Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera can be interpreted as a romance novel in which star-crossed lovers meet, are then torn apart, and half a century later fall into bed with one another re-igniting the flame that fate stole from them. However, the romance of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza is not one of those stories. What may have initially appeared to be an innocent story about love may not be. M. Keith Booker has demonstrated that the novel provides warnings against “gullibility in reading,” and indeed, there are several incidents early in Love in the Time of Cholera that inform the reader that appearances can be deceiving. In the novel, love is a sickness; a virus that eats away the substance of a man. The falsehood of love that Florentino Ariza feels is a decaying illness destroying his physical and mental form; turning him into an apparition of welted camellias.
The illness was injected into Florentino Ariza as he walked into the Daza’s house. It was “half in ruins,” “with weeds in the flowerpots and a stone fountain with no water,” (54) standing in front. The house signified the sickness to come to Florentino. Flowers throughout the rest of the novel take the impression of the love between Florentino and Fermina, but to miss the setting of the first meeting of the two lovers is to misinterpret the entirety of the novel. The “weeds in the flowerpots” is the false love they share, the weeds are a valueless plants growing wild, those that grow on the cultivated ground and add injury to the desired crop; which in this case is the love between Florentino and Fermina. The fountain once again represents the emptiness of Florentino and Fermina’s love as well as Florentino himself. From first seeing Fermina in the house on Florentino “began his secret life as a solitary hunter” in which he sat underneath “the shade of the almond trees.”(56, 56) The scent almonds is the scent “of the fate of unrequited love,” (2) the scent that is associated with Jeremiah de Saint Amour’s death, and the scent of Fermina Daza. The suicide of Jeremiah de Saint Amour sets up the foreshadowing of Florentino’s love and what it will ultimately do to him. It is no wonder that the scent of “bitter almonds” (2) is compared to that of cyanide, as well as the smell of Fermina. The intoxicating aroma of Fermina fills Florentino’s heart with crystals ultimately killing him there in the park as he endows her with “improbable virtues and imaginary sentiments.” (56) In other words, he idealizes her. It is this unrealistic conception of Fermina that leads to a half-century of waiting, watching and stalking, infected by the weeds of love.
“When he began to wait for the answer to his first letter, his anguish was complicated by diarrhea and green vomit, be became disoriented and suffered from sudden fainting spells, and his mother was terrified because his condition did not resemble the turmoil of love so much as the devastation of cholera” “..he had the weak pulse, hoarse breathing, and pale perspiration of a dying man””He prescribed infusions of linden blossoms to calm the nerves and suggested a change of air so he could find consolation in distance, but Florentino Ariza longed for just the opposite: to enjoy his martyrdom.”
(61, 62, 62)
Florentino Ariza literally takes on the sickness of love, as if Fermina had infected him with a bacterial disease known as Cholera. Marquez purposely parallels the sickness of cholera and Florentino’s love sickness to exploit the falseness of the love felt by Florentino. The fact that Florentino enjoys his suffering points out the reality of his feelings for Fermina, that he does love her; that he is in love with the suffering caused by the idea of loving her.
Fermina is an independent, headstrong person who is sophisticated and capable; Fermina prides herself on her unfaltering, haughty composure. Marquez depicts her as a level headed woman whose ideals are realistic, therefore it is of no concern when she writes to Florentino saying “When I saw you, I realized that what is between us is nothing more than an illusion.”(102). although, critic ___________ believes that Fermina is “impulsive” based off her sudden realization, in actuality she is only grown. The time apart from Florentino has taught her that the love between them was truly an illusion that was built up in their minds’. She came to the conclusion that the love was nothing more than a childhood crush.
However, Florentino did not have the option to grow from Fermina because the separation was nothing new to him. The Fermina Daza he loved was not a physical woman but a sickness running through his veins, she was a phantom of “improbable virtues and imaginary sentiments.” (56) Fermina the phantom was always with Florentino, she was in his mind and no amount of time could take that away from him. From the moment he gave his letter to Fermina he locked himself into a prison counting the days until he could be free from his self made prison. The virus of Fermina did not break even after the “fifty-one years and nine months and four days” (103) of waiting, for the prison he built was solely a monument to Fermina. He based the entirety of his life on her and achieving her as if she was a “golden” prize to win. When Florentino sees her for the first time from her honeymoon, he re-iterates his vow for her. Marquez writes:
“The day that Florentino Ariza saw Fermina Daza in the atrium of the Cathedral, in the sixth month of her pregnancy and in full command of her new condition as a woman of the world, he made a fierce decision to win fame and fortune in order to deserve her.”(165)
Florentino based the rest of his life on solely reaching Fermina, not even to marry her as Marquez makes sure not to mention but to “deserve her” once again suggesting that the love he felt was one of falsehood. Any chance of Florentino of living his life for him in the chance of happiness is shattered here. Any substance that could be squeezed from him is abolished once again in seeing Fermina from a distance “six months pregnant,” the fact that he saw her pregnant from a distance reinforces that Florentino does not perceive of Fermina as an actually person but rather that woman in his mind. His “fierce decision” was beyond the thought of a rational man, for Fermina was married and was pregnant to represent that marriage. However, this point in Florentino’s life is when he will stop at nothing to reach his dream of Fermina. He devotes his life to the river company until the day he can reach Fermina.
Florentino becomes a man in the background to walk the dark city nights; he lives his adult life in the shadows of women. Feeling that sex “eases the pain of Fermina Daza” (). (( He puts himself in to affairs with other woman whether they are married or not. The narrator only describes a very small fraction of his six hundred and twenty-two long-term affairs, but of the ones he does relate, several offer a picture of a man less than deserving of Fermina’s — or any woman’s — love. One of Florentino’s lovers, Olimpia Zuleta, is murdered by her husband when she inadvertently shows him the possessive inscription that Florentino painted on her belly. It is also revealed late in the novel that Florentino is a rapist who, after impregnating a maid behind his house, bribes her to put the blame on her innocent sweetheart. Perhaps most condemning is Florentino’s seduction of América Vicuñia, his fourteen-year-old blood relative who is entrusted to him while she attends secondary school. What is most disturbing in his relationship with this girl is the manipulation he uses to create the illusion of acquiescence. When he meets her, she is still a little girl with “the scrapes of elementary school on her knees,” but Florentino spends a year cultivating her with ice cream and childish afternoons, until finally winning her confidence and affection. These are love affairs not one night stands, Florentino had feelings for these women (some of them anyway), this love life points out the falsehood of Florentino’s love for Fermina. He manipulates woman, all of them.
From the time he receives Fermina’s letter of insults, Florentino begins to devise a new strategy — a “new method of seduction.”() He plans everything “down to the last detail, as if it were the final battle.”() He departs from his usual imitative writing style and composes an extensive meditation on life which he disguises in the patriarchal style of an old man’s memories. The letters help Fermina find new reasons to go on living, but Florentino’s cunning plans complicate what she interprets as heartfelt emotions. He is also dishonest with her in person; when she asks him why he never competed in the Poetic Festivals, he “lies to her” () and says that he “wrote only for her.”() It is true that part of his intention is to give Fermina the courage to “discard the prejudices”() of society, and to “think of love as a state of grace,”() but his contemptible past makes it impossible to differentiate his good motives from his selfish, destructive ones.))
Marquez expels Florentino and Fermina’s false love during the final pages of the book. He depicts a forsaken country on the river were the elderly couple float down. “The river became muddy and narrow[…] flatlands stripped of entire forests that had been devoured by the boilers of the riverboats […] there were no more wars or epidemics, but the swollen bodies still floated by.”(336) Florentino’s relationship with Fermina was not as full but rather a narrow and muddy. The life he led with the sole purpose of being with Fermina and the illusion that followed striped the forest of his life bare leaving nothing but “flatlands.”(336) The monomaniac idealism of Florentino leads him to strip away everything in his life other than the “muddy and narrow” (336) river that is his relationship with Fermina. Even though he defeats all the “wars” and “epidemics” (336) in order to reach Fermina there are still corpses that float by, the corpses of falsehood and past lovers.
The love between them is as narrow as the river. Florentino is as dead and bare as the country side. The ultimate contradiction comes in the very last words of Florentino in which he tells the captain to sail the “New Fidelity” (343) to sail “forever.”(348) The impossibility of that statement at first glance seems as the perfect way to end a romantic novel. However, this is not Marquez intention. The wood that is needed to fuel the ship has been depleted to none, due to Florentino’s mismanaging of the river company because his mind only grasped the falsehood of
Fermina’s love. Eventually the elderly couple will have to come to realize the impossibility of their love and come to the truth that “It’s dead.”(340) Florentino will have to come to the truth that Fermina has poisoned his mind and body and that she is and was only an illusion in his mind.