Love and Death in Love in the Time of Cholera

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For readers familiar with Love in the Time of Cholera, the themes of love and death would be constantly visited and revisited again by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his novel, with a tad of heavy reliance on the cholera pandemic (as the title suggests not so subtly) and going so far as to intertwine them into a single notion (more often than not) throughout. Such a combination (and comparison) is most visible in Florentino, and helps shapes our emotions and thoughts about him as a character. Yet, in seeing how the author allows these themes to interact as merely a vehicle to power his characters and novel would be too simplistic an idea; instead, one should perhaps consider the alternative viewpoints of these themes addressing deeper concerns through differing interactions. Through a deeper exploration of how the notions of love and death are dealt by Marquez in Love in the Time of Cholera, perhaps one can hopefully seek an understanding of his underlying ideas within the novel, such as one which suggests them as components to “look beyond the apocalyptic impetuses of a ‘numb, recombitant’ postmodern fiction and to present a novel refreshingly traditional (or, one might say, post-apocalyptic) in its assumption that "old age, love and death" as human virtues can survive the ‘blast’ (here, the metaphor for apocalypse being the cholera epidemic), that subsurface feeling can incubate in and be unearthed from the fallout ashes, that the resources for self-renewal, contrary to the inevitablist theories, are possible” (Buehrer 15). The first chapter of the novel opens with readers learning of the death of a Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, as examined by his close friend, a certain Dr. Juvenal Urbino. The method of death was judged to be one by cyanide. Right from the beginning of the novel, Marquez already allows the melancholic aura of death to permeate through, setting the tone (and somewhat foreshadowing) what is to come as the novel progresses. Saint-Amour also leaves behind information for Dr. Urbino, leading the latter to unveil a secret that was kept even from him – the existence of an unnamed secret lover for more than half of his life, and through her the readers would learn of Saint-Amour’s gerentophobic condition, or the fear of death. This apparent reason for suicide of Saint-Amour, out of his own fear of death, stands in stark contrast to the undying love of his unnamed secret love, following his every instruction leading to his death, even to the extent of having a red rose tucked behind her ear because he had told her to “remember [him] with a rose” (Marquez). That Saint-Amour had chosen cyanide suicide further underlines the juxtaposition between the two, for such a method of death had usually been triggered by a “torturous love” – which could have been, in light of his secret rendezvous which even his close friend had no knowledge of. Yet, the true reason behind this puts a damper on the notion of death in relation to that of love (by the secret lover) and one which, as readers would learn later, sets up a contrast to the ideas of love and death to the key protagonist of the novel, Florentino. To understand the presence of several references to cholera in the novel, it is perhaps critical to remember that there had been a massive cholera pandemic which had swept through parts of Europe (and claiming hundreds of thousands of lives) at the turn of century, the same time period which the novel had been set in. The symptoms which patients are inflicted with when diagnosed with this plague, and the potency of it to kill, would become cornerstones in describing love in Love in the Time of Cholera – both the journey and the end product of it. Hence, the diagnosis of symptoms that arose from cholera was often seen to be the oncoming of death, an important notion to note in reading the character of Florentino. The readers are exposed to this in the second chapter when Florentino, in his suffering of physical and emotional...
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