When Florentino Ariza sees Fermina and Dr. Urbino so triumphant together, he decides that he will become wealthy and powerful and wait for Fermina for the rest of his life, so that he can be worthy of her. As a result, he asks his Uncle Leo XII for a job, which he receives even though his uncle is still frustrated at Florentino’s refusal to move the year before. This reflects the fact that although Uncle Leo XII seems rigid and impassive on the outside, he actually has a passion for singing deeply emotional, compassionate songs, caring little for the material advantages of his position. His particular sensitivity allows him to tell immediately that Florentino is like his father: driven in life by love.
Florentino’s reaction to seeing Fermina and Dr. Urbino together is paradoxical. Instead of concluding that he should leave Fermina alone, since she seems so happy, he remains convinced that he will one day be able to seduce her. Although he once insisted to Fermina’s father that Fermina should be responsible for her own destiny, he now seemingly contradicts this idea by failing to take Fermina’s rejection seriously. This highlights Florentino’s selfish attitude, which often makes him unable to understand that he is the only one who values his youthful relationship so much.
In the early years of Florentino’s new job at the River Company of the Caribbean, he is incapable of writing official documents because his style is too lyrical and romantic. Florentino works hard but concludes that the only thing that interests him in life is love. However, his seemingly passive attitude conceals strong power and determination, which allow him to work hard for 30 years in a wide variety of positions.
Florentino’s hardworking attitude contrasts with his idealistic, romantic nature. It suggests that Florentino is able to have a pragmatic understanding of reality only insofar as reality serves his hidden romantic goals—in this case, to become rich and powerful so that he might one day impress Fermina.
Uncle Leo XII tells Florentino that his father, Don Pius V Loayza, conceived him in an unlocked office room on a Sunday, lying to his wife about his whereabouts. Florentino is bothered by some of aspects his father’s character but realizes that others are just like him. For example, in a notebook, he finds his father’s scribble that his only regret in life would be not dying for love. Florentino also later discovers that he looks more like his father over time—and that such resemblance is a definitive sign of aging. His father never recognized Florentino as his legitimate son, and Florentino recalls his father once giving him money for the week before telling him never to return. Uncle Leo XII, however, kept on giving Tránsito Ariza money.
Florentino’s resemblance to his father is both moral and physical. Don Pius V Loayza’s mix of idealistic romanticism (like his desire to die for love), potentially excessive sexual life and immoral behavior (having an adulterous affair and then failing to take responsibility for his own actions by taking care of his son) highlight the contradictions at the heart of Florentino’s own behavior. Florentino, too, believes in the elevated ideals of love but sometimes fails to prove morally admirable in his sexual relationships.
After work, overwhelmed by his love for Fermina, Florentino begins writing love letters free of charge in the Arcade of the Scribes. He has a steady stream of clients and once even writes back-and-forth love letters to the same girl and boy. Later, after agreeing to marry, the couple realizes what happened and asks Florentino to be their child’s godfather. Florentino also writes some of his own love letters, hoping to publish them as a book.
Although it is humorous that Florentino helped two people become a couple by writing their letters for them, this episode also highlights the artificial nature of love-letter writing and, more generally, of traditional courtship. Although the two young people clearly wanted to be together, their letters reflected Florentino’s conception of love, not their own personal, sincere thoughts to each other.
In the meantime, Florentino’s friends become persuaded that he has changed permanently, and Florentino knows that this is because of his unwavering resolution to win Fermina back. Tránsito Ariza helps him by buying their house, making space for Florentino to have children. During this period, Tránsito also discovers that she is suffering from an incurable illness, which affects her memory.
Instead of dissuading her son from pursuing a seemingly unreachable goal, Tránsito Ariza supports Florentino in his romantic, life-long endeavor to seduce Fermina. In this way, Tránsito—unlike the tyrannical Lorenzo—puts Florentino’s happiness and desires first, instead of her own beliefs about how harmful his attitude might be.
Florentino, in turn, has developed a steady habit of making love without actually feeling love. When he goes to the hotel of his youth, where he conducts his affairs, he dresses his lovers as men to protect their anonymity. However, when people see him enter with men, his reputation becomes even more tarnished than it already was. As a result, he begins seeking safe places to have affairs, from jetties to the lighthouse. He develops theories about love-making, concluding that the most ragged-looking women were usually the most passionate and energetic during sexual relations. Although Florentino had planned on writing about these theories, Ausencia Santander soon proves that theories about love are completely futile, since they can so easily be proven wrong.
The negative judgment that people have of Florentino highlights society’s condemnation of homosexuality as well as, more generally, any sexual relationship that does not fit the norm. In his sexual life, Florentino becomes convinced that appearances are often deceitful. This makes him seem open-minded, capable of realizing that people’s outward presentation does not necessarily reflect their personality—a theory that could be applied to him, too, since he seems outwardly somber and respectable but has a highly unconventional private life.
After 20 years of marriage, Ausencia Santander and her husband have separated. She now has a regular lover, Rosendo de la Rosa, a riverboat captain, who brings Florentino to Ausencia’s house. During lunch, in which Rosendo drinks an enormous quantity of alcohol, Florentino marvels at the beauty of Ausencia’s house. When the drunken Rosendo falls asleep, Florentino and Ausencia drag him to bed, still unconscious. They then suddenly decide to undress and make love. From then on, Ausencia begins to invite Florentino over whenever Rosendo is away on trips. They are not afraid of being caught because Rosendo always announces his return with the ship’s horn, saluting his wife, children, and mistress.
This episode highlights the extent to which people in this city can be unfaithful and deceitful. Rosendo de la Rosa has a secret mistress, Ausencia, and Ausencia, in turn, cheats on him with Florentino. This series of infidelities underlines a lack of honesty and transparency in people’s lives. Rosendo’s willingness to acknowledge both his wife and his mistress through the ship’s horn suggests that does not seem conflicted about this aspect of his life.
At 50 years old, Ausencia is an expert in love-making. She always welcomes Florentino naked, even though he never announces himself. She undresses him immediately, but Florentino is careful to remove his watch and chain and put them in his boots, which he always does when he has affairs, so that he will not forget them. Ausencia would then climb on top of Florentino and seek her own pleasure, enraptured and passionate, leaving him with the impression that he is being used. However, his hurt pride combined with feelings of joy and happiness, and he never fails to return.
It remains unclear in what precise way Ausencia subverts Florentino’s theories about love, but her focus on taking control of the situation and achieving pleasure at all cost certainly seems unique in Florentino’s experience. In general, though, throughout Florentino’s affairs, it remains ambiguous whether he is ever truly focused on the pleasure and well-being of his partners, instead of his own satisfaction. In this sense, then, Ausencia may be serve as a mirror for Florentino’s general attitude to love and sex.
After two weeks, when Ausencia lets him kiss her before undressing him, Florentino knows that she has developed feelings for him. One day, after spending the afternoon in her bed, they leave the room to realize that thieves had come while they were making love, stealing everything in the apartment. The thieves left a note saying this was Ausencia’s fault for “fucking around.”
Florentino’s awareness that Ausencia might feel love for him suggests that he is never able to fully control the emotional nature of his sexual affairs, although it remains ambiguous whether he ever feels true love for any of his partners.
Florentino beings to see Ausencia less, not because of the desolation of her house but because he has discovered that he can meet people in mule-drawn trolleys. One day, during Carnival, he meets a woman who makes a lasting impression on him. She is dressed as a sick patient and tells him she is crazy; Florentino laughs. The two of them dance together, although the woman still insists she came from a psychiatric institution. Florentino offers for them to go to the lighthouse, but as they wait to watch the end of celebrations—a delay that saves his life—guards arrived to catch the woman, who had indeed escaped from the asylum after decapitating a guard and wounding others. She defends herself with hidden garden shears but is ultimately put in a straitjacket. Florentino brings chocolates to the asylum on the following days but then gives them away.
Florentino’s innocence and gullibility keeps him from recognizing the presence of danger in his life. This is the first episode in which it becomes apparent that sexual relations can be potentially dangerous, depending on the person and conditions in which they take place. Florentino’s inability to understand this highlights his naïveté. He is too focused on the excitement and pleasure of sex to understand its real-life implications. The chocolates he brings the woman suggests either that he is not capable of learning from his errors, since, blinded by his romantic attitude, he still does not see the woman as a threat, or that he is expressing compassion for her.
On the trolley, Florentino also meets Leona Cassiani. She is “the true woman of his life” even though they never share a sexual relationship. When he first sees her in the trolley, he notices that she is a pretty black woman but immediately recognizes her as a “whore.” Leona follows him out of the trolley and, when Florentino tells her he is not interested, she replies that she can tell he is. Florentino knows he is part of a secret society of people who immediately recognize each other, knowing they are always ready to have sex with each other. However, Leona only wants him to find her a job, and he is able to integrate her in the River Company of the Caribbean.
It remains ambiguous whether Leona is a prostitute or merely a woman Florentino considers sexually liberated. It remains unclear whether Florentino and Leona harbor romantic feelings for each other or whether they are merely a theoretically good match. However, through this comment, the narrator suggests that Fermina is not necessarily the perfect person for Florentino—merely the one he has decided he is going to wait for.
Leona Cassiani becomes a highly talented employee. She submits ideas to Florentino’s Uncle Leo XII to reform the company, and he ultimately creates a new position for her, allowing her to serve as his personal assistant. Within a few years, Leona has already taken control of most aspects of the company and, after a few more years, could have accepted a position of General Secretary. However, her goal throughout is only to protect her benefactor, Florentino. She finds ways to give Florentino the impression that she is following his orders when in fact the opposite is true, and she protects him from the scheming of secret enemies.
Leona demonstrates love and generosity in discreet ways: by helping and protecting Florentino even if he does not realize it. This sense of self-sacrifice highlights Leona’s fidelity and humility, since she puts Florentino’s own success and ambition before her own. Leona’s progress in the company shows that her success depended on having a contact (Florentino) who might introduce her to the company and thus allow her to reach socioeconomic mobility. It remains unclear how, in such a socially rigid society, she could have proceeded otherwise.
Although Florentino never fully grasps the extent of Leona’s actions, he is full of regret that he didn’t make love with Leona upon first meeting her, even if she had made him pay for it, which he usually refuses to do. One night, when both of them are working late, he suddenly enters her office and, shaking, asks her when they would ever stop what they were doing. Leona says that she has been waiting for such a moment for the past 10 years, but that it is now too late. After so much hard work on his behalf, she has grown old prematurely, even though he is 20 years older than her. She says it would feel to her like having sex with a son. Although Florentino doubts this is truly her last word, he nevertheless understands for the first time that it is possible to simply be friends with a woman.
Leona and Florentino are highly similar in their free, open-minded view of sex. However, Florentino’s regret about not having had relations with Leona from the beginning suggests that sex is the natural way in which he expresses his emotions—and that he is not used to feeling strong attachment for a female friend. Leona’s reaction, by contrast, shows greater maturity. Although she was also attracted to Florentino from the beginning, she has learned to see him differently, not as a potential sexual partner but as a close friend to whom she can express love by providing him care and protection.
Leona is the only person with whom Florentino ever feels inclined to share his secret love for Fermina Daza. He realizes that, apart from his mother, the only people who know about his love belong to Fermina’s world. One day, Dr. Urbino enters Florentino’s office to protect himself from a passing cyclone. Although Florentino is struck with the feeling of being inferior to Urbino, the two of them chat briefly about music. Florentino says he likes Gardel, to which Dr. Urbino replies that he is popular indeed.
Florentino’s desire to tell someone about Fermina Daza suggests that he does not necessarily enjoy carrying such a heavy secret in his life—one that determines his every decision. Florentino’s appreciation of Carlos Gardel, a famous French-Argentine tango singer, shows that his musical tastes are less refined than Dr. Urbino’s, who does not necessarily listen to popular performers.
Dr. Urbino was told once that Florentino had been in love with Fermina, but he had quickly forgotten it, finding the matter uninteresting. In the office, after speaking Dr. Urbino about his various musical projects, he suddenly mentions his wife, saying that he would be nothing without her. Florentino is then shocked to realize that Urbino loves Fermina as much as he does. He concludes that they are both victims, united by a shared passion, and feels grief at the thought that Urbino would have to die so that Florentino might be able to express his. When Leona Cassiani enters the office after Urbino leaves, Florentino feels the urge to tell her about Fermina but ultimately does not.
Dr. Urbino’s forgetfulness about Florentino and Fermina’s youthful relationship highlights his general lack of interest in love—perhaps because he has never experienced its intensity himself and is more interested in rational issues. Florentino’s inability to tell Leona about his secret love underlines his solitary, potentially lonely life, despite his hundreds of sexual partners. It is possible he does not tell her because he is shy and fears exposing a vulnerable side of personality or because he fears her reaction, which might consider him a madman.
Reflecting on Dr. Urbino’s cultural activities, including the organization of the Poetic Festival, Florentino remembers that, despite participating every year, he has never won a prize. One year, a Chinese immigrant surprises everyone by winning the first prize, causing a polemic in the city. Years later, though, when the poem is reprinted, everyone realizes that the poem is not that good, and therefore could indeed have been written by the Chinese immigrant.
This anecdote relates to the novel’s mention of underlying social dynamics. In this case, it appears that many people in the city have racist, xenophobic attitudes, considering that Chinese immigrants are incapable of writing poetry. The mention of Chinese immigrants also anticipates a revelation concerning Lorenzo Daza, Fermina’s father.
During that event, Florentino meets a woman wearing only black who consoles him when his name is not called. She explains that she noticed his sadness because the flower he wore was shaking. Florentino suggests the two of them go somewhere together and invites himself to her house. There, they become regular lovers, even though her cat attacks them while they are in bed. When he realizes she feels love for him, he is close to 30. The woman’s name is Sara Noriega. After a fiancé abandoned her, Sara concluded that she wanted to sleep with men anyway, regardless of whether or not she was married. She has the peculiarity of putting a pacifier in her mouth during love-making to enhance her pleasure.
Florentino’s relationship with Sara Noriega highlights, once again, that women are often proactive in launching sexual relationships with Florentino, eager as they are to express their own sexual desire. The mention of a violent cat and Sara’s pacifier adds an element of humor and extravagance to their love-making. It also shows that, as Florentino has claimed, morality has little to do with sex in such situations, since the purpose of the act is to give both of them pleasure—even if this involves seemingly strange habits.
Florentino makes their affair clandestine, even though Sara Noriega feels free and is not bothered to be seen with him. Throughout his life, Florentino has always made sure to maintain women’s anonymity, revealing none of their secrets. On the only occasion he left written proof of his involvement, he risked his life. He believes that he is Fermina Daza’s husband and takes part in sexual affairs without actually betraying her. To explain Florentino’s strange behavior, Tránsito believes he is incapable of love, whereas others believe that Florentino does not like women. Florentino never tries to disprove such rumors.
It remains ambiguous whether Florentino hides his relationship with women to protect them or, on the contrary himself—for example, from husbands’ wrath or from the possibility that Fermina might discover that he has been with other women. Florentino’s love for Fermina hinges on madness, since the commitment he believes to have with her is purely one-sided and exists only in his mind, not in reality.
Florentino visits Sara Noriega on a regular basis. However, her knowledge and skill at love-making convinces Florentino that he is not, as she claimed, her first lover. This makes him feel jealous. Sara Noriega, however, insists that this is a talent some people are simply born with. On Sunday afternoons, Sara enjoys reciting poetry; Florentino wonders whether love is Sara’s passionate poetic declamations or their love-making, and she concludes that everything they do naked is love.
Florentino’s jealousy is irrational, since he, too, has had many lovers. He seems to expect from Sara Noriega an innocence he does not have himself. This episode also suggests that, although he might not realize it, Florentino might have developed sincere feelings for Sara Noriega, leading him to want a more exclusive relationship. Their use of the word “love” makes this situation all the more ambiguous.
They submit a jointly written poem to the Poetic Festival but lose. Sara Noriega is furious because she believes that Fermina Daza plotted against her. Florentino, on the other hand, is gloomy because Fermina Daza has changed deeply and now looks like a mother. This forces him to come to terms with the fact that everything is constantly changing, including Fermina. He becomes aware of the passing of time and realizes that all he does is wait. Sara Noriega, meanwhile, calls Fermina “a whore,” saying that Fermina married Dr. Urbino without love, for his money. Sara also claims that feminine intuition told her that Fermina plotted against her to keep her from winning the poetry prize.
As in all aspects of his life, Florentino understands the passing of time only through his love for Fermina. Despite his shock at realizing that he is passively waiting for time to pass by in order to hope to be reunited with Fermina, he does nothing to change his behavior, instead accepting that that is an integral part of his life. Although Sara shows lack of insight in believing that Fermina was plotting against her, her comment about Fermina marrying Dr. Urbino for money alone might actually be true—even though Fermina might not describe it that way.
Then, Florentino realizes that Sara Noriega is also affected by the passing of time, as she spends more time crying and is becoming bitter. They begin to fight about the poetic prize, which Sara is very sensitive about, and Florentino realizes he wants to put an end to the relationship. However, Sara beats him to it, suddenly announcing that she is waiting for a lover to come by and see her. Humiliated, he leaves and never sees her again. For five years, he spent many pleasant hours with Sara Noriega, feeling happy with her in bed and temporarily forgetting Fermina. As a result, their separation only heightens his longing for Fermina and his desire for Dr. Urbino to die.
Once again, the fact that Sara Noriega was able to make Florentino forget Fermina for a while raises the question of whether what they felt for each other was love—capable of rivaling Florentino’s for Fermina’s—or mere sexual pleasure. Faced with the disappointment of their breakup, Florentino returns to his ideal love for Fermina. Although Fermina, as a living, breathing person, is changing, Florentino’s love remains immutable precisely because it is detached from real life.
Florentino concludes that he is meant to make a widow happy. In his experience of spending time with widowed women, he has realized that, despite their grief over their respective husbands’ deaths, they soon became aware that they were suddenly in control of their own lives. They spent years taking care of their husbands as they would a child and, whenever their husband left the house to work in society, they feared he might leave them forever. Love, these women accepted, belonged not to their world but to an alternative life. It is only once they became widows that they realized how free they could be to satisfy the needs of their own body. Florentino concludes that Fermina will probably become a widow exactly like these other women.
Florentino realizes that the best time to be with Fermina would be after she becomes a widow. This would give her the relief and freedom necessary to enjoy sexual pleasure and to give up on having rigid responsibilities in the household. In this sense, Florentino implicitly admits that Fermina would not find him attractive at any stage of life, but only in one in particular: widowhood. Florentino’s description of the difference between married women and widows’ ways of life highlights the societal constraints women suffer from.
In the meantime, Fermina gives Florentino absolutely no thought. Although she once felt pity for her suitor, she never regretted her decision to reject him. She later realizes that the reason behind this decision was that she never actually knew Florentino. To her, he was a mere shadow. Dr. Urbino’s courtship, on the other hand, focused not on love but on what he could give her, such as security and order, which might in the end approximate love. At that point, Fermina had already accepted that she did not necessarily need love to live. Despite her fear that this might be her father’s plot, she agreed to marry Dr. Urbino because she felt that she was aging and would soon reach 21 years, a date before which she had hoped to settle.
Although Fermina is more romantic than her husband, Dr. Urbino, they both understand that love derives at least in part from mutual knowledge and intimacy—which Florentino and Fermina were never able to cultivate. Fermina’s decision to marry Dr. Urbino, in turn, did not depend on love but on Fermina’s desire for security and on her fear about aging. This creates ambiguity about whether Fermina ever felt what she might consider to be true love, since she has concluded that her love for Florentino was an illusion and that she does not necessarily love her husband.
It is only once Fermina returns from her honeymoon that she doubts her decision. During the next six years, she feels like a prisoner in a strange house. Fermina’s mother-in-law, Doña Blanca, a mean, bitter woman who lives with them, makes her feel inadequate by criticizing her behavior constantly. Lonely and desperate, Fermina resolves to devote her energies to her son, soon realizing that love for one’s children develops through the closeness that derives from raising them. Meanwhile, Fermina is forced to eat eggplant, which Doña Blanca insists on preparing. Doña Blanca also berates Fermina for playing the harp instead of the piano, which she considers improper in a lady. Dr. Urbino tries to intervene but Fermina ultimately submits to her “deluxe prison sentence,” surprising herself with her own abidance to the rules of high society.
Fermina’s struggles to feel comfortable in her own house suggest that marriage has not brought the radical change and independence she might have hoped for. Rather, under Doña Blanca’s influence, Fermina is once again forced to submit to a parent’s authority. Her willingness to accept this state of affairs instead of rebelling highlights her desire to enter the upper class Dr. Urbino and his mother belong to—and, if necessary, to learn new ways of behaving that might be considered more acceptable. Dr. Urbino’s inability to change the situation is a first indication that he might not be progressive or rebellious enough to bring Fermina true happiness at home by challenging social norms, such as the necessity to respect his mother.
Dr. Urbino argues to himself that his problems with his wife have nothing to do with the environment at home, but with the absurdity of marriage, which forces near strangers to live together perfectly while nurturing love, which, in their case, did not pre-exist their marriage. Dr. Urbino still feels enough love to ask Fermina to wash him, but in such moments, although they feel close, they fail to express their sexual desire to each other. They only make love occasionally, finding the same joy they experienced during their honeymoon, but failing to feel desire on an ordinary basis. During this period, Fermina also discovers that her father’s business has always been illegal. As a result, Lorenzo Daza leaves the country, and Fermina is relieved when she learns he had died.
The mention of Lorenzo Daza’s misdeeds after Doña Blanca’s bitter remarks paints a picture of parenthood as a potentially oppressive force, capable of making one’s children miserable. Dr. Urbino’s self-deceit about the situation at home shows that he is unable to confront his own responsibility with regard to Fermina’s unhappiness. He prefers to accuse the general institution of marriage rather than the particulars of his homelife. The lack of sexual passion between Fermina and her husband contrasts starkly with Florentino’s sex-obsessed life and highlights the lack of strong passion and intimacy between them.
Paradoxically, it is during this difficult period that Fermina and Dr. Urbino seem the happiest. Their main joy derives from their fight against the upper-class milieu, in which they succeed in introducing some modern ideas. Fermina is not intimidated by the women of high society, whose hostility, she knows, conceals fear. Therefore, by trying not to intimidate others, she is able to integrate herself into this milieu and participate in the most important cultural events of the time. This gives people the impression that Fermina and Dr. Urbino’s marriage is perfectly happy.
Once again, the association that people make between one’s external appearance and one’s private life proves entirely mistaken, since material and cultural benefits do bring the couple joy—as they promote the goals of modernity and progress that Dr. Urbino care so much about—but fail to ignite true happiness in them. Social climbing and popularity become empty achievements if they are not accompanied by a personal sense of joy and worth.
Once, Fermina wonders if she would have been happier with Florentino Ariza. That very night, she confides her worries to Dr. Urbino, forcing both of them to express how they really feel. They resolve to return to Europe for a trip, in order to regain their lost love. When Fermina sees Florentino Ariza on the pier as they are leaving, she feels no compassion for him, considering him a mere shadow, someone she never actually knew.
Fermina’s decision to tell her husband about her dissatisfaction in her marriage is a signal of deep trust. It also indicates that she does not believe she would have been better off with Florentino, but that this thought merely reflected a desire to escape her current situation. Fermina’s indifference toward Florentino reveals her straightforward, pragmatic nature, at complete odds with Florentino’s obsessive romanticism.
Florentino Ariza has also suffered during this period. His mother, Tránsito, is losing her memory, sometimes forgetting Florentino he is, and he spends a lot of time taking care of her.
Tránsito’s memory loss serves as an indication of the difficulties that old age can bring, forcing previously independent adults to depend on others for help.
During this time, Florentino helps a young woman, Olimpia Zuleta, find her parasol and later takes her back to her house, where she keeps many pigeons. When Florentino once sees her husband at the port, he hears the voice of the devil speaking to him. That same day, Florentino stops by Olimpia’s house. Over the next few days, Olimpia and Florentino begin exchanging secret love letters through carrier pigeons. This is the first time Florentino left written proof of his involvement with a woman, although he made sure not to write his name anywhere.
The fact that Olimpia’s husband inspires in Florentino the voice of the devil foreshadows the presence of danger and hatred. Florentino’s exchange of letters with Olimpia mirrors his youthful experience with Fermina, although here it is deprived of the same passion and focused primarily on physical attraction.
Six months after their first meeting, Florentino and Olimpia finally meet to make love in a cabin by the docks. There, Florentino writes on Olimpia’s body the sentence: “This pussy is mine,” with an arrow pointing downward. That night, when Olimpia’s husband sees this message on her body, which she has forgotten to erase, he slices her throat with a razor. The man is later captured, and Florentino fears that his secret relationship with Olimpia might come to light—not because he fears the man might find him one day, but because he doesn’t want Fermina to discover that he’s had relationships with other women. When Florentino’s mother dies, he notices that Olimpia’s grave is nearby. He plants a rosebush near her grave, which soon spreads throughout the graves.
The sentence that Florentino writes on Olimpia’s body shows him in a playful, possessive, and vulgar light that he has not previously been shown in. Indeed, Florentino’s affairs are rarely recounted from the perspective of his own pleasure and inner thoughts. Here, readers get a glimpse of Florentino’s attitude during sex. Florentino’s failure to feel morally responsible for Olimpia’s death and his fear that Fermina might hear about it highlight the potentially maddening effect his obsession for Fermina has on his mind, since he is incapable of reflecting rationally on anything else.
Tránsito’s death condemns Florentino to his ordinary routine and time passes by without him noticing, until he realizes it has been years since his relationship with Olimpia and the death of his mother. When he turns 40, he discovers that he is suffering from pains in his body because of old age. Soon, he realizes that 30 years had passed since his youthful adventure with Fermina Daza.
Once again, Florentino evaluates time in his life in relation to Fermina. The passing of time is all the more frightening to him because he is not actively filling his life with goals and achievements, but, rather, is simply waiting for the time to come when he can express his true desire: to be with Fermina.
Fermina, in the meantime, is convinced that she married the right man. She and Dr. Urbino move to a new house in La Manga and leave their previous difficulties behind. Fermina’s son, Marco Aurelio, is studying at the Medical School, and her daughter, Ofelia, looks a lot like her. The couple return from two years in Paris after hearing of Doña Blanca’s death, and Fermina is once again pregnant. Dr. Urbino sells the old palace they had lived in to buy a new house. Dr. Urbino accepts that their honeymoon could not be replicated because Fermina has given so much of her love away to her children since then. Fermina also realizes, after eating it without realizing, that she actually loves eggplant. This leads them to cook eggplant on a regular basis.
Fermina and Dr. Urbino’s escape to Paris to solve their marital problems mirrors the end of the novel, in which Fermina will also escape the burden of real life with a trip. This suggests that love and happiness might best be cultivated away from the difficulties of social obligations. It also highlights the couple’s upper-class status and wealth, which allows them to go on expensive trips for the sole purpose of pleasure. Fermina’s discovery that she likes eggplant highlights the utter unpredictability of her feelings—whether in terms of food or of love.
At home, Fermina concludes that she is “a deluxe servant,” serving her husband’s needs in their home even though, in society, she is the one who is taken care of and revered. Her husband’s love, she feels, is purely self-centered, because it depends on her anticipating his every desire. She does not blame Dr. Urbino for his strict demands regarding meals and household organization, blaming “life” instead. He is, as the narrator ironically mentions, an ideal husband who never cleans anything in the house. Dr. Urbino himself says that a man should have two wives: “one to love and one to sew on his buttons.”
Even after the death of Doña Blanca, Fermina realizes that she is still not independent, since parental authority has now been replaced with her husband’s authority. Her feeling that she is a servant highlights the oppressive nature of society, in which women’s lives are constrained not only in society but in their private lives, thus giving them absolutely no feeling of freedom or independence. Dr. Urbino’s complacency in this regard suggest that his embrace of modernity and progress does not apply to relations between men and women.
Fermina becomes frustrated by Dr. Urbino’s lack of knowledge about the effort it takes to organize a house. Therefore, she asks him to take on her tasks for a day. Dr. Urbino is soon overwhelmed and proves helpless. He concludes that they both have their individual roles—she is a caretaker and he is a doctor—and both of them conclude that it is not possible for love to express itself in a different way than it did in their home.
Dr. Urbino’s attempt to take on Fermina’s tasks allows him to feel more respect for his wife’s daily activities, but it does not encourage him to modify the status quo that is making his wife so unhappy. Instead, both of them turn this inequality of household roles into a positive good—something not that they do not want to change but something that simply cannot be changed, because it is the only way of expressing love. This fragile belief, however fallacious, allows them to move on in their life without bitterness.
Regarding Florentino, Fermina feels only pity and guilt. However, she soon becomes affected by nostalgia for the time she spent with her cousin Hildebranda, to which Florentino is connected. However, she remains devoted to Dr. Urbino, taking care of him during old age, in which he desperately needs her. It is in such moments of intense partnership that their loved reaches its fullest expression. They know that their love has conquered many obstacles, such as the daily difficulties of fights and frustrations linked to marriage, and was capable of facing many more.
Fermina’s nostalgia signals the passing of time and the longing for the peaceful period of her youth. Meanwhile, Dr. Urbino and Fermina are moved by deep tenderness and partnership—one, nevertheless, which still relies on Fermina taking care of her husband’s every need. Their intimacy derives on common experience and hard work more than on shared values or similar personalities, and this gives their relationship the weight of experience—although it remains ambiguous whether this truly is the love either of them would have hoped for.