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The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

A classic novel of love and aging, revisited

By Nikhil Gupta

A mischievous parrot eludes an old man frantically trying to recapture the animal he loves. The parrot keeps dancing out of reach of the man’s outstretched hands, forcing him to climb higher and higher upon a rickety ladder, until this man, a pillar and distinguished member of society, plummets to his unexpected death on the patio below.Such seemingly absurd situations as this are woven with abandon through the mesmerizing tapestry that is Gabriel Garc¡a Marquez’s masterpiece “Love in the Time of Cholera.” First published in 1985, the book is considered to be a classic example of a magical realist novel. It is set in an unnamed town assumed to be Cartagena, Columbia, providing a beautiful snapshot of human life and love in a place that appears to be isolated from the rest of the world, a city that stands still while the world whirls about it.

The story tracks the intertwining lives of three characters: Fermina Daza, her husband of decades, Juvenal Urbino, and a man with whom she shared a na’ve love in her teenage youth, Florentino Ariza. The novel opens with the death of Fermina’s husband, which is immediately followed by Florentino proposing to Fermina. The plot then enters a flashback for the remainder of the novel, where Marquez traces the intersections of these three individuals’ lives from childhood through old age, exploring how their interactions affect and reshape both themselves and the people around them. Hidden within the gorgeous prose lies a commentary on issues as varied as politics, love, and aging.

Marquez, as in “100 Years of Solitude,” often makes veiled critiques of Latin American politics and political institutions throughout “Love in the Time of Cholera” when narrating the changing settings for the plot. For example, Marquez frequently takes jabs at the unchanging and violent nature of politics in Columbia. The novel takes place over a period of 60 years. While small changes happen to the city during this time, Marquez’s description of the political establishment remains fixed. He writes of the unending violence between the two ideological ends of the political spectrum, and of how regardless of which party, Conservatives or Liberals, is in the halls of government or in the bush, the plight of the average citizen remains unchanged. This description is a forceful attack against politics in Columbia, which through much of the twentieth century has seen violent confrontation between leftist and conservative forces while the standard of living for the average Columbian has stagnated.

But while Marquez does slip political commentary into the novel, he devotes far more scrutiny to the subject of love. It is a love triangle that binds the novel’s three main characters together, and through their interactions Marquez explores the myriad aspects of love, from the innocence between the young, to the acceptance between the old; from the beauty it can bring to individual’s lives, to the selfishness, pain, and madness it can spawn.

At first glance the novel can appear to be a simple love story, the prose so spellbindingly gorgeous that the reader loses himself in its folds. But beneath this deceptive layer, Marquez portrays the more insidious nature of love through the character of Florentino Ariza. By building sympathy in the readers for Florentino, Marquez slyly convinces many to overlook the disturbing aspect of Florentino’s six-decade obsession with Fermina, and how this poisons the lives of hundreds of women he meets in his life. Finally, Marquez also comments on how selfish love can be, a set of sensations and experiences that quarantine two individuals from the entirety of human society and oftentimes comes at the expense of societal needs.

The novel also delves into questions surrounding human aging. It is here that Marquez reaffirms the boundless possibilities of life, regardless of age and circumstance. He champions the possibility of renewal and rebirth, even after tragedy, and in doing so celebrates the vitality of life and the triumph of the human spirit over material circumstances, societal pressures and life’s difficult experiences. Since Marquez tracks the lives of characters over their entire lives, the reader is able to bear witness as every character overcomes the tragedies we all face in life, whether that be the loss of a loved one or the dissolution of a friendship. The result of this panoramic view is that by its close, the reader cannot doubt the endless potential of life. For as Marquez himself writes, “It is life, more than death, that has no limits.”

“Love in the Time of Cholera” is a beautiful work of art concerning the more serious aspects of human life – love and aging – that avoids being pretentious by preserving a sense of rich comedy. Marquez achieves this by lacing the story with dozens of absurd anecdotes, establishing the humor in even the darkest of incidents. Let us reconsider the parrot and the elderly man – it concerns the death of an upstanding individual, yet is an entirely absurd scenario to imagine. It is through these ludicrous absurdities that Marquez creates a masterpiece, and along the way manages to capture some of the riotous chaos of life itself.

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