Though there are many cars in Santa Fe, things have changed little back at the ranch. Buster and Dorothy have children, Mom seems frail, and Helen is working as a clerk in Los Angeles. Patches is still alive and well despite being seventeen years old, and Lily relishes being able to ride a horse for the first time since leaving for Chicago. Mom still worries about Lily finding a husband, especially now that she has already been married once. Lily knows she no longer wants to live on the ranch and leaves quickly for Flagstaff.
The automobile is a symbol of modern technology, and its increased presence in Santa Fe again hints at modernity as an unstoppable force. Mom’s suggestion that Lily’s value has been decreased by her first marriage would be in keeping with prevailing attitudes of the time. Though Lily remains connected to horses, she now knows she needs more than the ranch can offer.
Lily loves college and feels more focused than her younger classmates, but worries about paying the next year’s tuition. The college president, Grady Gammage, tells Lily that Red Lake is again looking for a teacher and is willing to take her back, despite only having a year of college. Lily readily accepts and makes the long journey with Patches for the third time. This time she notices more cars on the road. Red Lake is also more developed than it had been fifteen years earlier, and has an automobile garage with a gas pump. The schoolhouse now has a “teacherage” for Lily to sleep in.
Lily continues to be extremely self-reliant and dedicated to making her dreams of teaching a reality. The presence of cars on the road and the automobile garage in Red Lake again hint at ever-encroaching modern technology and the quickly changing landscape of the Southwest.
Lily is strict with her students, reflecting that, like horses, it is easier to gain their respect from the outset. When she goes to pick up her first paycheck, a couple of local deputies, including a man called Rooster, tell her she needs to ride the ornery mustang in the neighboring corral. Lily knows they think of her as a fancy school teacher from the city and decides to play along, pretending to know little about riding. Lily senses that the mustang is “just another half-broke horse.” To the shock of the deputies, she is easily able to get him under control while she rides.
Lily’s teaching draws from the lessons of the natural world, as well as the strict examples set by Mother Albertina and Dad. Her connection to horses helps her both in the classroom and again when she defies sexist expectations of women’s behavior by easily breaking the mustang.
Word spreads about Lily breaking the mustang, and her help with horses becomes sought after in Red Lake. Rooster follows her around like a faithful sidekick and encourages Lily to enter the mustang, named Red Devil, in local races, some of which Lily wins. She also plays poker with Rooster and his friends, and becomes known as “the mustang-breaking, poker-playing, horse-race-winning schoolmarm of Coconino County.” One day Rooster asks Lily to teach him to read and write. She starts tutoring Rooster on Saturday afternoons before their poker nights.
Lily continues to ignore societal prescriptions regarding how women should behave, and regularly engages in typically masculine pursuits. Rooster’s illiteracy suggests the continued isolation and poverty of Red Lake. Lily’s tutoring Rooster also echoes that fact that Dad tutored Lily as a child, and underscores the importance of education for getting ahead in life.
Lily buys a red silk shirt to wear at the horse races so spectators can recognize her, and the shirt becomes her trademark. During a bigger race than usual, the sound of a backfiring car startles Red Devil and Lily is thrown from the horse. She gets back on and finishes the race anyway. This impresses a man named Jim Smith, who Rooster says owns the town’s new garage. Jim says he can teach Lily to drive.
Lily breaks traditional gender roles and proudly establishes an identity of her own instead. The car startling Red Devil is a literal manifestation of old and new technologies colliding. Jim owning the garage evidences that he, like Lily, is willing to embrace modern technology.
Jim teaches Lily to drive on a Ford Model T. Lily realizes she loves cars even more than horses because they don’t “have a mind of their own” and “obey” their driver. She quickly gets the hang of it and loves driving around town, noting that the horses need to get used to the sound because the automobile is not going anywhere.
As the first affordable commercially-produced car, the Model T cemented the automobile’s status as a symbol of modernity in the early twentieth century. Lily embraces modernity, and her assertion that the horses need to get used to cars echoes her earlier thought that the only way to deal with the future is to climb on board.
It soon becomes clear that Jim is courting Lily, and though she is not interested in marriage, she admires his work ethic and lack of pretension. Although he does not practice Mormonism, Jim was born to the famous Mormon named Lot Smith, who had eight wives and fifty-two children; as such, Jim learned to fend for himself early on. His first wife died in the influenza outbreak ten years earlier. Despite being twenty-years older than Lily, Jim is still observant, calm, and dependable, and Lily enjoys spending time with him.
Jim exhibits many of the characteristics Lily has valued throughout the novel, and mirrors her own strength, self-reliance, and lack of self-pity. His substance contrasts with Ted’s shallow flashiness. Even his Mormon background will prove useful later in the story when Lily begins to teach in the remote Mormon town of Mainstreet.
Helen has been writing to Lily about her life in Hollywood and the series of men she has been seeing. One day Lily receives a letter in which Helen says she is pregnant, and that the father abandoned her when she did not want to get a back-alley abortion. Once her factory job discovers she is pregnant, however, Helen knows she will be fired. Fearing the danger of an abortion, Lily tells Helen to have the baby and stay with her at the Red Lake teacherage until she figures out what to do.
Helen’s story echoes Lupe’s, who also got pregnant out of wedlock, and again echoes the fact that women of Lily’s time faced harsh consequences for deviating from accepted social behavior. Men, meanwhile, were able to get away with treating women poorly. The danger—and illegality—of abortion at the time meant women’s choices were extremely limited.
Lily is shocked at how frail and jittery Helen appears upon her arrival at Red Lake. Helen seems distracted, and, still convinced she can make it as an actress, worries what having a child will do to her figure. She seems unable to accept the gravity of her situation. She takes a liking to Lily’s crimson shirt, but when she tries it on Lily sees that her pregnancy is beginning to show. Lily thinks about how to find Helen a husband in the town.
Lily prides herself on being practical and taking stock of the world as it is, which is why Helen’s seeming inability to accept her situation worries her. Lily’s shirt represents her independence, but Helen is now at the mercy of a deeply sexist world. For women of the time, finding a husband would have been the best way to achieve a sense of security—but, as Mom told Lily after her first marriage, having been with a man now makes Helen “damaged goods.”
The sisters begin attend the local Catholic Church, where the grim Father Cavanaugh realizes that Helen is pregnant and unmarried. He forces her to make a confession and then tells Helen that she must go to a home for “wayward women.” The whole town now knows about Helen’s pregnancy, and treats both sisters with contempt. Mr. MacIntosh comes to the teacherage and says that to uphold moral standards at the school, Helen needs to leave.
Though Lily maintains faith in God, organized religion is never presented as a lasting source of comfort in the story. Both Father Cavanaugh and Mr. MacIntosh represent the narrow misogyny of the time. The fact that both are in positions of power further underscores how pervasive and inescapable sexism is in Lily’s world.
Lily tries to assure Helen that they will find a way to survive. She insists their parents will understand, and that she will start racing horses on the weekend to provide for Helen and the baby. Helen is inconsolable, though remembering how Lupe’s parents kicked her out and fearing that no man will ever want her again. She says she is not strong enough to make it on her own and feels like giving up, but Lily tells her about all the setbacks in her own life and how she overcame them, echoing Mother Albertina’s words that “when God closes a window he opens a door.”
Lily continues to exhibit the pragmatic, optimistic thinking that has allowed her to carve her own path in a sexist society. Her words echo the importance of falling already established by the novel. Lupe’s story, however, reiterates how difficult Helen’s is also. Women in their world are meant to be submissive and pure, and not everyone has Lily’s strength.
The next day Lily plans to take Helen to the Grand Canyon to put their problems in perspective. Lily goes to get the car, but suddenly is overcome with a sense of dread and the feeling of being choked. She rushes back to the teacherage to discover that Helen has hanged herself.
Lily views nature as cathartic and healing. Her sudden dread suggests the deep connection she has with her sister. Helen’s tragic death reveals the depth of her hopelessness, and, in turn, the depth of society’s ire towards women who stray from certain prescribed behavior.
Father Cavanaugh refuses to let Lily bury Helen in the Catholic cemetery because suicide is a sin. Lily, Jim, and Rooster bury Helen at the top of a hill in Lily’s red silk shirt. Lily believes that the hill is so beautiful that it must be sacred.
The priest is again a source of cruelty rather than comfort. Lily’s independence means she has formulated her own relationship with God, however, and here ties the beauty of the natural world to her conception of religion.