Fear and intolerance of aging – “Love in the time of cholera” by Gabriel Marquez Essay

February 28, 2022 by Essay Writer

Updated: Oct 27th, 2019


The passage that has been chosen can be found on page 31 of the novel between line 14 and 33. This passage was chosen because it carries with it one of the most dominant themes of the narrative which is the fear and intolerance of aging. The passage sets the pace for other parts of the novel which subsequently delve into this notion.

Intolerance and fear of aging

Urbino eventually realizes and asserts that “death is not a probability but an immediate reality” (Marquez, 5). He is reminiscent about the life he had lived back as an influential person in his society. His life was filled with numerous accomplishments such as travels to distant countries around the world and other great adventures.

He contrasted this to the life that he was living as an old man. At this point, his wife had to bathe him and even dress him up afterwards. He found it difficult to do even the simplest of tasks (Marquez, 31). He even comments that he feels as though he has partly decayed and is just staying alive because of the sake of it (Marquez, 41).

Dr. Urbino’s realization that death is a reality starts when he finds the body of a close friend and associate – Jeremiah Saint Amour. The first chapter describes Dr Urbino’s analysis of his dead friend; one realizes that Urbino would have loathed to be in his colleague’s shoes.

He comments that the worst is over for Amour as his physical appearance was rather pitiful. The Doctor felt that way because his friend appeared to be very old. Not only was this something that was unappealing to Urbino but it symbolized an underlying fear that he would one day end up like that. Also, the death of Amour is indicative of a deep fear of death. The doctor remarked that his friend was so afraid of aging that he preferred to take his life rather than confront the matter in his later life.

This passage sets the stage for other occurrences in the novel because it illustrates that the Urbino’s life and behavior was hugely affected by this intolerance. First of all, the manner of dressing that he selects for himself is indicative of this. He tries to wear meticulous garments so as to disguise his real age. His hair and the nature of accessories also show how the doctor is trying to resist nature’s process of aging.

It is quite interesting to note that he is willing to go to great lengths in order to overcome these inadequacies such as writing notes to himself in order to minimize the effects of his memory losses. Instead of accepting his age gracefully, Urbino chooses to use superficial methods in order to resist it yet this makes him more pitiable as readers can see the desperation hidden in these acts.

Aging and its intolerance as a theme has been illustrated through a number of descriptions given by the author as indicated in the passage and beyond. He talks about numerous characters that die or lose their grace and functionality because of age. For example, in the riverboat incident, it is discovered that the riverboat belongs to the elderly.

It is quite shocking that these people are subjected to beatings and even death because they were bold enough to pursue their love for each other despite their old age. The captain further goes on to cover up this cruel act by proclaiming that the old couple had died as a result of drowning.

For instance, one of the characters loses his teeth while another one becomes senile. Many are ashamed by how disgraceful their bodies look after growing old. In terms of the main characters, Urbino is not the only one who detests old age as Fermina Daza (his wife) and Florentino Ariza also do.

When they finally get a chance to be together during old age, Fermina is very reserved about revealing her body to her lover Florentino. She requests him to look away as she removes her clothes and even when he looks at her, he appears not to be very pleased by what he sees. She even insists on turning off the lights. This is indicative of the intolerance that they both possess for old age.

They realize that time has caught up with them and they can no longer boast of the taut bodies that they had. However, the latter two were able to overcome this intolerance when they consummate their love in the end. They embrace the fact that time has made them wiser and therefore better able to love. Therefore, love has an ability to overcome the inadequacies of aging and this initially negates earlier perceptions from the novel.

The author also illustrates that possessing so much disdain for old age is wrong because the elderly can find peace. Ofelia comments that she cannot stand the thought of love at her age and feels disgusted at the thought that her mother would also consider it. “Love is ridiculous at our age, but at theirs it is revolting” (Marquez 323.)

One can see that this society despises lifestyles of the old and is even repelled by it. Eventually, it becomes clear that not only is it possible to achieve this kind of true love but it is possible to thrive in it. The author was therefore illustrating that the perception of characters such as Ofelia are misleading and even shallow. Here, Fermina disowns this individual and looks for other ways of dealing with the revulsion. She forges a friendship with her daughter in law and even comments about her life and love.

She asserts that her life with Florentino was ruined because she was too young and naïve. However, now that she is old, her chance at love is also ruined because of her age (Marquez, 323). The author also illustrated this when death and decay overtook the characters later in the narrative.

The author also discusses the effects of aging through other non human aspects of the novel such as the landscape of the Colombian village in which this narrative is set.

“What was once idyllic landscape, now is calcinated flatlands stripped of entire forests” (Franco 236.)

At first, prior to technological changes, the village was described as very picturesque full of forest cover and natural vegetation. However, after the enormous changes that take part in the novel, this entire area becomes stripped of its natural beauty and instead becomes a centre for human activity. Therefore the passage of time or the aging of the Colombian village were also not a desirable trait to those concerned.

It is also very clear to see that a number of characters would go through great lengths in order to minimize the effects of aging. One such case was Florentino. As he was climbing up the stairs in one of the sections of the novel, he made sure that he did this carefully so as to avoid any fall. (Marquez, 313)

He often believed that old age was marked by one’s first or immediate fall. This fear was so real in Florentino that it eventually became a reality to him. When he fell, he was bedridden and had to succumb to the assistance of others. For instance, at some point, he could not bathe himself and was bathed by Cassiani.

“After bathing him, Fermina Daza helped him to …. talcum powder between his legs, she smoothed cocoa butter on his rashes, she helped him put on his undershorts with as much love as if they had been a diaper” (Marquez 31.)

It was even more shameful for him when someone else had to hold the urinal for him as he helped himself (Marquez, 316). The author was illustrating that one’s fears may eventually take control over one’s existence and trying to resist a natural thing like aging was indeed a fruitless affair.

This theme is not just insightful in revealing certain facts about the setting of the novel but it also important in teaching members of the audience lessons about age and its tolerance.

Societies today still have a disdain for the elderly but through this theme (and starting with the passage under analysis), the author has illustrated that there is hope for the elderly and they have a chance at life if they so wish. He has shown that once love is combined with aging then everything will be alright. Dr. Urbino was loved diligently by his wife until the very end.

She was willing to do seemingly humiliating things for her husband because she loved him tremendously (Marquez, 43). The two lovers Fermina and Florentino illustrate to society that old people are still passionate and still have an ability to deal with certain issues associated with their age and their development.

In this narrative, it has also been shown that sometimes the intolerance of aging can come in the way of people who truly want to achieve ultimate happiness. In other words, there is a need for those concerned to look for ways of overcoming these obstacles. For example, Fermina and Florentino wanted to be together but they were already aware of how repulsing their love would be to the public.

In order to protect themselves, they placed a yellow flag on their vessel so that other people would think that they had cholera and needed to be quarantined away from them. They needed to overcome this barrier in order to move on with their lives without having to worry about other people’s opinions. The more they got older, the stronger their love became even in the face of this adversity (Marquez, 345)


Most of the characters in the novel are deeply repelled by aging and they illustrate this through their sentiments towards their own bodies as they grow old or through their feelings about old people in the novel. However, the book shows that intolerance for aging can be overcome by simply understanding that love can cope with everything and it transcends such scenarios.

Work Cited

Marquez, Gabriel. Love in the time of cholera. NY: Alfred Knopf

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