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Love in the Time of Cholera | Study Guide

Gabriel García Márquez

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Love in the Time of Cholera | Chapter 4 (Domesticity) | Summary



After Fermina Daza and Dr. Juvenal Urbino's happy honeymoon, she feels like a "prisoner in the wrong house," suffering the behavior of her bitter mother-in-law and lazy sisters-in-law. She complains to her husband, who ignores her. Fermina thinks he is a "hopeless weakling," and devotes all her attention to raising their newborn son. Doña Blanca criticizes Fermina endlessly from her dreams to her musical ineptitude. In addition to her unhappiness with the "house of misfortune," Fermina is upset when her father is exiled by the Governor of the Province for his "mysterious dealings." He dies in his native country, and Fermina mourns with "mute fury" for months.

Despite Fermina's misery, the couple outwardly appears the epitome of contentment. Fermina seeks refuge in her father's abandoned house. She talks to Dr. Urbino about her "extreme ... unhappiness," and he liquidates the family's assets so they can leave for Paris, where they were their happiest.

Florentino Ariza witnesses the "perfect" family leave, bowing to Fermina after she nods to him. His mother's mind is "left almost without memories." After Tránsito Ariza's death, Florentino returns to his "maniacal pursuits." At the age of 40, he goes to the doctor for pains, which are diagnosed as "age," making Florentino realize his life is "passing."

After two years in Paris, Fermina, pregnant with their second child, and Dr. Urbino receive notice that Doña Blanca has died. They return immediately and build a modern house in La Manga. Their daughter, Ofelia Urbino, is born.


In their union, Fermina Daza and Dr. Juvenal Urbino are described as a "single divided being," which evokes Sara Noriega's idea of "divided love." Both of these descriptions detract from a whole, suggesting both Fermina and Florentino, as well as Dr. Urbino and Florentino's numerous lovers, are settling for less than the ideal. These love affairs develop the theme of society versus passion, illustrating what kind of relationships the characters choose to sustain themselves, whether their connections are sustaining them emotionally (Florentino and Leona Cassiani), socially (Dr. Urbino and Fermina), or physically (Florentino and Widow Nazaret, Sara Noriega, and Olimpia Zuleta).

Documenting the affair between Florentino and Olimpia, Gabriel García Márquez again use two symbols—letters and birds. Florentino pursues Olimpia, using a carrier pigeon she sends him. In the metal ring around its leg, he sends her love notes, which she returns. Birds, a symbol of temptation and danger, show the risk they are taking: Olimpia by spurning her menacing husband, Florentino by leaving a written trace—his first—with the letters. They sleep together once, and Florentino writes a sexual message on her in red paint—a virtual red flag—which she forgets to remove. That night, her husband sees it and slits her throat. The letters represent their secret identities and connection, which poses a conflict for Florentino. If her husband is released from jail, Florentino's life and the persona he has cultivated for Fermina are at risk.

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