Time is one of the most important themes in Love in the Time of Cholera, and it is closely entwined with almost all of the major themes. The story spans half a century, and in that period we see the effects of time on people and their relationships--especially love--and its effects on places and cultures. Marquez shows us Juvenal Urbino's mental decline, Florentino Ariza's loss of hair and teeth, and Fermina Daza's acquisition of the smell of decay. The three main protagonists' obsessions with aging and with death also fit with this theme, in that we see both the different ways time affects people physically, and the different ways they deal with it mentally.
We see the river that Florentino travels twice change from lush jungle, overrun by animals and plants, to bare sand, with no wildlife, eroding quickly. Fermina and Juvenal ride with the first airmail in a hot air balloon, and later a plane crashes into a town nearby. The narrator and characters frequently describe their city as behind, "unchanging on the edge of time." We see, however, that this is not true--the city is always changing, but its seeming stillness reflects the relativity of time in the story.
The very chronology--or lack of it--in the story fits into this theme, for the interconnectedness of stories always seems more important than a mere chronology, which leads the reader to be as surprised as the characters in the sudden realization of how much time has passed. A linear chronology does more to identify causes and effects, while a non-linear chronology can stress the resonances of recurring themes in multiple times.
Love, as evidenced by the novel's title, is another of the most important themes in Love in the Time of Cholera. The novel is filled with many different loves--between Florentino and Fermina, Fermina and Urbino, Florentino and all of his lovers, Urbino and Barbara Lynch, Hildebranda and her married man, and so on. Marquez breaks with convention in presenting the love between Florentino and Fermina, two almost-octogenarians, as the final and most powerful love, the love that seems to have a chance at eternity. Florentino's flowery sentiments often are too overly sentimental to seem serious, Fermina's hardness and pride seem to impede her from feeling real love; yet, after more than fifty years, they finally find each other as they should, and they find complete peace in their love.
Physical love is an important part of this theme too. Florentino uses it for fifty years to replace the true love he feels for Fermina, and this alternative almost works for him. The story offers physical love, that is, as much more than a capitulation to lust. Sex offers characters freedom, equality, understanding, and love, in addition to physical pleasure.
Illness, especially cholera, remains significant throughout the novel. Cholera kills Dr. Juvenal Urbino's father, which leads him to his eminence as a doctor. It also marks points of time; Lorenzo Daza's emigration is described by its proximity to the great cholera epidemic.
Sickness also is important in its relation to the other themes of aging, class, and in Florentino's case, love. Both Urbino and Florentino fall prey to the physical feeling of illness, which is simply age. The problems of cholera are frequently tied to class, with the outbreaks occurring primarily in poor neighborhoods, and with the prevention of another epidemic being the cause behind the improvement of the quality of life of the poor. Finally, multiple people, including chauffeur and mother, mistake Florentino's lovesickness for symptoms of cholera, thus implying a close connection between the two. Age allows Fermina and Florentino to love eternally, without the problems of society.
Aging is a vital theme in the novel, and it is especially closely tied to time. All three protagonists show great horror at the aging of their bodies, and Marquez shows us countless other characters who become senile, lose their teeth, pass away, and feel deep shame at the changes in their bodies. The theme of love offers hope for the indignity of aging--Florentino and Fermina are able to find profound spiritual and comfortable physical love in their late seventies, and in many of their encounters their age is only a factor in the first moment and then seems to melt away. Age, through time, provides experience and wisdom that can make love all the stronger.
The problem of aging is also exhibited in the characters who do not reach old age. Dr. Marco Aurelio Urbino Daza shows a special distaste for the elderly, tactlessly describing to Florentino the problems of not separating elderly people out of society, and finding it hard to accept without disgust the love between Florentino and his mother. Ofelia similarly is disgusted by such love, saying love not only is ridiculous at her age, but also revolting at her mother's. These characters, however, are shown to be shallow in having such opinions, since they are disproved by the peace that Florentino and Fermina find together.
Perspective is complicated and subtle in the novel. Its importance is most clear in the narrative style, which allows multiple characters' perspectives to dominate alternatively and never more than one at a time. In this way, the same event can be described from a new perspective after the reader has already experienced it, and in this new description the reader can see an utterly different take on the event. In this way, Marquez makes the importance of individual perspective clear, reminding us that it is impossible to understand most events from the perspective of just one participant.
Class comes up frequently in Love in the Time of Cholera. Lorenzo Daza refuses to let Florentino near his daughter, because he wants her to become a lady and the man does not have the last name of his father. Florentino is barred repeatedly from even eating with a member of an exclusive social club, regardless of his prominent position and economic status, because he was born out of wedlock.
Fermina is threatened before her marriage to Juvenal Urbino with cruel letters from those in the upper class who do not want her, a girl without an important name and with a rich but suspicious father, to marry one of their own. But the overall importance of class is called into question, for both Fermina and Florentino achieve great happiness and success, regardless of their unfortunate class backgrounds. Class never seems to be an unsurmountable obstacle outside of intentional exclusion.
Writing is essential throughout Love in the Time of Cholera, especially in the relationship between Florentino and Fermina, and thus in the most happy love in the novel. Florentino's and Fermina's first relationship is based entirely around letters; they speak only a handful of times, and otherwise they communicate entirely by mail. They each have a highly distinctive style that closely reflects each's personality: Florentino is overly romantic and flowery, and Fermina is cool and to the point. In their first relationship, writing seems to mask reality, for it is only when Fermina finally sees Florentino in person that she finds she does not love him, and the letters thus created a reality that did not exist.
In their later and truer love, again their letters lead them to fall in love. For this to occur, Florentino must move beyond his overly effusive style to a more rational one, while Fermina must adopt a more true and meaningful style. Thus after fifty years, the transformation of his writing style reflects a change in his character that allows her to finally love him.
Marquez simultaneously undermines the importance of writing, it seems, by almost never giving the reader any glimpses into the text of the letters that pass between Florentino and Fermina. The letters essentially create their love, and readers are expected to trust that the letters are as powerful as their effects demonstrate. Nevertheless, Marquez is a writer himself, so we have good reason to trust that he has revealed exactly what is necessary.
Love in the Time of Cholera Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Love in the Time of Cholera is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
In Marquez's novel, love and sickness are conflated repeatedly, and a love like Fermina's and Florentino's, like a sickness, does not follow societal rules, so it is appropriate that the social guidelines allowing the sick a certain...
I think the most of old folks are more wise than the youth so their love is more deeply dug. The love among the youngs is based on beautifulness, wich is prone to extinction with the passing of time. Unfortunately, usually, the young couples...