Circular Narrative in 'Love in the Time of Cholera'
With more than 50 published works in fiction and non-fiction, Gabriel García Márquez may be the most recognized Latino/Spanish writer since Don Quixote author Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. It is understandable that with a vast amount of varying genre publications (also including journalism, plays, and cinema) García Márquez would experiment with different writing styles. García Márquez is quoted in an interview with The New York Times regarding his novel Love in the Time of Cholera: “In every book I try to take a different path and I think I did here. One doesn't choose the style. You can investigate and try to discover what the best style would be for a theme. But the style is determined by the subject, by the mood of the times. If you try to use something that is not suitable, it just won't work” (Simons 1988).
In Love in the Time of Cholera, García Márquez moves away from chronological, linear storytelling and utilizes the circular (or cyclical) narrative style. Circular narrative style can be defined as: “A story that ends in the same place it began…[and] although the narrative’s beginnings and ends mirror each other…the narrative almost never leaves characters or events unchanged” (Hansen 2017). At the beginning of Love in the Time of Cholera, the main protagonists are in their 80s. Once introduced, the story slips back in time to their youth and fills in their history before rounding back full-circle to where readers first met the characters. This circular narrative technique is successful in Love in the Time of Cholera as it assists in creating theme, setting, and character development with the use of backtracking and flashbacks—elements commonly found in circular narrative style.
One of the major themes of Love in the Time of Cholera is love in old age. In the novel, Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza have a whirlwind courtship as young adults, but Fermina ultimately marries affluent doctor, Juvenal Urbino. Fermina and Juvenal live out most of their lives together until Juvenal dies in a fall. Florentino reappears and again declares his undying love to Fermina who eventually gives their love another chance. Using the circular narrative style, García Márquez presents the theme of love and loving again in old age by introducing the characters in their twilight years before backtracking and telling the story of their youth. “Florentino Ariza, on the other hand, had not stopped thinking of her for a single moment since Fermina Daza had rejected him out of hand after a long and troubled love affair fifty-one years, nine months, and four days ago” (García Márquez 2007, 53). The theme of love in one’s golden years is given more prominence since the characters are first introduced in their 80s, creating an understanding that the story is leading back to Fermina and Florentino as seniors.
Circular narrative is also used to create setting. Love in the Time of Cholera is set in a port city near the Caribbean Sea, beginning in the late 19th century and running into the 20th century, a time where cholera was still a widespread disease. With circular storytelling, García Márquez is able to set the mood and tone of this time period with Dr. Urbino’s efforts to wipe out the disease in the city. García Márquez does this by portraying Urbino in his old age as a famed, respected doctor the citizens remember as the man who helped to cure the cholera epidemic. Flashbacks explain Urbino’s efforts were inspired by his father succumbing to the disease, while also describing the circumstances in which cholera became an epidemic in the city and how these conditions affected him and the other characters. “On a single day he saw three bloated, green, human corpses float past, with buzzards sitting on them. First the bodies of two men went by, one of them without a head, and then a very young girl, whose medusan locks undulated in the boat’s wake. He never knew, because no one ever knew, if they were victims of cholera or the war, but the nauseating stench contaminated his memory of Fermina Daza” (García Márquez 2007, 141–142). These descriptive flashbacks assist in creating the setting with a detailed depiction of place and time.
Character development is also structured by the use of circular narrative style. At the beginning of the novel, Florentino and Fermina meet again after Juvenal’s funeral. Here, Florentino is seen as the long-suffering, faithful Romeo who has saved himself for Fermina all these years. Fermina is seen as the dutiful wife of Dr. Juvenal Urbino who dismisses Florentino from her presence. These first impressions create expectations of who these characters are: the love-sick Romeo and the loyal, steadfast wife. Moving backwards to their youth, García Márquez uses circular narrative storytelling to illustrate how the characters developed into the people they are at the end of the novel. When Fermina and Florentino finally meet again face-to-face, Florentino is happily surprised by Fermina’s behavior: “She ignored his hidden intentions and returned the letter to him, saying: ‘It is a shame that I cannot read it, because the others have helped me a great deal.’ He took a deep breath, astounded that she had said so much more than he hoped for in so spontaneous a manner” (García Márquez 2007, 308). By using the circular narrative technique, the development of the characters is explored; their expectations of each other (and what readers may have) are either re-enforced or shattered and re-made by the time the story circles back to the present.
Gabriel García Márquez successfully creates theme, setting, and character development with the use of circular narrative style. This writing technique, which breaks away from traditional linear storytelling, allows García Márquez to develop characters, create a theme of love in old age by introducing the characters as seniors before looping back from their youth to the present, and establish and expand upon a setting where these characters and themes are able to develop.
García Márquez, Gabriel. Love in the Time of Cholera. Vintage International: New York, 2007. Kindle.
Hansen, Elissa. “What is a Circular Narrative Style?” Pen & the Pad. Last modified March 2, 2017. Accessed April 20, 2018. https://penandthepad.com/circular-narrative-style-3143.html
Simons, Marlise. “Gabriel Marquez on Love, Plagues and Politics.” The New York Times. 1988. Accessed April 20, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/1988/02/21/books/gabriel-marquez-on-love-plagues-and-politics.html