Thesis: Love in the Time of Cholera

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¶ … Cholera

Aging always puts a burden on the body and the spirit, and since no one has yet discovered a fountain of youth, all humans (in novels and in real life) must contend with the aching reality of getting old and confronting one's morality. But the process of aging -- and the medical particulars that accompany the passing of years -- can be made far more palatable when a great novelist offers compelling narrative to the reader in a medical genre. In this case, the novelist is Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the novel that, for the alert reader, lifts the aging burden up to higher levels is Love in the Time of Cholera. This is not to suggest that reading Love in the Time of Cholera makes the old feel younger, nor does reading it allow the young understand what it like to be old. Reading this book will show a reader how patience pays off, however, and so much of the maturing process in society is about being patient, waiting for the right moment, believing things will be better if one can just wait for the Nirvana moment, or the perfect lover. In the case of these characters and this wonderfully written story, the themes include love, aging, patience and health / medicine.

The point to be made at the outset is that reading great stories involving fascinating fictional characters in medically themed settings can be uplifting. For those getting up in years, the mind takes over while the aching feet and the arthritic knees are stretched out on a couch, or in a chaise lounge on the warm back deck. Reading Garcia Marquez's book helps the person -- young or old -- rise above the acts of pondering, brooding or in any way worrying about the process of slow physical and mental deterioration. Indeed, eloquently prepared narrative with descriptive detail and emotionally attractive character bonding can lead a reader to water and help him drink too. In the case of Love in the Time of Cholera, real thirst for entertaining, powerful narrative and characters that rise above their ages and stations in life can be quenched over and over.

Meanwhile, as critic Anne Hudson Jones asserts, reading the four middle parts of this novel may require patience, but not nearly the patience that Florentino Ariza has shown for fifty years while waiting for his opportunity to love the woman (Fermina Daza) he once cherished and could not hold back in the day. "His devotion is touching," Jones explains (Jones, 1997). Once in fact during the decades of his passionate desire for Fermina -- happily married to his friend Urbino -- he passed a restaurant and caught a glimpse of Fermina's reflection in a restaurant mirror. Because Garcia Marquez has a wonderful gift, an eye for great scene presentation, the author presents Florentino's obsession for Fermina in a remarkable way. Florentino "…cannot rest until he has persuaded the proprietor to sell him the mirror so that he can take it home with him" (Jones).

That would be comparable to having Florentino see Fermina walk through a garden patio in a fancy outdoor cafe and bargain with the owner until he allowed Florentino to take a spade and dig up a portion of the grass where Fermina stepped. It is an outrageously exaggerated bit of narrative but how else to bring the reader into the heart of the wildly romantic Florentino, as it beats steadily for Fermina all those years?

Jones points out (to all males getting up there in years or contemplating that evolution) that Florentino is set apart from other men not by his good looks -- because he is in fact ugly -- but by his "romantic belief in love and a willingness to devote his life to that dream" (Jones). There is "something about Florentino that draws women to him," Jones continues, noting that Florentino "has had hundreds of sexual partners over the years -- some 622 long-term liaisons, to be exact -- as recorded in his 25 notebooks."

The details of Florentino's irresistible charm should light up the eyes of the elderly or recently "senior" gent who is bald, wears dentures, and has a face that showed age even when he was young. Moreover, Florentino has a "divine madness" (Jones) -- possibly inspired by the Holy Spirit -- and he has mastered the art of writing love letters. So there you are, older men, if you are thinking that your medical condition is bringing you down and there will be no more opportunities to hook up with good-looking women, read on. The message from Garcia Marquez is simple: learn to write passionate love letters, cultivate a sincerity and charm that ordinary men fail to grasp, believe in God

In the novel the author adds to the list of qualities that Florentino championed, including learning Morse code (and hence becoming a deliverer of telegrams, which led him initially to his life-long romantic affection for Fermina), learning to play the violin "like a professional," dancing "the latest dances" and reciting poetry "by heart." Here is a man who suffered "chronic constipation" (forcing him to take enemas his whole life), whose eyesight was burdened by myopia (requiring him to wear thick eyeglasses), and who, lest anyone reading the book forget, was basically ugly. And yet the females were so drawn to him that they held "secret lotteries to determine who would spend time with him" (Garcia Marquez, p. 82).

When Garcia Marquez leads readers through the events that led to the launching of Florentino's long and winding trek of desire for Fermina, the author reveals that even though Florentino was living in a bubble, his patience and creativity kept him going. Very shortly after first seeing Fermina, Florentino puts on a clinic for male readers hoping to get close to a woman they adore. Within days Florentino does what any highly energized romantically inclined lover would do -- he finds out what her movements are and positions himself. There he is, sitting "on the most hidden bench in the little park," in a position to be able to watch her walk by "four times a day and once on Sundays when they came out of High Mass," her aunt by her side.

Florentino was not stalking her, or spying on her, or being rude in any way; but he was spending hours waiting for her because "just seeing the girl was enough for him" (Garcia Marquez). Here we have another aspect of patience that plays into the theme of getting old. Garcia Marquez paints a picture with brushstrokes that are both brilliant and bold. Mere days after first seeing a woman he has never met Florentino has already idealized this female. He goes about "idealizing" her and "endowing her with improbable virtues and imaginary sentiments." This is extreme fantasy by any standard. But literature is always an embellishment or overstatement of real world characters, so Garcia Marquez is not out of his genre to present an ugly character who writes a letter "containing more than sixty pages written on both sides" to a woman he's only seen from a distance. How much more patient could any living being be who sits for hours each day in a park on a hidden bench, waiting for a woman to pass by whom he does not know, and writing her a long letter that she may not understand in the least?

What are these descriptions telling the reader (male or female, old or young)? That the pursuit of love and romance is miles above all other emotions? That love conquers all other problems? That love itself is madness because brings out lunatic behavior in those smitten? That brains, savvy, and charm can be the most effective allies when pursuing the opposite sex? Or about how life can be both reality and fantasy and it is more fun that way? No. None of these apply. Probably one could say that Garcia Marquez's portrayal of Florentino embraces many emotions and conditions, including pure idealized attraction for the opposite sex, patience, irrational thinking that can also fill the emptiness in the heart and heal the pain of life without love.

The reader must remember that Garcia Marquez is establishing the foundation of love and desire for Florentino, because it certainly had to be crushingly powerful at the outset to have lasted over fifty-one years. Upon the realization that Florentino was going out of his way to observe the two females on their daily outings, Fermina's aunt correctly discerned that Florentino "could only be sick with love." The patience and planning paid off for Florentino, because even though this was "forbidden love" (in Fermina's aunt's thinking), after several months of realizing Florentino was pursuing her, but never having met him, "her blood frothed with the need to see him" (Garcia Marquez).

Blood was frothing in the veins of a young girl whose elusive suitor was a "thin, timid, unimpressive sentinel" dressed in black… [END OF PREVIEW]

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