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Dr. Urbino's debilitation to his fatal fall from the mango tree
Fermina Daza remembers the sound of her husband urinating into the toilet on their wedding night, a sound so authoritative, it had frightened her. Now, the sound is weak, and she begrudges him for soiling the rim of the toilet. Dr. Urbino tries to please her by wiping the toilet with ammonia, but she complains about the smell, and is only pacified when he uses the toilet sitting down, like a woman. Urbino is so elderly that his wife must bathe him and dress him, which she does as if he were her beloved child. She too accepts that her years are dwindling. When Urbino sees Saint-Amour's body, he realizes that death is not merely a "permanent probability" but an "immediate reality." Moreover, he had always considered Saint-Amour a righteous man, and had been unraveled by the confessions in his letter, which divulges that Saint-Amour had been a fugitive, condemned to life imprisonment for a horrific, unspecified crime. Dr. Urbino gives his wife the letter, but instead of reading it, she places it in a drawer which she locks with a key. Fermina tells Urbino that if he were to decide to take his own life, it would be her duty to be as faithful as Saint-Amour's lover, for she sees such loyalty and understanding as the ultimate proof of love. Urbino, however, can only wallow in his rage at having been deceived by his long-time friend.
Dr. Urbino and his wife attend the silver anniversary luncheon, the social event of the year, held in honor of a medical colleague. The event is held on Pentecost because, historically, it has never rained on Pentecost. Despite everyone's assurance that it will not storm, rain and wind ravage the celebration, and the many guests retreat indoors. At the party, Urbino recognizes a boy who is one of his former students, and who had been the intern from Saint-Amour's house earlier that morning. When the Archbishop asks the cause of Saint-Amour's death, Dr. Urbino replies that it had been "Gerontophobia," the fear of aging.
Dr. Marco Aurelio Urbino Daza, son of Fermina Daza and Dr. Urbino, arrives with his wife and the dessert, which the guest have been waiting for. He explains that they are late because someone had told him that his parents' house was on fire; the firemen had gone to the house to rescue Urbino's pet parrot from the mango tree. When Urbino and Fermina return home, they find that the firemen have carelessly destroyed much of their home in their unsuccessful pursuit of the escaped bird: the mango tree is stripped, the furniture broken, and the rugs muddied and torn.
After searching for the parrot, Urbino takes a siesta, from which he is awakened by the sad awareness that he is living his final afternoons. Just as he had forgotten about the parrot, Urbino hears the bird close by, and spots him in the lowest branch of the mango tree. He talks to the bird, careful not to frighten it away, but the bird hops up to a slightly higher branch that he must reach with a ladder. The Doctor ascends the ladder, reaches for the parrot, and is discovered by a servant who shrieks in fright for his safety. Dr. Urbino catches the parrot, but releases the bird immediately as the ladder slips from beneath his feet, and he falls to his death. Fermina hears the servant shriek and comes running. With his last breath, Dr. Juvenal Urbino says to his wife: "Only God knows how much I love you."
Dr. Juvenal Urbino's death marks a significant loss to the city because of his prestige and public persona. In his lifetime, he had won renown for his fight against cholera, and had earned much prestige for his studies in Europe and his progressive ideologies. Dr. Urbino had acted out of character only twice: when he moved from the family mansion that had served as his home for more than a century to a new house in a nouveau riche neighborhood, and again when he married Fermina Daza, a beauty from the lower class. He and his wife had raised two relatively unaccomplished children, Marco Aurelio, also a physician, and Ofelia, mother of three daughters and wife of a banker. What pained Dr. Juvenal Urbino most about dying was the loneliness Fermina Daza would have to suffer without him.
Aging and death are prominent concepts that first emerge in full form upon the death of Jeremiah Saint-Amour and are explored throughout the novel. When Dr. Urbino, a well-respected man of great wealth and power, is forced by his age and debilitated physical condition to use the toilet like a woman, he is degraded, belittled by his wife and by his own morose maturity. A man once so capable, so authoritative, and so intimidating that the mere sound of his urine stream was enough to frighten his newlywed wife, is now pathetic and dependent, enfeebled by old age and its merciless attack on his body and mind.
The Doctor is distraught by Saint-Amour's death not only because of his old friend's deceit in keeping from him his life's secrets, but because he realizes, upon seeing Saint-Amour's body, that death is not a "permanent probability," as he has always imagined—an intangible, distant, untouchable fate. Upon seeing the body of his friend, the Doctor, for the first time in his long life, truly and fully understands that death is not simply some imaginary, obscure human idea, but a tangible destiny. Despite his debilitation, it is in this moment that Dr. Urbino realizes he has grown old and can never reclaim his youth. Similarly, his sad realization that he is living his last days is so overwhelmingly powerful that it forces him awake, literally waking him to the reality of his fast-approaching death, and foreboding his fatal fall from the mango tree.
Dr. Urbino, a man who lives life with religious regularity, is described as having acted out of character only twice; once when moving from an old, stately home to a new house in a nouveaux riche community, and once more when he had married Fermina, who had been considered a member of the lower class. This decision to resettle in a nouveau riche neighborhood is considered out of character in part because the Doctor is a very predictable man, but primarily because he is the product of a well-respected, blue-blooded family, a family that stems from a long line of old money. However, as of yet, the Doctor's reasons for choosing Fermina as his bride are unexplained. Surely, as an esteemed, wealthy, young physician of high family class, Dr. Urbino could have chosen from many willing, equally wealthy brides. Why, then, the text probes the reader, does the Doctor choose a girl from the lower class? Once more, the author poses a question with the intent of intensifying the reader's curiosity; these questions act as cliffhangers, encouraging the reader to continue through the text and discover the outcome, which is not revealed until later in the novel.
Ironically, Dr. Urbino's parrot, in which he has invested more time and effort than in his children, is ultimately responsible for his death. The bird is to blame for enormous disaster: the distress of the servants, the destruction of the house by the fire department, and, most seriously, the accidental death of Dr. Urbino. Throughout the novel, birds, like flowers, develop a deeper meaning in relation to the events which have occurred earlier in the text, and are responsible for further disaster and anguish.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Love in the Time of Cholera!