Understanding the setting and themes of a novel is important to grasping the overall story. In this lesson, you’ll find out more about these two elements in relation to ”Love in the Time of Cholera.”

Love in the Time of Cholera

As you might guess from the title, Gabriel Garc;a M;rquez’s novel Love in the Time of Cholera is at its heart a love story. But it isn’t just a simple, straightforward love story (are any of them?). It’s a story of love separated by time and family obligation, only to be reunited years later.

In this lesson, we’re going to take a closer look at two important elements of this story and any story, its setting and its themes. Setting helps the reader place the story in terms of where and when it takes place. It may also include the historical significance of the setting, offering clues into the characters’ lives. While the setting tells us where the action of a story takes place, its themes provide the main subject (or subjects) explored by the plot.

Now that we know what to look for in terms of setting and theme, let’s apply both to the M;rquez novel.

Setting

The setting of Love in the Time of Cholera is a little tricky to pin down, because the location is never identified as a real place. What we do is know is that it’s a tropical city at the turn of the twentieth century, the decades at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth.

So, what can we figure out about the setting for this book? The author shows his readers that the city is both colorful and complex in nature. Though he never names it, many have theorized that the setting seems similar to a town in Colombia, located in the northwestern corner of South America.

Márquez does drop some clues about the city, however, including discussion of violence and civil wars as well as a decline in the country’s environmental and social conditions. The town he describes is rich in history, but struggling. He also speaks of an urban culture including businesses such as a hotel, a small restaurant and river docks. Much of the interaction between the central characters takes place on the river, which keeps the setting ever-changing.

By neglecting to tell his readers where this story specifically takes place, the author may have been leaving it open for readers to assume their own locations. This shows that the conditions, setting and context are not exclusive to a particular area, but can be found anywhere, at any time.

Themes

Some of the important themes of the book are easily deciphered from the title of the book itself. Love in the Time of Cholera, without any additional explanation, shows us potential themes concerning relationships, life and death.

Love

Do you think the author is trying to suggest that love is an illness of the heart? It sure seems so. Despite the years and circumstances that separate the novel’s main characters, Florentino and Fermina, they maintain their affection for one another. During their separation, the pair experience many physical and emotional symptoms. Early on, Florentino becomes sick with worry and is nearly diagnosed with cholera. (Turns out, it’s just love.) As the story concludes, the reunited pair are so determined to be together that they isolate themselves from the rest of society. Throughout the decades, love has been at the center of each character’s story and, ultimately, the book.

Death

There’s no way of getting around death as a theme of Love in the Time of Cholera. The title itself refers to a highly infectious disease that was often fatal to those who contracted it.

Death has many meanings, however. It could be the death of a relationship, like Florentino and Fermina experience; the death of Fermina’s husband; the aging and feeble nature of the characters toward the end; or even the suicide of a character who fears aging and death. You can also see the symbolism of death when Florentino and Fermina choose to stay on the boat instead of returning to land. They may have had an understanding that their time together was short, and they wanted to make the most of what they had left.

Time

Here’s another one of those themes hidden out in the open. The love story of Florentino and Fermina takes up a significant chunk of time–50 years, in fact. We first meet them when they are young and full of life, and we follow them as they age. Not only do we see the passage of time in the story, but also what happens over the years to people’s minds and bodies.

Sickness

The prevalence of cholera throughout the novel makes illness an important point of the tale. Cholera claims the life of Fermina’s one-time husband, Dr. Urbino. Florentino’s bout of lovesickness is falsely believed to be cholera. At the end of the book, the reunited couple uses cholera as an ”excuse” to stay away from the rest of civilization, enjoying the remainder of their days together, alone.

Loyalty

Last but certainly not least of the important themes is the concept of loyalty. Despite the circumstances and passage of time, Florentino steadfastly waits until the day his true love, Fermina, returns to him. His ”loyalty” may have unusual attributes (such as having affairs with various women while waiting), but he is quick to announce his love to Fermina as soon as her husband dies.

In many ways, Florentino fills his time chasing attention but not love, reserving his true feelings for his one true love. Once Fermina consents to rekindling their relationship, she demonstrates her faithfulness by setting sail with Florentino on a trip up the river, which ultimately ends in their renewed attraction and commitment to one another. Ironically, the boat they sail on is called New Fidelity. Fidelity is another word for faithfulness.

Lesson Summary

In Love in the Time of Cholera, we see a South American setting that is both colorful and complicated by war and declining social conditions. The themes of the novel are varied, and typical of everyday living: love, death, time and loyalty.