Love in the Time of Cholera | Study Guide

Gabriel García Márquez

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Love in the Time of Cholera | Chapter 5 (Mourning Bells) | Summary



Florentino Ariza attends the opening of the Italian film Cabiria with Leona Cassiani. After two years without seeing Fermina Daza, he recognizes her voice behind him, saying, "My God, this is longer than sorrow!" He is aware he has "never been so close, so long, to the one he loved so much" as the two couples greet one another after the movie. While Florentino watches Fermina and the doctor leave, he notices Fermina stumble slightly on the stairs. Her husband helps her.

As Leo XII Loayza's health deteriorates, Florentino passes up "some of his Sunday loves" to spend time with him. At the age of 92, Leo XII retires, naming Florentino his heir. After six months, Florentino becomes president of the Board of Directors and general manager of the River Company of the Caribbean, and Leona hosts a party for him. Solely responsible for the company and knowing Fermina is "irreplaceable," Florentino stops chasing new loves and maintains his old affairs—with the exception of América Vicuña.

As América's guardian, Florentino gains his 14-year-old relative's "confidence" and "affection" with his grandfatherly role. He also seduces her. During a Sunday siesta, Florentino hears mourning bells. She insists they are for Pentecost, but the "wild beating of his heart" nags Florentino. En route to América's school and Jeremiah de Saint-Amour's funeral, his driver informs him the bells are for Dr. Juvenal Urbino. Observing his "pallor," América asks him what is wrong. He replies, "I would need another fifty years to tell you." Florentino drops América off and goes to the Urbino household where he commits a "thoughtless and inappropriate act" by announcing his love and fidelity on Fermina's "first night of widowhood." After three insomnia-filled weeks, he discovers Fermina's angry letter, the "letter he had been waiting for ... for over half a century."


Aging and time is a prominent theme here. Florentino Ariza's vanity over his baldness emphasizes that his attachment to Fermina Daza, because it has had little chance to mature, is still at a superficial level where appearance is supremely important. Despite Florentino's "well preserved years," he still worries he might need "to be led on a woman's arm" before Fermina is available, making him "have to renounce his hope of Fermina Daza."

The characters' conflicts, especially Florentino's, are also illustrated through the theme of aging and time. After seeing evidence of Fermina's mortality when she stumbles exiting the movie, Florentino's romantic fantasy—their being reunited—momentarily wavers. Every day Dr. Urbino lives is another day Florentino suffers. In this novel of manners, Florentino can reunite with Fermina only in her widowhood. This is worrying because Fermina looks as if the "last two years had been as hard on her as ten difficult ones." For Florentino, seeing her "[frightens] away sleep."

As Florentino remembers past lovers and sexual conquests, his thoughts about his young ward América reveals a serious character flaw. They begin sleeping together while she still has "braces on her teeth and the scrapes of elementary school on her knees." Although he seems to mistakenly believe in the "innocence" of their relationship, as her legal guardian he has a responsibility to América and her parents to act as an adult.

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