Love in the Time of Cholera

by

Gabriel García Márquez

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Love in the Time of Cholera: Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Although Florentino interprets Fermina Daza’s letter as a proof of love, she wrote it out of pure anger. Her vicious words allow her to express her frustration at this completely new situation, in which she is suddenly husband-less and alone. Like people with amputated limbs, she feels her husband’s presence as though he were an invisible extension of herself. Overwhelmed by grief, Fermina also wants to remain in control of her life. She burns any piece of clothing or object that reminds her of Dr. Urbino, convinced that he would have approved of such an act. Dr. Urbino, in fact, wanted to be cremated, but was unable to because of religious practice.
Once again, Florentino chooses to interpret Fermina’s actions in a way that makes him feel valued and that confirms his fantasies about love. Fermina’s genuine grief, based on a shared life with her husband, contrasts starkly with Florentino’s mental love—equally enduring yet based on nothing but his tenacity and imagination. The intensity of Fermina’s feelings prove that she and her husband developed a very strong partnership, however many difficulties they may have faced.
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Despite this gesture, Fermina still feels as much grief as before and misses her husband’s presence. Nevertheless, she resolves to move her life forward instead of wallowing in her sadness. Her only obstacle is Florentino, for whom she now feels rage and hatred. She is offended by his actions but also realizes that her efforts to forget him have only made her remember him more. Whenever Hildebranda comes to visit, she always mentions Florentino, pitying him because his situation reminds Hildebranda of hers. Fermina, however, is unable to feel pity, having completely eliminated him from her life.
For the first time in her life, Fermina is forced to face her own feelings, without the authority of a father, mother-in-law, or husband. She has the opportunity to take control of her life and actions beyond social obligations. Her feelings for Florentino remain ambiguous. The fact that she thinks about him a lot, even if her thoughts contain hatred and anger, eliminates her previous indifference toward him—suggesting that her feelings are capable of changing once more.
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When Fermina saw Florentino with Leona Cassiani in the movie theater, she had been surprised to observe his self-assurance. She had interpreted his presence at her husband’s funeral as a way to heal old wounds, and was therefore deeply shocked when he declared his enduring love for her. She became so furious about the way her thoughts about this event were replacing her thoughts about her husband that she wrote a scathing letter to him.
Fermina’s desire to forget about her youthful relationship with Florentino remains constant throughout the novel, even as her indifference toward Florentino slowly disappears. This highlights a deep personality difference between Fermina and Florentino. Although Fermina does feel nostalgic about certain aspects of her youth, she never regrets leaving Florentino and does not necessarily feel attached to this episode of her life.
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Florentino, too, is suffering. He wishes for the presence of Tránsito, who always comforted him, or Leona Cassiani, but he knows that he would have to confess everything to her. Finally, he goes to the house of one of his former lovers, Prudencia Pitre, a widow, and appears at her door in the middle of the night. Prudencia had once hoped to marry Florentino, but he had always preferred to remain single for Fermina. She welcomes him, and the two of them chat about the past for hours. Finally, when Florentino asks her what an old widow would think if she were offered marriage, Prudencia immediately understands that he is talking about Fermina Daza. However, he does not admit the truth and leaves the house sad.
Florentino’s desire to find someone he might be able to confess his feelings to suggests that he depends on women not only for sex but also for emotional relief. However, his lack of desire to tell Leona the truth highlights his fear of being seen as vulnerable—and, perhaps, as a madman. Prudencia’s willingness to welcome Florentino into her home shows that some of Florentino’s casual relationships are not deprived of care, tenderness, or commitment—even if this commitment never translated into marriage.
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On Saturday, the day Florentino usually spends with América, he tells her that they will not make love and that he is going to marry someone else. Initially worried, América laughs the matter off, arguing that old men do not marry. Florentino then becomes conscious of the difference in their ages and resolves to spend less time with her.
América’s denial of the possibility that Florentino might marry is rational in the sense that it expresses a common societal belief (namely, that older people do not have exciting love affairs) but also expresses her passion for him, since it reveals that she does not want him to marry.
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Florentino decides to apologize to Fermina. After receiving her letter, he was not hurt by her insults but knew that he must respond to her. He decides to use the typewriter to compose his letter. Instead of lyricism, he focuses on serene argumentation, aiming to clear the past of accumulated feelings and to begin their new relationship with a clean slate. In his letter, he hopes to disguise his love by rendering the tone meditative and by discussing important arguments about life and relationships. He makes detailed plans about how he will proceed to seduce her, knowing that his efforts will have to convince her that love is an end in itself and that she can discard the norms that her social class abides by.
Although Florentino’s scheming has occasionally been presented in a neutral light, as a traditional form of courtship, here it acquires a more disturbing tone, since it emphasizes the artificiality of romantic courtship. Florentino simply wants to pretend that he is leaving the past behind because he knows that this idea appeals to Fermina. This highlights the potential lack of sincerity in letter-writing, which allows writers to present the aspect of themselves that will most appeal to their addressee—in this case, to disguise the fact that Florentino has been obsessed with the past all his life and is incapable of leaving it behind.
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Florentino begins writing regular letters to Fermina, satisfied that she has not sent any back. After one month, he numbers them to emphasize their continuity. In the meantime, he visits old lovers such as Prudencia Pitre and Andrea Varón to demonstrate his affection for them. His relationship with América, though, has grown complicated. He does not realize that América is now 17 and harbors love for him. She seeks him out so that they could make love but, when this fails, she becomes obsessed with finding the woman who had stolen her lover from her. Blind to América’s feelings, Florentino assumes that she has given up on their relationship.
Despite Florentino’s regular letter-writing, Florentino and Fermina’s relationship does not depend on mutual communication—but, rather, on Florentino’s one-sided efforts to attract Fermina’s attention. This highlights Florentino’s determination as well as Fermina’s inability or unwillingness to communicate her increasingly friendly feelings toward him. It remains ambiguous whether Florentino is truly ignorant of América’s feelings or whether he simply prefers to ignore his part of responsibility in the young girl’s unhappiness.
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On the anniversary of Dr. Urbino’s death, Florentino goes to the memorial Mass without being invited. When Fermina sees him, however, she walks up to him and thanks him for coming. She has found Florentino’s letters fascinating and has been amazed at his change in tone. In his letters, he’s communicated ideas about love, old age, and death that align with her own, and she’s grown convinced that Florentino is indeed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. She concludes that these letters she received from a wise old man prove that Florentino is trying to erase the past and would be as bold and offensive as he had been in the past.
Fermina’s friendly gesture toward Florentino reveals, for once, that Florentino was correct in assuming that she was becoming more open to him. Mention of the Holy Spirit is frequently made with relation to Florentino’s attitude. It highlights the highly abnormal intensity of his passion, capable of making people believe that he is moved by supernatural forces—and, perhaps, that he is partially mad. Fermina’s admiration of Florentino derives in part from lack of full understanding, since she does not yet realize that he is not as willing to erase the past as he shows.
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Feeling that Dr. Urbino’s presence is now a soft, supportive one, instead of one marked by patriarchal authority, Fermina feels more secure. She recalls her husband’s words after she had once desperately expressed her unhappiness to him. He said that stability, not happiness, was the hallmark of a good marriage. She now understood that this must be true, because stability had served as the foundation for their happiness.
The concepts of “happiness” and “love” in the context of Dr. Urbino and Fermina’s marriage are open to interpretation. Paradoxically, Fermina has complained about the lack of love or happiness in her marriage but now asserts happiness as a fact. This suggests that she can define happiness in retrospect, even if she was not necessarily aware of the peace and joy that her marriage brought her on a daily basis.
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Fermina becomes known as the Widow Urbino, and her children visit her occasionally. She becomes increasingly curious about Florentino and asks her friend Lucrecia del Real del Obispo what she knows about him. Lucrecia mentions that Florentino is known as a “wandering succubus.” However, when Fermina defends him, Lucrecia admits that such rumors are often vain, and that people say similar things about her.
As Florentino had predicted, Fermina is more interested in Florentino now that she is a widow. Lucrecia and Fermina’s conversation about what rumors say about people suggests, once again, that public appearances do not reflect personal worth. In Florentino’s case, however, accusations of sexual obsession or perversion are not necessarily far from the truth.
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Two weeks later, Florentino comes to visit Fermina without announcing himself. Fermina panics but ultimately invites him in, although Florentino has to leave hurriedly because he feels that, because of his emotions, he needs to relieve himself of diarrhea. They agree to see each other the day after tomorrow, and Florentino hurries to his carriage, where he relieves himself, causing the driver to tell him that what he has looks like cholera.
Florentino’s diarrhea recalls the physical effects that love had on him in his youth, which were similar to the symptoms of cholera. It suggests that, despite aging, Florentino is still as vulnerable as before when it comes to the expression of love. It also associates love with suffering, suggesting that it does not only involve joy and pleasure.
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Two days later, Florentino has tea at Fermina’s house. They talk about various topics, and though Florentino tries to mention their past love affair,  Fermina avoids the subject. They begin seeing each other regularly for tea. Florentino keeps trying to mention the past, but this annoys Fermina, now 72, who knows that everything has changed since they were young. Frustrated by his behavior, she wonders if they should continue seeing each other, since these visits make no sense, but Florentino simply replies that there has never been any inherent sense to them.
Florentino’s visits to Fermina underscore the personality differences between the two of them. Although Florentino has remained stuck in the past, Fermina has moved on and feels no attachment to her past love. Fermina also proves more pragmatic than Florentino, who tries to convince her that love and friendship can be an end in itself, even if it involves moments of discomfort. His insistence derives from his belief that he will one day be able to seduce her and make her forget trivial annoyances.
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On one occasion, during his regular Tuesday visits, Florentino shows Fermina the photograph of her and  Hildebranda. He had seen it for sale in the market and bought it. Unable to understand how that was possible, Fermina concludes that this must have been a miracle of love. Soon, Fermina’s son Dr. Urbino Daza and his wife join Florentino’s visits, and they all play games together.
For once, Florentino obtaining Fermina’s photograph is—as far as readers know—purely casual and not the result of Florentino’s obsessive scheming.
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Dr. Urbino Daza invites Florentino to have lunch with him. During this lunch, he details his theory that old people should be kept separate from society as soon as they cannot take care of themselves. This would serve a humanitarian purpose, so that people would not be afraid of old age and suffering. Dr. Urbino Daza also thanks Florentino for keeping his mother company in her old age. Florentino then mentioned that, in Dr. Urbino Daza’s ideal society, both Florentino and Fermina would be ostracized and dead by now. Only then does Dr. Urbino realize the inappropriateness of what he’s just said. He tries to justify himself with convoluted explanations. Despite this, Florentino is convinced that in their next meeting, Dr. Urbino Daza will ask him to marry Fermina.
Dr. Urbino Daza’s theories about keeping some people away from society reflect dangerous 20th century beliefs about the impurity of certain people, as expressed by fascists and Nazis. This contrasts with Dr. Juvenal Urbino’s positive theories of social change, meant to improve everyone’s health, regardless of age, status, or social condition. This suggests that intelligence and knowledge do not always go hand in hand with social progress, but can actually prove destructive if used for the wrong purpose.
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That afternoon, Florentino falls on the stairs leading to his office, and the doctor tells him to stay in bed for two months. He therefore resumes exchanging letters with Fermina. Annoyed by Florentino’s frequent mentions of the past, Fermina becomes convinced that Florentino cannot accept the process of aging, which makes him obsessed about the past. Therefore, she begins reassuring him about death, in the same way he shared his thoughts with her, and he begins reflecting about death directly, as he has never done before.
Florentino and Fermina exchange roles. The meditations on life, aging, and death Florentino had initially started as a means to an end (namely, to seduce Fermina) are now directed toward him and, as happened to Fermina, capable of making him feel better. Through this exchange, Fermina teaches Florentino to face the difficulties of the present instead of escaping them by resorting to romanticism and idealization.
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In the meantime, Leona Cassiani and América take care of Florentino, who is stuck in bed. Florentino soon learns of América’s troubles at school but still does not understand the depth of her love for him. He does not tell her parents anything, hoping that time would solve these problems—and, specifically, that death might. Florentino realizes that he is growing old. He recalls once assaulting a maid in this house but, now, he completely lacks sexual desire.
Florentino’s evasion of his moral responsibilities becomes clear in this episode, since he knows that América’s situation is growing dangerous but fails to do anything about it. It is ambiguous whether Florentino hopes to die before América or whether he anticipates that she will. The mention of the maid’s rape once again highlights the violence and lack of consideration that Florentino can display toward some objects of his sexual desire.
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After a couple of weeks, Fermina realizes that she misses Florentino’s visits. She becomes convinced that her youthful excitement for Florentino had not been love, and feels that Florentino’s insistence on this lessens his value as a person and a thinker. During this period, Fermina is devastated by news about an old couple that was murdered during their regular trip to their honeymoon spot.
Fermina’s appreciation of Florentino derives not from nostalgia but from her recognition of his intellectual qualities, which he had not displayed before. The news about the married couple’s murder occurs various times in the story. It emphasizes the unpredictability of death as well as the violence that affects so many people in the country.
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Fermina also receives a letter from Florentino containing a news clipping that declared that Dr. Juvenal Urbino and Lucrecia del Real had conducted an adulterous affair. Although this was not true, since the two of them had only been friends, Fermina interprets her friend’s lack of visits from then on as an admission of guilt. Simultaneously, a newspaper publishes information about Lorenzo Daza’s business, proving that he had falsified money and participated in arms trafficking during the civil war as well as the smuggling of Chinese migrants. Ironically, his mule trading business, which had aroused suspicion, was actually legitimate.
The reason why Lucrecia del Real, despite her innocence, stops visiting Fermina remains unexplained. This, along with Lorenzo’s business activities, suggests that one’s views about people do not remain unchanging after death—rather, the relationship evolves as those still alive attempt to make sense of new thoughts and discoveries. Lorenzo Daza’s utterly self-interested, immoral behavior adds another unsavory layer to his character, in addition to his tyrannical attitude toward Fermina.
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Florentino then goes to visit Fermina, leaving his bed for the first time in two months. Fermina is seething with rage because of the stories about her husband and her father. She is grateful to Florentino, who penned an anonymous letter berating newspapers for not respecting people’s honor. She also becomes panicked about how intimate their relationship has grown, full of trivial lovers’ quarrels until late at night.
Despite displaying immoral behavior in his own private life, Florentino seems committed to certain moral principles, such as defending people’s reputation—which he paradoxically never felt particularly bothered about when negative rumors affected his own person. This action can be interpreted as yet another effort to impress Fermina and win her over.
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Fermina’s daughter Ofelia finds the relationship between Fermina and Florentino utterly revolting. When she tells her mother this, Fermina kicks her out of the house. She is angry that her relationship with Florentino had been impeded once because they were too young, and now because they are too old. She adds that her status as a widow now prevents anyone from giving her orders.
Fermina’s comment that her relationship with Florentino was once ended because of youth is ambiguous, since she was the one to put an end to it and never regretted her action. Perhaps, now that she actually has feelings for Florentino, she is becoming more nostalgic about the past. She might also simply be saying this to vent her anger.
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Although Florentino has offered Fermina to go on a boat cruise with him multiple times, it is only after her bitter exchange with her daughter that she accepts the idea. She decides to journey on the New Fidelity, a ship where Florentino had once ordered a Presidential Suite to be built in the hope that it would one day serve as his wedding suite with Fermina. The morning of the trip, she goes to the cemetery, where she expresses all her frustration to her husband, thus settling things between them.
The ship’s name is particularly evocative in the context of Fermina and Florentino’s new relationship. Florentino’s anticipation that they might one day be together is correct, even if his hope in marriage never concretizes. This suggests that reality does not always conform to Florentino’s scheming, but is capable of bringing unanticipated events.
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Dr. Urbino Daza and his wife accompany Fermina and Florentino to the ship. However, when Florentino announces that he is staying with her, Dr. Urbino Daza is shocked because he considers two old people’s love indecent. His wife harshly rebukes him.
Florentino and Fermina’s challenge of traditional beliefs about old age proves that personal happiness does not derive from obeying social norms, but from following one’s own desires.
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That night, Florentino and Fermina sit outside her cabin, and Florentino notices that Fermina is crying. When he asks her if she wants to be alone, she curtly replies that she would have told him so if that were the case. He takes her hand in the darkness and both are surprised by how bony their hands are. This gesture, however, encourages Fermina to talk about her dead husband, and Florentino knows that she is thinking about what to do with the love left over from her marriage.
This exchange underlines Fermina’s forceful, authoritative attitude, intent on giving people orders instead of receiving orders or suggestions from them. Fermina’s discussion of her relationship with her husband mirrors the many conversations that Florentino has had with widows, for whom grief about their husband’s death does not prevent them from falling in love again or having new sexual relationships.
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Enjoying holding Florentino’s hand in hers, Fermina reflects on her marriage. Although she does not regret marrying Dr. Urbino, she said that despite such a long life shared together, full of arguments and fights, she does not know if what they shared was truly love. Afterwards, she tells Florentino to leave. When he tries to kiss her, she prevents him from doing so, saying that she smells like an old lady.
Fermina’s brusque manners reflect not annoyance at Florentino but her characteristic desire to remain in control of the situation and to tell Florentino how to act. Her negative judgment about her smell is realistic, since Florentino later says they both smell like old people, but also suggests that she feels somewhat embarrassed or humiliated to be so old.
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The next day, Fermina sees the late Dr. Urbino saying farewell to her and recalls him once declaring that, once a woman has decided to sleep with a man, nothing could stop her. She realizes that Florentino is now within reach in a way he had never been in their youth. That morning, she sees Florentino dressed in comfortable white clothing and realizes that he had dressed for her. Both of them blush when they see each other, and Captain Samaritano finds this sight sweet and tender.
Unlike others, Captain Samaritano is able to see Fermina and Florentino’s relationship for what it is, his judgment not clouded by preconceptions about how old people are supposed to behave. Fermina’s appreciation of Florentino shows that what their youthful adventure lacked was true knowledge of each other, which Florentino’s courtship and their immediate plans had not given space for.
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Captain Samaritano then takes them on a visit along the ship, explaining how it works. He also explains that excessive deforestation has destroyed the river and trees alongside it. Hunting for skin, too, has killed all the alligators. Manatees have become extinct because they were being hunted for sport. A lover of manatees, Captain Samaritano once left an American hunter on the shore of the river after the tourist tried to kill a manatee. Although the Captain was sent to prison for six months, he never regretted his act. Fermina concludes that the Captain is an honorable, empathetic man. During the trip, they also pass by what looks like a woman in white waving to them. The Captain explains that she was the ghost of a drowned woman. Although Fermina knows the woman does not exist, she can still see her face distinctly.
The destruction of the river shows that, beyond diseases like cholera and national catastrophes such as civil war, human greed and indifference to the natural world can have disastrous consequences. In addition to this tale of human-based destruction, the sight of the ghost introduces an element of supernatural mystery in the narrative. Although magic appears little in Love in the Time of Cholera, unexplained supernatural events such as this one are common in works of magical realism for which Gabriel García Márquez is known. They add surprise and unpredictability to the story, blurring the boundaries between imagination and reality.
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Fermina, who has been feeling pain in her ear, does not eat that day and simply watches the landscape. She wonders what method Florentino will use to spend time with her. After hours of waiting, after evening had settled, she walks out of her cabin and runs into Florentino, who has been sitting on a bench for hours, wondering how he would go to Fermina. They go to sit at the bar, but Fermina suddenly remembers the story about the old murdered couple and is horrified for a while.
For once, it is clear that Fermina is waiting for Florentino to act. He no longer has to make decisions based exclusively on how he feels but can take her own desires into account. The story about the murdered married couple haunts Fermina for many weeks. It is possible she identifies with them and is terrified of the prospect of death, which, as her husband’s death confirmed, is largely unpredictable.
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When they go to the observation deck, Fermina takes Florentino’s hand and exclaims that women are strange, which makes her laugh. However, she realizes that the pain in her ear is bothering her excessively, but she does not want to make him feel worried by sharing this. She is comfortable, having the feeling that she has known Florentino all her life. When Florentino wants to kiss her goodnight, she offers him her cheek but then gives him her lips when he insists. She giggles and makes a comment about ships. This causes Florentino to shudder, as he recognizes the smell of old age in her breath, a smell of decay and fermentation that he had already noticed in Widow Nazaret. However, Florentino is overwhelmed by a happiness he has not experienced since his youthful affair with Fermina.
Florentino’s comment about the strangeness of women relates to the unpredictability of Fermina’s feelings and behavior. Indeed, although Fermina once rejected Florentino and behaved indifferently toward him, she now seeks out his presence, revealing that her feelings have changed. Florentino’s shock at her old-age smell, which he knows all old people share, aims to show their relationship in a realistic way, without hiding its potentially unpleasant side effects. In this sense, the novel shows that love and attraction do not depend on physical perfection but on a sincere appreciation of the other person.
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That morning, Florentino receives an urgent telegram from Leona Cassiani informing him that América Vicuña is dead. A few hours later, he learns that América committed suicide after failing her exams. Florentino knows that there are other explanations that contributed to her suicide, but he is reassured to hear that there is no evidence pointing toward him. To prevent himself from feeling anguish, he erases the memory from his mind.
The news of América’s death is a brutal reminder of Florentino’s past deeds. Although he behaves honorably and respectfully with Fermina, he has not always done so with all of his lovers. In the case of América, he has preferred to avoid thinking about his moral obligations and this has now led to the young girl’s anguish and death.
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A few days later, the passengers see corpses floating on the river, even though both cholera and the wars have ended. Captain Samaritano tells them that they were people who drowned by accident. The ship is then forced to make a stop for fuel, forcing everyone to wait a week before moving again. During this period, Florentino is appalled by the state of the river and concludes that the only solution would be to replace it with a new one. All trace of animal life is gone.
The suspicious nature of these corpses floating on the river suggests either that the captain is lying or that violence will afflict this country even once catastrophes such as cholera and civil wars have disappeared. As they all realize by noticing the destruction on the river, simple human greed and ecological indifference is capable of leading to horrific consequences.
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During this time, Fermina realizes that she has become deaf in her left ear. Florentino concludes that love becomes stronger during disasters, and the two of them sit happily together while holding hands. After three nights, Florentino begins to caress her and she insists that they go to the room and make love properly. She asks him not to look while she undresses, saying that he would not appreciate the sight. Her body is covered in wrinkled skin. After she turns off the light, he undresses as well.
Fermina’s sudden deafness, after days of ear pain, highlights that she is at an age in which the body can experience many difficulties, causing one to readjust to a changing physical form. Fermina’s desire for Florentino not to see her undress mirrors her first sexual experience with Dr. Urbino, when she was too shy to expose herself in the light. This suggests that sexual relations can be marked by shyness and embarrassment at all stages of life and experience.
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The two of them lie on their back and speak of their lives. Florentino tells Fermina that he stayed virgin for her. Even though she does not believe him, knowing that his literary style makes him make such pronouncements to achieve a particular effect, but she appreciates its tone. When Fermina begins to touch him, noting that his skin is as soft as a baby’s, Florentino says that his penis was dead. He knows that this happens sometimes, but he feels angry with himself. She, in turn, is afraid he is furious and would not return.
Florentino’s bold pronouncements are a result of his romantic attitude more than sincere honesty. That Fermina understands this (as was not the case with a young girl like América Vicuña, for example) keeps it from being immoral and deceitful, since Fermina recognizes his sweeping pronouncements as Florentino’s particular way of expressing the intensity of his passion.
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Later that day, Florentino returns anyway, ready to make love. Fermina feels compassion for his awkward beginner’s movements, noting that compassion in these cases is not so different from love. Although this is the first time she has had sexual relations in 20 years, she feels that the experience of it is sad and might have ruined everything. However, they stay together all the time during the next days, and Captain Samaritano serves them aphrodisiac meals as a joke. For the time being, though, they enjoy simply being together, and only make love later, when the occasion arises spontaneously.
Fermina’s belief that Florentino is indeed a virgin is highly ironic, since Florentino has been with hundreds of women. This suggests, perhaps, that he has never made love to someone he actually loved, and that this makes him awkward, or that the two of them need to make love to each other, since each relationship is different. This episode suggests that they both need to follow a spontaneous rhythm instead of trying to conform to traditional schemes of love and love-making.
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A few days later, they arrive at La Dorada, their destination. However, when the ship prepares to return, Fermina panics because she does not want people she knows to walk on board and see her on a trip with a man who is not her husband. Florentino understands and convinces the Captain to sail with a flag indicating cholera on board, which allows them to make no stops on the way back. Florentino knows that people use this technique to avoid taxes and concludes that it is not an immoral decision if it is meant for a good reason.
Despite the freedom that Fermina feels when she is with Florentino, she is not yet willing to face the judgment of others in her social circle. This episode underlines that returning to ordinary society is in fact a threat to the peaceful relationship that Fermina and Florentino have established beyond traditional social norms of behavior, such as waiting a certain time after one’s husband’s death to be seen with someone else.
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The New Fidelity thus sails back at a rapid pace. To celebrate this felicitous decision, Fermina prepares a special eggplant dish that Florentino calls “Eggplant Al Amor.” The ship makes one stop early on in which a beautiful woman, Zenaida Neves, Captain Samaritano’s lover, walks on the ship. Florentino and Fermina quickly develop an intimate partnership, in which they take care of each other’s needs. Florentino plays “The Crowned Goddess” on a borrowed violin and Fermina wakes up once, realizing that she feels sadness, not anger, at the thought of that old couple that was murdered. She begins to dream of more trips with Florentino, in which they might feel free and in love.
Now that Florentino and Fermina’s relationship relies on true knowledge of each other and the trust derived from true experience, Florentino’s excessive romanticism, which leads him to idealize their youthful relationship, is no longer an obstacle to their love. Fermina’s peace at the thought of the murdered couple suggests that she might finally be at peace with the possibility of her own death—and, perhaps, that she has accepted the inherent violence and unpredictability of the human world.
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The night before reaching the port, they have a joyful party. Unlike what Captain Samaritano and Zenaida believe, however, Fermina and Florentino do not feel like young lovers. Rather, they are experiencing feelings at the core of love, beyond the difficulties of marriage. They behave with tranquility, beyond excessive emotions, “beyond” love itself. They realize that their love is strong and becomes more intense as it nears death.
This paradoxical characterization of love, in which Florentino and Fermina seem to be both within and beyond love, signals that there are different ways to understand love. Ultimately, what matters most to them is the intensity of their partnership now that they are entering the final stage of their life, in which they are capable of being uniquely lonely and vulnerable to death.
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The next morning, as they near the port, Fermina realizes that being back in the city will feel like dying. Florentino feels the same way and is suddenly overwhelmed by grief for América Vicuña. He has to lock himself in the bathroom and cry to relieve his feelings, realizing in that moment that he had loved her more than he thought. When Captain Samaritano communicates with the port authorities, he realizes that it will be very complicated for them to reach the shore if people believe they are affected by cholera. Furious, he cannot understand how to get out of this mess.
Florentino’s outpouring of emotions suggests that he has indeed been repressing emotions—and, perhaps, feelings of moral responsibility—toward her, since he knows that she killed herself at least partially out of grief after the end of their relationship. Both Florentino and Fermina understand that returning to the city will bring them back to reality (and, therefore, to the possibility of death), whereas they have been enjoying an escape from social duties and the monotonous rhythm of life by being together on the ship, far from people’s judgment.
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After listening to Captain Samaritano, Florentino offers an original solution: to sail all the way back to La Dorada. When Fermina looks at him, she realizes that he is once again speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Captain asks him if he is certain, and Florentino says he is. Looking at Fermina, in which he finds a trace of decay, and examining Florentino’s face, over-excited by love and passion, the Captain concludes that life, not death, is limitless. Finally, he asks how long they can possibly keep up this stratagem. Having nurtured his answer for over 53 years, Florentino replies: “Forever.”
This time, Florentino is finally to see his fantasies and reality reconciled. To begin with, his trip with Fermina has been a dream come true, allowing his lifelong wish (namely, to start a relationship with her) to come to life. Now, therefore, he is able to express the full extent of his passion without seeming mad or ridiculous—since this very expedition could also be considered ridiculous. Florentino’s desire to stay on the ship forever thus reunites his fantasies about Fermina with the reality of the love they have now built together, allowing them to enjoy each other’s company and defy, as long as they can, the threat of death.
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