Love in the Time of Cholera
Fermina Daza: A Strong Independent Woman
The idea of equality of the sexes in Latin America is a relatively new phenomena. Until the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, the time period of Love in the Time of Cholera, women were predominantly treated as the inferior sex. Therefore, women were also often excluded from taking part in public life like their male counterparts in areas such as those pertaining to politics, economics, and education. Although women of the time period do not enjoy the same social freedom of their male counterparts, Gabriel García Márquez in his novel Love in the Time of Cholera does not portray women as oppressed. Rather, Márquez portrays several of his female characters as strong, resourceful, and independent individuals. This is particularly evident in how the novel presents Fermina Daza in her marriage to Dr. Juvenal Urbino as a strong, independent woman who is the intellectual equal of her husband.
Despite not having received the same level of education as her husband, Fermina demonstrates that she is still the intellectual equal of her husband by outsmarting his rules. Unlike Fermina, who never finishes her studies nor receives her baccalaureate degree, Urbino “had completed advanced studies in medicine and surgery” to the point that “none of his contemporaries seemed as rigorous and as learned as he in his science” (Márquez 105). Yet, Urbino comes to appreciate his wife’s abundant domestic knowledge and skills after she becomes “tired of his lack of understanding” and “asked him for an unusual birthday gift: that for one day he would take care of the domestic chores” (Márquez 222). Through the course of her birthday, Urbino demonstrates himself to be completely helpless regarding domestic knowledge and skills so that Fermina must resume command of the house prior to lunch. Regardless of his claims that Fermina would equally struggle to cure the sick, both Urbino and Fermina learn from this experience that each must appreciate the other’s unique knowledge and skills. Similarly, after discovering a discrepancy in Urbino’s proclamation that “nothing that does not speak will come into [their] house”, resourcefully Fermina discovers and then buys a royal Paramaribo parrot, who speaks in a voice seemingly human (Márquez 23). Thus, Urbino “bowed to the ingenuity of his wife” and recognizes that she is capable of outsmarting him and his rules (Márquez 23). Therefore, by outsmarting Urbino’s rules Fermina demonstrates that despite her lacking as advanced tutelage as her husband received, she is still his intellectual equal and he should appreciate her as such.
Fermina’s strong character and resolve is most evident in her determination and refusal to let others, particularly her husband, influence her choices or make decisions for her. This is clearly seen when she decides to leave and go live with her cousin Hildebranda after she becomes aware that Urbino is having an affair. Since Urbino “knew the strength of her character very well”, he simply “accepted her decision with humility” (Márquez 235). However, this does not prevent Urbino from seeking to persuade Fermina in her decisions, especially using the intervention of religious authority figures. However, instead of swaying her in favor of Urbino and his ideas, the involvement of religious authority figures in Urbino’s and Fermina’s relationship makes her even more adamant in her own opinions and choices. This is particularly evident prior to their courtship, when Urbino’s last resort in wooing Fermina “was the mediation of Sister Franca de la Luz, Superior of the Academy” (Márquez 125). Since Fermina hates her, she becomes outraged and becomes increasingly more vehement in her refusal to speak with Urbino. Similarly, this occurs when Urbino sends the Bishop of Riohacha “on a pastoral visit” to Fermina while she is living with Hildebranda in order to convince her to return home to him (Márquez 236). Rather than give Urbino the satisfaction of her giving in to his request, Fermina “refused in an amiable but firm manner” when the Bishop asks to hear her confession “with the explicit argument that she had nothing to repent of” (Márquez 236). She does not allow her decision to be influenced by the Bishop, but does leave with Urbino when he visits only because “she would be happy to leave with him” (Márquez 254). This can also be seen during their honeymoon in how, although Fermina wanted to turn on the light in their suite, “she wanted to be the one to do it, without anyone’s ordering her to, and she had her way” (Márquez 158). Overall, Fermina is a strong character who does not allow others, especially her husband, to persuade her or make decisions for her, instead choosing what she wants or what is most beneficial to her.
Although Fermina Daza is dependent upon her husband like most women of her time, her husband is equally if not more dependent upon her. This is particularly evident after their golden wedding anniversary, when both “were not capable of living for an instant without the other… and that capacity diminished as their age increased” (Márquez 26). However, neither Fermina nor Urbino “could have said if their mutual dependence was based on love or convenience” (Márquez 26). Urbino’s dependence on Fermina is best illustrated through his need for her to care for him in his old age. Since Urbino is ten years older than Fermina, as he grows older he continually becomes weaker leaving Fermina as the strongest of the pair. At first, Fermina simply assists her husband with tasks such as bathing and dressing out of love, but for the last five years of Urbino’s life “she had been obliged to do it regardless of the reason because he could not dress himself” (Márquez 26). As Urbino declines in health with his increasing age, he increasingly comes to depend upon Fermina in order to live. Basically, Urbino depends on Fermina more than Fermina depends on him.
Despite Fermina’s seeming dependence on Urbino for stability and companionship, she is still very independent minded. Unlike many other women of her time, she is independent in how she does not necessarily rely on her husband for a place to live. This can be seen in how Fermina “threatened to move back to her father’s old house, which still belonged to her” during the escalating argument between herself & Urbino over whether or not there is any soap in the bath (Márquez 29). This is also demonstrated when she leaves and goes to live with her cousin Hildebranda after she becomes aware that Urbino is having an affair. However, her independence is most clearly illustrated in how Fermina continues living after Urbino’s sudden death. Despite his fear of any possible pain associated with death, “what worried Dr. Urbino most about dying was the solitary life Fermina Daza would lead without him” (Márquez 45). However, Urbino’s fear is unfounded because “from her first moment as a widow, it was obvious that Fermina Daza was not as helpless as her husband had feared” (Márquez 46). When Fermina’s son suggests his wife should accompany her on her riverboat journey, Fermina says that she is “too big to have anyone take care of [her]” (Márquez 325). Unlike her husband, Fermina is independent and does not need anyone to take care of nor provide for her.
Fermina’s marriage to Urbino reveals that she is a strong, independent woman who is the intellectual equal of her husband. Urbino depends on Fermina more than Fermina depends on him since she does not need anyone to take care of nor provide for her. Despite her lack of as advanced tutelage as her husband received, by outsmarting Urbino’s rules Fermina demonstrates she is still his intellectual equal and that he should appreciate her as such. In addition, Fermina is a strong character since she does not allow others, especially her husband, to persuade her or make decisions for her, instead choosing what she wants or what is most beneficial to her. Overall, by presenting Fermina Daza in her marriage to Dr. Juvenal Urbino as a strong, independent woman who is the intellectual equal of her husband, Márquez in his novel Love in the Time of Cholera does not portray women as oppressed but rather as quite equal to their male counterparts.
Love in The Time of Cholera: A Reflection on Magical Realism
“Forever” (Marquez, 1988: 352). Thanks to this simple word — Florentino Ariza’s answer to the Riverboat captain’s question when asked how long he intends to keep the boat going — it is not hard to understand why many critics would label Love in the time of Cholera a love story of astonishing power. Ariza’s answer as the last line in the book and its placement as the conclusion to the tale make it, for less romantically inclined readers, all the more cringe-worthy. Even the story’s main plot points appear to have been lifted directly from a shallow romantic novel or even its film adaptation — a love triangle that survives the test of time, a protagonist who makes it his life’s work to make himself worthy of his beloved, an ending which is ultimately a happy one. The novel’s short length does nothing to discredit these accusations of frivolity either. Yet if one were to fully examine the novel, one would find that Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s hailed masterpiece is exactly that, a masterpiece.
Thus, this essay will attempt to prove the credibility of the novel as a work of postmodernism. This will be done by examining various excerpts from the book and identifying the use of magic realism within them. Special attention will also be paid to the main characters of the novel and how they amount to far more than simple mannequins placed in romantic scenes. Besides this, an explanation of the context of the novel and how Latin American literature differs from its North American counterpart will be explored.
Garcia Marquez’s penchant for magical realism is seen throughout the novel and elevates the story above the common romance tale. With regard to a definition, Stephen Slemon makes note of the term’s oxymoronic nature and how it is itself a conflict between two forces (Slemon, 1988: 11). When magical realism is employed in fiction, the two opposing natures of the fantastic and the realistic prevent each other from coming to their full fruition. Although the very concept of a force that endures the test of over half a century (Ariza’s supposed undying love for Fermina Daza) is already an abnormal concept, the magic realism of Marquez’s writing can be found in the reactions of his characters to the concept. This is witnessed early on in the novel at the wake of Dr Urbino. Florentino Ariza arrives and, after many of the guests have left, approaches Fermina Daza and once again declares his undying love for her. Daza, without emotion, simply tells him Ariza to go away and not return. This hints at the heavy use of magic realism throughout the rest of the novel. What could have been a heartfelt reaction to the power of love (magic) is instead brought back down to earth through a very realistic reaction (realism). If the novel were any other romantic story, the episode would have had a far more positive outcome.
Magical realism once again makes itself known through one of the core themes of the novel – love as a disease. During his first experience with love and Fermina Daza, Ariza experiences severe physical pain and is taken to the doctor by his mother, Transito Ariza, for treatment. Due to the ongoing epidemic happening at the time, the doctor mistakes Ariza’s ailments for Cholera, not heartache. Once again, an abnormal force is met with a very realistic reaction.
Yet these moments are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg in the case of the novel’s use of magic realism. Ariza’s quest to make himself worthy of Fermina Daza can be seen as the story’s greatest example of the magical in the real world. Although his belief that he will remain sexually pure until he has made Fermina Daza his own is admirable, it is not feasible in daily life. People change, including him. His meeting with Rosalba aboard the riverboat is the catalyst of this change: this first encounter with sex is brief and far from intimate yet still manages to sow the seed in his mind that sex is a feasible way in which to vent his yearning for Daza. This single encounter might be excusable as a minor hiccup in his quest for love, yet Ariza goes on to have sexual relations with over six hundred women, including a family relation. Ariza’s addiction to the “healing” power of sex shows that the purity of an enduring love is impossible in the real world. It also shows that Marquez’s novel is far more (or in this case less) than just an astonishing love story. It is a study of the nature of humanity and the fickleness of man.
Ariza’s quest itself is littered with moments full of magic realism. His quest to find a submerged shipwreck full of gold seems as if it were taken directly from the pages of Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Christo (Dumas, 1844). Unfortunately, Ariza’s quest does not meet the same positive outcome as that of Edmond Dantes. The search for gold does not end with fortune, or danger, or oven death. Instead, it ends with Ariza realizing that he has been led on by his guide, Euclides, the entire time. His betrayal at the hands of a boy once again demonstrates how any fantastic elements, including sunken ships full of treasure, will meet a very rational and chilling reaction.
Garcia Marquez’s use of magic realism outside of the reaches of love demonstrates how Love in the Time of Cholera is far more than just a love story. The episode of Doctor Urbino’s death and his relationship with his prized parrot show how magic realism can be used in all spheres of life. The event of Urbino’s death is dripping with metaphor, in the way that his prized parrot stands as a representation of his wife as well. The parrot, like Fermina, came from a poor background but was raised up by the aristocracy to become a subject to behold. The doctor’s words may at first seem cryptic when he declares to the parrot that he “finally understands” (Marquez, 1988). However, his words can be interpreted as if they were being spoken to his wife instead. Urbino finally understands that his time with Fermina has come to an end; although his love for her was good and honourable (for the most part), it is time for him to release her and allow her to experience the love of a man who has cradled it for her fifty-one years. The exit of the bird also speaks to Urbino’s character and his devout following of the church. His parrot leaves the earth the same way his savior did. Moments of such dramatic magnitude do not seem fitting, or even necessary in a conventional love story.
If anything, it is Garcia Marquez’s subtle writing of the three main characters that speaks of the novel’s depth as a romance. Florentino Ariza’s determination to do anything to win the hand of Fermina is admirable, yet ultimately twisted. But this strange determination is thinly veiled by Marquez imagining Ariza as a timid and sickly looking underdog. Indeed, he does go through all the motions that a love struck young man would go through in order to prove his love, but these motions transform him into a madman. In his quest for love, he becomes a rapist, a murderer, a pedophile as well as a man who passively longs for the death of his beloved’s husband so that he may court her as his own. In a conventional love triangle, Doctor Urbino would be taken as the antagonistic, secondary love interest. Yet he is so much more than that. Through him, Fermina Daza experiences all the highs and lows of a realistic marriage. Urbino does cheat on her and act cold towards her, but he also provides her with security, companionship, and a loving family. Urbino’s two sided-ness distinguishes him from being just the “bad guy”. In his old age he even becomes pitiable.
Moreover, Fermina Daza’s role as the main female character does not necessarily make her a damsel in distress. Although the reader first meets her when she is a young impressionable girl, her time abroad transforms her into a woman who commands respect and harnesses an indomitable determination. Yet this strong façade masks a nurturing side which she shows to her children and relatives. There is a common strand in all three of the characters’ dualities which speaks to the very nature of postmodernism – the deconstruction of the soul (Gregson, 2004: 41). By giving his characters more than one (opposing) layer, Garcia Marquez allows all three of them to distance themselves from a “stable core” (Gregson, 2004: 41).
Context is everything. It is through context that a reader can understand why Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece is misinterpreted by North American audiences as simply an astonishing love story. It is also through context that the reader can rectify this assumption. In his Nobel Prize acceptance lecture, Garcia Marquez explains that Latin Americans and their literature are alienated by their “The interpretation of [their] reality through patterns not [their] own, [which serves] only to make [them] ever more unknown, ever less free, ever more solitary.” (Garcia Marquez, 1982). With this explanation in mind, one can see why readers in the rest of the world would make such a bland assumption. This, combined with the fact that a literary avant-garde movement (like magic realism) is often dismissed as “unduly naïve”, paints a vivid picture of how the novel’s complexity could have been ignored (Hassan, 1987: 3). If anything, Love in the Time of Cholera stands as a lesson in understanding that one may be able to comprehend a story, but not necessarily understand it.
Bibliography Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo 2004, Barnes & Noble Books, New York. Boyne, Roy (ed.). Postmodernism and Society (Communications & Culture). Macmillan Education Ltd: London Gregson, Ian. 2004. Postmodernism Literature. Arnold Publishers: London. Hassan, Ihab. The Postmodern Turn: Essays in Postmodern Theory and Culture. 1987. Ohio State University Press. Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. 1988 . Love in the time of Cholera. Editorial Oveja Negra Ltda: Bogata. Nobelprize.org,. ‘Gabriel García Márquez – Nobel Lecture: The Solitude Of Latin America’. N.p., 2015. Web. 2 May 2015. Sfreporter.com,. ‘Lee On Literature: Elements Of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez’S Magic’. N.p., 2015. Web. 9 Apr. 2015. Slemon, Stephen. 2015. Web. 2 May 2015.
Fundamental Needs in Love in the Time of the Cholera
In Marquez’s Love in the Time of the Cholera, the relationships of the three main characters are predicated upon the different fundamental emotional needs they have. For example, Florentino needs love from Fermina, while Fermina needs not love but companionship and security from her husband Juvenal. In turn, Juvenal needs understanding and stability from Fermina, so what we have in the end is a rich tapestry of needs that govern each character’s actions and interactions. Florentino’s basic need is the simplest to gauge, for it remains constant from the moment he sets his eyes on Fermina. His basic motivating need is love; all his actions speak to that inner drive. When he has Fermina’s love, “Requited love,” he has “a confidence and strength he had never known before” (74). Conversely, without Fermina he is only a shadow of himself, an object of pity. He “hunt[s] the abandoned little birds of the night for several years, still hoping to find a cure for the pain of Fermina Daza” (174). He rides the trolley and stalks the Carnivale looking for love, and other women are drawn to him because they sense his innate need. Even the cleaning woman at the transient hotel realizes that “he was just like her: someone in need of love” (78). This inner famine renders his behavior almost obsessive in his guarding of love. “He was a different person: the lover who never showed his face, the man most avid for love as well as most niggardly with it, the man who gave nothing and wanted everything, the man who did not allow anyone to leave a trace of her passing in his heart, the hunter lying in ambush…” (216). He guards his own love as well as that of others, never giving away too much of his heart but wanting all of his lovers that he can get. Sometimes, he has several loves going on at once in the heart of his that has “more rooms than a whorehouse,” and over the course of fifty years he has six hundred and twenty-two long term love affairs. We are told of many: Ausencia Santander, Sara Noriega, Olimpia Zuleta, the Widow Nazaret, to name a few. Ultimately though, he saves unfaithful but not disloyal heart for Fermina, longing with all his being for her love in return. His purpose in life is to wait for Juvenal to die and Fermina to love him, but in the meantime, various other loves temporarily satisfy his insatiable need for love. For many years, Fermina will not satisfy Florentino’s need for love, but she herself has a different fundamental need. She is not as convinced that love is the basis of everything; on her long trip away from Florentino, she is surprised to find out that “one could be happy not only without love, but despite it” (87). Moreover, Juvenal’s suit further perplexes her, since it “had never been undertaken in the name of love, and it was curious, to say the least, that a militant Catholic like him would offer her only worldly goods: security, order, happiness, contiguous numbers that, once they were added together, might resemble love, almost be love. But they were not love, and these doubts increased her confusion, because she was also not convinced that love was really what she most needed to live” (205). However, after she marries him, she finds out that she also has deep-seated needs that, although they might not be love, are nonetheless not completely provided for in her marriage. Her deepest need is companionship, and by extension her “most terrible” (249) fear is the loss of her husband, who is her greatest companion. Just after they return from their honeymoon, the marriage enters a period of great unhappiness for Fermina. She feels lost and alone in her new palace, neglected by a husband who cannot alleviate her pains. Later, when in death he leaves her for good, “she wept…for her solitude and rage…she wept for herself because she had rarely slept alone in that bed since the loss of her virginity…” (50). It is as Juvenal himself had feared: the greatest worry about his death would be over “the solitary life Fermina Daza would lead without him” (45). What Fermina needs most is companionship, a person to dispel the loneliness; perhaps this root cause propels her to accept Florentino Ariza after her husband dies. “Come back whenever you like,” she says to him. “I am almost always alone” (308). In any case, it is interesting to note that so far, there is a parallel structure of incompletely fulfilled needs in Florentino yearning for Fermina and Fermina needing Juvenal, though the two needs are somewhat different. Lastly, we turn to Juvenal’s basic spiritual motivation. It is quite evident from his life that he also does not need love; after all, one whose primary motivation is love would hardly make a marriage suit not based on it. We can clearly observe through his structured daily schedule and habitual traveling routes that Juvenal is a man in need of stability. Indeed, in a flash of inspiration after his death, Fermina“understood the yearning of his love, the urgent need he felt to find in her the security that seemed to be the mainstay of his public life and that in reality he never possessed. One day, at the height of desperation, she had shouted at him: “You don’t understand how unhappy I am.” Unperturbed…in a single phrase he burdened her with the weight of his unbearable wisdom: “Always remember that the most important thing in a good marriage is not happiness, but stability””(300). As compared to Fermina, he does not need love or companionship or happiness in his marriage, but just stability. Even in his consuming passion for Barbara Lynch, he chooses the stability of his marriage over his love for Barbara; when he confesses his sins to his priest, it may be that “his heart [was] broken but his soul [was] at peace” (248). Ultimately, it is not his heart that matters, but his peace. In addition, Juvenal seems to have another major motivation, mentioned in passing but nonetheless striking. As the affair of Barbara Lynch is revealed, we discover that “all he needed in life, even at the age of fifty-eight, was someone who understood him. So he turned to Fermina Daza, the person who loved him best and whom he loved best in the world, and with whom he had just eased his conscience” (247). Perhaps this understanding would have been a source of his peace had he had it in his lifetime. Fermina obviously does not understand his passion for Barbara; his tears are shed behind the door of a locked lavatory. Fermina does not even understand the basis of Juvenal’s “yearning” until after he is dead. Indeed, even a passing woman notes that “no one knows what he thinks” (192). His ultimate witness is God alone, and God alone can bear witness to the love and other emotions stored in his heart. His need for earthly understanding cannot be fulfilled by Fermina. In short, we have in this novel three different characters and at least as many different unfulfilled needs. Florentino yearns for love most of all from Fermina, while Fermina yearns for companionship from Juvenal. In return, Juvenal would like nothing more than stability and understanding from Fermina, but ultimately no person’s needs are completely satisfied. Instead, misunderstandings of these deep needs often result in complex and unpredictable relationships. In the end, though, perhaps Marquez’s message about human life is just that: our deepest needs will probably not be perfectly satisfied; we may have to wait a lifetime.
The Ecstasy of Agony in ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’
An imminent era of lovesickness persuades the course of Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza’s love affair; it is this pending ailment – as Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ title Love in the Time of Cholera suggests – that fuels the lovers’ final movement away from “the brutal mockery of hope and the phantoms of disillusion,” (345) and “straight to the heart of love” (345). Although the love between Fermina and Florentino is born out of a certain “senseless” and youthful passion, it is a passion nonetheless perpetuated by the suffering of each; while Florentino wallows in “a pool of fragrant vomit” (65) for his love, Fermina is “dying of fatigue and loose bowels” (85). In light of the torment that this love’s survival demands, years roll by in the favor of an affair that will one day be consummated, but only at a moment in time that is undeniably terminal, at an age where physical corrosion harmonizes with emotional strife, and when their self-inflicted passions become, finally, a compassion that cannot logically be disentangled from the slow dying that infiltrates each of their lives. Time, in the novel, passes as mercilessly as the two aging lovers are stubborn, for only when the hour is right – and in that sacred hour of sickness – will Fermina and Florentino finally escape together in their decrepitude.Marquez presents an onslaught of emotional turmoil that is ostensibly incurable, extending for half a century; the reader’s consolation is a final reunion between Florentino and Fermina that comes neither too late nor too soon – and yet alarmingly near what would seem to be their physical ends. Only when Fermina is in her seventies can she actualize her love for Florentino, confident that it is not frivolous, “For… love was always love, anytime and anyplace, but it was more solid the closer it came to death” (345). Age thus finds Florentino and Fermina “less like belated lovers” (345), but right on time, “like an old married couple wary of life” (345), such that the thread of suffering born originally out of their unsubstantiated fervor leads them to find each other beneath the physical and emotional ruins of the years gone by – years sustained by the turmoil of distance, a severed relation needed to provoke the affliction that constitutes their love. The proximity of death, an imminence of calamity in a time of cholera, a gradual suffering, and not an instantaneous fatality, defines the stuff of Fermina’s and Florentino’s love when they are twenty and when they are eighty. The author of Love in the Time of Cholera dares to suggest that this affair, albeit consummated late, will not end by the strong hand of death or by any other force of time as we understand it; as the reader knows that Florentino has “never said anything [he] did not mean” (348), much less when “illuminated by the grace of the Holy Spirit” (348), he speaks: They will keep “coming and going” (348), along a river that teems with dead bodies ravaged by the violence of life; Fermina and Florentino wave the flag of cholera and set out to keep on “forever” (348) in that peaceful limbo between life and death, together wary of “the horror of real life” (348) and immersed in the ever-present prospect of a long and tortuous end.Marquez’ two lovers come together in the midst of a wasteland, a river of extinction. As the mother of Florentino foreshadows early on that “women give themselves only to men of resolute spirit” (65), it is, in fact, the fundamental passage of time (and thus, civilization’s advances in technology) that allow Florentino to end feverishness and express his thoughts in a typewritten letter for the one woman who demands the exactitude of such an instrument. And only as the remnants of an elapsed era could these lovers unite – they are the “poor old couple” (334), waiting impatiently, fearing, to be “beaten to death in the boat” (334). In a final clear-sighted moment on the water, Florentino and Fermina find their everlasting grace; the lovers persist from where they began in their youth – undertaking, as they always have, a sacramental practice in anguish. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, they will delight in eternal crucifixion.