A Lesson Before Dying: Character Profiles
Florentino Ariza is one of the three main characters, the only illegitimate son of a quadroon pawn broker, Tr·nsito Ariza, and ship-owner Don Pius V Loayza. A romantic, he devours poetry and writes long love letters to women, who pity him for his forlorn air. He falls in love instantly with Fermina Daza, who is socially above him, but he waits for her his whole life and finally claims her when they are in their seventies. He is described as a shadow because he is dark and secretive, seemingly passive but stalking women and seducing them. He is physically ugly but charismatic. Even with his hundreds of lovers over the years, he considers himself faithful to Fermina Daza. Not ambitious, he lets his assistant Leona actually run the shipping business he inherits. He is a poet and writer, not really interested in business and politics. He defies social conventions for the sake of passion, becoming Fermina’s lover in old age. Florentino perpetuates the values of the past and dresses conservatively in an old black suit. Because he keeps his love affairs private, there are rumors that he is homosexual.
A freed quadroon, Tr·nsito Ariza is the single mother of Florentino Ariza, with whom he lives in her notions and pawn shop. She is the one who advises her son in his negotiations with the world and with Fermina Daza. Generally her advice is wise. She balances him with her street savvy, because Florentino is a dreamer. When she loses her mind in old age, she gives away all the money and jewels she had saved in her lifetime to the neighborhood children.
Leona Cassiani becomes the one true woman in Florentino’s life, loving him without wanting anything in return. When he meets her on the trolley, he thinks she is a mulatta prostitute. Instead she is a business woman with brains and runs his company for him, letting him look like the boss.
Fermina Daza, one of the main characters, is the beautiful daughter of Lorenzo Daza, brought to the city by her father after her mother’s death to find her a rich husband. She is educated at the expensive Catholic Academy for this purpose but is expelled for reading love letters in class. Something of a rebel by nature, she is drawn to Florentino’s unconventional and romantic world of passion. She is enraptured by his secret letters for two years, until she grows up and sees he is unsuitable for her. Fermina is always more comfortable in the country in the world of her mother’s relatives who are open and joyous. She also flowers in Paris in her early marriage with its freedoms. She is most miserable trapped in a repressive upper-class marriage in South America and suffers the extinction of her passion and personality until her husband dies. Florentino brings her back to life with his letters and lovemaking on the river voyage. She is associated with the natural world and the innocence of children and animals. Her in-laws criticize her lower-class habits and freedom, but she remains loyal to her husband, Dr. Juvenal Urbino, until his death, only taking a lover in her seventies.
Lorenzo Daza is Fermina’s gross and crude father, with the twisted eye and tongue, a mule trader who makes money illegally, through arms sales and counterfeit money. He is drunk and overweight and heavy-handed with his daughter, wanting her to make a good social match. He pushes his daughter into a marriage with Dr. Juvenal Urbino after separating her from Florentino. He then takes advantage of his son-in-law’s name in his shady deals.
Aunt Escol·stica Daza
Aunt Escol·stica is Lorenzo’s sister who becomes a companion and foster mother to Fermina Daza after her own mother’s death. She is thrown out by her brother, Lorenzo Daza, for fostering the love affair between Florentino and his daughter.
Don Leo is Florentino’s uncle who owns the River Company of the Caribbean. He lets his nephew work his way up from the bottom of the company and eventually leaves the company to him. An amateur singer, he is said to look like Nero.
Don Pius V Loayza
Don Pius is Florentino Ariza’s father who does not recognize him officially or marry his mother to legitimize his birth. He is part of the ship-owner family that runs the River Company of the Caribbean, which Florentino will eventually run himself. He died of colic at the age of thirty.
Barbara Lynch is one of Dr. Urbino’s patients, a mulatta and Doctor of Theology, daughter of a black Protestant minister, a twenty-eight-year-old divorcee, who becomes Urbino’s mistress.
Widow Nazaret is the first of Florentino’s many lovers after he returns to the city. His mother sends her to him hoping he will marry her, but they both prefer their freedom.
Gala Placidia is a black servant from the old slave quarters, who becomes the Daza housekeeper after Fermina’s aunt leaves.
Rosalba is the name of the woman Florentino believes took his virginity on the boat during the trip after Fermina refused him. He could not see the woman, and she was a stranger. He only hears her name called out by someone else. He romanticizes her ever after.
Jeremiah de Saint-Amour
Jeremiah de Saint-Amour is the disabled Caribbean refugee (and criminal fugitive) who is Urbino’s close friend and favorite opponent at chess. He kills himself on Pentecost of his sixtieth year in fear of old age. He has a Haitian mistress who loyally stands by him. Dr. Urbino finds his body only hours before his own death.
Diego Samaritano is the Captain of the New Fidelity, the steamship Florentino and Fermina take together in their old age as they find love at the end of their lives. He helps them by hoisting the cholera flag so they can be alone on the return trip. He is truly a good Samaritan, like his name.
Hildebranda S·nchez is Fermina’s cousin, an independent woman, who becomes her confidante and friend through the years, always favoring her love affair with Florentino.
Lotario Thugut is Florentino’s first mentor in love. Lotario is a German telegraph operator who teaches him Morse Code. He likes women and eventually buys the hotel that is a brothel, where Florentino has a room. Corpulent and bullnecked, he looks like St. Nicholas.
Dr. Juvenal Urbino
Dr Juvenal Urbino de la Calle is the husband of Fermina Daza, one of the three main characters. He is a medical doctor, whose father before him was a doctor, dying in a cholera epidemic as he tried to save the people. Juvenal Urbino trained in Paris, a man of science and progress, dedicated to preventing cholera through modern health practice. He applies European knowledge to his homeland, helping it to modernize. In his native city, he is a Liberal and dedicated to public reforms, elevating the standards of public health and culture. Although devoted to science and reason, he remains a devout Catholic, clinging to the church out of fear the older he gets. As one of the old and distinguished families in the city, he is used to getting his way and to being in charge. When courting Fermina Daza he pushes her with all his prestige. He marries her, a woman in a class beneath him, but does not make a wrong choice. Fermina is a social ornament and partner in his endeavors. His affair with Barbara Lynch creates both a breach with his wife and a wound to be healed together in their old age. As he dies, he tells her how much she has meant to him. Urbino’s line is dying out, for his son has no children, and his daughter has no sons.
Dr. Marco Aurelio Urbino Daza
Dr. Marco Aurelio Urbino is Fermina Daza’s son, also a doctor, who finally gives in to his mother’s romance with Florentino. He is like his rational and fastidious father, Juvenal Urbino, as he pronounces that the world would be better off without old people.
Ofelia is Fermina’s married daughter from New Orleans whom she throws out of her house for insulting Florentino Ariza.
AmÈrica VicuÒa is a fourteen-year-old relative of Florentino’s given into his guardianship while she attends school. He seduces her, and when he drops her after Fermina becomes available, she commits suicide.
Olimpia Zuleta is a married woman, whose husband cuts her throat when he finds out about her affair with Florentino Ariza.