Ibarra arrives at the graveyard and interrogates the gravedigger, who tells him that he burned a cross that Ibarra’s servant had set up in the graveyard. The gravedigger burned it because the head priest told him to. He also tells Ibarra that he dug up the corresponding body because the priest wanted it transferred to the Chinese cemetery, but because the gravedigger thought it would be “better to drown than to be with the Chinese,” he threw the body into the lake.
In this moment, the gravedigger evokes his orders from the head priest, as if they justify his actions. This is significant because it demonstrates the efficacy of the friars: in order for the friars to maintain their authority, the people of San Diego must also believe in it, and clearly they do. The gravedigger doesn’t feel guilty about exhuming Don Rafael’s body because he believes he had to follow the priest’s orders.
Enraged, Ibarra leaves the graveyard. About to come upon his house, he sees Father Salví walking in the opposite direction. Although the two men have never met, Ibarra stops the friar by putting his hand on his shoulder and asking, “What have you done with my father?” in a gruff voice. “You are mistaken. I have done nothing to your father,” Salví replies, shaken. Ibarra persists, pressing his hand on the priest’s shoulder until the man cowers on his knees. Salví then tells Ibarra that it was his predecessor, Father Dámaso, who ordered Don Rafael’s exhumation. Realizing his mistake but neglecting to apologize, Ibarra rushes away, leaving the friar on his knees in the street.
Considering how much the townspeople—like, for instance, the gravedigger—are afraid of disobeying the friars, Ibarra’s aggressive actions toward Father Salví are rather unprecedented. Indeed, by forcing Salví to bend to the ground, Ibarra asserts his dominance over arguably the most powerful person in town. As the novel progresses and Ibarra and Salví interact in other contexts, its important to remember that their relationship began in this hostile moment when Ibarra subverts the town’s previously established power dynamics.