When Esperanza wakes up the next morning, she thinks she can hear Papa and the others singing to her—but as she rises up out of her dreams, she realizes that she is alone in her parents’ bed, and recalls the horrible events of the previous evening. After Alfonso returned home with Papa’s body, he told Esperanza and Mama that Papa and his vaqueros had been ambushed by bandits, who’d killed them and stolen their boots, saddles, and horses.
Esperanza’s fear about the bandits came true. Papa, as a wealthy rancher and landowner, was a prime target for the bandits—though whether they were motivated by simple greed or revolutionary retribution can never be known.
Esperanza wraps a shawl around her shoulders and goes downstairs to find the house totally empty. There is a knock on the front door—it is Señor Rodriguez, Marisol’s father and a rancher on a neighboring piece of land. When Esperanza opens the door for him, he happily explains that Papa has ordered some papayas from his farm for the fiesta today. Esperanza breaks down in tears as she tells Señor Rodriguez—one of Papa’s oldest friends—that her father is dead. Hortensia appears and puts her arms around Esperanza, comforting her as she sobs.
Esperanza must relive the pain of her father’s death over and over again as news of his passing spreads throughout the town.
Papa’s funeral masses last for three full days, and the ranch is full of people who have come from far and wide to pay their respects. Each night, however, the house empties, and Esperanza, Mama, and Abuelita are left alone to comfort one another through their lonely tears. One morning, Mama urges Esperanza to open her birthday gifts. Though Esperanza receives many beautiful things, the only gift she has any interest in is Papa’s—a porcelain doll in a fine white lace dress.
Esperanza’s shiny gifts have lost all their luster—she hardly cares about the beautiful things she receives, and wants only to cling to the gift that brings her closer to her memories of Papa.
In the days after the funeral, Marco and Luis come by the house every day to hole up in Papa’s study and “take care of the family business.” One day, a lawyer comes by to settle Papa’s estate. Esperanza cannot keep up with all the talk of loans, property, and investments, and as her mind and eyes wander, she sees that Tío Luis is wearing Papa’s belt buckle. Esperanza begins crying angry tears, sensing that something is terribly wrong.
Tío Luis donning Papa’s belt buckle shows two things: it demonstrates that Luis wishes to replace Papa as head of the ranch (and possibly head of the family), and that he may even have had a hand in his death.
The lawyer informs Ramona that though Sixto left the house and the yearly income from the grapes to her and Esperanza, the land—not usually left behind to women—has been given to Luis, the banker on Sixto’s loans. Luis slides a piece of paper across the desk and offers to purchase the ranch house for Ramona. When she looks at the amount he has offered her, Ramona scoffs—she knows the house is worth twenty times his offer. Luis admits that he predicted Ramona would say no, and now offers her a “solution” to her situation: he proposes that the two of them get married. Luis tells Ramona that together they could be a “very powerful couple”—he has been thinking of campaigning for governor.
Luis’s true motivations at last become known. Whether or not he was behind Papa’s death, he wants to take advantage of Ramona and Esperanza’s loss in order to bolster his own personal wealth and public image. The vulture-like Luis has perhaps had designs on his brother’s property—and wife—for years, and has at last seized his opportunity to take control of both.
After a pause, Mama says that she is offended by Luis’s offer, and Luis’s face “harden[s.]” He tells Ramona that she will regret her decision—her house is now on his property, and he “can make things difficult” for her and Esperanza. After Luis and Marco leave, the lawyer advises Ramona to be careful—Luis is a “devious, dangerous man.” Ramona, however, tells the lawyer to deliver a message to Luis: that she will “never, ever” change her mind about marrying him.
Though Ramona is aware of Luis’s threats—and his power within the community—she stands staunchly by her decision and refuses to relent to bullying.
That evening, Mama, Abuelita, Esperanza, Hortensia, and Alfonso discuss what they should do. Abuelita has money in the bank—though Luis would probably prevent her from taking it out. Esperanza suggests they borrow money from their friends the Rodriguezes, but Alfonso warns her that Luis and Marco are “powerful and corrupt,” and will make things “difficult” for anyone in the community who tries to help the Ortegas. As the conversation goes around “in circles,” Esperanza goes out to the rose garden to be alone.
Though Ramona is a strong woman, she lives in a society that disadvantages her, in spite of her husband’s wealth and property. As she faces down the options in front of her, she realizes that Luis was right—he can indeed make things difficult for her. The painful conversation makes Esperanza’s head spin, and she excuses herself to the rose garden to get away from the pain.
After a little while, Miguel comes outside to sit with her. It is the first time they’ve been alone or even talked since Papa’s death. Miguel points out which roses belong to Esperanza, and which ones belong to him—when they were little, Papa planted special variations for each of them that have now grown into large, tangled bushes.
Papa’s roses—a symbol of hope and rebirth—have blossomed over the years as Miguel and Esperanza have grown older. This shows that they have flourished separately but alongside one another.
Miguel confides in Esperanza that he and his family are thinking of leaving for the United States to work—there is no room for social advancement in Mexico, and even if Alfonso and Hortensia did try to make a life for themselves on the small piece of land Sixto gave them, Luis would simply take it away. Miguel takes Esperanza’s hand and tells her how sorry he is for her loss, but the embarrassed Esperanza pulls her hand away. As Miguel stands up to leave, he tells her that she was right all along—here in Mexico, they will always “stand on different sides of the river.”
Though Miguel tries to get closer to Esperanza in this scene and have a moment of real connection with her, she is still wary of forming a deeper connection with him. Miguel’s forlorn realization that he and Esperanza are indeed from fundamentally different worlds—despite the fact that they all but grew up in the same house—helps him accept the fact that he and his family will soon be moving away to seek their fortunes in America.
Esperanza goes up to her room, dresses for bed, and looks out her window at the valley below. She whispers to herself that no matter how bad things get, she “won’t ever leave” the ranch. As a breeze lifts a “familiar, pungent smell” onto the wind, she looks down into the courtyard and spots the box Señor Rodriguez delivered on the day of Papa’s death—the papayas inside are now overripe and rotting.
Even though her father is gone, Esperanza still loves her home and the land around it, and is determined to stay forever. The smell of the overripe papayas, though, symbolizes that a sweet thing is about to turn sour.