Six years later, Esperanza—now nearly thirteen—carefully accepts a sharp knife from the hands of her Papa and does the honor of cutting the first cluster of grapes from where it hangs heavy on the vine to announce the start of grapes season. It is August, and everyone who lives and works on El Rancho de las Rosas is gathered on the field—Esperanza’s family, their servants, the cattle-wranglers, or vaqueros, and the field-workers, or campesinos.
This passage places Esperanza at the center of everyone’s attention. It shows that she is the apple of her father’s eye, allowed to perform ritual honors to the congratulations of all her parents’ employees. Esperanza feels joyful and beloved in this moment.
Esperanza cuts the grapes from the vine and passes them to Papa, who kisses them and holds them aloft for all to see. He declares that it is harvest time, and the campesinos start their work throughout the vineyard. Esperanza runs into the arms of her loving Papa and Mama, Ramona, and declares that this is her favorite time of year—not only is it the start of the grape harvest, but in a few weeks, it will be her thirteenth birthday.
The harvest time, a time of bounty for the ranch, is also a time of bounty for Esperanza personally as she looks forward to her birthday and all the treats, attention, and affection it will bring her.
Esperanza knows that on her birthday there will be a large fiesta, or party, and that her best friend Marisol Rodriguez will come over with her family to celebrate. Any time Esperanza and Marisol get together, they daydream aloud together about their futures: their Quinceañeras, or debutante parties, which will be held when they’re fifteen years old, and the suitors who will court them soon after. Secretly, Esperanza hopes that even if she does marry, she can live at El Rancho de las Rosas forever—she cannot “imagine living anywhere [else.] Or with any fewer servants. Or without being surrounded by the people who adore her.”
Though Esperanza enjoys daydreaming about the future to some extent, her reticence to picture herself ever moving away from her parents’ ranch shows just how attached she is to this part of her life—she is so happy that she never wants to leave, grow, or change. This of course foreshadows the fact that things are about to change drastically for Esperanza very soon.
Three weeks later, Esperanza is in Papa’s rose garden, picking flowers for the fiesta. Papa has promised to meet her there. When she bends down to pick a large red bloom, a “vicious thorn” pricks her thumb, and she begins bleeding. Esperanza knows that a prick from a thorn is a bad omen, but tries to ignore the “premonition.” As she carefully clips the rose and adds it to her basket, she notices that the sun is setting. Papa always comes home from working with the vaqueros before sundown, and Esperanza wonders where he could be.
Though roses are primarily a simple of hope, regrowth, and rebirth throughout the novel, Esperanza’s prick in this passage is also a harbinger of bad things to come. The full-blooming roses represent the apex, or highest point, of Esperanza’s joy and affluence; she is about to fall from grace, just as the ripe blooms are about to wither and die.
Tomorrow is Esperanza’s birthday, and she tries to distract herself with happy thoughts of the attention and affection that will be lavished on her throughout the day. She can’t wait to be awoken at sunrise by her family and servants serenading her with Las Mañanitas, the birthday song, or to run downstairs afterwards and open her gifts. She knows she’ll have linens from Mama and a beautiful porcelain doll from Papa—he gets her one every single year.
Esperanza thrives on attention and affection, and uses the promise of a day that is all about celebrating her to try and hold off the nervous feelings she’s having as a result of Papa’s absence and the rose’s bad omen.
Esperanza heads inside—her thumb is still bleeding. When she shows it to her mother, Mama says, “Bad luck,” but Esperanza knows that bad luck could simply mean a small spill or accident. Esperanza can tell, though, that Mama has noticed Papa’s absence too, and senses that she is worried. Esperanza and Mama are both aware that though it is 1930 and the revolution in Mexico has been over for a long time, there is “still resentment against the large landowners.” Even though Papa is generous and has given land to many of his workers, Esperanza knows that the bandits who roam the valley don’t know such things.
This passage sets up one of the book’s central preoccupations: wealth, privilege, and class. Esperanza and her family are wealthy in a very poor country torn apart by fighting and revolution: to many, her family and people like them are the enemy. Though Esperanza knows that her father and mother are good people, activists and revolutionaries see only their cause and the suffering of those they are fighting for, and see anyone wealthy as inherently evil.
In the study, Esperanza’s grandmother, her Abuelita, calls Esperanza to her for a crocheting lesson. Abuelita is a frail but distinguished woman who commands the respect—but also the affection—of all who meet her. When Abuelita asks Esperanza what happened to her thumb, Esperanza tells her that a rose pricked her. Abuelita sagely replies, “There is no rose without thorns.” Esperanza knows her Abuelita means, really, that “there [is] no life without difficulties.”
Abuelita is full of wisdom and patience, and urges Esperanza not to fret about her injury or the bad omen: sometimes, Abuelita says, bad things will happen, and they are beyond anyone’s control.
Abuelita instructs Esperanza in crocheting, explaining that she must make “ten stitches up to the top of the mountain” and then “nine stitches down to the bottom of the valley.” Esperanza is dismayed by her own poor crocheting skills, but Abuelita comforts her and reminds her that she should not be “afraid to start over.”
The housemaid Hortensia comes in with a plate of sandwiches for Abuelita, Esperanza, and Mama, and urges them not to worry—her husband Alfonso and son Miguel have ridden out to the edge of the ranch to search for Papa, and she is certain they’ll bring him home soon. Alfonso is the boss of all the field-workers and Papa’s “close friend and companion.”
Though Hortensia and Alfonso—and their son Miguel—are in the Ortegas’ employ, they genuinely care about them, and are their good friends. This tension between employment and family will figure heavily in the novel as it progresses.
Miguel is Hortensia and Alfonso’s sixteen-year-old son, and he and Esperanza have been friends all their lives. Esperanza is frequently jealous of Miguel because he gets to go out to the fields with Papa each day. When she was little, Esperanza harbored dreams of marrying Miguel. Now that she is older, though, she believes that a “deep river” runs between them—she is the ranch owner’s daughter, and Miguel is the housekeeper’s son. One day recently, Esperanza explained this to Miguel, and since then they have barely spoken. Each time they see each other he only nods and calls her Mi reina, or “my queen.”
Though Esperanza has feelings for Miguel, she is aware of the class divide between them, and the perils of crossing it. Esperanza’s conception of the “river” between her and Miguel will haunt both of them as the novel goes on—and as they find themselves struggling to figure out whether the river’s existence is enough to stand in the way of their friendship after all.
Hours later, there is still no sign of Alfonso, Miguel, and Papa. A pair of riders approach, but it is only Tío Luis and Tío Marco—Papa’s older stepbrothers. Luis is the bank president, and Marco is the town mayor. Esperanza does not like either of her uncles, and knows her Mama doesn’t either. Luis tells Ramona that he brings with him bad news, and holds out Papa’s special engraved silver belt buckle. Luis tells Ramona and Esperanza that he and Marco will wait with them “in [their] time of need,” and Esperanza is offput by this sudden show of kindness from her uncles—they have never been particularly nice to her or her mother.
The arrival of Luis and Marco is an oddity rather than a comfort. Esperanza senses something off about the way the men are behaving, cluing readers into the fact that they, too, should be suspicious of the stepbrothers’ motives.
Abuelita, Hortensia, and Mama light candles and pray for Papa’s safe return. Esperanza continues crocheting and tries to think of the exciting celebrations tomorrow, but worry keeps intruding. At last, Mama sees a lantern approaching out the window—she runs out to the courtyard, and soon a wagon comes into view. As the wagon comes closer, it is clear that Miguel and Alfonso are driving it—and that there is a body in the back, covered in a blanket. Alfonso is crying. Mama faints, and Esperanza feels herself release a “tormented cry” before falling to her knees.
Alfonso and Miguel return with Papa’s body, setting in motion the waves of anger, grief, and loss that will calibrate the rest of the novel. Just hours ago, everything in Esperanza’s life was perfect—now, there is the chance that she will lose everything.