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Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Marquez
The Sadomasochistic Nature of Romantic Love in Love in the Time of Cholera
In Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Marquez illustrates the downside of romantic love in exploring Florentino Ariza’s pain that is a result of loving Fermina. In constantly looking for his love in sexual relationships, he renews a very temporary feeling of elation while feeding his need for Fermina. The problem is that he always has to come down off of that high to realize that he still does not have Fermina. This is akin to stroking his pleasure and beating himself with a cat of nine tails in succession repeatedly. Hence, the reader witnesses the metaphorical illustration that love is not a romantic subversion from the human existence but instead an aching sickness that leaves scares on one’s soul, an unrealistic expectation of other human beings, and fosters aggression when unrequited.
The Attack on Florentino's Soul
Love is an attack on Florentino’s soul. This attack begins at an early age because of the love that is not given back to him by Fermina. Readers wonder why even include Jerimiah’s suicide in the novel. It seems to be out of place; however, the fact is that it is very appropriate, for it foreshadows the development of love which is akin to a living death. Just as Jeremiah sees getting old as being cursed to live in death, Florentino is living with loving someone intensely and not getting the reciprocal of such love, so he is in effect living a death. This love that he feels for Fermina is actually the death of self and the death of the life that he has the potential to live and lead. Observe, “This gratifying certainty increased Florentino Ariza's eagerness, for at the height of pleasure he had experienced a revelation that he could not believe, that he even refused to admit, which was that his illusory love for Fermina Daza could be replaced by an earthly passion” (Marquez 143). This is the end of the life that Florentino could have had because he will now make a concentrated effort to drown his love for Fermina in meaningless sex with other women. Imagine how his life could have turned out had he not chosen this sadomasochistic path? The path of acceptance that love is lost and the acceptance needed to move on from Fermina could very well be achieved with time; however, love’s attack on his soul would not allow him such peace.
The Unrealistic Nature of Florentino's Love for Fermina Daza
Florentino’s love for Fermina is unrealistic because he does not view her as an equal human being. He views himself as the lesser of the two, and she is placed on a pedestal of which he cannot reach. She is an idol to him as opposed to a woman he loves. When he initially begins shadowing Fermina, he watches her pass by everyday. He does not have any contact with her at this time, and his imagination has to suffice to give him knowledge of who she is as a person. Of course, his imaginative perspective will not offer any negative characteristics to him about Fermina, so “Little by little he idealized her, endowing her with improbable virtues and imaginary sentiments, and after two weeks he thought of nothing but her (Marquez 56). Idealizing Fermina yields a fantasic interpretation of her existence and only contributes to love’s attack on his soul when she later decides that she wants nothing to do with him.
Unfortunately, this unrealistic interpretation of Fermina’s nature is far from the truth of who she is in reality. Subversively, she is a realistic person who is lacking Florentino’s imaginative qualities. With this being the case, she returns to their hometown with the realization that she is not in love with Florentino and that he is not as impressive as she initially thought. Even if she wanted to adhere to her youth laden plans of which she made with Florentino, her realistic nature would not allow her to do so. This is why writing Florentino to tell him that she does not love him seems practical to Fermina. Futhermore, it is her realistic nature that convinces her to marry Urbino; observe her thoughts as she grapples with the thought of marrying him,
…Urbino's suit had never been…in the name of love…it was curious…that a militant Catholic…would offer her…security, order, happiness…that…might resemble love…But they were not love, and these doubts increased her confusion…she was also not convinced that love was really what she most needed to live. (Marquez 205)
Fermina’s realistic nature is what convinces her to air on the side of practicality. She marries Urbino because it is a practical decision, for he has the means to provide her with what she needs to survive.
Contrary to Fermina’s realistic nature, Florentino’s unrealistic existence will not allow him to come to such real conclusions because love has attacked his soul and left him in a state of emptiness. This emptiness renders him unable to grow in the normal fashion of a human being over the course of his life, and he stays stagnant for his entire lifetime. He is stuck in the state of being that he stays in from the day she leaves him. This stagnant existence aides him in loving Fermina constantly over the span of “fifty-one years and nine months and four days” (103). In essence, he is in a purgatorial state of being atoning for the past sin of loving Fermina and for the sins the he commits in relation to coping with his love for Fermina. He is literally in a fight with love to recapture his soul from this false reality that love has championed for him. His fight with love is not rooted in getting out of his false reality; however, it is rooted bringing a false reality to fruition. A strategy that he adopts to fight this war is to devise a plan to become rich so that he may become worthy of Fermina, “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). What he does not realize is that he will never truly be worthy of Fermina, for their love is not rooted in clarity or human connection. Furthermore, even when he does rekindle a relationship with Fermina, it is tainted with Urbino’s death; she does not come to him freely. She comes to him with an umbrella of immortality lingering over her head. In addition to this umbrella of immortality that lingers over her head, there is this desire to spend her golden years with this man who has not progressed in life as the average man or man who was seeking to grow into a better man would. The sense of growing into a whole and better person is something that Florentino abandoned long ago; however, the reader does have to acknowledge that he does grow into a man whose path is twisted by love’s lust for his soul. His twisted nature is revealed in his actions that do not rest in his promiscuous behavior but in his dastardly behavior.
Seeking Pleasure to Replace Loss
He becomes a man who seeks his pleasure not only with willing women but in committing dastardly deeds against women. These are actually acts of aggression toward Fermina that are transferred onto other women. He feels aggression toward Fermina at several points in his adult life because he is still boxed into his adolescent existence due to the love for her that has a hold of his soul. For instance, Florentino leaves evidence of his affair with Olimpia on her person, and her husband finds it and kills her. Could he have had the sense of mind to realize that this would not turn out well for her if her husband found it? Yes, he could have; however, his is not living for himself or for the women with which he makes love. Further evidence of this dastardly nature that he develops is perceptible in how he treats the maid in raping her and requesting that she blame the resulting pregnancy on her boyfriend. As stated before, Florentino is dormant; he is stuck in the state in which he stands when Fermina tells him that she does not love him. Still, he is in an unrealistic state of love’s grasp and effort to render him soulless. In this state, he does not recognize that he does have some hatred for Fermina that he projects onto other women. In furtherance of his dastardly development, he rapes yet another person; however, this person is in all actuality a child. His family trusts him with America; he is supposed to send her to school. Instead of providing a safe environment for her, he begins grooming her for an act of molestation. These dastardly acts are evidence of the unrealistic nature of his love for Fermina; he actually holds some animosity for Fermina that manifests itself in his interaction with other women and girls with whom he builds relationships. It must be noted that these women are actually within his relationship realm because he does more than just have sexual relations with them. In his cousin’s case, he actually builds her trust before taking her into his proverbial bed of soulless love.
This soulless love renders a union (unmarried) between Fermina and Florentino that is rooted in sadomasochism, unrealistic expectations, and falsehoods. Fermina is not in love with Florentino although she accepts to sail off into the sunset with him. He is merely a replacement for what is now a dead and rotting body. Furthermore, in finally uniting with his so called love, Florentino leaves a trail of metaphorically and literally dead bodies ranging from domestic violence victims (not of his own hands), a rape victim, and a molestation victim all in the name of this soulless love that is indeed a falsehood.
Márquez, Gabriel García. Love in the Time of Cholera. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988. Print.