Love in the Time of Cholera : Novel Summary:Section two
Summary of Section Two
Florentino has not stopped thinking of Fermina Daza since she rejected his proposal of marriage fifty-one years, nine months, and four days ago. He was living then with his mother, Tr·nsito Ariza, an unmarried quadroon, on the Street of Windows, in her notions shop, also doubling as a pawn shop. He is her only (illegitimate) child by the ship-owner Don Pius V Loayza, one of three brothers who founded the River Company of the Caribbean, responsible for steam navigation along the Magdalena River.
Don Pius died when Florentino was ten and never officially acknowledged the boy, so he had only his mother’s name, Ariza. He left school then and became an apprentice at the Postal Office where he sorted letters. He was taken under the wing of the German telegraph operator, Lotario Thugut, who taught him Morse code. Florentino was popular with the girls in his social circle because he could dance and recite poetry. Tall and thin with glasses and dark skin, he looked romantically forlorn, and wore a black suit from his father, in heat or cold.
Florentino meets Fermina Daza when he is told to take a telegram to Lorenzo Daza, her father. The Dazas live in a half-ruined house, which Daza is renovating. On the way out, Florentino sees through a window a young girl (Fermina) giving a reading lesson to an older woman, the girl’s Aunt Escol·stica. Daza, his daughter, and sister had come from another city after a cholera epidemic. The daughter is thirteen, and as soon as eighteen-year-old Florentino sees her, he falls in love. Fermina is attending a Catholic Academy, an expensive school, because her father wants her to marry well and improve the family fortune. Florentino begins to stalk Fermina, but it is not easy, since she is accompanied everywhere by her aunt. He sees her walking to and from school in her uniform and at mass on Sunday. He begins to idealize her, as he is a romantic, constantly devouring poetry and novels.
He thinks only of her and decides to write her a note that soon turns into a letter sixty pages long full of compliments he gets from books. He tells his mother about it, and she is moved by his innocence, telling him the long letter will frighten the girl. The first person he needs to impress is the aunt. Meanwhile, Fermina had been interested in the sight of Florentino because of his romantic and forlorn air. She remembers he is the one she sees reading in the nearby park every time she passes. Aunt Escol·stica knows that Florentino is interested in her niece and feels pity for him. She decides to help the young lover. She teaches her niece sign language, “an indispensable strategy in forbidden love” (58).
Fermina prays to God that Florentino will give her a letter, but his mother has convinced him not to. At Christmas she sees him face to face at mass and almost faints. He is in a delirium as he passes her house and sees the aunt and niece under the almond trees. Fermina wears gardenias in her hair. She sits there every day, and he begins to feel encouraged. The aunt purposely leaves the niece alone one day, and Florentino approaches Fermina with a request that she accept his letter. They begin exchanging secret messages. Florentino is so affected that he becomes ill. His mother tells him to enjoy his love suffering while he is young.
Meanwhile, Lotario Thugut takes young Florentino to the taverns and tries to set him up with a “night bird” or prostitute, but he claims he must remain a virgin for Fermina. Florentino often goes with Lotario to the brothel and takes refuge in a room just to read verses to himself, while the night birds are at work. On Sunday, Florentino and Lotario play violin in the church choir, so Florentino can watch Fermina. Florentino is extreme in his love, even eating gardenias and perfume so he can drown in Fermina’s presence.
“It was the year they fell into devastating love” (68). Florentino writes to Fermina every night of his passion, while her replies are cool and practical, but enough to keep his letters coming. One night he plays a violin solo for her outside her house. Another night Florentino is arrested because he is out after curfew during a civil war he does not even know is going on. After two years of letters, Florentino proposes marriage. Fermina agrees. Tr·nsito Ariza begins to remodel the house for the young couple. Florentino is promoted to First Assistant at the telegraph office. Lotario now owns the brothel, and Florentino takes a room there so he can have privacy to read and write. He is tempted by one of the maids, but he resists.
One day Lorenzo Daza comes looking for Florentino. Fermina has been expelled by the nuns for reading love letters during class. He explains to the young man that he has only one goal for his daughter: to become a great lady. He moved to the city for this purpose, and he will shoot Florentino if he stands in the way. Florentino replies it is glorious to die for love. Daza angrily sends his sister away for her part in the scandal, but Fermina will not back down and resists her father. He forces her to go on a long and dangerous journey through the mountains by mule with him. She cuts off her braid and sends it to Florentino with a good-by letter.
She goes to stay with her mother’s family in the country. A favorite cousin, Hildebranda S·nchez, becomes her confidante and helps her to get forbidden letters from Florentino at the telegraph office. Fermina begins to feel free and herself when she is with the wild and independent Hildebranda. She has confidence and sets the date of the wedding with Florentino, who decides to make money for their future by searching for the lost treasure in the sunken Spanish galleon in the bay. He pays a young boy to dive for the treasure and believes he has found it because the boy brings up jewelry, which Tr·nsito Ariza shows him is fake.
When Fermina returns to the city she is seventeen and grown up. Her father turns over the house for her to manage. Florentino is shaken by her mature beauty, but she takes one look at him and realizes her mistake. She breaks off the engagement. She likes her new independent authority and is a very haughty young woman now. The letters and braid are returned, and Florentino has no chance to speak to Fermina for the next fifty years.
Commentary on Section Two
It is clear as they grow up, Florentino and Fermina have very different personalities. She has enjoyed playing at the romance with him, though she realizes she does not really know him. Lorenzo Daza knows Fermino is so beautiful and intelligent she can get an upper-class husband. From the age of twelve “she had a mastery of reality” (81) which marks her as a practical woman in contrast to the lovesick and gullible Florentino. He is easily hoodwinked by the young diver who tries to convince him he has found the treasure in the bay. His mother has to rescue him over and over when he goes overboard with his imagination.
Fermina discovers herself among her mother’s people. She likes being in charge of herself; she likes running the household and likes her independence. When she sees Florentino as an adult, he is no longer a mysterious romantic, but a lower-class man with strange ideas.
Fermina shows she is not a weak or victimized woman when she stands up to her father. She never forgives his cruelty in turning out her Aunt Escol·stica, for whom she searches in vain in the coming years. When Florentino speaks with Lorenzo Daza he tells the father that the daughter should make the decision whom to marry, but Lorenzo comes from an older tradition and replies that it is a matter for the men to decide. Later, the father gets his way by pushing Fermina into the marriage with Dr. Urbino.
Florentino is truly an outrageous, even if a magnetic, young man, and the irony of his preserving his virginity in a brothel, and actually spending time there reading his romantic books, is part of GarcÌa M·rquez’s fantastic humor. The South American narrative style of magical realism is evident when Fermina sees and feels Florentino’s spirit staring at her in her dark bedroom. Ghosts, dreams, apparitions, and other magical incidents are included but not explained by the narrator. Fermina accepts their mystical relationship without question until she outgrows it as a young woman. She has no idea of his family and friends and would surely have come to her senses at once if she knew the young Florentino spent time in a brothel with his friend Lotario, a pimp. He is an illegitimate son, his mother is a pawn broker, and Florentino at this time has not many prospects that could tempt a young woman of Fermina’s quality and intelligence. His romantic ideas and prose grow wearisome, and when they meet again fifty years later, she cuts him short every time he tries to lapse into sentimentality.