Patria is crazy with grief when she first comes to Mamá’s after losing everything, but soon she finds herself able to bear her “cross.” She keeps repeating a hopeful verse from the Bible: “And on the third day He rose again.” But instead of “rising again,” after three days the SIM come for Mate. It will be three months before Patria sees her sisters, husband, or son.
Patria’s vivid Biblical language now moves from hope and righteous anger to despair and abandonment. She repeats a Bible verse to herself just like Minerva repeats a poem, or Dedé a memory.
Patria slowly recovers from her grief, but sometimes she breaks down and screams “I’ve been good!” at the sky until Dedé comes and prays with her. It is strange living in Mamá’s new house, as everything is the same but all rearranged. In the hallway she has the required portrait of Trujillo, but now it is a picture of El Jefe in his old age, looking fatter and worn out from doing “all the bad things in life.”
Patria also finds a strength and courage within herself, and when this breaks Dedé is there to support her. The portrait of Trujillo returns as an important symbol. Mamá now hates the dictator just like her daughters do, and he no longer hangs next to Jesus’s picture.
Patria is still used to having the picture of Jesus next to the portrait of Trujillo, so sometimes she accidentally says a prayer to El Jefe as she passes. Soon she starts to do this on purpose – she wants something from Trujillo (her family’s safety), and the only way she knows how to ask is through prayer. She also hopes that if she treats El Jefe like a worthy person, he might start acting nicer. Patria even sets up some flowers under the portrait. She prays to him for her family’s safety, and offers herself as a “sacrificial lamb” in their stead.
This is the culmination of the symbol of the portrait, as Trujillo is both explicitly connected to God – the religious Patria even prays to him like a Catholic icon – while also being portrayed as a flawed human being. Trujillo has truly become ubiquitous at this point, the face of oppression in the Dominican Republic, and in this way he is like an evil God, but he is also a single man and personal antagonist of the Mirabals.
Patria prays to the real God too, but she notes that she doesn’t offer herself as a sacrifice to him – only to Trujillo. She knows what El Jefe wants from women, but she is afraid of what God might ask of her. She has children, and she doesn’t want to die yet.
Patria’s “prayers” to Trujillo are more like an imaginary bargain – she is willing to compromise her own honor to save her family’s lives.
Captain Peña visits the house regularly, and sometimes he brings candy for the children. Once he tells Patria that Pedrito was offered his freedom if he would divorce his Mirabal wife and pledge his support to Trujillo. Pedrito refused. Peña laughs at Patria’s distress and then leaves. Minou buries the candy he gave them as “bad candy.”
The Mirabals now seem to be official enemies of state, as Pedrito had the option of cutting them off and then being freed. Peña is an example of a sexist bully given great power by a dictatorship.
That is the only news the family gets, until one day the girls, the men, and Nelson appear in the newspaper on a list of 372 detained prisoners. This is a relief, as at least they haven’t been “disappeared.” Patria goes out and cuts new flowers to put under Trujillo’s portrait.
Patria’s worry was that her family would never be actually recorded as prisoners, but would be tortured and killed without officially entering the system. Trujillo seems to have granted part of her prayers by not doing so.
One Sunday the family goes to church and the new priest (Padre de Jesús has been arrested) condemns the Trujillo regime from the pulpit, saying that it is a sin against God to take away human rights. Patria is inspired and moved, and she finally offers herself to God as a “sacrificial lamb” in exchange for Nelson’s life.
The church finally takes a stance on Trujillo after 30 years. Patria now has the real support of her religious family, so as thanks for this she offers herself to God – even to die, if need be.
After that the SIM starts bothering the church, sending spies to attend services. Patria learns that this is happening all over the country, as the Catholic leaders have finally decided to speak out against Trujillo. Someone tries to assassinate the archbishop, and at Patria’s church some SIM-paid prostitutes come in and act out obscenely. The next Sunday someone empties the latrines into the confessional. Noris stays to clean up, and Patria sees that her daughter has finally grown religious in these trying times.
Trujillo makes enemies with his war on the church, as the country is mostly Catholic. In the next few months more and more organizations and countries will turn against the regime. Trujillo’s megalomania and aspirations to godhood now turn against him, and he seems like a devil instead of the earthly counterpart to the Christian God.
One day Patria gets a surprise visit from Margarita, her illegitimate half-sister. Patria is wary of her, but Margarita brings her a note from Mate in prison. She says that her cousin works in the prison and delivered it for Mate. Mate requests some medicine, food, and news of the children. Margarita then introduces herself, and Patria realizes that she works at the pharmacy Patria always goes to. Patria sees that God is working “several revolutions at the same time,” and one of them has to do with humbling Patria’s pride.
Patria, like all the sisters except Minerva, is still ashamed and angry at the existence of her half-sisters. It is then ironic that Margarita becomes the vessel of the sisters’ salvation. We now see Patria’s point of view of the girls’ prison experience, but later we will see Mate’s version.
That night Patria, Mamá, and Dedé assemble a care package for the girls. After Mamá goes to bed, Patria talks to Dedé about Margarita. She asks how Dedé is doing, and Dedé says that things are better with Jaimito. Suddenly she starts crying, and vaguely says that she might have been happier with someone else.
In this time of stress Dedé has lost her ability to accommodate everyone and keep up her smiles. She is still being more assertive with Jaimito, though.
The house is constantly surrounded by spies, who are supposed to be secret but constantly leave traces of their existence or cough next to the window. Mamá leaves out a trashcan and ashtray so they stop littering in her yard. One night she dumps dirty bathwater on their heads from the window. The spies are supposed to be secret, so they can’t complain. After that they keep a more respectful distance from the house.
Mamá keeps getting more rebellious and courageous as the regime grows more personally antagonistic to her and her family. With these everyday scenes and rebellions the constant spying seem less sinister.
Patria goes to Margarita’s pharmacy and delivers the care package for the prisoners. The next week Mamá and Dedé drive by the prison and see a towel they sent to Mate hanging in a window. That same day there is news of some minors and women being pardoned, and everyone feels hopeful about the sisters and Nelson. There is also news that Peña is the new owner of Pedrito’s family land. Mamá starts to accuse him of stealing, but then cuts herself off, as they fear their house is bugged.
Peña sometimes seems almost sympathetic, but then he does something like confiscate Pedrito’s beloved land. He is just a man, and also such a hypocrite that he is always willing to benefit himself. Patria’s greatest fears are still about Nelson, as she is a devoted mother above all else. The Mirabals have spies outside but now are being recorded inside the house as well – they too are being imprisoned in a way.
The next day Patria dresses up and goes to her elderly neighbor’s house – he is a Spaniard named Don Bernardo, who was brought over as part of Trujillo’s campaign to “whiten the race.” He is the only neighbor who doesn’t actively avoid the Mirabals now that they are in trouble with the government. Patria asks him for a ride to Peña’s office in the capital, and Don Bernardo agrees.
Trujillo let in many immigrants from European nations (including Jews during the Holocaust, when most nations turned them away) to try and “whiten the race” of Dominicans. As part of this racial agenda he also discriminated against and even massacred black Haitians.
They reach the capital and Peña lets Patria in immediately. Patria starts crying and asks Peña for help in getting Nelson pardoned. Peña tries to say the matter is out of his hands, and Patria prays to “soften his devil’s heart,” reminding herself that even Peña is a child of God. Peña finally makes a call and passes on Patria’s request. As he talks Patria watches his face, and seems to see the “devil” fall away and the childish, ashamed bully emerge underneath. When he is done Patria thanks him. She says that she has nothing to repay him with, and in this way confirms that she knows he took her land.
This is another important link between religion and dictatorship, as Trujillo (and his servants like Peña) can seem almost supernaturally evil and powerful, but Patria reminds herself that they are just sinful men. Patria isn’t forgiving him in any way, but is trying to look forward to a country after Trujillo, when bullies like Peña must still be treated as humans and Dominicans.
Weeks pass, and the regime starts a war against the church as condemnations of Trujillo keep issuing from the pulpit. Patria keeps praying to the portrait of Trujillo, warning him about fighting against God, as soon he will be dead and in a place where “you don’t make the rules.” There is no news about Nelson, but they get a few more notes from Mate.
Patria simultaneously treats Trujillo as a godlike figure (by praying to him) and tries to think of him as just a bad man, one who will soon have to answer for his crimes to the real God. The church keeps up its stance despite oppression.
One day Peña comes to visit, and Patria recognizes that he is making a peace offering, as he has been having trouble with her land. Mamá locks herself and the children in her room to avoid him, but Patria recognizes that Peña is both “angel and devil, like the rest of us.” Patria flatters him, and he gives her three passes to visit the prisoners. He then hints that Nelson might be pardoned soon, and Patria starts to cry with joy. Peña says that the sisters were offered pardons as well, but they refused to take them. Patria promises to have Peña over for a meal when Nelson is released.
Patria is trying so hard to see Peña as human because he too is her countryman, and they must find a way to somehow reconcile Dominicans if they are ever to build a peaceful country after Trujillo. The sisters have been keeping up their courage and refusing to compromise in prison.
Mamá is overjoyed when she hears the news, but she refuses to have Peña eat a meal in her house. Finally she relents, but Patria knows that they will all cast various spells and say prayers over the “devil’s” stew. Mamá later comes up with a plan: she will invite all the unfriendly neighbors for dinner, knowing that they will refuse, as they want to avoid being seen with the Mirabals. They will then be embarrassed and afraid when they see Peña’s car and realize that they have refused to eat with a captain of SIM. Patria laughs and calls Mamá “la jefa of revenge.”
Mamá has gone from advising her daughters not to make trouble, to antagonizing the SIM in her own ingenious way. Mamá’s change is both amusing and an inspiring example of how Dominicans can potentially move on and change after such a long dictatorship. Mamá becomes like the anti-Trujillo, “la jefa.”
A few days later Peña calls and says that Patria should come to the capital and bring a sponsor on Nelson’s behalf. He asks about his dinner, and Mamá disparages him, but Patria tries to defend him as not so bad. She is worried about what will happen after Trujillo is dead – how the Dominicans will be able to forgive each other for what they allowed to happen.
Patria’s worries are well-founded, as Trujillo is not actually a “devil” and everything won’t automatically get better when he is overthrown. Demonizing one’s opponents is the first step to a worldview like the regime’s.
Jaimito agrees to sponsor Nelson, and the family’s uncle who is friends with Trujillo comes along too. At the last minute Noris demands to come too. They get lost on the way to the capital, but eventually make it to the National Palace. Patria suddenly regrets bringing Noris along, worried that she will catch Trujillo’s eye. As she walks down the corridor, Patria feels like she is on the way to the Discovery Day Dance, and “nothing bad had happened yet.”
Noris is now becoming a young woman, and in his old age Trujillo keeps picking out younger and younger women for his affairs. Patria’s déjà vu is similar to Dedé’s first memory of the family in the yard, an innocent time before the Mirabals’ real troubles began.
They come to a parlor full of journalists, and Trujillo enters. Patria expects to feel more sympathetic towards him after months of praying to his portrait, but instead he seems more evil than ever. She wonders if he is the devil incarnate, as Jesus was God incarnate. Trujillo sits down and lectures the prisoners’ families. He interrupts himself to flirt with Noris when he sees her.
Finally the prisoners enter, and Patria falls to her knees when she sees Nelson, who is bruised and skinny. Patria thanks God for delivering her son, but is reminded of what she promised God in return. In the paper the next day the front page is a picture of Noris giving her hand to Trujillo, with the headline “Young Offender Softens El Jefe’s Heart.”
Patria has gotten her first prayer answered, but now it is implied that she will have to sacrifice her own life for Nelson’s. We see how the regime’s propaganda machine spins everything in Trujillo’s favor.