Love in the Time of Cholera

Gabriel García Márquez
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Chapter 1 (continued)

Summary Chapter 1 (continued)

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.