Love in the Time of Cholera | Study Guide

Gabriel García Márquez

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Love in the Time of Cholera | Chapter 3 (Symptoms) | Summary



Dr. Juvenal Urbino returns to the Caribbean from France at the age of 28. Driven by his father's death, he reforms the city's sanitation. He is certain another cholera epidemic will arrive and, sure enough, a traveler from Curaçao dies of the disease at Dr. Urbino's hospital. Instead of reverting to old ways, firing cannons to purify the air, Dr. Urbino handles each case. Over several months, other cases arise in the city, coast, and Magdalena valley, but another epidemic is avoided.

Because of a "clinical error," Dr. Urbino visits Fermina Daza, who has cholera symptoms. He diagnoses her with an "intestinal infection" and three days later visits again to check on her. Fermina believes it's an unnecessary visit and, when he talks about music, she slams the window on him. Lorenzo Daza makes his daughter apologize and then asks the doctor to stay for coffee. Later, Dr. Urbino pays Romeo Lussich, a famous pianist, to serenade Fermina with Mozart sonatas. Dr. Urbino sends her a letter, which she finally opens after dreaming about him several days later. His "simplicity and seriousness" softens her "rage."

As a "last resort," Dr. Urbino sends Sister Franca de la Luz, who Fermina hates. The nun tries to entice her into considering the doctor by waiving her expulsion records, and offering her a degree along with a valuable rosary. When Fermina refuses, the nun threatens a visit from the archbishop. Fermina replies that a visit from the archbishop would be fine, and Sister Franca de la Luz pities her for pining after Florentino Ariza.


Letters and telegrams represent connections, and, in this case, the monumental distance between Dr. Juvenal Urbino and his family. The lag between communications alludes to this disconnect, the telegram reporting his father's death takes three days to arrive and the 20-page deathbed letter takes three weeks to reach Dr. Urbino. His father's letter symbolizes secret identities and pasts, and in it the older man reveals "himself body and soul," which "timidity" prevented him doing during his lifetime.

His death has the effect of a double loss—not only did the family lose their father and husband, but they failed to really know him while he was alive. Dr. Urbino's reactions show how deeply he is affected by his father's death, becoming obsessed with death and cholera. Earlier in the novel, his routine of natural remedies and healthy lifestyle choices displays how incredibly mortal he feels—his father's death being the source of that fear. Following his father's death, he avenges his parents' honor by waging war on cholera, which he names as his "enemy" the first time he comes across the disease less than a year later at Misericordia Hospital.

When Lorenzo Daza and Fermina Daza return to the city, Lorenzo's support of the doctor as a suitor for Fermina highlights the theme of society versus passion. Lorenzo's support of Dr. Urbino also makes obvious his expectations for Fermina to marry a rich husband. The lack of control Fermina has over her life thickens the tension between the father and daughter, who rarely talk since he banished her aunt Escolástica Daza.

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