This is an interpretation article and thus obviously delves into potential spoilers.
Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez wrote with such titillating and tantalizing charm and pizazz that he is arguably noted as one of the most significant authors of the preceding century. He has left behind a large legacy of novels and short stories dealing with themes like love, age and solitude, accompanied often by magical realism. His novel, Love in The Time of Cholera, might just be his most highly regarded novel, along with often being touted as the greatest love story ever.
However, my own interpretation of the novel contrasts quite a lot with the general perception of the distances between Ariza and Daza arising out of circumstances and situations, and questions their earnestness. I feel that Marquez did not intend to write the “greatest love story” ever, and he himself stated once that there was a catch in the novel, which not many people understood.
It commences with an infantile infatuation between teenagers Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza. Soon, their clandestine liaison progresses with Ariza eruditely reciting the toughest romantic poems for Daza, who he beholds as the one greatest love of his life. The teenager Ariza makes for a compelling character and the reader is inclined to believe in the simplicity and good nature of his love and desire for Daza. What follows is a series of secret meetings, exchanging of letters, marvelous poem recitals and romantic violin performances. But, a few years later, Daza decides that she is a complete stranger to Ariza, and on her father’s insistence marries the upcoming social hero in Juvenal Urbino.
Marquez leaves some sense of ambiguity at this stage as we don’t really fathom why Daza decides to marry Urbino over Ariza. Does she covet the security, wealth and social stature that Urbino can offer and Ariza can’t? Or does she genuinely feel against marrying the “stranger” Ariza? I am inclined to believe the former.
At this stage it all seems destined to be a story of immense patience and never-ending love until Ariza finally attains Daza. But, soon this illusion of the reader breaks, as Ariza starts sleeping with anyone interested in him.
He still feels convinced that he loves only Fermina Daza, as he tangles into various relationships which provide him with carnal satiation. At no point does Ariza hold his desires back, as he sleeps with widows, wives of his friends, prostitutes, and indeed a minor. The fact that Ariza was supposed to be madly and irrevocably in love with Daza seem to be under question here as Ariza’s womanizing attitude is pretty much established. He maintains a journal of all his fervent sexual encounters with different women, and he also keeps all his letters directed towards Daza in a collaboration named “Lover’s Companion”. All this, instead of making me see him as a hurt romantic, only makes me see him as a very creepy and lecherous person. Maybe this was the catch Garcia was talking about? Not to believe in someone’s words and thoughts, but to believe in that person’s actions?
Ariza maintains a low profile in the society, marking a plaintive figure who is rumored to be gay. This is an interesting point Marquez makes about our ever-so-nose-butting society. Slowly he climbs the social ladder, which to me seems a desperate attempt at trying to gain everything that Urbino had, just to be able to court Daza (enter Great Gatsby analogy). After living most of his life full of affairs, and still being convinced that he loved only Daza, Ariza then in his old age has a 14 year old relative under him to chaperon, who he sleeps with in a manner which subterfuges his truest carnal intentions. The 14 year old girl, America Vicuna, is obviously a small kid who doesn’t understand his ulterior motives, and feels it is his duty as the guardian.
Finally, when Urbino dies, Ariza reappears in Daza’s life and tries to marry her, proposing to her with “his eternal fidelity and everlasting love”. When, in their senescent stage they both do get together, I couldn’t help but feel that again Marquez had veiled Daza’s motives as it seemed to have arisen not out of feelings of love and attraction, but to get a secure marriage system in place again. Consequently, they sleep together, and their attempt does not go well. What does Ariza do? He comes out of the cabin they were in and starts thinking about America Vicuna.
He admits to himself that he loved Vicuna (who has died in the meanwhile). Maybe Marquez wanted to show how the teenage America Vicuna was closer to what Ariza had initially fallen in love with, i.e., teenager Daza? It is quite possible that Ariza was infact in love with the image of the teenager Daza that he so fondly remembered, and not with the now-old Daza herself. He even tells Daza that he remained a virgin for her, portraying slight guilt and the fact that he was now disaffected by her, and wasn’t under any moral compulsion to not lie.
Ariza being a Lothario, Daza being a gold digger – there can be another interpretation of what Marquez meant by his catch. Maybe, he wanted to show us all how love won’t ever be perfect and it won’t be all rainbows and unicorns. Maybe, he wanted to inform us of the fickleness of character, and how tough it can really be in finding and fathoming love, and when in the presence of it, recognizing love.
Marquez for me shatters all previous dramatic perceptions that love stories held, and wrote something depicting the flaws of human nature, the inexorable desire for love, and the obscurity between love and lust while defining both of those adroitly. Promiscuity will forever be an awful thing, don’t get me otherwise. Love is indeed a misunderstood concept, but mindless infidelity isn’t a justified alternative to it.
The ambiguity over love can be further expounded by this quote from the novel:
“She would defend herself, saying that love, no matter what else it might be, was a natural talent. She would say: You are either born knowing how, or you never know.”