The renown of Dr. Urbino's pet parrot to Urbino and Fermina's most serious argument.

Dr. Urbino has paid more attention to his parrot, a family fixture for over twenty years, than he has paid to his children. Urbino teaches the bird to speak fluent French, recite religious gospel, and do arithmetic. The bird's reputation spreads, and many distinguished visitors, including the President of the Republic, along with his cabinet ministers, ask to see the parrot. Against the advice of his wife, Fermina Daza Dr. Urbino permits the President and his ministers to see the bird, which refuses to speak a word during their two-hour visit.

Fermina idolizes domestic animals and tropical flowers, though the doctor has a strong aversion to both. At the start of the marriage, she owns many animals: a vast array of dogs, cats, birds, and reptiles. Tragedy, however, intervenes when one of the German Mastiffs, sick with rabies, attacks. The doctor and his wife have no way of knowing which animals have been infected, and have no choice but to kill and burn all of the surviving creatures, all but the tortoise, who is forgotten.

It is only because of the thieves who robbed their home that the doctor allows Fermina Daza another pet. He will not tolerate another dog, and declares that any creature that does not speak is not permitted in the house. Fermina Daza, however, makes him regret his hasty generalization when she brings home the parrot. When the thieves make a second attempt at entry, the parrot frightens them away by barking like a dog and crying, "Stop thief, stop!". Afterwards, Urbino dedicates himself to educating the bird. He allows it to wander the house until it falls from a ceiling beam into a pot of stew. The parrot is rescued by the cook, but emerges completely deplumed, and is, from then on, kept in its cage.

Urbino's servants, who had removed the bird from his cage to clip its wings, continue their three-hour struggle to coax it down from the mango tree. Despite their efforts, the bird remains in the tree. Dr. Urbino sends for the fire department, which he himself established, and of which he is the honorary president. However, Urbino is too disturbed by Saint-Amour's letter to care about the fate of the parrot.

Urbino and Fermina have just celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. A woman of class and style, Fermina is beautiful, even in her seventy-two years of age, and exudes a haughtiness that demands respect. Recently, she has noticed her husband's aging mind and body, though she sees these changes as a reversion to childhood, rather than decay. The couple's morning routine has for years been a source of contention between them. Every morning Urbino rises at dawn, dresses in darkness, and wakes his wife in the process. She feigns sleep, furious that she has been awakened, though he is aware that she is angry and not truly asleep. They continue to play this game until it nearly ends their thirty years of marriage. One morning, Urbino grumbles that he has been bathing for nearly a week without soap. Upon hearing this, Fermina is enraged; she had forgotten to replace the soap, though it had not yet been a week. From bed, she yells that she has bathed every day, and always with soap.

After the fight, Urbino lives at the hospital, and returns home only to change his clothes. Despite their attempts at resolution, he refuses to return home as long as she refuses to admit that there had been no soap in the bathroom. Finally, the Doctor proposes that they both confess, with the Archbishop present, if necessary, a proposal to which Fermina Daza replies: "To hell with the Archbishop!" Realizing she has overstepped her bounds, she threatens to move back to her father's old house. Dr. Urbino understands that her threat is sincere, and yields, not by admitting that there had been soap, but by continuing to live with her — however, in separate rooms, and in tense silence. After four months of tension, the Doctor, for want of his featherbed, rests beside his wife and confesses that that there had indeed been soap, which they both know is not true. In fifty years of marriage, this has been their most serious argument yet.


The first chapter examines the curious courtship of Dr. Urbino and Fermina Daza. If, in fifty years of being together, their most serious argument has been over a bar of soap, their marriage has been a fairly stable, content partnership. Their argument is revealing of the dynamic between the Doctor and Fermina. There is little communication between them, whether affectionate or hateful, for they act as little children and ignore one another for a period of months before they reconcile, and even when they do, it is with few words and no mutual compromise. Instead, Dr. Urbino must relinquish his pride and submit to his wife's stubbornness, even when he is fully aware that he is correct, that in fact, there had been no soap in the bathroom. Such an act of submission seems odd from a man who exhibits immense power and influence among the people of his city. In the home, however, it is Fermina who gives the orders.

Fermina, very clearly, is a strong-minded woman. She is a woman who knows what she wants and will not stop until she successfully achieves it: when her husband does not allow her to keep any creature that does not speak, she finds one that can. When she adamantly refuses to forgive her husband until he admits to his own guilt, in time, he surrenders to her conditions. However, Fermina also seems to be a caring, nurturing woman, for she pampers her aging husband as she would a defenseless, helpless baby, and has a fanatical love of animals and flowers. Fermina's passion for animals (specifically for the parrot she brings home to the Doctor) and love of flowers will acquire further significance in the chapters that follow. Unlike his wife, Dr. Urbino seems a somewhat cold, unemotional man, for he takes more interest in his parrot than he does in his children, and dislikes both animals and flowers.

Yet another significant distinction between Urbino and his wife lies in the religious values each of them upholds. Fermina, who blasphemously retorts "To hell with the Archbishop!" when her husband suggests he intervene, has little or no religious faith whatsoever. The Doctor, however, has immense faith in God and in the virtues of the church, and therefore asks the Archbishop for help in reconciling with his impossibly stubborn wife. Like the first section, the second section raises basic questions about the meaning of a number of obscure elements in the text. In this case, the reader may wonder about the reasoning behind Fermina Daza and Juvenal Urbino's marriage, for it is curious that two people with such fundamental differences in demeanor, character, and beliefs have been together for fifty years.

Dr. Urbino's reaction to the parrot's escape is unusual. He has taken pains to teach and care for the parrot for more than twenty years of his life, paying the bird more attention than he did to his own children, though he does not show particular distress or even concern when the bird flees its cage. The Doctor's reaction to the parrot's escape further reveals his dispassionate nature, and foreshadows a pivotal section of the text.