Love in the Time of Cholera

Love in the Time of Cholera Study Guide

Love in the Time of Cholera, published in 1985, was Gabriel Garcia Marquez's first book after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. Although it has often been compared negatively with Marquez's greatest achievement, One Hundred Years of Solitude, many critics see Love in the Time of Cholera as a convincing and powerful love story that deftly accomplishes the goal Marquez set for himself: writing a story about love between two people of an age that no respected writer had managed before.

Marquez was inspired to write Love in the Time of Cholera, which followed Chronicle of a Death Foretold, by his admiration for Daniel Defoe's Journal of a Plague Year. Marquez also claims that the story was inspired by his own parents' marriage, or his memory of it. The novel has an unusual structure--it jumps around chronologically, as well as between focal perspectives, so much so that it seems to be a collection of tangential stories tied together by the love Florentino Ariza feels for Fermina Daza. Love in the Time of Cholera also has multiple protagonists and countless characters, many of whom are deftly and carefully brought to life despite their fleeting presences in the novel.

The novel is concerned most generally with love, time, and death, and it is influenced by the oral traditions of story-telling as well as by the magical realism that Marquez essentially defined in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Love in the Time of Cholera is written unlike any traditional representation of love, but it is not only in this apect that it affected the twentieth-century novels to follow. Its unorthodox structure and its combination of a more European-style realism with its use of story-telling traditions mark a turn away from the traditional novel style; the novel also shuns any obsession with the everyday.

Love in the Time of Cholera mainly tells the story of Florentino Ariza, Fermina Daza, and Dr. Juvenal Urbino. The story opens with the day of Dr. Urbino's death, then essentially jumps back fifty-one years, and with flashback, repetition, and foreshadowing, meanders back to the day of Urbino's death, and then to the final decision, a couple of years later, of Florentino and Fermina to spend their eternity riding a riverboat together, while a flag flies high to indicate a cholera infection. In this half-century span, Marquez tells the story of Fermina's and Florentino's early love, Fermina's quest for identity and independence, Florentino's economic progress and his many love affairs, and Fermina's and Dr. Urbino's marriage, as well as many other side stories of the countless characters who flow into and out of their lives.

The main themes repeat. We see all three protagonists struggle with the indignity of aging and a fear of death; cholera, choleric symptoms, and cholera epidemics come throughout the novel; and love is, of course, the one thing that ties all of it together. With these repetitions comes a deeper meaning for each of the themes; for example, Marquez makes clear that there is no one definition of love but instead many kinds, all complicated, all unpredictable. Similarly, while the deaths of all three protagonists are inevitable, the end of the novel complicates the definition of death and certainly makes clear that age, and thus time, do not put an end to love.