"Getting Older: A Contrast of Perspectives in Love in the Time of Cholera"

Alexis Norris
Kraft AP English
December 3, 2001

    “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is an intense chronicle of aging and the various reactions of those who are aging.   Two characters in the novel provide a sharp contrast of individual aging perspectives  (Jones 2).  Florentino Ariza, a connoisseur of love, ages gracefully and without fear of death.  Dr. Juvenal Urbino, husband of Fermina, with medical accomplishments to his name that are almost legendary, is very conscious of the limitations of age and is fearful of his own death.
A suicide related to gerontophobia (fear of aging) introduces the novel.  Dr. Juvenal Urbino, a distinguished and elderly personage, comes into the apartment of his chess friend Jeremiah de Saint-Amour.  He immediately recognizes the scent of bitter almonds-the fumes of gold cyanide-that reminds him of suicides over unrequited loves.  De Saint-Amour did not kill himself over unrequited love.  Rather, as his name implies, de Saint-Amour died from a love not strong enough (sans amour) (Buehrer 2).  Many years before, he had sworn to himself that he would never be old, and allotted himself 60 years of life and no more.
    Dr. Juvenal Urbino, a distinguished doctor and representative of the higher class, mourns the death of his friend but calls him foolish.  “Fool… The worst was already over” (11).  By “the worst”, Dr. Urbino is referring to the end of sexual desire as one reaches old age.  As he later discovers de Saint-Amour to have had a young woman hidden away in the slums of the city, Dr. Urbino realizes that the end of sexual desire might not have been such a favorable aspect to de Saint-Amour.  In addition, Dr. Urbino realized that de Saint-Amour might have noticed the decline of Urbino's memory while playing chess.  Dr. Urbino had to write down his planned chess moves in advance so that he would not forget his strategy.  As de Saint-Amour was reputed to be the best chess player in town, perhaps even the country, he probably did not want the fate of a declining memory to interfere with his chess game  (Jones 3).
    That same day, Urbino goes back to his home to relax on the terrace.  He contemplates his age and feels a deep sadness, not over the death of his friend “ … but the invisible cloud that would saturate his soul after his siesta and which he interpreted as divine notification that he was living his final afternoons” (40).  His wife dressed him in the mornings because he was unable to do it himself, and each day he awoke with a feeling of triumph, because it was another night he had remained alive.  He had a deep consciousness of the physical symptoms of old age:  he saw the ravages of age in the bodies of the cadavers he lectured over, and smelled the odor of age in the breath of his wife sleeping next to him at night.  Urbino reflects that if he were not an old-fashioned Christian he might have followed the course of de Saint-Amour (Jones 3), but is then reminded of the terror he harbors of  “not finding God in the darkness of death” (41).
    The very same day, perhaps the same moment, Florentino Ariza was in the arms of slender, teenaged America Vicuna.  America had been entrusted to Florentino by her family as her guardian, and was more than eager to engage herself under the tutelage of venerable old Florentino.  For Florentino, America was a sheltered inlet of innocence, and they both came to love each other dearly. Florentino loved her “as he had loved so many other casual women in his long life, but he loved her with more anguish than any other, because he was certain he would be dead by the time she finished secondary school” (274).
    For more than half a century Florentino has sustained his love for Fermina Daza, despite his 622 “long-term liaisons, apart from… countless fleeting adventures” (152) during the romantic's life in seclusion from her (Buehrer 4).  Florentino develops an enduring love for many of his women though they inevitably never progress beyond “liaisons” because of his steadfast love for Fermina.  Florentino's love for Fermina becomes nearly unreal in it's intensity, as is evidenced in a certain instance when he buys a mirror from a restaurant-owner simply because he had spent an hour watching Fermina reflected in the glass.  
    Florentino is not afraid of death in itself.  In fact, he fears death less than age, for he knows that when he arrives at that helpless point, he will finally have to give up hope of winning the love of Fermina Daza.  He has nearly reached the physical state of Dr. Urbino, though the woman wiping the crumbs from his mouth at dinners is not Fermina, but his business partner and only unconsummated love Leona  (Llosa 18).  As love constitutes Florentino's entire reason for being, he is most likely preserving the thread of life that remains to him simply for the prospect of Fermina, his forever and lifetime love.
    As Florentino ruminates on past loves with his young lover, Dr. Juvenal Urbino climbs a tree to chase his parrot (Llosa 22).  Falling from the tree, Urbino bleeds on the ground with just enough breath of life for last words. As his wife runs to him crying, Urbino remembers the slow love that had developed between them during their decades of marriage, saying to her “Only God knows how much I loved you” (43).  Juvenal Urbino dies with an expression of fear upon his face, perhaps attesting most of all the contrast between him and Florentino, as Florentino was never afraid of the unknown.  
Florentino is jubilant upon hearing the news, and on the evening of the wake approaches Fermina. After half a century, he repeats his vows of eternal love and fidelity.  Fermina banishes him from her household with fury, sending him a vitriolic letter, which Florentino recognizes as an invitation and sends back a series of responses about that are both eloquent and wise.  Florentino is very philosophical about old age.  Speaking of Dr. Urbino, Prudencia Pitre comments that his death was ridiculous.  Florentino replies that death has no sense of the ridiculous, “especially at our age” (286).
    Florentino's letters to Fermina were works of literary art:  meditations on life, love, old age and death.  Fermina thought Florentino's letters seemed as if they were “inspired by the Holy Spirit”, and they greatly comforted her by whispering that old age was not a death in itself, rather a rebirth of wisdom.  While Dr. Urbino had lived the insipid life of a rationalist, never having known fulfilled love or passion, Florentino lived his life with fervor, devoting his entire life to a single passion and preserving his fervor despite his old age  (Llosa 31).  While Dr. Urbino had denied his age and went against his personal medical with a large quantity of age-cures, Florentino Ariza embraced his many years for the wisdom he had gleaned and the loves he had experienced.  Many times Dr. Urbino had said to Fermina “Always remember that the most important thing in a good marriage is not happiness, but stability” (300).  This philosophy was a sharp contrast to Florentino's scattered but joyous love affairs.
    Florentino Ariza eventually wins Fermina over with his letters and visits and they go on a river trip together, despite the protests of Fermina's daughter that “Love is ridiculous at our age… but at theirs it is revolting” (323) and her son's thoughtless digressions that the elderly should be isolated in marginal cities.  The two travel down-river, and after a few awkward days they have leapt over conjugal life and experience love together without the bitterness of disillusion.  “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” (345).  While basking in the joys of requited love, Florentino receives a telegram informing him that his charge, America Vicuna, has committed suicide.  Florentino suddenly realizes how much he loved her and feels a deep regret that someone so young and promising should die over him, an old man.  He grieves for her and cleaves to Fermina more desperately (Jones 5).  Meanwhile, Fermina is finally realizing a life of her own, free from the full but subservient role she had played as wife of Dr. Urbino.
    As both characters realize the preciousness of their time aboard the ship, they lament the inevitable end.  “It is going to be like dying” Fermina says.  Struck with inspiration (akin to the inspiration of the “Holy Spirit” that Fermina had noticed before in his letters) Florentino decides that they will not be ending their trip.  He tells the ship captain to put a cholera flag up, and they will sail back and forth between ports “forever” so he says.  
Thus the book begins with the deaths of two who consider old age a fate worse than death, and ends with two elderly people proving that one need not stop living after the age of 60 (Buehrer 7).  This is the sharpest contrast between Dr. Juvenal Urbino and Florentino.  Urbino viewed old age as the closing of doors, the time when all possibilities came to a halt and life remained stagnant.  He viewed age as the young view age--a humiliating time in life when adults live in the past and have only death to anticipate.  However, Florentino would disagree.  Florentino considered life to be an endless hall of open doors, despite one's age, where every day was an opportunity to live life to its fullest.
Works Cited
Buehrer, David.  “A Second Chance on Earth:  The Postmodern and the Post-Apocalyptic in Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera.”  Critique 32 (1990) : 15-27.  Academic Search Premier.  GALILEO.  U.  of  Georgia Lib., Athens.  16 November 2001  http://www.galileo.peachnet.edu.

Jones, Anne Hudson.  “Literature and Medicine:  Garcia Marquez' Love in the Time of Cholera.”  Lancet 350 (1997) : 1169-1173.  Academic Search Premier. GALILEO.  U.  of  Georgia Lib., Athens.  16 November 2001  http://www.galileo.peachnet.edu.

Llosa, Mario Vargas.  Understanding Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Liverpool :  Liverpool University Press, 1987.