Of Love And Other Demons Summary

Gabriel García Márquez

Of Love And Other Demons

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Of Love And Other Demons Summary

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In the novel’s prologue, García Márquez writes that the book is a fictionalized version of a story he was told by his grandmother when he was a child. He explains that in his grandmother’s story, a young girl was bitten by a rabid dog, but this young girl was considered a miracle worker by her community. Upon her death, her beautiful copper-colored hair continued to grow. García Márquez is reminded of this story when he is on the scene of a tomb excavation that discovers the remains of a young girl with her hair still intact, very much like the story he was told by his grandmother.

So begins the story of Sierva Maria de Todos los Angeles. Sierva is twelve years old, illiterate, and neglected by her parents, the Marquis and his wife, Bernarda. Sierva’s father is a member of the ruling class in decline, he is a weak man with poor judgment. Her mother frequently gets high and drunk off fermented honey and cacao tablets.

Sierva lives in a Spanish colony on the South American coast in her parents’ house, along with her family’s slaves. Sierva spends most of her time among the slaves due to her parents’ inattentiveness. She even sleeps in the slave quarters. As a result, Sierva is fluent in several African languages and is familiar with the customs in the slaves’ native lands.

There is a small touch of magic in her life, though: when she was born with her umbilical cord around her neck, as a gift for saving her, Sierva’s hair has been promised to the saints. So Sierva’s beautiful, copper-colored hair has never been cut.

Early in the novel, Sierva is bitten in the ankle by a dog that later dies of rabies. This motivates Sierva’s parents to begin giving her attention, which includes her father teaching the child about religion and God. Sierva soon begins to act strangely, though not in a way that usually indicates rabies infection. The people of the village offer two potential diagnoses: the rabies, or demonic possession. The village doctor doubts either diagnoses is accurate.

The local bishop, a powerful and corrupt man, believes the girl requires an exorcism, and on his insistence, Sierva is sent to the Convent of Santa Clara to be tended to by the nuns there. The Abbass of the convent is displeased that the bishop would send her a demonic child, and has Sierva locked in a cell.

From her cell, Sierva makes a friend, the murderer Martina Laborde. Sierva openly talks to Martina.

The bishop assigns a young priest, Father Cayetano, to Sierva’s case. He is kind to her and does not believe she needs an exorcism, the processes of which are painful. Father Cayetano becomes entranced with the girl and her gorgeous hair. He dreams about her and falls in love, soon sneaking into her cell to visit her in secret. But Sierva does not return his affection. When Father Cayetano tries to loosen her restraints, she spits on the priest. One night, Father Cayetano climbs the wall to Sierva’s cell, and once inside, professes his love for her. They spend weeks discussing a possible future. They eat together, spend the nights together, share poetry with each other. Sierva begins to return the priest’s affections.

Soon though, the bishop learns of these late-night trysts and is incensed. Father Cayetano is disciplined, and sent off to work with lepers where, in his grief, he prays he will contract the disease and die.

The bishop performs the rites of exorcism on Sierva. Sierva pines for Father Cayetano, wishing him to return, but he cannot. After the fifth exorcism, Sierva dies. The story says she dies “of love,” and one of the last things she is aware of is having her hair cut.

Of Love and Other Demons explores the nature of love and the shapes it can take: parental love, romantic love, religious love. None of these emotions result in a positive outcome, however, as lives throughout the novel are destroyed. Critics have noted just how pervasive a role decay plays within the book. The local political climate is falling into ruin, poverty drags down the village people, leprosy attacks people’s bodies, and institutions, such as the church, serve their representatives’ own best interests.

Still, despite the book’s oppressive negativity, there are moments of magic and miracles. Sierva does not contract rabies, and instead, seems to become a nexus of supernatural activity. She finds love in a cell. And, of course, upon her death, her hair continues to grow. These moments are typical of García Márquez’s brand of “magical realism,” a literary style that blends typically realistic plot points with small insinuations of the impossible or supernatural.

Brought together, the novel asks us to question our understanding of the connection between the religious and the every-day, implying that truth most likely exists somewhere in between.