Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel García Márquez

(by oriordai)

Gabriel García Márquez was born in 1928 in Aracataca, Colombia. He studied in Bogotá, before working as a foreign correspondent for the newspaper “El Espectador”. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.

  • Although “Love in the Time of Cholera” tells the story of the romance between Fermenina Daza and Florentino Aríza, our extract is primarily concerned with the man Fermenina eventually marries, Dr. Juvenal Urbino.
  • The introduction to Urbino outlines his meticulous daily routine, his perfectionism, and most interestingly, his hypocrisy. In the first paragraph we are told that he arises early in the morning in order to take the many different medications he prescribes himself, while at the same time we learn he “always opposed prescribing palliatives for old age”
  • This also contrasts to his scepticism regarding modern medicine “He thought…all medication was poison”. However, he saw his role as a doctor to “help [man] die without fear of pain”. But, as we learned from the first paragraph, Dr Urbino finds it “easier to bear others people’s pain than his own”.

In the course of four pages of the novel, we see how inconsistent and hypocritical Dr. Urbino is in his views. This arises from the elevated social status he enjoys and is the way in which Urbino abuses his position.

  • He achieves “a respectability and prestige that had no equal in the province”. This concept of prestige and how it is acquired is the overriding them in the extract. Dr Urbino is one of the only people who rides in a horse drawn carriage, and even among those that do, his is the most grand. He elicits a huge amount of respect from local people, not generally in medical matters, but in civic issues. He founded and funded the first medical society, organised construction of the first aqueduct, the first sewer system and the first public market. He was a Knight of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and a Commander of the French Legion of Honour.
  • Although Dr. Urbino had received many honours, we are told he “never accepted the public positions offered to him with frequency and without conditions and he was a pitiless critic of those physicians who used their professional prestige to attain political office”.  This also adds to the sense that the doctor is a hypocrite; he is almost incapable of seeing fault in himself in regard to his public persona.
  • Most interestingly Dr. Urbino receives much of his prestige as a medical doctor, yet at the stage of his life when we encounter him he “was only called in for hopeless cases”. Although he had little or no standing in the practise of medicine he continues to lecture in the university and to visit and treat patients.
  • This leads us to question why it is medical doctors command so much respect, particularly after they can no longer practise medicine. No reference is made to any previous excellence achieved by Dr. Urbino in any medical domain, he is known solely for his civic duties. But, why should he have been given the right to influence matters concerning local government as greatly as he has?
  • Perhaps at least in part, it is due to the doctor’s personal interaction with the patients- if someone would trust him with their life, surely they would trust him with the Dramatic Theatre? Questioning the position of the doctor in society is key to understanding what peoples’ perception of them is and what influence they can have over people.
  • A strong impression left by the book is the complexity of Dr. Urbino’s personal life, in contrast to his perfect public persona. He is married to a woman much younger than himself, from a lower social class who we see is not exactly as happily married to him as first appears. He lives in “nouveau riche” part of town, which is rather surprising, considering his social status.
  • The death of Dr. Urbino is extremely revealing about his character, if only in the insight we gain into his wife, Fermenina. The death causes uproar amongst the entire city, with people filling the streets for three days of mourning. However, Fermenina does not allow this to influence her own decision regarding the burial and even ignores orders from the President for it to be lain in state for public viewing. This strength of character of his wife reflects well on Dr. Urbino, and we gain a greater insight into their relationship through this event.
  • This extract was an interesting read as it raised many questions about the appropriateness of doctors playing roles outside their own field of work, and about what it is about them that draws them to these so called ‘civic duties’. It provides an extreme example of a doctor, who is far more involved in public works than a medical career yet still retains the prestige of it and questions the reasons for the important role doctors play in society.

Doctor in society

On the theme of what the doctor’s relationship is to her community and to society more generally, we read extracts from the following texts:

John Berger’s A Fortunate Man

Carlo Levi’s Christ Stopped At Eboli

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera

JD O’Connor’s “Doctor in the Dales”

The two presentations will shortly be posted here, but in the meantime, those who missed either class and those who didn’t get a chance to formulate their thoughts during the classes, are invited to add “comment” on this post (by clicking on Leave a comment link above).