By Chet Yarbrough
Gabriel Garcia Márquez begins Love in the Time of Cholera with a sweet evocation of love and marriage between Dr. Juvenal Urbino and his 71-year-old wife, the former Fermina Daza.
Love in the Time of Cholera almost loses one’s interest with the introduction of Florentino Ariza, an earlier rival for señorita Daza’s affection. Florentino seems a pale suitor when compared to Urbino. Florentino is too poor, too poetically inept, and socially immature to rival Urbino. Márquez slowly fills out Florentino’s character to make a listener interested enough to find out why he is important to the story. Márquez cleverly inserts an anonymous letter delivered to Urbino in the telling of his tale. The letter was held by a suicide victim, an acquaintance of Urbino’s, which adds mystery to the story. One wonders, is the letter related to Fermina’s earlier suitor? An answer is not given until the end of Love in the Time of Cholera.
After rejection by Fermina, Florentino becomes a serial lover in pursuit of unrequited passion. Florentino’s love for Fermina is pathological; i.e. it consumes his life. After Fermina’s curt rejection, Florentino exiles himself from real love by having many affairs and comparing them to idealized love for Fermina; by definition, the ideal can never be achieved. The depth of Florentino’s pathology is revealed when Florentino expresses his undying love to Fermina at her husband’s funeral. Such an action is beyond social ineptness; it is crazily demented.
When two-thirds of the way through the novel, it becomes clear that Márquez’s story is not only about love, but about marriage. Told from the perspective of a man, sex is removed from love; sex is shown as both a threat to and fulfillment of love and marriage. The threat of sex is the temptation of infidelity, suffused with sensuality and insecurity; i.e. the sensuality of hedonism, and the insecurity from feelings of inadequacy, loss of youth, and old age. The fulfillment of sex is in the intimacy and trust added to human’ relationship.
Márquez’s story suggests that love, at least from a man’s perspective, does not arrive with marriage but only comes with the passage of time. Márquez concludes sex in life and marriage is ephemeral and evolving; while love is eternal and built over time.