Literature Study GuidesLove In The Time Of CholeraChapter 1 Jeremiah De Saint Amour Summary

Love in the Time of Cholera | Study Guide

Gabriel García Márquez

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Love in the Time of Cholera | Chapter 1 (Jeremiah de Saint-Amour) | Summary

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Love in the Time of Cholera consists of six chapters. This study guide divides those chapters according to character, location, and plot for close summary and deep analysis.

Summary

On Pentecost Sunday, Dr. Juvenal Urbino finds the corpse of his friend, Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, on de Saint-Amour's cot. The body is covered with a blanket, next to a tray of gold cyanide. He rules the man's death a suicide and delivers orders to the police inspector and his protégé. It strikes Dr. Urbino that this is the first cyanide suicide he has seen that was prompted by something other than love.

The doctor studies the chess board, seeing his friend was going to lose his first match in "four moves." The inspector finds a letter for Dr. Urbino. Reading the first paragraph, Dr. Urbino knows he will miss communion and, "agitated," lies, saying the document contains de Saint-Amour's "final instructions."

The lengthy letter causes Dr. Urbino to be "not certain of anything." Faced with two events to attend that day—a formal lunch and de Saint-Amour's funeral—he directs his coachman to take him to the city's slave quarters. At an "unnumbered house," he meets Jeremiah de Saint-Amour's secret lover, who knew he planned to take his life. When the doctor tells her it was her "duty" to "report him," she claims she could not because she "loved him too much."

Dumbfounded by the unnamed woman's stoicism, he forms a low opinion of her. She plans to wear the rose de Saint-Amour asked her to wear and, as she had promised him, she will not attend his funeral. She also intends to sell de Saint-Amour's house and remain in her own dwelling. Her words haunt Dr. Urbino as he rides home. Thinking about "this death trap of the poor," Dr. Urbino reflects on the city's history and his house.

Analysis

With the first sentence, Gabriel García Márquez creates tension: "the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love." Bitter almonds refer to the cyanide Jeremiah de Saint-Amour used to kill himself. As mentioned throughout the chapter and novel, suicide and death for love are honorable. Nonetheless, because this was not de Saint-Amour's motive, his death may not be an honorable one. However, even though he claims to die because he does not want to grow old, he leaves a lover behind. It is possible that he does not want her to see him grow old.

The themes of aging and time are present in the novel right from the start, as Dr. Juvenal Urbino examines de Saint-Amour's body and contemplates his reason for suicide. He has taken his life rather than face further aging and suffering. This foreshadows the distillation of Dr. Urbino's own thoughts about death, as he reflects on de Saint-Amour's demise: "What he had seen that day, however, was the physical presence of something that until that moment had been only an imagined certainty." Dr. Urbino's belief in Divine Providence is reinforced because "that overwhelming revelation" comes through the death of someone he has "considered a saint unaware of his own state of grace."

García Márquez presents various allusions through the character of Jeremiah de Saint-Amour. The name Jeremiah is an allusion to the biblical prophet Jeremiah. The Saint part of the name is a bit of dramatic irony, as it becomes clear that de Saint-Amour was not a saintly person, although Urbino refers to him as such in more than one instance. An exchange between the police inspector and Dr. Urbino looks at the character from two perspectives: "I understood this man was a saint," [the police inspector] said. "Something even rarer," said Dr. Urbino. "An atheistic saint. But those are matters for God to decide."

García Márquez introduces an observation of class differences here, as Dr. Urbino, accustomed to treating only the wealthy and moving in those neighborhoods of the city, finds himself rather lost here among the city's poorer inhabitants that his coachman drives away with his whip.

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