Guests stack wedding gifts on a table in Captain Tiago’s house, but María Clara is uninterested in anything other than the newspaper she holds, which reports that Ibarra has drowned in the lake. Father Dámaso comes up behind her and surprises her, but upon seeing her hesitancy to greet him, he asks what’s wrong. As he sits to hear what she has to say, she weeps, and he asks if she’s had a fight with Linares. “Don’t talk to me of him…now!” she replies. She then asks if he still loves her, saying that if he does, he’ll put an end to this arranged marriage. She explains that she felt able to move forward with the wedding only because she thought Ibarra was still alive—knowing that was the only thing keeping her going. Now, with nothing left to live for, she can’t bear the thought of marrying Linares.
When María Clara orders Father Dámaso not to speak Linares’s name, she asserts herself for the first time throughout the entire novel. In past scenes, she has remained passive, especially when conversing with powerful priests like Father Dámaso. In this moment though, she finally allows her strong feelings to surface. In doing so, she shows herself capable of standing up for what she truly feels, unlike Captain Tiago who would never dare tell a friar what he can or cannot talk about.
María Clara tells Father Dámaso that, now that Ibarra has died, she has only two options: “the convent or the grave.” Seeing her intense unhappiness, Father Dámaso says the only reason he interfered with her engagement to Ibarra is because he wanted what was best for her. He reminds her that if she had married Ibarra, she would now be a disgraced woman doomed to a life of isolation. He then turns his attention to the convent, saying, “I would rather a thousand times see you unhappy in the world than in a cloister…” She reiterates her views, telling him she will either die or become a nun. Covering his head with his hands, he yells, “You can punish me, Lord, but the veil for my child…” Before leaving, he finally agrees to let her enter the convent.
Father Dámaso’s reluctance to allow María Clara to embark upon a religious life is telling, for it indicates that he has very little affinity for spirituality. After all, a priest should be happy to hear his daughter wants to devote herself to God. But Dámaso’s priorities have nothing to do with serving God—rather, it seems he’s a priest because of the power it affords him. Furthermore María Clara’s ultimatum—“the convent or the grave”—supports the idea that she has finally found a sense of personal agency, which she uses to stand up to Dámaso.