Gertrudis and Tita are catching up while making cream fritters, which are Gertrudis’ favorite desert from childhood. Seeing that Tita is distracted, Gertrudis asks her what’s wrong. Tita breaks down crying, revealing that she is pregnant and that she is afraid that “the truth” will destroy Rosaura. Gertrudis is unfazed, and replies that “The simple truth is that the truth does not exist; it all depends on a person’s point of view.” She explains that Tita can view herself as the sinner challenging Rosaura’s union, or that she can see Rosaura as the long-running interceptor between Tita’s true love with Pedro. Gertrudis mentions Tita’s pregnancy when she sees Pedro approaching, forcing Tita to go outside and tell Pedro of her pregnancy.
Here Gertrudis clearly describes the moral relativism that runs throughout the novel and that is crucial to understanding both Rosaura and Tita’s plights. For Gertrudis, the definition of sin is relative to the values and interests of the beholder. Society gives Rosaura the right to claim Pedro as her legal husband—but Gertrudis contends that as his true love, Tita’s relationship with Pedro is more sacred. Her nuanced view doesn’t dismiss Rosaura’s suffering entirely, but also reminds Tita of Rosaura’s agency in creating the sisters’ unfortunate situation.
At hearing the news, Pedro happily suggests they run away together. Tita tells Pedro they must think about Rosaura and Esperanza, whom Pedro had momentarily forgotten about. They decide to think it over and talk again after the troops leave. Pedro feels relieved that whatever they decide, Tita won’t be marrying John after all.
Pedro’s ability to temporarily forget about his existing wife and child contrasts with Tita’s deep sense of moral responsibility. Unlike Tita, who empathizes even with Rosaura, Pedro doesn’t seem to feel any remorse at having ruined Tita’s prospective marriage.
While Tita rests upstairs, Gertrudis tries to finish the syrup for the fritters. Unfamiliar with cooking, she can’t read the recipe and commands her sergeant Treviño to help her. The novel then flashes back to the story of Treviño’s loyalty, which is rooted in his love for Gertrudis. Once, she ordered him to find a traitor she knew was hiding amongst her troop. Her only knowledge was that the traitor had a red mole on his inner buttocks. Treviño befriended several prostitutes to help him identify the man, who he eventually caught. Normally a gentleman, Treviño brutally killed the man, who it turned out Treviño had been hunting for years for raping his mother and sister. Treviño remained dedicated to Gertrudis, even after her marriage to Juan Alejandrez. Terrified of disappointing her, he struggles to make the syrup, which they proudly bring to Tita for her approval.
Gertrudis’ domination of men on the battlefield extends into other areas of life. Rather than being repelled by Gertrudis’ authority or her brashness, Treviño responds to her with a mix of fear and love. In most instances of male/female dynamics within the novel, the men have more physical and social power than the women. Many of the stories about Gertrudis, however, provide a completely different narrative about male-female dynamics. Even though Treviño is clever and powerful, he willingly submits to Gertrudis. By ordering him to cook and through his compliance, they complete a moment of traditional gender role reversal.
Tita hears Pedro drunkenly singing to her from outside, accompanied by Juan on the guitar. Tita panics, worried Rosaura will hear. The ghost of Mama Elena appears, shaming Tita and telling her to run away. Tita demands that she leave her in peace, rebuking Mama Elena’s hypocrisy. Mama Elena reprimands her, saying, “Who do you think you are?” Tita replies, “I know who I am! A person who has a perfect right to live her life as she pleases.” Mama Elena’s ghost dwindles into a tiny light and shoots out of Tita’s window. Tita’s belly then magically deflates, releasing her menstrual flow. Tita realizes that she wasn’t pregnant after all. Outside Tita’s window, the tiny light turns into a firecracker, which crashes into an oil lamp and catches Pedro on fire. Gertrudis stomps out the fire and the men carry Pedro upstairs. Rosaura runs to him, but he calls for Tita. Rosaura runs to her room. Tita stays with Pedro all night as Nacha’s voice tells her how to remedy his burns.
Tita’s guilt conjures for her the most punishing figure from her childhood. Because Tita accepts the guilt Mama Elena instilled in her, she is unable to shake the “ghost” left by her trauma. Tita’s guilt is so powerful that her body creates a phantom pregnancy as punishment. By saying that she knows “who she is,” however, Tita experiences a critical moment of self-realization. To know herself is to recognize her agency and personhood apart from Mama Elena. When Tita stops believing Mama Elena, she escapes the mental grasp that Mama Elena left on her, and the pregnancy disappears. Fire, a symbol of love and passion, backfires on Pedro in a last act of revenge from Mama Elena.
The next day, Gertrudis, Tita, and Juan share a warm goodbye as the troop leaves to attack Zacatecas. Gertrudis gives Tita advice for preventing future pregnancies. Moments after they leave, another carriage pulls up. John Brown has returned, with flowers for Tita. He embraces her, but he can tell that she something “inside” her has changed.
John may sense Tita’s loss of virginity, which has changed something “inside” her. Just as Tita can no longer hide her true self from herself, she can no longer hide her feelings for Pedro. Whether she stays with John or not, she cannot hide her newfound sense of agency.