to rejoice except for illusion. "All that was left was the vast silence of the ravaged land."

This final image reinforces the thematic concern of appearance versus reality, which pervades the novel from beginning to end. Life in Garcia Marquez's fictional setting is often marked by mystery, detachment, and hypocrisy. Likewise, each of the major characters creates a persona by which to be identified within the community. Class difference is clearly part of this methodology and allows Garcia Marquez to enrich the novel with underlying strength. Florentino and Dr. Urbino represent opposite ends of a social spectrum in which Fermina lies curiously in the middle. As a result, the novel becomes a vehicle for Garcia Marquez to explore the qualities of love.

Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 626

Love
Love in the Time of Cholera tells the story of the lifelong love of the illegitimate, and once poor, Florentino Ariza for Fermina Daza. Their teenage love had been sustained largely by his letters as she was sent away by her ambitious father. But when they suddenly met after this long separation, her "illusion" of love, as she then saw it, was immediately dispelled. She rejected him to marry, although also after a period of rejection, the socially well-placed Dr. Juvenal Urbino. Much of the book is taken up with a study of this marriage and of the many affairs by which Florentino tries to fill the space left by Fermina while waiting one day to possess her. Urbino's death in his eighties allows Florentino to resume his courtship of and eventual marriage to Fermina. The novel's major themes are thus concerned with love and passion as well as aging, decay, and death.

From one point of view the marriage of Urbino and Fermina is merely a fifty-year interruption of Florentino's courtship. Yet it also proves to be the route to the final romance, since both characters develop significantly from their experiences during this period. It is the marriage that gives Fermina her realistic appreciation of romance. Marriage is not merely an obstacle. The relationship has been passionate, affectionate, boring, angry, and desperate.

The novel is thus a celebration of the many kinds of love between men and women. In part it is a brilliant account of a long marriage; elsewhere it is a tale of love finding erotic fulfillment in old age. In relating both the story of Fermina Daza's marriage and her later courtship, Love in the Time of Cholera is a novel about commitment and fidelity under circumstances that would seem to render such virtues absurd. It is also about a refusal to grow old gracefully and respectably.

A central idea of the novel is the primacy of passion and feeling over order, honor, duty, and authority. Love and sexual desire control, invigorate, and at times lay havoc upon lives. Sometimes the participants are burnt up as if by cholera, after which they may completely recover, may be extinguished, or, as with Florentino, may linger on in a state of perpetual convalescence. In Garcia Marquez's work, life and love are shown as unpredictable and turbulent, forever surging and overflowing their bounds.

Aging, Decay and Death
Aside from love, the process of aging, decay, and death is Love in the Time of Cholera's most important theme, and the two are linked in a defiance of society's prejudice against the sexuality of the elderly. Garcia Marquez keenly observes the process of aging and continually brings up the details of its encroachment. At the same time he proclaims a dignified old age and the right to companionship and pleasure. Fermina Daza's two children are typical of society's cruel and thoughtless attitudes about sexuality and aging. In typical Garcia Marquez fashion, there is a circular pattern to aging as presented in the novel, and the author observes on many occasions the return to characteristics of infancy and the reversal of the roles of parents and children.

Florentino is both intense about love and philosophical about age. Florentino sees death as a bottomless pit where memory trickles away. He is a patient man, and the delicacy with which he seduces Fermina, and the nature of their companionship during the final stage of their long lives defies shallow stereotypes. The novel is a meditation on decay, old age, and the dying process. The main characters' biographies are laid out from childhood to near death. They reveal lives actually lived, and the means by which memory can transfigure, keep alive, and obliterate both the pain and passion of the past.

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