Love in the Time of Cholera
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Where It All Goes Down
The turn of the 20th century; a city on the Caribbean coast, possibly Cartagena, Colombia
García Márquez's descriptions of the setting paints the picture of a complex and colorful city. The setting not only provides a lot of clues about the characters' personalities, interests, and social status (see our discussion of "Homes" under "Character Clues"), but also indicates a particular geographical significance to the story.
The Mystery City
The main setting, a city on the banks of the Magdalena River on the Caribbean coast, bears a lot of resemblance to Cartagena, Colombia. Isn't it curious, therefore, that the author never refers to the city by name, but only by the elliptical reference "The City of the Viceroys" – especially when neighboring towns in northeast Colombia, like San Juan de la Ciénaga, are mentioned by name? Descriptions of the ecological decline of the countryside, as well as brief references to civil wars and social violence, suggest that the setting is more than just tangential to the love story presented here. Does the withholding of the city's proper name indicate that the human foibles described in this novel are somehow universal? Or does the social and political context of Colombia make Love in the Time of Cholera a particularly regional story? This, we think, would make a killer paper topic.
Aside from the discussion of different residential neighborhoods, a lot of urban spaces are presented in the book, including the Arcade of Scribes (a less-than-reputable market), a café where men meet to play chess, a transient hotel, the docks of the River Company of the Caribbean, and several cemeteries.
Think about the kinds of spaces that each character inhabits – is it any wonder that, though they are both prominent men in the city, Dr. Urbino and Florentino rarely meet? In what spaces do characters from different social backgrounds come together? It's obvious that Dr. Urbino has a great love for his city and a passion for improving it. Why does Florentino love the city, and how do his movements through the city reflect that love?
Transient spaces are very important in the novel, and a lot of the action of the plot takes place in these liminal zones (that's a fancy way of saying places that people pass through). Think about the significant events that take place in carriages and on riverboats. These tend to serve as places where people make connections or communicate with one another. Dr. Urbino's carriage ride with Hildebranda and Fermina is instrumental in leading to his marriage; their honeymoon cruise across the Atlantic is where they first get to know each other and make love; Florentino loses his virginity on a river cruise, and also makes a commitment never to leave Fermina. Since these spaces of travel are so linked to communication, is it any wonder that Florentino is both a telegraph operator and the director of a riverboat company?