Love in the Time of Cholera

For fifty-one years, nine months, and four days, Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza don’t speak a word to one another. Then, following the death of Fermina’s husband, Florentino decides to remind her that he has always loved her. Gabriel García Márquez’s famous love story, Love in the Time of Cholera (1985), spans a lifetime and explores how people, relationships, and the world change with the passage of time.

Love in the Time of Cholera Love in the Time of Cholera

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Contents
Table of contents

    Love in the Time of Cholera: Book

    Love in the Time of Cholera was the fourth novel written by Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez, and the first published since his Nobel Prize win in 1982. Published in Spanish in 1985 as El amor en los tiempos del cólera, the novel was translated into English in 1988 by Edith Grossman.

    Love in the Time of Cholera, which was loosely inspired by García Márquez's parent's love affair, tells the story of Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza, two lovers who meet as young people sometime in the 1870s. Life pulls the couple in different directions, but they finally rekindle their love in old age 50 years later. The action takes place in an unnamed port city along the Caribbean coast of Colombia that bears some resemblance to the city of Barranquilla, where García Márquez lived for some time.

    In the nineteenth century, Colombia experienced a huge problem with cholera, an infectious disease that is usually transmitted by drinking contaminated water. From the middle of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century, roughly the period in which Love in the Time of Cholera takes place, the disease raged in Colombia and Latin America. In the novel, cholera is the literal disease but also alludes to the infectious and often devastating consequences of love, as well as the unstoppable movement towards modernization.

    Love in the Time of Cholera: Chapters, Summary, and Ending

    Let’s explore the novel and its most significant parts chapter by chapter.

    Chapter One

    The novel begins with Dr. Juvenal Urbino, an important doctor in the fictional City of the Viceroys. Dr. Urbino’s pet parrot escapes from its cage, and when the doctor climbs a tree to retrieve the bird, he falls to his death. Dr. Urbino leaves behind a widow, Fermina Daza, and on the day of her husband’s funeral, a lover from Fermina’s youth, Florentino Ariza, appears to declare his love anew. However, Florentino’s timing is less than ideal, and Fermina is outraged by his insensitive advances.

    Chapter Two

    The story moves back in time to tell the beginning of Florentino and Fermina’s relationship. Florentino delivers a telegram to Fermina’s father, and the two share a brief glance, their first contact. Smitten, Florentino begins to spend his days seated on a park bench waiting for Fermina to walk by with her aunt, and he finally gathers the courage to give her a letter. It is not the sixty-page letter he originally wrote for her, but a more modest one, simply stating his feelings. Fermina eventually responds, confirming her own feelings for Florentino.

    Love in the Time of Cholera, Love letters, StudySmarterFlorentino and Fermina communicate with one another by writing letters. Pixabay.

    The couple continues to exchange letters and see one another in passing for the next two years. However, when Fermina’s father finds out about their relationship, he is outraged and forces his daughter to move to another town far away. He doesn’t approve of Florentino and his humble origins. With the help of Fermina’s cousin, Florentino and Fermina continue to communicate via telegrams, but when Fermina returns home two years later, she is nearly unrecognizable to Florentino.

    When the couple is finally reunited, Fermina finds that she no longer has feelings for Florentino. She returns his letters and ends their relationship.

    Chapter Three

    Florentino pines for Fermina, but she quickly puts him out of her mind, and the lovers’ lives begin to go in different directions. Florentino has a series of affairs, although he promises himself he will wait for Fermina. On the other hand, Fermina is introduced to Dr. Juvenal Urbino, a man who is much admired in his community for his commitment to modernization and the eradication of cholera.

    When her father summons the doctor to examine her for a suspected case of cholera, Dr. Urbino is immediately smitten by Fermina, and her father is determined to see the two together. Although Fermina is initially outraged by Dr. Urbino’s pursuit, she eventually accepts his offer of marriage.

    Chapter Four

    When Florentino learns of Fermina’s engagement, he begins to dedicate his life to becoming a man worthy of her. His uncle helps Florentino to get a job with the River Company of the Caribbean, where he will spend the next thirty years working his way through every position in the company while continuing a chain of innumerable affairs.

    Throughout these affairs, which eventually come to number 622 “long-term liaisons” and countless other, shorter, relationships, Florentino’s feelings for Fermina do not change. He continues to convince himself that he is waiting for her and keeps his many encounters with other women a secret from Fermina.

    Fermina settles into married life with her new husband. The couple is not particularly happy, but they have children and remain committed to their relationship.

    Chapter Five

    Florentino’s love for Fermina stays strong while she remains intent on ignoring him, and the two catch only passing glimpses of one another. When Fermina discovers that her husband has had an affair, she leaves the city for some time, and Florentino cannot discover her whereabouts. Fermina and Dr. Urbino reconcile, and the pair live in peace until Dr. Urbino falls to his death.

    Love in the Time of Cholera, Parrot, StudySmarterDr. Urbino falls to his death trying to capture his pet parrot from a tree. Pixabay.

    Florentino, who has been waiting for this opportunity his entire life, speaks to Fermina for the first time in fifty-one years, nine months, and four days to declare his continued love for her.

    Chapter Six

    Although initially angered by Florentino’s declaration, Fermina eventually softens towards him and decides to give him another chance. The two rekindle their relationship, and Florentino invites Fermina on a river cruise with him. Fermina worries that the two of them appearing together in the port will cause a scandal, so Florentino orders the captain to raise the yellow flag that signifies the presence of cholera on board the ship. This means that no one else will board the boat and that they won’t be interrupted. The two can then sail together in peace.

    Love in the Time of Cholera: Key Characters

    There are many characters in Love in the Time of Cholera, but most of the action centers around Fermina Daza, Florentino Ariza, and Dr. Juvenal Urbino.

    • Fermina Daza is the female protagonist of the novel. She is the love interest of Florentino Ariza and the wife of Dr. Juvenal Urbino. When the story begins, she is a young girl, and over the course of the novel, she ages and matures. She is a practical, determined woman who maintains her composure at all costs.
    • Florentino Ariza is the male protagonist of the novel. As a young man, he falls in love with Fermina Daza and remains in love with her for the rest of his life. Although he has numerous affairs, his feelings for Fermina never change, and the lovesickness he experiences becomes the defining feature of his life.
    • Dr. Juvenal Urbino is Fermina Daza’s husband. He is a very well-respected doctor and a stoic, serious man who is the opposite of the poetic and romantic Florentino in many respects. He is also very religious, and his beliefs govern his sense of moral responsibility.
    • Lorenzo Daza is Fermina Daza's father. He disapproves of her relationship with Florentino and forces the two apart.
    • Aunt Escolástica is Fermina Daza's aunt. She helps Fermina and Florentino communicate by sending letters.
    • Leona Cassiani works with Florentino at the River Company of the Caribbean. The two develop a close relationship but do not end up together.
    • América Vicuña is a fourteen-year-old girl who is Florentino's last lover before he resumes his relationship with Fermina. She kills herself when he rejects her.

    Love in the Time of Cholera: Themes and Quotes

    Two of the most important themes in Love in the Time of Cholera are right in the name: the passage of time and love.

    The Passage of Time

    Love in the Time of Cholera, the passage of time, StudySmarterThe passage of time is an important theme in Love in the Time of Cholera. Pixabay.

    He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past. -Chapter Three

    Love in the Time of Cholera spans an entire lifetime. It shows how people, places, and circumstances change with the passage of time. Florentino, trapped in the love of his youth, is more or less frozen in time as the world changes around him. The river that flows through the town, for example, is lush and green at the start of the novel, yet bare and sandy by the story's end. The theme of cholera and its eradication also points to modernization and the ways the unnamed city is changing.

    The characters, particularly Fermina, Florentino, and Dr. Urbino, change physically and mentally as time passes and they age. By the end of the novel, Fermina smells like an old woman, and Florentino has lost his hair and replaced his own teeth with false ones.

    Finally, the structure of the novel and its sporadic timeline also draws attention to the passage of time. The novel follows a non-linear structure, beginning with the death of Dr. Urbino and then moving back in time to tell of Florentino and Fermina's earlier love. In the story, years and even entire decades can pass by in just a few sentences, echoing the characters' surprise at the passage of time.

    Love

    It was the year they fell into devastating love. Neither one could do anything except think about the other, dream about the other, and wait for letters with the same impatience they felt when they answered them. Never in that delirious spring, or in the following year, did they have the opportunity to speak to each other. -Chapter Two

    They were together in silence like an old married couple wary of life, beyond the pitfalls of passion, beyond the brutal mockery of hope and the phantoms of disillusion: beyond love. For they had lived together long enough to know that love was always love, anytime and anyplace, but it was more solid the closer it came to death. -Chapter Six

    Love in the Time of Cholera is essentially a love story, but not only in the sense of a romantic relationship between two people. The novel is about love and explores many different relationships, the complexity of love, and how that love changes over a lifetime. These two quotes illustrate specifically how Fermina and Florentino’s love changes from the passion of their youth at the beginning of the novel to the complacency they find in one another in their old age. While these two forms of love are incomparable, they are also both, undeniably, love.

    The novel also suggests the idea of love as a sickness, like cholera. Florentino spends his life waiting for Fermina, and at times he is physically sickened with longing for her. The symptoms he experiences from heartache are very similar to the cholera ones. When the captain of their riverboat flies the yellow cholera flag at the end of the novel, it is, perhaps, announcing Florentino’s lovesickness.

    Florentino's life-long love for Fermina borders on obsession. Do you find his commitment to her throughout Love in the Time of Cholera romantic or unsettling?

    Ageing

    He was shaken by a visceral shudder that left his mind blank, and he had to drop the garden tools and lean against the cemetery wall so that the first blow of old age would not knock him down. -Chapter Four

    Related to the passage of time, aging and death are also important themes in Love in the Time of Cholera.

    The theme of aging presents itself from the very start of the novel. The story begins with Dr. Juvenal Urbino, who must examine the body of a man that killed himself so that he would not grow old. Dr. Urbino notes that he refuses to give his patients medicine for the aches and pains of old age, yet he reveals his own anxiety surrounding growing old by admitting to the number of remedies he gives himself for the ailments of old age.

    The novel also dwells on the physical changes the protagonists undergo as they age and their bodies begin to degrade. Obsessed with his adolescent love affair, Florentino lives in the past and is often alarmed by the way his body reveals the passage of time. By the time he and Fermina are finally reunited, she has acquired the scent of old age and Florentino has lost his hair and had all his teeth replaced with false ones. However, the two challenge the societal stigma surrounding love in old age and find happiness together.

    Writing and Poetry

    Florentino Ariza wrote everything with so much passion that even official documents seemed to be about love. His bills of lading were rhymed no matter how he tried to avoid it, and routine business letters had a lyrical spirit that diminished their authority. -Chapter Four

    Writing is a key form of communication between Florentino and Fermina throughout almost every stage of their relationship. It later becomes an outlet for Florentino’s feelings of unrequited love. Unable to control the romance pouring out of him, he finds he cannot write official documents because everything his pen touches comes out as poetry. Instead, Florentino puts his passion to work writing love letters for others.

    Love in the Time of Cholera - Key takeaways

    • Love in the Time of Cholera is a novel written by Gabriel García Márquez and published in Spanish in 1985 and in English in 1988.
    • The novel is divided into six chapters.
    • Love in the Time of Cholera has three key characters: Fermina Daza, Florentino Ariza, and Dr. Juvenal Urbino.
    • Love in the Time of Cholera takes place over many years and tells the story of Fermina and Florentino, who are lovers in their youth and resume their relationship in their old age.
    • Some important themes are love, the passage of time, aging, and writing and poetry.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Love in the Time of Cholera

    What inspired Love in the Time of Cholera?

    Love in the Time of Cholera was loosely inspired by the relationship between Gabriel García Márquez’s parents.

    What is Love in the Time of Cholera about?

    Love in the Time of Cholera is primarily about the different forms that love takes with the passage of time.

    Where is Love in the Time of Cholera set?

    Love in the Time of Cholera is set in the fictional City of the Viceroys in an unnamed country that resembles Colombia.

    What is the plot of Love in the Time of Cholera?

    Love in the Time of Cholera tells the story of two people who have a brief love affair in their youth. The man, Florentino, remains in love with Fermina for the rest of his life, and the two are finally reunited in old age.

    What is the meaning of the title Love in the Time of Cholera?

    The title Love in the Time of Cholera introduces the theme of love as a sickness, one from which Florentino Ariza suffers for most of his life.

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