Lily and Jim get much needed dentures when they get to Phoenix, which makes Lily immensely happy. They also buy a big new house and car. Lily loves Phoenix at first, impressed by the many restaurants and stores. They also get their first ever telephone. The children hate Phoenix, however, feeling boxed in by the paved streets and buildings. Soon enough, Lily begins to feel penned in as well. She hates all the rules and restrictions of the road, and when she goes to take more flying lessons, realizes how the “city folks” have “chopped up the sky the same way they had the ground.”
Modern dentistry is another element of technology that Lily is happy to embrace. None of the family can stomach being so far removed from nature, however, which to them represents freedom. The city, on the other hand, is full of seemingly endless rules and meaningless regulations—things for which Lily has never had patience. Despite having ostensibly achieved a high level of success by moving to a big house in a developed area, Lily and her family quickly become miserable.
Jim gets a job as a warehouse manager and Lily as a high school teacher. They also buy other properties to rent out, for the first time “living on the backs of others.” With electricity they can now listen to the radio all day, but that means Lily becomes more exposed to the news. She becomes more aware of crime and worried about her surroundings. She bolts the door, which she never did at the ranch, and sleeps with her revolver under the bed. She notes that on the ranch they worried about the weather, but in the city they worry about themselves.
Not only is the family a step removed from the natural world and all the freedom it entails, but Lily and Jim are also no longer living the self-reliant lifestyle that brought them so much satisfaction. In theory, this should create more free leisure time; in reality, it simply makes both Lily and Jim more anxious and less satisfied with their daily lives.
Air-raids sound through the city every Saturday. When Hiroshima happens, Rosemary is deeply disturbed by the atom bomb and disagrees with Lily that it was for the greater good. Rosemary paints and draws obsessively, which Lily considers her one real talent. While still keeping her promise never to tell her daughter that she is beautiful, Lily enrolls Rosemary in modeling school, but Rosemary insists that all she wants is to be an artist. Lily agrees to pay for art lessons, though she still believes the only ways for women to make a living are as nurses, secretaries, or teachers.
The family is living in Phoenix during World War II. Rosemary’s dedication to her art is only growing stronger, while Lily believes the societal rules for women have yet to change. Lily’s evaluation of the atomic bomb as a force for the greater good reflects her ever-practical, sometimes harsh mindset, while Rosemary’s view is in keeping with her more sensitive nature and care for all living things.
For the first time in her life, Lily does not enjoy teaching. Her wealthier students do not obey her, and no longer being in a one-room school house entails lots of bureaucracy. She laments that there are “more rules for teachers than students.” Jim is also bored at his job behind a desk and misses the connection to nature that comes with ranching.
Lily and Jim continue to feel constrained by city life and distanced from the hands-on hard work that both so deeply value.
When a winter storm hits, the Department of Agriculture knocks on their door to say ranchers are struggling and Jim has been recommended to help. He eagerly travels to help the ranchers in a small plane with a pilot, at one point even jumping with a parachute when there is no place to land. By the time he arrives at the Showtime Ranch, he finds dead cattle frozen by the pond as the men drink coffee by the warmth of the stove inside. He gets them to work. In all he is gone two weeks, and comes back looking tired and thin, but happy.
As Lily predicted, Gaiter and Boots do not know how to properly run a ranch and have made a mess of the property through their ignorance and negligence. Despite the difficult and dangerous nature of the work, it is clear that this—or at least some place similar—is where Jim belongs.
Gaiter calls Jim to offer him his job back managing the ranch, but he and Lily immediately agree that they do not want to have to work for Gaiter. Lily also does not want to work on someone else’s home again. Jim has become a local hero for parachuting out of the plane to save cattle, and Lily notices how women flirt with him. She arrives unannounced at his office one day to find the bookkeeper, Glenda, in his doorway with red lipstick and a push-up bra. Lily becomes worried that he is cheating and enlists Rosemary to spy on him. She follows him at lunch one day, but only finds him eating alone. The next day Jim confronts Lily about her spying. That night they agree they are feeling pent up by the city and want to leave.
City life has caused Lily to grow anxious not only about her own safety, but about her marriage. She takes matters into her own hands, repeating some of the spying behavior she used with Ted, but her fears are unfounded. Despite ostensibly having achieved the American Dream, neither Lily nor Jim—nor, for that matter, their children—is happy in Phoenix. The Smith family is a bunch of half-broke horses who will never be at home away from the freedom of the natural world.