Dr. Urbino Daza's lunch with Florentino to Florentino and Fermina's journey aboard the riverboat
Dr. Urbino Daza asks Florentino to lunch, during which he thanks Florentino for the companionship he provides for Fermina. Ofelia, however, thinks that love in old age is ludicrous, and insists that Florentino discontinue his visits. After Ofelia is so adamant that Fermina demands she leave the house, never to return. After his lunch with Dr. Urbino Daza, Florentino falls and twists his ankle. Ordered by his physician to remain in bed for sixty days, Florentino is terrified by the possibility that he may die before he is well, without seeing Fermina. Again, Florentino and Fermina correspond regularly in letters, and Fermina quickly realizes how much she misses him.
Shortly thereafter, the city's gossip magazine, Justice, publishes a front-page story which announces, falsely, that there had been a secret love affair between Dr. Urbino and Lucretia. Mortified, Lucrecia dares not contact Fermina, which Fermina interprets as an admission of guilt. The tabloid also attacks Lorenzo Daza for counterfeiting money. Both articles cause Fermina terrible anguish. A letter in her defense is published in the city's newspaper, which Fermina knows is from Florentino because he uses a recognizable pseudonym. Meanwhile, América, who suffers terribly from her loss of Florentino's love, finds copies of his love letters to Fermina.
When he is well, Florentino invites Fermina to travel with him on a pleasure cruise along the river. She accepts, and feels immense relief at the prospect of leaving home with only her bare necessities. She and Florentino board the ship, the New Fidelity, after bidding farewell to Dr. Urbino Daza and his wife, who had not known that Florentino was to accompany Fermina on the trip. The Doctor hesitates, but recovers with a cordial goodbye after Florentino shows him the keys to his and Fermina's separate rooms.
Initially, Fermina feels lonesome and wants only to cry in solitude. Florentino gives her peace, and interrupts her only to say good night. She suggests that they retreat to her private deck, where he rolls cigarettes for her to smoke. Florentino notices that Fermina is crying silently, but instead of consoling her, as she hopes he will, he panics and asks if she would prefer to be alone. She assures him that his presence is welcome, and he reaches for her hand, which he finds waiting for him. When, upon his departure, he motions to kiss her, she withdraws; "not now," she tells him, "I smell like an old woman." After Florentino departs, Dr. Urbino appears to Fermina, and tips his hat in farewell.
Florentino divulges how he has longed for her for over half a century, and lies that he writes verses only for her. Upon hearing this, she reaches for his hand and allows him to kiss her cheek, then her lips, when he departs. Florentino shudders, for Fermina truly does smell like an old woman, though he feels immense happiness. Later, Florentino receives a telegram from Leona that informs him of América's suicide; he erases the news from his mind, but cries for América later on.
On the fourth day of the journey, the ship runs out of fuel and is stranded for nearly one week. Florentino realizes the environmental destruction which has ravaged the river and its shores. Finally, he and Fermina attempt to make love. Florentino tells her that he has remained a virgin for her, and though she does not believe it, she likes the spirited way in which he says it. The attempt, however, fails when Florentino, in his old age, cannot perform. But he returns later that day, and makes love to her, though it is "hurried and sad." This disappointment, however, does not hinder their relationship.
When the ship docks at its final port, Fermina is distraught when she recognizes many of the passengers who board the ship, for if she is seen on a pleasure cruise with a man, it will cause a scandal. Florentino uses his power as President of the riverboat company to appease Fermina, and, in writing, orders the Captain, who obeys without argument, to reject all of the oncoming passengers on account that someone aboard has contracted cholera. The captain raises the flag of cholera to alert other ports, and only Florentino, Fermina, the Captain, and his lover remain aboard. Because of the supposed cholera epidemic on board, no port will allow them ashore, and their scheme forever exiles them to the river.
The name of the ship Florentino and Fermina journey on, the New Fidelity signifies the renewed bond of trust and affection between them. Fermina is excited by the prospect of traveling aboard the ship with only the bare minimum of her belongings because the journey will provide her with an escape from her home, full of frivolous trinkets, memories of her dead husband, and his clothes, books, and other belongings. Aboard the ship, she can leave behind her duties as a mother, her social and domestic responsibilities, and the two unbearable scandals revealed on the pages of the Justice, and with them, the shame they have brought to her reputation. When, after Florentino has left her ship cabin, Dr. Urbino's ghost appears to Fermina and tips his hat, she feels appeased and relieved, for her husband's gesture, whether real or imagined, signifies his final farewell to her, and grants her strength to go on without him, and to continue her affair with Florentino.
The novel continues to compare love to an enduring plague in the final chapter. So that Florentino and Fermina may at last be together, Florentino orders the Captain to falsely announce that there is at least one passenger aboard the ship who has been infected with cholera. When interpreted symbolically instead of literally, this statement is mostly true. Florentino has been infected by a burning, unshakable passion for Fermina since the day she rejected him in the Arcade of the Scribes, a passion that has persisted much like a deadly plague of cholera. Florentino is literally plagued by love; he suffers from lovesickness as one would suffer from cholera, enduring both physical and emotional pains, and visible symptoms of his illness. When the Captain raises the yellow flag of cholera to the top of the ship's mast, his action is symbolic of Florentino's surrender to his disease. At long last, Florentino has surrendered to Fermina's love, just as a sufferer of cholera surrenders to death.
The final chapter also explores the concepts of self-sacrifice and death in the name of love. For many years, Florentino has suffered in anguish from his unrequited love. Now that his love is returned, he feels ready to die. Florentino's willingness to die reveals that it is not the experience of Fermina's love—but rather the quest to obtain that love—that has given his life meaning.
Notes on Chapter Two contain an error. Florentino Ariza is not the man with whom the girls held lotteries to hang out with, until he saw Fermina Daza; that was Dr. Juvenal Urbino. See the first paragraph in Chapter 3 to see where this sentence refers to the latter.
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Actually, women held lotteries to hang out with both men. When Florentino is introduced in chapter 2 Marquez mentions this on page 54. Then again, on page 105 (the first page of chapter 3), the lotteries for Dr. Urbino are mentioned.
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