The Emotional Crypt in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera
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- Length: 7388 words (21.1 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
It is a well-known fact that bread keeps fresher longer if one sucks the air from the bag it is in before clipping it tightly shut. Thus, in those nations where bread, our staff of life, is provided for us in brightly colored bags, we dutifully absorb the treacherous air, holding tightly to the theory that everything survives better in a vacuum. It is human nature to keep those things we love and need free from harm, tightly wrapped up and out of the elements. When trauma strikes a human being it is not uncommon for that person to respond by finding or creating a small pocket of normalcy or "emotional crypt," 1 and living safely inside of it, shielding themselves from pain. These crypts take on many forms and, in turn, can be penetrated in many ways. Tombs can be literal or figurative. While one person may prefer the sanctity of a house or basement, another may simply create a small but perfect world inside their mind. Still others might choose a relationship, objects, or a form of communication to separate painful reality from tolerable bliss.
Modeled after a love affair his mother had with a telegraph operator before she was married, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's late work Love in the Time of Cholera 2 , is an eloquent illustration of how a person or persons can utilize an emotional crypt throughout a lifetime as a tool for dealing with many forms of trauma (McNerney 78). Additionally, it demonstrates how these emotional crypts can eventually become reality for the person in a post-traumatic state. Lorenzo Daza is a mule trader who, by means legal or illegal, has made enough money to send his daughter Fermina to a fine academy for training women to be good, upper-class brides. Though they are decidedly lower middle class, Lorenzo is deeply set on his daughter marrying far above her station. Florentino Ariza, on the other hand, is the poor but ambitious bastard son of a powerful South American merchant to whom his mother was a mistress. He works for the local telegraph company and is proficient and talented in the arts of music and, especially, writing. He has a future as a riverboat merchant but Lorenzo is non-plussed by this. Ariza first sees Fermina when he delivers a telegram to her father's house.
She is only thirteen but he falls in love with her immediately and begins a campaign of letters, patiently waiting in the park just to see her, and late night serenades to try and win her hand in marriage. After a time, and with some encouragement from her spinster aunt Escolastica, Fermina responds to Ariza's attempts at wooing her. She writes him back, sends him small presents, and meets his requests to see her with coquettish reservation. Eventually, though she at first is hesitant, they agree to be engaged.
Fermina is caught writing notes to Ariza during school, a mistake that causes her expulsion from school as well as informs her father of the love affair she has been conducting behind his back. Lorenzo responds by sending Escolastica, who Fermina regards as a mother, away to eventually die poor and afflicted by leprosy. This is the first time that Fermina reacts to her father's cruelty and absolutist control over her destiny by shutting herself off. She does this both as a means of punishing him and as a way of protecting herself from pain. As Lorenzo threatens Ariza and later, frustrated, drags her on a hard mule trip through the mountains in an effort to keep her from Ariza, she has escaped bodily pain by existing in her own mind. Ariza, on the other hand chooses to escape the reality of his loss not by withdrawing into his mind, but his letters and music. The two support each others' emotional crypts in that he continues to write to her, pledging his vows of eternal love and she accepts them, clinging to them, using them to place herself away from the bodily pain she goes through on her pack trip.
Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza, the primary protagonists in Love, have each created a crypt for themselves. Florentino, unable to marry Daza proposes to remain sexually pure for her until the time when her husband dies and he can marry her. He breaks his proposal in the physical sense (he goes through over 600 lovers in the course of half a century) but does keep spiritually pure in that he never allows himself to love any of the women he sleeps with. Instead he chooses to entomb his spiritual fidelity in literally hundreds of letters to his beloved Fermina. She, on the other hand, entombs herself in the marriage she enters into because of her disillusionment with Ariza, and "the imminence of her twenty-first birthday" (Marquez 216). When her husband eventually does die due to a rather senseless accident, she responds by frantically trying to re-create the crypt she has formed for herself and even improve upon it. She idealizes her dead husband and the life she led with him. When Ariza attempts to re-claim her for himself after her husband dies, she becomes angry, sending him away. However, she welcomes his letters when eventually he writes her again as they bring her comfort and represent the way things were before her husband's death and thereby reinstates her original emotional crypt.
What is the nature of these "emotional crypts" and why are Daza and Ariza so adamantly disposed toward maintaining it? Though the relationships in Love are not wholly unfamiliar the notion of defining them through emotional encryption may seem foreign. Jacques Derrida, in his foreword to The Wolfman's Magic Word: A Cryptonomy, explores the nature of the crypt and the crypts that persons dealing with the after effects of trauma establish. Derrida purports that encryption "always marks an effect of impossible or refused mourning," (Wolfman 21). In essence, an emotional crypt is suspension of reality, a place in the mind wherein the person suffering from the trauma can be safe, can "hide as [they are held]" (Wolfman 14). The trauma then cannot harm the person if it is thus suspended outside of the crypt. Additionally, these crypts are not natural; they are manufactured by the post-traumatic mind, or, for that matter, any mind that suffers from a need to suspend and re-create reality for any reason (Wolfman 14). From this standpoint we can gain a better understanding of Daza and Ariza's actions and interpret the various emotional crypts they form and occupy during and after various traumatic episodes in their lives. "Is this strange space hermetically sealed?": Derrida alerts us that the "materials" of which such a crypt is made are not impenetrable (Wolfman 14). Indeed, they are delicate and require careful, sometimes conscience effort to be maintained. Both Daza and Ariza are prone to using symbols and rituals to establish and maintain their individual crypts. Letters, smells, cigars, flowers; the way that Fermina lays out her husband's clothes and how Florentino undresses for his lovers. All of these things become part of the routines in their lives and help to maintain their own individual crypts. And, both are careful throughout the long years the novel covers not to take poor sidesteps and endanger the crypt. Those times they do, they pay for it deeply. With ritual, routine, symbols, and well-placed blindsightedness, they maintain their respective crypts for half a century.
Fermina Daza is an old hand at trauma and disappointment. Her father's insistence on her marrying above her station permeates every piece of her existence. Their relationship is one of closed doors. He is unmoving where his daughter's wishes are concerned, and she, in turn reacts to his absolute control by shutting him out. She "was like talking to a corpse" he says (Marquez 96). But Fermina is proficient in the art of creating emotional crypts as quickly as her father can break them. The innocent relationship she carries on with Ariza, who is equal to if not below her station, becomes a catalyst for her father's temper and opens up the first round of trauma in Daza's life. "Her father, however, searched her room, until then an inviolate sanctuary, and in the false bottom of her trunk he found the packets of three years' worth of letters hidden away with as much love as had inspired their writing," (Marquez 79). By breaking into the private chest where she keeps the letters from Ariza, her father learns of her relationship with Ariza. Fermina's father responds by threatening Ariza, sending away Daza's beloved aunt and co-conspirator Escolastica, and lastly by dragging her on a long, miserable mule pack trip. She suffers greatly on this trip, and is cheered only by her cousin and the constant stream of telegraph letters from her then beloved Florentino. Squelching any plans of marriage other than those he makes himself, Mr. Daza at last gives his daughter's hand to Dr. Juvenal Urbino.
But before Urbino, there was Ariza. He was her first escape, her first rebellion. However, considering her age and naiveté, it is with some suspect that we view her initial proposals of love to him. And, indeed, our suspicion is well founded. She accepts his proposal only when he presents her with an ultimatum and, on the puerile pretext that he not force her to eat eggplant. The emotional and physical trauma of the severed relationship and the wretched trip serves to increase the importance and beauty of Florentino in Fermina's mind. She encrypts her self in fantasy of her relationship with Ariza in an effort to displace herself from her own lack of control over her life and the pain of the forced journey. Upon returning from the trip, she immediately visits the marketplace to shop for her "wedding" to Florentino. By chance, Ariza is in the marketplace as well and approaches Daza. Seeing him however, standing before her does not melt her heart but instantly, unceremoniously, bursts the hallowed image she has given him: "In an instant the magnitude of her own mistake was revealed to her, and she asked herself, appalled, how she could have nurtured such a chimera in her heart for so long and with so much ferocity," (Marquez 102). Florentino was , for Fermina, a symbol of an emotional crypt, an image for invoking an escape from her father, and not the all-consuming love she proclaimed. As Fermina comments to Ariza later in life: "The feverish excitement of twenty had been something very noble, very beautiful, but it had not been love," (Marquez 317).
The one important thing that comes from the mule trip that Fermina's father forces her on is that she meets her cousins, and especially, her cousin Hildebranda, who ultimately becomes the symbol of Fermina's jump from innocent adolescence into the awakening time of young adulthood. In self-love and cigar smoking Fermina is reborn from the pain of the split with Ariza. Yet at this time he (Ariza)urgently keeps in touch with her through telegrams. He becomes encapsulated in her mind as part of the masturbation fantasy, her first perfect relationship; her first crypt.
This initial crypt, however, is easily broken. What had she built him to in those "times, wild, uncaring, locked in her bathroom, smoking a mule driver's cigar and hair flowing around her shoulders" that the mere sight of him could shatter the fantasy (Marquez 162)? Adoration for Florentino then, was simply an escape mechanism from the mental and physical devastation of the forced journey? In part this is true but it hardly accounts for the magnitude of her decision. A number of factors contribute to this Fermina's startling rejection. In so far as his being the desire object during masturbation, this was perhaps only due to the fact that he was the only socially (for this time, approximately the turn of the century) appropriate symbol of sexuality she had.
In her time with her cousin Hildebranda, and with her other cousins, Fermina expresses a freedom of sexuality that she never repeats with the men in her life. It is her cousins that educate her about self-love. Thus, it is from them she takes her notions on the process-i.e., the incorporation of a fantasy into the experience, in this case a male. But regardless of the fantasy, this, her first sexual act, is performed in the company of other women, it is a secret act they perform among each other. Secrets, for Fermina are a comfortable place, another escape, another crypt, and are reinforced by symbol. For example, Fermina learns the habit of smoking from her cousins, a habit she practiced throughout life but does not reveal (until her twilight affair with Ariza) "because she associated the pleasure with secrecy," (Marquez 128). It is with her that Fermina is first nude in the presence of another. The two compare buttocks and breasts, using one another as mirrors. Hildebranda is the first one Fermina shares her bed and confidences with. Fermina's preparations for adult intimacy have been in the real presence of women (who are not the sexual/psychological threat to her that men are) and only in the bleary phantasmal sense has Fermina been with men. The reflection of her intimate self in women is natural and unthreatening for Fermina. Whether due to her father's Byzantine control over her life, sheer lack of information on the subject, or a combination of these and other factors, Fermina has become uncomfortable in the presence of men.
Florentino is real. For Fermina, real is threatening. The real presence of Florentino bursts the material of the fantasy or the crypt. As Derrida tells us: "Reality is such: Reality is that which would require a key change of place, a modification of the topography" (Wolfman 18). The very real presence of Florentino means that Fermina's fantasy could require alteration. As it is one of the few parts of her life wherein she has control, she is loath to lose it. As we come to learn later in the novel, when Juvenal Urbino takes Fermina as his wife, she is not only naïve but wholly frightened by sex with men. "The idea of violation might imply some kind of transgression of a right, the forced entry of a penetrating , digging force,": sex penetrates, violates her virginity, the final wall with which she can block her father's control. Her body is her last bastion of control, her (so she thinks) only unbreakable crypt with which she can punish and/or hold out pleasure from her father. Further, shortly after they return from the trip, Fermina's father offers her a token gesture; he relinquishes control of her life to her (supposedly) and puts her in charge of the household. Fermina has paid a heavy price for this "freedom" and is in no hurry to lose it again so soon by marrying. Florentino's real presence easily breaks the image of perfection, the emotional crypt that Fermina used to exist above the hardship of the pack trip.
So why then, after such a long struggle, after so harsh a rejection of Ariza, does Fermina give in to Juvenal Urbino? This is particularly baffling when we consider that he was someone her father preferred. However, rejecting Florentino does not eliminate, even in her stubborn mind, the eventual need for Fermina to find a mate. "The imminence of her 21 birthday," is the final pressuring force that pushes Fermina to accept the proposal of Dr. Urbino. Fermina, to her credit, does put up a fight in the beginning. Not surprisingly it is partly to spite her father, who she believes put Urbino up to the courtship: "It was impossible not to see him as the creature of a paternal plot, even if in reality he was not," (Marquez 205). But it is also in part due to her unwillingness to abandon her life as master of the house and the safe, quiet sex of masturbation. She holds her virginity up as a hiding place, an unattainable prize, and a shield all at the same time. Nuns and bishops are called upon to persuade her to change her mind. She haughtily refuses every time, taking cruel delight in paining her father and those he brings in to help him. Ultimately, it is only her own fear of the approaching 21st birthday ( the age of spinsterhood) that convinces her to give in. Sheer fear envelopes her in this time, her wedding pictures show her tight lipped and frightened. For a time, she has no crypt. It is a stroke of fortune that she is seasick on her wedding night, the dreaded conjugal encounter is temporarily put off, allowing her time to get to know this man she does not love. And when the moment does occur, Urbino is gentle with her. Thus, they are "like old lovers" by the time they reach Paris. All her fear is gone and she is deep in the construction of her greatest crypt, the one that took her through the greater part of her life; her marriage.
"He had never belonged to her as much as he did now that he was in the coffin nailed shut with a dozen three-inch nails and two meters underground,": though these are not sentiments of Fermina Daza (they belong to another widow, one of Florentino's many lovers), they are a perfect echo to her feelings after the death of her husband. Their life together was good and bad, a typical struggle of a couple that is close but not in love. In life he was, at times, cruel and unfaithful to her. Yet with the advent of his death, she blankets his memory with a reverence inconsistent with some of her previous views. Often, when a person dies, those closest to that person find a pedestal in their heart to place them on. A hallowed light surrounds the dead regardless of how poor a being they were in life. Failure, injustice, and adversity are tolerable when they become shadows in the sunlight of post mortem. This is what Derrida denotes as the "exquisite corpse" (Wolfman's 17). He tells us: "With the real loss to of the object having been rejected and the desire having been maintained but at the same time excluded from introjection (simultaneous conservation and suppression, between which no synthesis is possible), incorporation is a kind of theft to reappropriate the pleasure object," (Wolfman's 17). So long has Daza lived in the original crypt she created that it is now hard for her to let go of it. Her status as a widow allows her even more of an opportunity to encrypt her feelings. She is certain that her husband is still present even after his death as he has been so long a part of her crypt. In order to avoid losing the sanctuary of the original crypt, she enshrines her husbands memory so that she can "love him in her own way" (McNerney 86). Knocking about the mansion her husband has left her with she begins "living like [a parasite] of gloom in [her] big empty house," still setting a place for her husband at the table and generally refusing to mourn (Marquez 203). She creates a world, an emotional crypt wherein her husband is not dead but "still alive, but without his male caprices or his patriarchal demands," (McNerney 86). Thus, when Florentino proposes marriage to her shortly after her husband's funeral, her reaction is not entirely surprising. She is, naturally, angry and appalled. His proposal penetrates her crypt, it threatens to open her life to new "male caprices" not to mention the fact that it is severely inappropriate.
And what of this reckless romantic Florentino Ariza? What can we make of his all-consuming passion for Fermina? It this really love or the ideological, mule-headed actions of a young romantic star-crossed and scorned? Or is his conduct that of yet another being in this story that prefers the sanctity of an emotional crypt to the harshness of reality? Our first clue is in his very nature. "He is ugly and sad," Fermina's cousin Hildebranda tells us, "but he is all love." Indeed, Florentino, as Thomas Pynchon tells us in his New York Times review of the novel, is "love's creature." He is a romantic and a fervid consumer of all things pertaining to the subject. Novels, music, love letters, and cheap love sonnets are fairly ingested by him at hungry pace. Perhaps Florentino's character is written this way because of his mother's experience or perhaps his personality reflects a bit of Marquez himself. Either way or both, Florentino is characterized by love, literature and letters: "The love that is so pervasive throughout this long novel is inextricably linked with Florentino Ariza and, through him, with the reading of literature and the writing of letters," (McNerney 75). But why the letter? In letters a person can enshrine their soul, seal it away, send it off to the object of their desire or hatred. It is out of the writer's hands, out and away from their bodies, yet it can still exist safe, preserved in its paper tomb. Not able to be physically close to Fermina, Florentino encrypts himself, his soul in his letters to her.
Florentino's obsession with Fermina, the first love of his life, is wholly consumptive. At one point, while waiting for Fermina to respond to one of his letters, he develops symptoms strongly resembling those of cholera. Vomiting and sweating, Florentino's passions are so intense he becomes like a man fraught with disease and near death. His mother is frightened but learns from the doctor that if Florentino is ill, it is only lovesickness: "But his examination revealed he had no fever, no pain anywhere, and that his only concrete feeling was an urgent desire to die" (Marquez 62). The fever of unrequited love and the fever of cholera (imminent death) become as one. Ariza's preoccupation with Fermina goes far beyond the natural limits of a crush. It has the underpinnings of an almost holy quest. During the aforementioned convalescence, he abandons his mother's comforts and consolation preferring instead to "enjoy his martyrdom," (Marquez 62). Is this the love of a youthful infatuation or that of Arthur for his Grail? Initially, Fermina may be a mere earthly crush. But into the letters he sends her goes his very soul. He entombs himself in them, folds his essence into thirds and buries it in an envelope bearing her address. She becomes his lover and his Madonna. Why does Ariza find this hallowed quality, this religious fervor not only in Fermina, but also in romantic love (opposed to earthly/sexual passion) in general? Whether his romantic education or purely own nature drives him is unclear. However, it does serve to isolate him from further romantic involvement. Other than his lowered social position due to his illegitimacy, Florentino does not appear to have suffered to any real extent. He is, in fact, well-loved and deeply respected by all those closest to him. Thus his encryption is self-inflicted. Marquez presents an ironic foreshadow of length and magnitude of this obsession when Florentino's mother tells him during his "love-cholera" prostration: "Take advantage of it now, while you are young, and suffer all you can because these things don't last your whole life" (Marquez 62).
But it does. Ariza's feelings for Fermina never change save to grow stronger. However, Florentino has a problem. In his youth he is determined "not to lose his virginity unless it was for love" (Marquez 63). In the beginning he succeeds, turning down "night birds" bought for him by friends and even the desperate affections of a young maid. A few moments in the dark on a riverboat trip, however, strip him not only of his virginity, but his ability to live body and soul for Fermina. So begins his great campaign which brings him to intimacy with over six hundred women: "As a result of that incident he discovers that his unrequited but still intact love could be substituted by earthly passion," (McNerney 75). Despite his rapacious sexual appetite, he does not allow himself to ever truly love these women, though there are a few he comes close with such as Leona Cassiani "the true woman of his life though they never made love," (Marquez 182). But too complete is this inner shrine that contains his heart. That is not to say that he does not give love to these women. Indeed, he takes care of all of "Them," guarding their honors and revering every one (putting flowers on graves, offering help and consolation to those who needed it) of the "622 amores continuados" in his little black book (McNerney 87). Still, he lives guided by "spiritual love from the waist up and physical love from the waist down," (Marquez 199). In heart and head Florentino lives, to his mind, pure, untouched, a virgin for Fermina; below that, he is a tireless hunter with well, a ready weapon. It is as if the upper regions of his body are the pure, impenetrable crypt, the vacuum of his brains and breast while his nether regions are simply outside of him, unable to break past the holy light above his belly button.
Oddly, though he feels guilty(worried that Fermina will find out) over his infidelity, it is not the guilt of a man who has cheated on his wife. It is more the guilt of a man who has done disservice to his savior. Our first clue of this is in the fact that he does not display any outward feelings of hatred toward Fermina's husband in the sexual rival sense. In other words, even when he sees her coming home from Europe, obviously pregnant, he displays no malice toward her or her husband in the sense of their conjugal relationship: "Florentino did not feel either jealousy or rage-only great contempt forhimself," (Marquez 152). It is more, simply that her husband is merely a heavy obstacle before the altar, something for time to wear away.
And what can we make of his "hunting" habits. Florentino, especially in those days of his tireless hunting women or "birds" for sexual favor, is meticulous and calculated in his every move. He pursues women like a mechanical hawk, and he learns early on how to spot just the right women to prey on so that rejection will be reduced to a minimum. He draws protective opinions: "He did not trust the sensual type," and maintains consistent habits, such as always placing his watch in his boot while undressing for sex. He rarely if ever lets himself love these "birds" or "leave a trace" of his lovemaking, as he knows the drastic price he will pay. In one slip, he rights a crude phrase on a lover's body during a moment of passion, a mistake that ends up getting her killed by her husband. This only concerns him, however, from the standpoint that the tale might get back to Fermina and, thus, break open the crypt of unconventional fidelity he has made for himself. In these habits, routines he has created a vacuumed universe wherein he can hide his sexual self.
Simple self-protection, however, is not Ariza's only motivation for meticulous routine. Routine is a shawl, a shroud, and a perfect hiding place. Day by day, the singular events in a person's pattern filter down like dust, unnoticed and slowly covering, hiding the obvious under a filmy shield. The confines of a routine, if properly maintained, can elevate a person from suspect. It is only those who deviate from habit that we are wary. In general, people are oblivious to the obvious. The hidden is preferable for we derive pleasure from peering under rocks to unveil the nasty truths. Under and in, we reason, is the place for things we are not meant to see; never on or atop. "What could be more convincing , moreover, than the gesture of laying one's cards face up on the table?" Lacan asks us (Seminar on The Purloined Letter 36). Indeed, we are less likely to closely examine the deck if our magician makes such effort. Thus, as Lacan points out, the effect of the trick is that much stronger. Such is the nature of routine. It leads those outside of the person in question to believe that they have seen all there is to see. Moreover, for those who have sought refuge in an emotional crypt, routine can strengthen the walls of the crypt by masking reality for those that utilize it.
Florentino cloaks both his infidelity and his guilt over his infidelity in his unwavering routine. His shrewd business sense, his commitment toward upward mobility in the riverboat company he works for, his daily rounds, and the somber attire he adopts throughout his life put him above suspicion. The careful sexual routines he engages in put him above his own guilt. So effective is this cloak for Florentino, the public overlooks the obvious and, at various stages of his life, he is rumored to have a taste for young boys instead of women. But these outward routines are a crypt for two. Most of the women in Florentino's life relish the security and secrecy as much as does he. What of the other routines, the ones that lock his heart safely from love other than that for Fermina? It is not by cold heart but by the necessity of maintaining the crypt that Florentino locks away his emotional fidelity. Ostensibly, these are the acts of a man both selfish and/or not wanting to be caught in bed with another man's lover or caught in a love affair. Indeed, these are, appropriately, partial motivations for his actions. But too who is he ultimately responsible? Fermina could not be less concerned with his exploits and his many lovers are, well, just that. Pretending that she would be affected by knowledge of his adultery is, enfin, a way for him to sustain his disbelief that she has shunned him. Additionally, it helps him to maintain his youthful promise that he will wait for her until that time she is a widow. In a sense, he does. When they at last come together in their twilight years, Fermina admits that "She had never heard of his having a woman, not even one, in that city where everything was known before it happened," (Marquez 339). To this he replies, "I've remained a virgin for you," (Marquez 339). Florentino's precautions, and his own stout refusal to "let in the curious, the injured parties, the detectives" has attained the desired result (Wolfman 35). When at last he is free to love Fermina in her presence, he can without the guilt of infidelity, fully believing that his encrypted virginity is still intact.
Florentino has a passion for widows. Though he does not pursue them exclusively, they do make up the larger part of his sexual routine. On one level, we can reason that this is because they are the most sexually free women in the city. Marquez portrays widows, as briefly lost and grieving, but ultimately only ones in the city who have been freed of their social tomb along with their husband. They no longer have the responsibility to meet societal, conjugal, or patriarchal demands. Or perhaps it is because a widow is Florentino's first clear sexual experience and she seemed to help him forget his pain over Fermina: "After six months of furious love-making with the Widow Nazaret, Florentiono Ariza himself was convinced that he had survived the torment of Fermina Daza," (this turns out to be untrue) (Marquez 152). But we must also consider that it is a widow that he ultimately pursues: "He had known for a long time that he was pre-destined to make a widow happy, and that did not worry him. On the contrary, he was prepared. After having know so man of them during his incursions as a solitary hunter, Florentino Ariza had come to realize the world was full of happy widows," (Marquez 202). Fermina, he reasons, must become a widow now before he can make claim to her again. He cannot resist, though he would likely not admit it, finding a small piece of his dream in the women he uses for satisfaction.
"Might a letter on which the sender retains certain rights then not quite belong to the person to who it was addressed?" In Lacan's rhetorical question we here an echo of the relationship that Ariza and Florentino have in the correspondence of their twilight years. They (the letters) are, at least not at first, the vessels of compliment and romantic love but reflections on life and aging. "It was a six-page letter, unlike any he had ever written before. It did not have the tone, or the style, or the rhetorical air of his early years of love, and his argument was so rational and measured that the scent of gardenias would have been out of place, (Marquez 292). This, naturally, takes Fermina by surprise. Why? With the exception of hair loss, Florentino displays no outward signs of change over fifty years. Yet his later letters display a marked difference in soul. Admittedly, these are tactics designed as a ground floor entry into Fermina's life. And it works. She at last allows him to visit, even play cards with herself and her children. But are these simply letters of device? One could conclude yes in the course of the first few letters. The first is a calm, sentimental meditation, coldly typewritten in response to her hot, handwritten retort to his inappropriate proposal. It has the correct effect, it catches her off guard and spins the roles 180 degrees; now she is the one wrought of pure emotion. So why then does she later accept his letters once again? Are they not yet another form of penetration of the crypt? Indeed, but we must take into account both Florentino's cleverness and the fact that Fermina was the first to write. This, added to the fact that the letter is typewritten (impersonal), catch Fermina off-guard and create a paper-thin crack in her emotional crypt
After a time, the letters become numbered. Now who possess the letters? To whom do they belong? They become chapters in a book, and are sent to Fermina as if to a publisher for review. Intentional or unintentional, this serves as a further device, a barb for the hook if you will, for entangling Fermina. She saves them. She is forced to save him. No longer can she feel right about burning them, they are not hers to throw away. There is now a piece of him in the house, he has broken her crypt. They bring her comfort, she does not wholly want to return them, yet they are not hers, numbered as they are she cannot burn them. In Poe's The Purloined Letter, a snuffbox is left behind as a trace, an excuse for Dupin to return to fulfill his own needs. For Florentino, these letters are the trace, the foot in the door, the piece of soul left in Fermina's house so that he has the right to return and come reclaim it. Reclaim he does. After a time, he visits her unannounced and, to his surprise, is welcomed in. The subject of his numbered letters is brought up and he asks her to return the letters he has written. "Of course," she said. "After all, letters belong to the person who writes them,"(Marquez 307). Fermina returns the letters but this is not entirely the desired effect that Florentino intends. He is hopeful that Fermina will lay claim to the letters and thereby lay claim to him. But whether by pride or proper breeding, Fermina is unable to admit her desire to keep the letters for her own.
The only traces of love he allows in his life are the ones he places in his endless stream of letters to Fermina. "And it is indeed," Derrida tells us, "to someone else we address ourselves," (57). In these, he can entomb himself wholly, and without concern as they, she represents a pure and almost heavenly love for him. His life is almost that of a monk. In Fermina is perfection. And, through letters to convey his spiritual fidelity and the carefully maintained routines of his sexual pursuits, he can be married to her. Late in life though, Florentino's letters and actions slip back into those of his youthful passion. Fermina is astounded by Florentino's reversions to such action, "She could not understand how a man capable of the thoughts that had given her the strength to endure her widowhood could become entangled in so childish a manner when he attempted to apply them to his own life," (Marquez 315). Florentino is far more willing to take cavalier risks as he feels his life and chances slipping from him. "Without realizing it, she (Fermina) was menaced by the same trap of pity that had been the downfall of so many of Florentino Ariza's helpless victims,": now the very letters that were once separate from the "hunting," process and his sexual self become a part of it (Marquez 224). The careful parallel lines of his life begin to intersect as old age bears down upon him.
When Fermina is introduced to us at the beginning of the novel, she has existed within the confines of her marriage for over fifty years. To boot, she has existed there, sanely, by means of entombing herself in that very marriage. Lacking power over her destiny in her younger years (i.e. her father's ultimate control over her) she has treated her marriage as if it were her ultimate arrival, as if she had been pre-destined to be the queen of the Urbino household. Locking out trauma and ultimately the truth she moves through her wedded life as though it were a task, a duty. But after her husband's death, after the suppressed grieving period and subsequent melancholy have begun to wane, Fermina begins to reflect, for the first time, on the truth of her life. It was a love-less marriage, and one that had been arranged for convenience for both parties. To her, despite all that Juvenal gave her and made her, he was still, "An implacable protagonist in that life," (Marquez 221). In truth, the two did come to love each other as do two people who exist for a long time in the same place. She is enraged by his infidelity, and relieved when he comes to reclaim her after she runs away. But it is still the love of two people clinging to one another in insecurity and the resolve of fated existence. "She was something she never dared admit even to herself: a deluxe servant,": after Fermina has completed her mourning, she is able to let the golden shroud covering the "exquisite corpse" of her husband fall away a bit (Marquez 221). Behind it, the ugly truth of her marriage, the blissful tomb of half a century, leers at her; Urbino married her not for love, but because she was pretty and her lower class standing would make her less likely to question his authority.
"However, when she thought he was completely erased from her memory, he reappeared where she least expected him, a phantom of her nostalgia,": despite her outward coldness, Fermina continues to have feelings for Ariza, or at least a sense of guilt and longing for the quashed love affair. Eventually, the story comes full circle. Old age takes on the phantoms of youth, Fermina and Florentino re-ignite (much to the chagrin of her children who feel that love after a certain age is improper) their original love affair. But this time, they are wiser and the love they share on a boat trip is an almost sad attempt to regain lost things and absolve regrets. It is the trail of sweet smelling smoke left when a candle goes out. But this does not stop them. Love still has worthwhile qualities. They act as teenagers, blushing and surprising each other and themselves with their own ineptitude. The crypts for both of them begin to break: "She (Fermina) began to speak of her dead husband in the present tense, as if her were alive, and Florentino Ariza knew then that for her, too, the time had come to ask herself, with dignity, with majesty, with an irrepressible desire to live, what she should do with the love that had been left behind without a master," (Marquez 329).
Eventually, they fall in love. Fermina has abandoned the crypt of her marriage and Florentino has achieved the purpose of his. Ironically, they both fall into one final crypt together as a way of maintaining the love they have finally found. Not wanting to port at some places on the river, Florentino gives the captain the go ahead to raise the cholera flag, thus absolving them from stopping to pick up more passengers as they "pay less and eat more than cargo" (Marquez 339). Approaching her home city on the return trip, Fermina comments that going back will "be like dying" as their twilight love affair will be crushed (as their first one) under the social conventions and wagging tongues. But the cholera flag gets the ship refused from the dock, thus they must then begin "going, going, going back up the river to Dorado," (Marrquez 346). On board the ship, Ariza and Daza can be in love, can continue their "back-and-forth" love affair just as they did in their letters. The cabin of the ship replaces their paper tombs with the thrice folded corpses, becomes the place they can remain entombed in the love they had lost so long ago. "And how long do you think we can keep up this goddamn coming and going?" asks the riverboat captain. "Florentino," Marquez tells us, "had kept his answer ready for fifty-three years, seven months, and eleven days and nights." "Forever," he said.
Who among us does not have a crypt? Who do we know that does not incorporate fantasy to motivate the agony of will and improve existence? Life streams in at us through our eyes, ears, and fingertips but is strained by the filters of our mind and stretched by our hearts. Thus, truth is just a reasonable approximation of reality interpreted by us alone. We can neither justify nor berate the crypts of our neighbors as we sit deeply inside of our own. However, we can learn from them. Watching others, we can gain insight into our own follies and glories. Fermina and Florentino both live in and pay a price for their emotional crypts. They, however, are lucky and get a chance, though admittedly it is a mixed gift, to live as they should have all along. Putting aside anger and overlying prejudice in order to make good, heartfelt and/or correct decisions in our lives is one of the hardest tasks we face as human beings. If we take anything from Florentino and Ariza, from Marquez, it is that true love, if we can learn to see it, is our finest divining rod for happiness.
1 Author's note: This is a term I am/will be using throughout the piece as a synonym for that manufactured place of well being that persons in a post-traumatic state occupy.
2 To be referred to hereafter as Love.
Derrida, Jacques. Foreword. The Wolf Man's Magic Word: A Cryptonymy. By Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok. Trans. Nicholas Rand. Theory and History of Lit. 37. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986.
Derrida, Jaques. The Post Card. Trans. Alan Bass. University of Chicago Press: Chicago. 1987.
Lacan, Jaques. Seminar on "The Purloined Letter." Trans. Jeffrey Mehlman. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. Love in the Time of Cholera. Trans. Edith Grossman. Alfred A Knopf: New York. 1988.
McNerney, Kathleen. Understanding Gabriel Garcia Marquez. University of South Carolina Press, 1989.
Pynchon, Thomas. "The Heart's Eternal Vow." New York Times. 10 April 1988.
Quail. "The Old Man Whose Real Existence was the Simplest of his Enigmas." Macondo. November 23, 1998. 14 pg. Online. Internet. Available. http://rgp.net/quail/libyrinth/gabo/gabo.bio.html. Accessed December 11, 1998.