The chapter begins with a recipe for beans with chile Tezcucana style, which Tita is preparing for her dinner with John and his Aunt Mary. Tita is planning to break off her engagement with John, and she feels empty. Chencha has just had a baby, so Tita is alone. She has nursed Pedro for a week while putting off John’s visit. Tita believes Pedro is acting “contrary to the principle that has always governed his treatment of others – his sense of decency.” Pedro demands that she leave John abruptly. Tita explains that John has been very kind, and deserves her delicacy in breaking things off. Upon learning that Tita isn’t pregnant after all, Pedro is convinced that Tita will return to John. Pedro imagines that his burns and infirmity repulse Tita, but she is actually put off by his “selfishness and suspicion.”
Tita is surprised by Pedro’s selfishness because she sees him as normally “decent” to others. Tita’s view, however, may serve as a point of controversy when considering the whole of Pedro’s actions. Pedro’s marriage allowed him to be near Tita, but caused pain to Tita and a lifetime of insecurity for Rosaura. Furthermore, he easily forgot about his wife and daughter when he suggested he and Tita run away in the previous chapter. However, it may also be that Tita is merely referring to Pedro’s manners as decent, rather than to his overall consideration of how his choices affect others.
After Tita sits to eat breakfast, Rosaura comes downstairs. Following a week in her room without eating, Rosaura has lost all her excess weight. Rosaura says they need to talk. Tita says they should begin with discussing how Rosaura stole Tita’s boyfriend. Rosaura tells Tita that given the family tradition, Tita had no right to have a boyfriend. Tita accuses Rosaura of standing in the way of true love. They delve into a bitter fight over who has a right to Pedro. Rosaura swears that she won’t sleep with Pedro again because of his depravity, but that she also won’t abdicate her public role as his wife. She is furious that Tita and Pedro have been openly showing their closeness after Pedro’s burning incident, and threatens Tita never to humiliate her publicly again. Rosaura also forbids Tita from interacting with Esperanza, saying the daughter of a good family shouldn’t be influenced by a “streetwalker.”
The tipping point for Rosaura was the lovers’ public display of intimacy after Pedro was burned, when he rejected Rosaura and called to Tita. For Rosaura, the only thing worse than Pedro and Tita’s affair is the risk of it becoming public, showing how deeply Rosaura values the respect and approval of society. Rosaura and Tita rehash their past, each contending for the role of victim. Through their opposing views, each character comes to represent an opposing set of values. Rosaura values tradition, propriety, and fidelity to the marriage contract. Tita’s perspective, in complete contrast, values individual freedom and true love over the marriage contract.
Tita is furious about Rosaura’s threats to keep her away from Esperanza. She wishes the earth would swallow Rosaura up. She then realizes that she has ripped up all of the tortilla edges from breakfast. She feeds them to the chickens and they begin to peck angrily at each other. Their fury creates a whirlwind. Tita tries to rescue Esperanza’s diapers, but the whirlwind throws her down. The tornado creates a hole in the earth, which swallows most of the chickens. Tita returns inside to stir the beans, which won’t cook. She remembers Nacha saying that tamales made with anger will refuse to cook, and to make them happy you should sing. Tita wonders whether she should abandon Pedro to start a family with John. As she sings a love song, her memories of Pedro come to mind, and the beans open. Happier, she goes to prepare for John’s visit.
Tita and Rosaura magically infuse their rivalry into the breakfast tortillas that become the chickens’ food. Tita’s wish that the earth would swallow Rosaura is also transferred, causing the ground to swallow the chickens up instead. A spectacle of magical realism, this scene creates an apt metaphor for Tita and Rosaura’s fight over Pedro. Though the chickens’ gender isn’t stated, it is common to have many hens and only one rooster, adding to the symbolism of this scene. The messy struggle of loving Pedro causes to Tita to consider marrying John. The fact that she chooses to sing a love song that makes her think only of Pedro, though, proves that he still has her heart.
As Tita brushes her teeth to remove the dirt from the whirlwind, she remembers Jovita, the schoolteacher who had taught her how to make tooth powder. Jovita’s husband died young, leaving her a young widow with a baby. No potential suitors wanted to raise another man’s child, so she stayed unmarried. She was possessed by an ongoing restlessness, which drove her to stay awake all night sweeping the streets. Sometimes trash would stick to her, and people made fun of her. Tita sees the chicken feathers still clinging to her from the hen fight. Tita imagines that she looks like Jovita, and the thought horrifies her. She brushes her hair and cleans herself up, afraid of “becoming another Jovita.”
Tita has identified with the plights of different female role models at different times. The stories that most often move her are those of lost or forbidden love—Nacha lost her fiancée to the cruelty of Mama Elena’s mother, and Mama Elena lost her true love to the cruelty of her parents. Mama Elena is dead now, though, and there is no clear villain figure left. Tita now identifies with Jovita, whose suffering was caused by no villain except a sexist male culture that offers no romantic hopes for women who have already belonged to other men.
John and his Aunt Mary arrive. In English, Aunt Mary praises Tita and her cooking. John asks Tita if something is wrong, but she replies that she doesn’t want to say in front of his aunt. He explains that his aunt is deaf and reads lips, but can’t read them in Spanish. Tita tearfully confesses that she has lost her virginity to another man and therefore can’t marry John. John asks whether Tita still loves him. Tita replies that when he is gone, she thinks she is in love with the “other man,” but when he returns she feels “calm, settled, and at peace.” Aunt Mary mistakes Tita’s tears for happiness. John delivers a speech telling Tita that he doesn’t care about her virginity or infidelity, but that what matters to him is that she choose the man who will make her happiest, whether it is him or Pedro.
Tita uses her infidelity and lost virginity as “reasons” why she can’t marry John. She assumes John will no longer see her as marriage material, thereby transferring the burden of choice onto him. His response puts the choice back in Tita’s hands, however. Traditional society teaches women that they must be chaste and faithful, or else they are essentially “streetwalkers” (prostitutes), as Rosaura called Tita. John’s ability to see beyond Tita’s lost virginity and infidelity shows the openness and modernity of his views and his capacity for independent thinking. Like Gertrudis’ husband Juan, John chooses not to be troubled by Tita’s sexual past.
Tita is touched by John’s response, which she sees as a reflection of his character, and is also surprised that he has deduced the other man to be Pedro. Overwhelmed, she excuses herself to cry outside. Throughout the rest of the dinner with Aunt Mary, John treats Tita just as kindly and lovingly as usual. Before he goes, her tells her that he thinks she would be happy with him, and she replies that she knows this. She is prepared to think carefully, knowing her choice will affect the rest of her life.
John’s selflessness contrasts with Pedro’s recent jealousy, making the choice even more painful for Tita. After a lifetime of other people – Mama Elena, Rosaura, and Pedro – choosing for her, Tita finally holds her future in her own hands. The power dynamics have been reversed, as Tita now holds the futures of John, Pedro, and Rosaura in her hands as well.