Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez Essay
Love in the Time of Cholera is a novel that endows its reader with truly gorgeous, lucent writing, full of brilliant stops and starts, majestic whirls, thrilling endings, splendor and humor, where the magical elements intertwine with psychological realism. Garcia Marquez is always associated with magical realism. In fact, he is considered the central figure of magical realism. In general terms, magical realism is used to describe fiction that juxtaposes the fantastic and the mythic with ordinary activities of daily life. The important feature of magical realism is that behind the masterfully told stories lies a realistic universe where the individual think, love, and live and die for ideals they consider just. For the characters who inhabit the fictional world, and for the author who creates it, magic may be real and reality magical.
Garcia Marquez’s works are read as fiction, but his sources are factual. A lot of critics, though, tend to believe that Love in the Time of Cholera is not based on principles of “magical realism” as its prerequisite. As Pynchon sees it in his review of the novel, the “reality” of love and the possibility of its ultimate extinction become novel’s “indispensable driving forces,” whereas magic in all its guises and forms becomes peripheralized or “at least more thoughtfully deployed in the service of an expanded vision, matured, darker than before but no less clement” (49). In this analysis we will try to explore what elements of magical realism can be traced in formation of the characters in the novel under analysis.
Despite numerous critical statements that Love in the Time of Cholera can hardly be treated as the best example of Marquez’s magical realism, this is not to say that all trace of “magic” is missing in the novel: there is something ultimately “unreal” and comic in the narrator’s casual calculation of Florentino’s 622 “long-term liaisons, apart from … countless fleeting adventures” (Marquez, 152) during the romantic’s life in seclusion from his “real” love, Fermina, for example.
Literary trait used by Garcia Marquez that testifies to the presence of realistic and unreal is the frequent use as characters of real peoples’ names or personas. The literary context of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s characters is both real and imaginary. Perhaps the most interesting and beautiful depiction of the use of real peoples’ personas in Garcia Marquez’s character development can be found in Love in the Time of Cholera. Spanning the half-century roughly between 1880 and 1930, the novel is about love, in all its ages. Garcia Marquez is said to have modeled the romantic triangle on the courtship of his parents, though the years correspond more to the lives of his grandparents. (Stavans, 47)
His experience with real-life characters is the basis for the love story in the novel, although the names are all fictitious. In an interview (Relations and Portraits), he assures the viewer that the story is a true and literal retelling of the love story of his parents. His father, Eligio Garcia – like Florentino Ariza in the novel – had to overcome the hostility of his beloved’s parents. Florentino Ariza, like Garcia Marquez’s own father, plays the violin and writes poetry. Garcia Marquez’s mother, Luisa Santiaga, was an only child, as is Fermina Daza in the novel. Also like Garcia Marquez’s own mother, Fermina has a strong character. While Garcia Marquez’s mother had eleven children, however, in the novel Fermina has only two. However, Gabriel Garcia Marquez has two children. Garcia Marquez’s father, Eligio Garcia, was the town telegraph operator, as is Florentino Ariza in the novel. That in itself was reason enough for his mother’s parents to reject him. On top of that, however, Eligio Garcia was a conservative. In real life, Eligio Garcia and Luisa Marquez did get married, but to keep up appearances they had to move out of town. In the novel, Fermina Daza’s father never accepts Florentino Ariza, but the young man stays in town and never marries Fermina Daza. Nonetheless, in the end, true love prevails.
McNerney points out 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.
Reading Garcia Marquez it is difficult to separate reality from fiction; they are inseparable. The same happens to Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza in Love in the Time of Cholera. They seem to live in real life which intersects with the life lived by them in their letters. Theirs is a romance that appears to be woven by the memories of a bygone youth. Love letters from the man, Florentino Ariza, to the woman, Fermina Daza, are the thread that keeps them attentive to each other until – after more than four hundred pages – readers are presented with a change in the perception of the importance of the epistolary link. Florentino first goes to Fermina’s house after he has sent her a letter he had written in a state of depression, caused by the embarrassment of anticipating his first visit to her house. The encounter goes smoothly, overcoming the difficulties that had caused the composition of the letter. After having been the only link between two characters who had been physically apart, the letters, through Fermina’s reaction, enter into another realm. They become something different from the weighty reality that brought the lovers together, something that Florentino dares define as literature.
The novel thus gives its characters two routes to follow simultaneously: one that leads in the direction of literature, and the other portrayed as divergent, bringing readers closer to feelings seen as more real than the ones in the hypothetical book. The assumption of Love in the Time of Cholera serves to show that, at age seventy-two, Fermina Daza can still be a cunning reader and a blushing inspirer of courtship. She returns the letters to Florentino, thereby freeing herself from his “book.” In returning the letters and safely confining them to a book, Fermina is able to make the transition from potential reader, that at the same time makes her a believer in illusions who is unable to take action, a dreamer unconnected to the present, to a credible lover.
Literature has been given a place; it has served the purpose of bringing Fermina and Florentino together and now must be pushed aside so that the romance may, indeed, continue. Fermina has been seduced by the letters but is capable of maintaining the kind of distance that leaves room for the reality of Florentino, the man, not the character constructed by the letters.
Fermina Daza 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. From the detailed information, the reader gains extensive knowledge of who Fermina and Florentino really are, but the author does not give his judgment to them; without judgment, the narrative includes their likes and dislikes, preferences, shortcomings, reactions, and ambitions.
In presentation characters’ life stories Marquez employs one of the techniques typical of magical realism that is he distorts time so that it appears absent. Thus the story opens at time when the main characters are all rather old people. Then 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. At that time Fermina is described as long-boned, slim, with steelblue hair and clear almond eyes, and an inborn haughtiness, diligent, and of strong character (Marquez, 41). Fermina’s haughtiness, stubbornness, and cleverness can be seen when her father sends her away, on a journey to forget (Marquez, 102).
However, the plan does not work, as the two young lovers find a way to communicate by telegraph. But, 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. 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. Here the past is mirrored against present, the feature that characterizes magical realism. When this opportunity comes Fermina behaves as a respectable widow, mature and self-controlled, but Florentino eventually manages to win her over.
Of all the characters, Florentino is the one who feels love the most; he loves passionately and with tremendous abandonment. 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. She then gives herself totally, generously sharing with him a kind of love perhaps neither had ever experienced before Florentino Ariza, in very many ways, is the antithesis of Dr. Juvenal Urbino.
Such great detail, sometimes even comical, used in creation of those two characters, the course of their development that distorts conventional time course, abundant emotional description of characters as social constructs and what is more the open-ended conclusion are all the elements of magical realism that remained in Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera.
García Márquez, Gabriel. Love in the Time of Cholera. Trans. Edith Grossman. New York: Knopf, 1988
McNerney, Kathleen. Understanding Gabriel García Márquez. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989.
Pynchon, Thomas. “The Heart’s Eternal Vow.” Review of Love in the Time of Cholera. New York Times Book Review 10 April 1988: 1, 47, 49
Stavans, Ilan. Art and Anger: Essays on Politics and the Imagination. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996
Tratos y Retrators: Relations and Portraits. Dir. Silvia Lemus. Trans. Carla V. Smallwood. Films for the Humanities and Sciences, 1998