Love in the Time of Cholera | Study Guide

Gabriel García Márquez

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Love in the Time of Cholera | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


In the opening scene of Chapter 1 in Love in the Time of Cholera, what is significant about Dr. Juvenal Urbino's interaction with the police inspector and the medical student?

At the scene of Jeremiah de Saint-Amour's death in Chapter 1 (Jeremiah de Saint-Amour), Dr. Urbino drops the name of the city's mayor as he waives an autopsy to speed up the process for an afternoon burial. He demands that they tell the press the "photographer had died of natural causes." To make sure his instructions are followed precisely, he also name-drops the governor. The death is a suicide, and he wants to protect the deceased. When the inspector shows hesitation about foregoing the autopsy, Dr. Urbino threatens, "Don't forget that I am the one who signs the death certificate," and then makes additional demands, using his connections. The 81-year-old doctor speaks to the police inspector, a man of authority, like a "subordinate," in front of a medical intern, showing his aggressive, controlling, and self-righteous character. The inspector and medical student readily submit to Dr. Urbino's bullying: the medical student because he is new to the city, somewhat unsure of himself, and in awe of the prestigious doctor; and the inspector because he is aware of the doctor's extraordinary sense of civic duty and believes the doctor would skip the legal formalities only if it were appropriate to do so.

How does the first sentence of Chapter 1 in Love in the Time of Cholera foreshadow Dr. Juvenal Urbino's death?

The opening sentence of Chapter 1 (Jeremiah de Saint-Amour) begins, "It was inevitable," imbuing the romance with a sense of fate. Although the inevitability relates to the doctor's strong association of scent with a specific event, in a broader sense, it relates to the destiny awaiting him later in the chapter. The rest of the sentence reveals, "the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love," because as a doctor, Juvenal Urbino has seen many suicides—people who took their lives because the person they loved did not love them in return. The major unrequited love in the story is Florentino Ariza's love for Dr. Urbino's wife, Fermina Daza, and, in the back of his mind, Dr. Urbino may carry the thought of Florentino longing for Fermina. The opening foreshadows Dr. Urbino's death because he is the one obstacle—soon to be removed—that stands in the way of Florentino trying to win back Fermina's love.

What is symbolic about Dr. Juvenal Urbino and Fermina Daza's parrot in Chapter 1 (Anniversary Celebration) of Love in the Time of Cholera?

Of all the birds mentioned in the novel, the parrot in the Urbino-Daza household is the most potent symbol of temptation and danger. Fermina Daza brings the parrot into their home after an obviously dangerous pet—a rabid mastiff—slaughters or infects the other household animals. When Dr. Urbino declared "Nothing that does not speak will come into this house," he had no idea he unknowingly issued an order that "was to cost him his life." The parrot's role in Dr. Urbino's temptation and death is referenced in various scenes—possibly in the flashback to an afternoon spent 20 years earlier with his father when the "angel of death hovered ... and flew out ... leaving a trail of feathers ... in his wake." Death by falling is illustrated in the bird's near-death experience: falling from the kitchen ceiling into a pot of boiling stew. Certainly, the parrot's speaking ability tempts Dr. Urbino, who spends a great deal of time teaching the bird passages of the Bible, along with French popular songs. The parrot tempts Dr. Urbino for the last time on Pentecost Sunday, a day on which the doctor is concerned about missing church services. After the servants, and even the fire brigade, have been unable to catch the escaped parrot, the bird perches invitingly on the lowest branch of the mango tree. Teasing the doctor with his seeming accessibility, the parrot lures him onto a ladder and into danger. The doctor grabs the parrot and declares triumphantly, "ça y est," a French phrase with various meanings: "It's done," or "I am finished." Slipping at that instant from the ladder, Dr. Urbino is, indeed, finished, "at seven minutes after four on Pentecost Sunday."

What is the significance of Señora de Olivella's reaction to the deluge during her husband's anniversary celebration in Chapter 1 (Anniversary Celebration) of Love in the Time of Cholera?

Señora de Olivella and her seven daughters begin preparations for Dr. Lácides Olivella's professional silver anniversary celebration at their country house three months in advance to ensure that everything will be of the highest quality. The morning of the party, at mass, Señora de Olivella is "horrified by the humidity" and the undetectable horizon, but the Director of the Astronomical Observatory assures her it will not rain on Pentecost because it never has. During and after the "catastrophic downpour," Señora de Olivella and her daughters smile through the "misfortune." Disasters represent unseen obstacles to a happy life, and Señora de Olivella's "invincible smile, learned from her husband,"refuses to "give" any "quarter to adversity."

What role do routines play in Chapter 1 (Anniversary Celebration) of Love in the Time of Cholera?

After Dr. Juvenal Urbino's unplanned morning visits, an outline of his routine—a regimented balance of self-care, professionalism, and charity—follows. It is juxtaposed with Fermina Daza's routine, which revolves around her husband's. She wakes up complaining she can never sleep, and prepares his siesta lemonade with chipped ice, illustrating the social expectations and their inherent differences. Even their worst argument has a routine: he lives at the hospital and returns home to change in the evening, while she stays out of sight in the kitchen. Yet, after decades together, they have grown to love each other. Their cultivated codependency, especially that of Dr. Urbino, is shown through Fermina's routine of choosing her husband's clothes since the time of their honeymoon, which eventually—because of age—develops into her dressing him.

In Chapter 1 of Love in the Time of Cholera, how does Dr. Juvenal Urbino's behavior both conform to and defy the norms of his position in the upper class?

During his long medical career, Dr. Juvenal Urbino has conformed to the norms of society, becoming the city's most illustrious physician and an eminent teacher of medicine who often gets his way through his imperious manner. His influence is far reaching, affecting medical, political, religious, artistic, cultural, and scientific advancement. Yet, in a society with clear social expectations, he also rebels against norms by abandoning his family's 100-year-old mansion for a house among the nouveaux riches and by marrying Fermina Daza, a "beauty from the lower classes without name or fortune." The snobby upper class eventually admits Fermina's superiority, displaying class tension and Fermina's undeniable charm, making his risks, in actuality, safe in Chapter 1 (Escaped Parrot).

In Love in the Time of Cholera, how does Gabriel García Márquez use the characters of Jeremiah de Saint-Amour and Florentino Ariza to portray the issues of aging and death?

Aging and time—and therefore, death—are constant topics in the novel, and Jeremiah de Saint-Amour and Florentino Ariza can be seen as foils for each other with regard to these issues. Jeremiah de Saint-Amour had been in a loving relationship with his mistress for many years. Although they were happy together, his ill health had long ago influenced his decision to plan his death. He would end his life when he reached the age of 60. His mistress was dismayed at the thought of losing him, but she loved him so completely that she kept his secret and helped him plan his suicide. In contrast to de Saint-Amour's decision to avoid the "ravages of time" by choosing his own time of death, Florentino Ariza's concern is that he and Fermina Daza must outlive Dr. Juvenal Urbino so that he may have a second chance at winning her love. When he sees Fermina's unsteady gait, he suddenly feels "panic that death ... would win an irreparable victory in his fierce war of love." Bald and toothless as he is, Florentino still burns with love for Fermina, and his dedication bolsters the theme of society versus passion. His view of old age is the opposite of de Saint-Amour's: as long as he can have Fermina, Florentino sees the years ahead as a time of bliss.

How does Florentino Ariza behave while he waits for Fermina Daza's response to his initial letter in Chapter 2 of Love in the Time of Cholera?

When Fermina orders Florentino away in Chapter 2 (Lost Innocence), she exercises her power over him, and Florentino wants to die. Letters represent secret connections, and when Fermina does not respond to his letter, her silence greatly upsets Florentino. The symptoms of his lovesickness resemble the symptoms of cholera, yet he refuses the homeopathic treatments his godfather suggests. This resemblance between love and cholera develops the theme of plague and foreshadows the trouble that lies ahead for Florentino: He becomes "negligent" at work, confusing the flags that announce the arrival of mail to the city. Lotario Thugut offers him the services of a prostitute, which Florentino also declines, saving himself for love. Lotario asks him to leave the choir when he inserts "love waltzes" inspired by his "delirium" in place of the music he is supposed to play.

In Chapter 2 of Love in the Time of Cholera, after Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza see each other for the first time, how does Fermina react to Florentino's attention?

Barely a teenager, Fermina Daza becomes curious about Florentino Ariza when he delivers a telegram to her father in Chapter 2 (Lost Innocence). Telegrams represent secret identities, and, at dinner, she discovers Florentino's. His obvious interest gradually initiates Fermina's first experience of passion. She at first responds with empathy when she notices his vulnerability, while her aunt, Escolástica Daza, insists he is lovesick, predicting he will write a letter, which symbolizes connections. Tension builds as Fermina prays for Florentino to find the courage to deliver a letter. She dreads her school's winter break, which disrupts their routine. Fermina describes him as a "winter swallow," a type of bird that symbolizes her temptation and the potential danger they face. Soon, Fermina is consumed with a young girl's passion as she finds "her heart [is] in a frenzy," her blood frothing "with the need to see him."

In Chapter 2 of Love in the Time of Cholera, what is significant about the time Florentino Ariza spends at the transient hotel?

Spending time at the transient hotel in Chapter 2 (Devastating Youth) makes Florentino Ariza feel close to Fermina Daza. There, devouring poems by the Spanish romantics, he uses their "half-baked endearments" as the "original source of his first letters." While enthralled by romantic literature and the heated prose of his letters to Fermina, Florentino is also exposed to the "secrets of loveless love." All around him the birds (prostitutes) of the port live and work, free of clothing and pretense. This exposure to sexual temptation leaves Florentino more determined than ever to remain a virgin until he and Fermina can be together. His emotional maturity shows his commitment to Fermina. The exchanges he witnesses appear to detour him from paying for sex, with the exception of Andrea Varón. The casualness of the hotel's sexual encounters may, however, foreshadow the ease with which he moves from lover to lover following Fermina's marriage to Dr. Juvenal Urbino.

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