Chencha is making pork sausage, or chorizo, while trying to fill a bath for Mama Elena. She covers the fact that Tita isn’t helping, as Tita has been deeply depressed and occupied only with feeding worms to a baby pigeon ever since Mama Elena sent Pedro, Rosaura, and Roberto to San Antonio. They must use every part of the pig, as supplies were already low due to the war and because a band of rebels took much of what they had left the week before. The novel then returns to a few days before, when the rebels arrived. Mama Elena sees the rebels coming from far away, and prepares by killing most of her chickens and hiding them, Chencha, Tita, and the pig in the cellar. Mama Elena hates the “greed and gluttony” of rebels, as she has heard terrible things about their savagery from Father Ignacio and the mayor.
The novel continues to weave recipes into the characters’ lives during the darkest times, making the ritual of cooking a constant even in times of great instability. Though Tita’s sisters are gone, Chencha’s loyalty to Tita motivates her to work hard to protect Tita from Mama Elena, taking on a sisterly form of self-sacrifice and conspiracy. The reader learns here that Mama Elena succeeded in sending Pedro and Roberto away. Mama Elena’s opinions of the rebels are based on her trust in the priests and the mayor – men who represent tradition and the establishment.
When the rebels arrive, Mama Elena stands by her ranch hands, Rosalio and Guadalupe, as her ranch manager Nicolas is in town buying cattle. Mama Elena declares that the rebels may look outside but not enter her house. Outside, the rebels find corn and the rest of the chickens. When one man suggests raiding the house, Mama Elena stuns them by shooting the chickens dead, right out of their hands. She then aims her gun at the captain and challenges them to test her temper. The men back down, feeling “prisoner to a childlike fear of maternal authority.” Declaring his respect, the captain asks what happened to Mama Elena’s daughters. She says two went to San Antonio and the other died. He replies with sincere sadness. Unbeknownst to Mama Elena, the captain is Juan Alejandrez, the man who ran away with Gertrudis. The men kill and take all the pigeons from the dovecote above the house, and then leave.
Mama Elena defies the bandits’ expectations of women with her display of violent authority. While she trusts in tradition and sides with the authorities over the rebels, Mama Elena also represents a spirit of female liberation and rebellion. By responding to male violence through dominating it, she becomes a rebel against the patriarchy in this instance. The power of mothers over children allows them to occupy the primal place of authority, even in the minds of grown men. This shows that the role of wife/mother, while a part of traditional values, isn’t necessarily oppressive or disempowering (even though Mama Elena herself makes it so).
When she emerges, Tita is surprised to find Mama Elena alive. Though she prayed she would survive, Tita had “unconsciously” wished that she would find her dead. Tita climbs up onto the decimated dovecote and rescues an orphaned baby pigeon. Without Roberto to feed, she fills her need to love and nurture by dedicating her attention to the baby bird. For the month that Roberto has been gone, Tita has been worried sick that he is starving without her milk. After the rebels leave, Mama Elena’s opinion of them softens.
The Revolution has nearly taken all the supplies the family had left, just as Mama Elena has taken what little Tita had left when she sent Roberto and Pedro away. Tita’s need to feed others is essential to her identity, just as Mama Elena’s need to dominate is essential to hers. If Mama Elena represents the authoritative side of the mother figure, then Tita represents the nurturing side.
Returning to the night of the chorizos, Tita is called to bathe Mama Elena, as she is every week. Unable to concentrate, she heats the water too much and ruins the clothes she must wash and heat up for Mama Elena. Furious, Mama Elena sends Tita away. Tita tries to fix the clothes, angry with herself that no matter what she does, she can never get everything right in order to please Mama Elena.
Mama Elena’s abuse has affected Tita’s psychology and altered Tita’s view of herself. Even though Tita knows her mother is cruel and unfair, she still blames herself for her mother’s abuse, displaying a classic symptom of an abuse victim. Mama Elena has created a version of reality in which Tita can do nothing right.
While finishing the sausage casings, Tita remembers a hot night not long before. Tita had awoken in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Pedro approached her in the dark and pulled her close, covering her mouth. At first afraid, she quickly realized it was Pedro. She returns his kisses and caresses, which quickly become sexual. They stop when they hear Mama Elena call for Tita. The next day, Mama Elena speeds up her plans for Pedro, Rosaura, and Roberto to go to San Antonio, and they leave a few days later.
While Pedro and Tita’s interaction turns out to be consensual, Pedro approaches Tita in an aggressive way that mimics a scene of sexual violence. This scene portrays the first instance of physical intimacy between Pedro and Tita since his wedding to Rosaura. As always, Mama Elena senses that their connection is escalating and manages to intervene in their intimacy.
Mama Elena enters the room with Chencha, who has just returned from San Antonio. Chencha tearfully tells Mama Elena the news that baby Roberto is dead because of something he ate. Mama Elena says that she hopes the child is safe with the Lord, and then she commands Chencha and Tita to stop crying and to continue with their work. Flying into a rage, Tita refuses to obey, telling Mama Elena it is her fault that Roberto died. Mama Elena slaps Tita with a wooden spoon, breaking her nose. Tita runs away, up to the dovecote. Mama Elena orders the ladder be removed. She forces Chencha to help her finish the sausages, which are later found to be full of worms.
After years of abuse, Tita has no more emotional reserves to cope with losing her nephew. Mama Elena’s insistence that Tita and Chencha keep working after the news is the final straw for Tita. Tita has always adapted despite her losses, just as the family keeps surviving amidst political chaos. By offering a cursory platitude and asking Tita to keep working, Mama Elena essentially denies the reality of Roberto’s death. For once, then, Tita refuses to pretend that everything is normal, forcibly taking the space in which to grieve.
The next day, Chencha finds Tita naked, vacantly staring into space, trying to feed worms to her dead baby pigeon. Mama Elena calls Dr. Brown to take Tita to an insane asylum. He arrives and takes Tita with him. Crying, Chencha runs after the carriage to give Tita her bedspread. Tita has spent years crocheting mismatched yarns together, and now the bedspread is so long and colorful that it flies like a “wedding gown” in a swirl of colors for a kilometer behind Dr. Brown’s carriage.
Typical to her role of abuser, Mama Elena discards Tita after she has broken her spirit. The endless mismatched colors of Tita’s bedspread represent all of the emotions and experiences that Tita has incorporated into her story, and which she holds within herself. By sending the bedspread with her, Chencha is trying to help Tita hold on to her sense of self.