Places: Love in the Time of Cholera

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: El amor en los tiempos del cólera, 1985 (English translation, 1988)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: 1880’s and 1920’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Cartagena

*Cartagena. Love in the Time of CholeraColombian port city on the Caribbean Sea that forms the backdrop to the novel. Gabriel García Márquez never names the city within the novel; however, the clues he provides are sufficient to ensure that the city is, in fact, Cartagena. Details about the novel’s city include the fact that it was the most prosperous city in the Caribbean during the eighteenth century, that it once possessed the largest slave market in the Americas, and that it was the traditional residence of the viceroys of the Spanish colonial Kingdom of New Granada. The capital of the Bolívar region in northern Colombia, Cartagena was founded in 1533 and became important in the mid-sixteenth century, when Spain’s great mercantile ships began stopping there annually to load up with gold and other products for transport back to Spain. In the process, Cartagena also became a center for the burgeoning slave trade.

García Márquez doubtless does not mention the name of the city in order to keep it firmly within the realm of the imagination and brings his fictional city alive in a variety of ways. He provides detailed descriptions of the grand colonial houses in the downtown district, where Juvenal Urbino’s family lives, and contrasts these houses with the rudimentary hovels where the descendants of the black slaves live on the outskirts of the city, near the swamp.

Contrasts between these two areas of the city are brought home to the reader when Urbino visits the outskirts; his carriage driver gets lost repeatedly, and the children stand in the street laughing at the driver’s clothes. This is clearly a different world from the upper-class, professional world that Urbino inhabits, and yet he eventually falls prey to its charms since he ends up having an extramarital affair with a mulatto woman, Barbara Lynch, who comes from the other side of the tracks. The novel thereby uses geography in order to structure its message.

The cholera outbreak that forms a central part of the backdrop to the action is known to have originated in the swamps on the outskirts of the city. Dr. Juvenal Urbino, like his father before him, is involved as part of his professional duties in attempting to stop the spread of the disease; however, he is as powerless to stop its onslaught as he is to resist the temptation of Barbara Lynch’s love. The connection is not a casual one; García Márquez is suggesting that love, far from being nothing but joy, is like a disease. Indeed, the love that Florentino Ariza experiences for Fermina Daza–essentially turning him into a love-sick admirer from a distance when she decides to marry someone else–is something that upsets his sleeping patterns, makes him lose his appetite, and causes him to break out in rashes so severe that his mother thinks it is actually cholera from which he is suffering.

*Magdalena River

*Magdalena River. Colombian river flowing northward from the Andes Mountains to the Caribbean Sea that provides a central symbol in the novel. The river echoes the ebb and flow of the characters’ lives. When Florentino and Fermina go on a boat-ride on the river together, the river, like them, shows signs of its age. However, it also functions as the setting for their twilight love. Fermina and Florentino ask the captain of the ship–the New Fidelity–on which they are journeying if they can simply go on a trip by themselves. Against all the odds he agrees, and the yellow flag normally used to indicate cholera is hoisted, guaranteeing that they will be left undisturbed. The ship subsequently sails off into the sunset to a destination which is no more specific than “straight on, straight on, to La Dorada.” In this last scene of the novel, various geographic leitmotifs–such as the river, travel, and the association between cholera and love–are brought triumphantly together. Florentino has been waiting for this moment for more than fifty years.

BibliographyBloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Views: Gabriel García Márquez. New York: Chelsea House, 1989. An excellent collection of critical essays on the works of García Márquez. Proves a good overview of the themes and literary trends that shaped García Márquez’s works.Castronovo, David. “Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez.” America 159, no. 6 (September 10, 1988): 146-148. Discusses in particular the versatility and variety of Love in the Time of Cholera.Garris, Robert. “Love in the Time of Cholera by García Márquez.” The Hudson Review 41, no. 4 (June, 1990): 759-760. A discussion of the novel’s style that finds the work “robust, energetic, and meditative.” Points out that love and death are treated as comic and absurd.McNerney, Kathleen. Understanding Gabriel García Márquez. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989. A useful study that attempts to interpret the works of García Márquez in the light of modern and contemporary European and Latin American literature.Mose, K. E. A. Defamiliarization in the Work of Gabriel García Márquez. Lewiston, N.Y.: E. Mellen Press, 1989. An interesting consideration of the figures of speech employed by García Márquez to “defamiliarize” his subject and present the familiar in an unfamiliar fashion.
Categories: Places