Love in the Time of Cholera
Dr. Juvenal Urbino
Dr. Urbino is the perfect image of the modern man. He's got a first-rate education in medicine, and he follows the latest trends in European science, literature, and art. He has nearly perfect attendance at church. He's got a strong sense of civic duty, and he tries to save the world (or at least the city) by curing cholera. Not only that, but he's rich, popular, well-read, and smooth with the ladies. Basically, he's everything that Florentino is not, which makes the two of them great foils for one another.
It's ultimately Dr. Urbino who gets the girl. His love for Fermina might not be as passionate as that of Florentino, but it's a lot more practical. He and Fermina have a relatively happy marriage – they raise kids, go to church, organize community events, and travel widely. While he does slip up every once and a while (um, like that time he has an affair with one of his patients), his ability to communicate with his wife means that, eventually, everything gets worked out between the two of them.
Though it's easy to feel some resentment toward Dr. Urbino, he's not really a bad guy. It's just that the privilege he's experienced for his entire life makes it difficult for him to understand the perspectives of people who are less fortunate. (Think about his quick condemnation of his best friend Jeremiah when he finds out about the crimes he committed in Haiti before coming to the City of the Viceroys to start over.)
Dr. Urbino is also blinded in a way by his commitment to order and progress – ideals which, on the one hand, help him to clean up the city and tame the cholera epidemic, but on the other hand, have some dark repercussions. When Dr. Urbino spends the last afternoon of his life reading a book by eugenicist and Nazi sympathizer Alexis Carrel, and his son later waxes prosaically about the benefits of removing undesirable elderly people from society, we are reminded that the ideology of order and scientific progress, taken to an extreme, will be used to justify some of humanity's worst atrocities.
Dr. Urbino's inability to see the dark consequences of the ideology of order and progress, along with his life of extreme privilege, make us think that he must be a little naïve. Our suspicion is strengthened by the evidence of his name (the word for "youth" in Spanish is juventud), which reflects not only his obsession with the days of his youth, and his tendency in old age to revert to a childish state, but also a sense of innocence. Is the good doctor naive, though, or merely extremely pragmatic? Is his seeming ignorance of the affair that occurred between Fermina and Florentino in their youth genuine, or merely pretense? Consider that, after his death, Dr. Urbino's ghost cheerfully wishes Fermina a bon voyage as she departs on a riverboat cruise with her new boyfriend. Could it be that turning a blind eye to that early passion is really the wisest course of action?Timeline