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.