Love in the Time of Cholera
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
García Márquez's often formal-sounding insistence on using both the first and last names of his characters (América Vicuña, Florentino Ariza, Dr. Juvenal Urbino) suggests that there is something significant about naming in the novel. In fact, a character's name often gives us a clue as to one of their identifying traits. We'll list a few for starters:
América Vicuña takes on a symbolic quality when we consider her first name as a geographical representation. Vicuña, on the other hand, contains the Spanish word for "cradle," reminding us that she's just a baby.
Jeremiah de Saint-Amour's biblical-sounding first name references a prophet – could his suicide and fear of aging be prophetic of other events that unfold in the first chapter? As for his last name, it's no coincidence that Dr. Urbino calls his friend a "saint" on at least two occasions, or that Jeremiah had been engaged in a passionately "amorous" relationship on the sly.
Dr. Juvenal Urbino is obsessed with juventud, the Spanish word for "youth," and is decidedly "urbane."
We're sure you can come up with some more significant names.
Sex and Love
This one is pretty obvious. Let's compare the sexual habits of Dr. Juvenal Urbino with those of Florentino Ariza, for example. Dr. Urbino, though admired by many women, is almost entirely faithful to his wife. The only exception is when he sleeps with a patient of his – but he feels so guilty about it that he can't enjoy it and eventually confesses everything to his priest and his wife. Florentino, on the other hand, has sex with hundreds of women and keeps a record of them all in a little black book. All the while, he maintains that his heart belongs to Fermina. It seems he's willing to risk everything both for the sake of sexual adventure and for the opportunity to be with his one true love. He wreaks irreversible damage in the pursuit of both.
Since this book is really all about love, the contrasting amorous patterns of these two men are super-important because they reveal entirely different philosophies. Dr. Urbino's is a philosophy that places a premium on honest communication – only when he and his wife are open with one another can their love grow. Florentino's, on the other hand, is one that values deception in the name of romance and adventure. When he finally sleeps with Fermina, he even goes so far as to lie and say he's remained a virgin for her. She doesn't believe him, but that's not what's important – it's that they are both content to live in a delusion in order to preserve the excitement of romance.
García Márquez spends a lot of time describing the houses of the various characters in this novel, so it stands to reason that these homes can tell us a lot about his protagonists. Just as Dr. Urbino reads the home of his friend Jeremiah de Saint Amour for clues about his death, we read the homes of Fermina, Dr. Urbino, and Florentino for clues about their personalities, social status, and character traits.
The house of Fermina's adolescence is, for example, private and secluded – just like her. Yet it also faces the romantic Park of the Evangels, where Florentino sits and broods over the seclusion of his lover.
Florentino's house, on the other hand, is a house of windows, which he is ever optimistically renovating in preparation for the arrival of his long-awaited bride.
Dr. Juvenal Urbino's family home is a dark mansion in a well-established neighborhood – ritzy, but far too oppressive for his new bride. When he sells it and builds a new home in the stylish La Manga suburb for the nouveau riches, we understand that he and his wife are declaring their independence from the confines of high society and making a life for themselves – respectable, but all their own.