Love Time Cholera Critical Essays

Gabriel García Márquez is one of the most important Latin American writers of the second half of the twentieth century. His novels and stories are distinguished by a vivacity of style that clearly sets them apart from the pessimism often associated with early twentieth century Western literature, yet his characters’ acute sensitivity to the passage of time clearly shows the influence of one of the greatest twentieth century American writers, William Faulkner.

García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera can, in fact, be viewed as a novel both of tradition and of its own time. It offers a traditional love story focusing on two lovers who overcome many obstacles before they are united. Beyond that, however, the novel addresses the question of time and the related fear of death in a universe in which God’s existence no longer seems assured. Love in the Time of Cholera represents the author’s response to the notion that death is inescapable and final. García Márquez uses a framed plot, the interweaving narratives of Florentino and Fermina, and symbolism to assert that passionate love can transcend time and death.

The frame story emphasizes the seeming inescapability of death. García Márquez begins the novel with the death of Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, who has committed suicide at the age of sixty because he can no longer fully enjoy human passion. García Márquez next presents the death of Dr. Juvenal Urbino, who proclaims his passion for Fermina at the moment of his death. After that, the narrative moves back in time to the stories of Florentino and Fermina. Only toward the end of the novel does García Márquez return to the deaths of Saint-Amour and Urbino, both of which in turn remind the now-elderly Florentino of his own inescapable death. With this frame, García Márquez establishes a tension between death and love and suggests that there is no escape from death.

Throughout the novel, constant references to cholera remind the characters as well as the reader of death. Regardless of Urbino’s efforts to find a cure for cholera, the disease remains...

(The entire section is 865 words.)

Love in the Time of Cholera By Gabriel Garcia Marquez Translated by Edith Grossman 348 pages. Alfred A. Knopf. $18.95.

''Love in the Time of Cholera,'' Gabriel Garcia Marquez's radiant new novel, is at once an old-fashioned love story, elegantly fashioned out of the clockwork pieces of romantic fiction (secret love letters, unrequited passions, noisy declarations of undying devotion and long, melancholy honeymoons spent at sea), and an anatomy of love in all its forms: the gushy, irrational love of adolescents and the mature love of people who have suffered loss and grief; the high-flown love, immortalized by poets, and the love without love found in bordellos and motels; marital love and adulterous love, spiritual love, physical love, even love that resembles cholera in its symptoms and its pain.

The other great subject of this novel, like Proust's ''Remembrance of Things Past,'' is time - how time past shapes time present and how memory transfigures and redeems all that has gone before. We are shown, through the story of one woman and two men, the ways in which love changes and endures through time, and we are also shown the ways in which our apprehension of the fact of death constantly alters our ideals and our goals. As in his great masterwork, ''One Hundred Years of Solitude,'' Mr. Garcia Marquez maps out the spiritual geography of a fictional Latin America, intercutting the fates of his individual characters with the social history of a country beset by biblical plagues and civil wars; and in doing so, he sets forth a cyclical vision of time in which everything that happens emerges as a variation on earlier events, earlier lives.

In the case of ''Love in the Time of Cholera,'' the setting is a city, febrile with class conflicts, rather than an isolated river village; the time span, a half century, not a hundred years. More noticeable is Mr. Garcia Marquez's shift of gears in style. Improbable events proliferate throughout this novel: a man teaches a parrot to speak French and Latin, then dies trying to retrieve the petulant bird from a tree; a fortuneteller predicts the fates of two young girls with uncanny precision; a series of disappointed lovers commit suicide by inhaling the aromatic fumes of gold cyanide. Yet, compared with the author's earlier books, the magic is more muted here, the flights of fancy more securely grounded in the mundane realities of ordinary life.

The story, simply enough, is the story of Fermina Daza - another of Mr. Garcia Marquez's strong, maternal women - and her indefatigable suitor, Florentino Ariza, an obsessive romantic who has been pursuing her now for 51 years, 9 months and 4 days. The two first met back in the 19th century - she was a 13-year-old, convent-educated Juliet, the only daughter of a socially ambitious arriviste; he, a young telegraph operator, ''the most sought-after young man in his social circle, the one who knew how to dance the latest dances and recite sentimental poetry by heart.'' Florentino falls in love with Fermina at first sight, pledges ''his perfect fidelity and his everlasting love'' in a letter, and eventually wins her heart.

''Neither one could do anything except think about the other,'' writes Mr. Garcia Marquez, ''dream about the other, and wait for letters with the same impatience they felt when they answered them. Never in that delirious spring, or in the following year, did they have the opportunity to speak to each other. Moreover, from the moment they saw each other for the first time until he reiterated his determination a half century later, they never had the opportunity to be alone or talk of their love.''

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