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Florentino's illness to Fermina's acceptance of his marriage proposal
Florentino Ariza suffers in physical and emotional anguish while he waits for Fermina Daza's reply to his love letter. Transito Ariza, concerned for her son, calls on his godfather, a homeopath, who initially diagnoses Florentino with cholera , but concludes he suffers only from lovesickness. Florentino becomes so lost in his romantic woes, he nearly loses his job with the Postal Agency.
Lotario Thugut spends his nights at taverns around the port, and often ends a night out with visit to a shabby hotel to sleep with a "little bird" (a prostitute). Lotario encourages Florentino to do the same, but he refuses, and vows to lose his virg inity only for love. Florentino is so in love with Fermina that he eats gardenias and drinks cologne so that he can know her taste. He becomes drunk on the cologne, and his mother finds him the next morning, in a puddle of his vomit, in a cove of the bay where drowning victims are known to wash ashore. After a month without a reply from Fermina, Florentino returns to her house. Fermina and her Aunt Escolástica sit in the same spot as before, and Florentino approaches, requesting that Escolástica give them privacy. Initially, Escolástica refuses, but capitulates when Florentino threatens to say nothing at all.
Fermina knows very little about Florentino, but believes that he had delivered the telegram to her father merely as an excuse to see her, which is not accurate. Athough he is not a man she would have chosen herself, she is taken with Florentino, though sh e does not express it outwardly. The determination of his letter had frightened her, and she had not known how to reply. She had thought of him often since receiving the letter, and was sometimes startled awake by the vision of his figure at the foot of h er bed. Florentino tells her that it had been discourteous of her not to reply, and she vows that he will have her answer by the end of her school vacation. He recieves her answer shortly before the vacation's end, when Aunt Escolástica visits the telegra ph office and pretends to forget an envelope on the counter. Overjoyed, Florentino makes himself ill eating rose petals.
Not once during the year after Fermina's reply to Florentino's letter do the feverish lovers get to speak to one another. They do, however, write daily letters. His are passionate professions of love, and hers are a basic recounting of routine events. In each of their letters, one informs the other of where he or she will find the reply. Aunt Escolástica does not have the heart to forbid Fermina's affair, though Fermina's father, Lorenzo Daza, would surely forbid it, and would punish her severely if h e were to find out. Escolástica's risk is especially brazen because she relies on Lorenzo for financial support.
One night, Fermina is awakened by the music of a lone violin playing the same waltz over and over again. The following morning, Lorenzo Daza expresses curiosity about the violin music; he could not tell for which house it had been intended, nor what the s ame piece repeated symbolizes. Aunt Escolástica explains that she had seen a solo violinist standing on the opposite side of the park, and that a single piece repeated indicates severed relations. Florentino explains in that day's letter that he had in fa ct been the musician, and that he had written the waltz, which he titled Crowned Goddess, for Fermina. He and Fermina arrange for him to play in other locations where she can hear him without fear of exposure. On one occasion, Florentino is arreste d after he is accused of being a spy who sends messages via his serenades. He spends three nights in jail, and feels martyred because he has suffered for love.
After nearly two years of correspondence, Florentino sends Fermina a formal marriage proposal. She had returned the white camellias he had sent for the previous six months to dismay any thoughts of engagement, and is panic-stricken at his proposal. Escola stica advises her to accept; if she declines, she will regret it forever. But Fermina is so distraught, she asks him for time to decide. After four months without her reply, he sends one last camellia with a note implying that she must decide now or never . That same afternoon, he receives her reply, written on a thin strip of paper torn from a notebook, which reads that she will marry him, on the condition that he will not make her eat eggplant.
In Chapter 2, flowers are representative of love. Similarly, the chapter spotlights yet another of the novel's most important concentrations, the comparison of the pain of lovesickness to the ravages of cholera. In these particular passages, the two ideas are represented in conjunction with one another. In many of his letters, Florentino sends Fermina a white camellia, the "flower of promise," a gesture which represents his undying love for her. Florentino serenades Fermina with a single violin concerto, entitled "Crowned Goddess, which he composes in her honor, after seeing her wearing a crown of flowers atop her head on the day he had approached her in the park. Wherever there is a flower or any kind of floral imagery, the author is making an indirect r eference to love.
Florentino's act of eating gardenias and rose petals is symbolic of his consuming love for Fermina. Here, love, like cholera, produces actual, physical illness. Florentino's illness goes beyond physical illness and becomes mental illness. Though he is sic k in his heart and in his stomach, his obsession impairs him mentally. Florentino's obsession is so severe that he nearly loses his job because he cannot stop thinking of Fermina for even a moment. When Florentino ingests the flowers, he is symbolically i ngesting Fermina's affections, because the flowers are all he can possess of her until they can be together. The flowers, however, make him violently ill, as does his love for Fermina, which brings him intense emotional and physical suffering. Strangely, Florentino seems to enjoy this suffering; when he must spend three nights in a jail cell on account of the violin serenades he plays for Fermina, he feels martyred, and understands his torment as a gratifying, strengthening experience. Florentino enjoys t he anguish he feels when in love, and induces it when he ingests the flowers, for if he cannot be with Fermina, he must feel something, even if it is pain, to know that he is alive.
Similarly, the scene in which Florentino's uncle, the homeopath, mistakenly diagnoses Florentino with cholera correlates the plague and lovesickness. Florentino is truly and literally lovesick; he is a man driven so mad for a woman that he resorts to eati ng flowers, so many that he becomes ill, so that he may feel close to her. For Florentino, love is the plague he must suffer for fifty-one years, nine months, and four days, the enduring lapse in time from the end of their love affair as a lustful young m an and an innocent young woman, to its rebirth upon Florentino's reiteration of his undying love for Fermina at her husband's wake.
In this chapter, the prostitutes at a transient hotel are referred to as "birds," a term used to describe or refer to women in many instances throughout the book. The birds in this and in later chapters pose a threat, in this case to Florentino's purity, and are linked to the single most important bird in the novel: the parrot responsible for Dr. Urbino's death. Water is referenced once again in Chapter 2 when Transito Ariza finds her son asleep where drowning victims are known to wash ashore, for Florent ino is a victim not of the ocean, but of his obsessive love for Fermina, and the self-inflicted suffering he endures for her.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Love in the Time of Cholera!