After Rosa's death, Esteban returns to his home where his sister Ferula and his mother Dona Ester Trueba live. Ferula has dedicated her life to caring for Dona Ester, who is confined to her bed with debilitating arthritis. In the wake of Rosa's death, Esteban's natural bad humor worsens. It is also aggravated by Ferula who, on the one hand, seeks salvation through her self-sacrificing devotion to her mother, and on the other hand resents the fact that a woman does not have the same freedom to leave the family behind that Esteban does.
Dona Ester married below her social station, out of love. Her husband quickly squandered their dowry trying among other things to transform a property they owned in the country, Tres Marias, into an opulent estate.
Esteban does not want to return to the mines, but he needs to make money in some way so that he can support his mother and Ferula, who he promises will never lack for anything as long as he lives. Esteban decides, against Ferula's advice, to go to Tres Marias and try to turn it into a moneymaking estate. Esteban finds Tres Marias in ruins. The peasants who live on the land have not seen an owner there in fifteen years. Most of the men have left the property, and the women, children, and elderly who are left barely subsist on the property. One of the few men who have remained is Pedro Segundo Garcia, who had run the estate in the Truebas' absence. Esteban spends all the money he had been saving for his marriage on Tres Marias. He and the peasants labor day and night to rebuild the estate, and slowly they begin to see the fruits of their labors.
As soon as he has spare time on his hands, Esteban Trueba realizes that he has an enormous sexual appetite. He rapes a young virgin peasant girl, Pancha Garcia, whom he brings to live in the main house as his housekeeper and mistress. Through his relationship with Pancha, Esteban becomes interested in the peasants. He constructs a schoolhouse and makes plans to increase the quality of life for the peasants, although he in no way wants them to become his equals. Esteban also sets up a voucher system, where he pays the peasants by means of vouchers that he also accepts from them as payment at the store he sets up on the property.
Pancha becomes pregnant, and Esteban loses interest in her. She leaves the main house, and Esteban begins raping other peasant girls. In a few years, Tres Marias becomes one of the richest properties in the region. The workers are not satisfied with the way Esteban treats them, but he refuses to listen to Pedro Segundo's requests for things such as fair pay. Esteban continues to rape every girl he can find and sires an enormous number of children. He never acknowledges any of them, and only allows one, Pancha's son, to bear his first name.
Esteban becomes involved in politics with other landowners in the area. The other landowners also introduce Esteban to the local brothel, The Red Lantern. Although Esteban prefers to rape young girls, he does meet one prostitute he likes at the Red Lantern, Transito Soto. One day he asks Transito if she would like a present. Transito asks Esteban for fifty pesos, a good deal of money, so that she can move to the capital and set herself up as a prostitute there. She promises to pay him back with interest one day. Esteban gives Transito the money. Thanks to a combination of rewards and intimidation, the Conservative Party wins the elections.
Three days later, Esteban receives a letter from Ferula with the news that Dona Ester is dying. It has been years since Esteban has seen his mother. Esteban puts Pedro Segundo Garcia in charge of Tres Marias and leaves for the capital.
Class emerges as a key theme. The del Valle family is clearly a part of the wealthy upper class. They are also politically liberal. Esteban Trueba's experience adds nuance to the upper class. Money alone does not define class. Esteban's family is of the upper class because of his mother's family name, which situates her in Peru's upper class. Specifically, Dona Ester's maiden name belongs to "the viceroyalty of Lima." This situates Esteban in relation to the Spanish crown. His family as well as the del Valles, are criollos. They live and were born in South America but are the direct descendants of Spaniards.
However, Esteban's mother married an immigrant below her class and in addition, has lost all of her money. Esteban must therefore work to make a living, but still remains part of the upper class. When Esteban moves to Tres Marias, another class status is introduced: the peasants. Although Esteban has relatively little money compared to the del Valles, he possesses a great deal more money than the peasants in Tres Marias. He also holds the official title to the land. Esteban views the peasants as less than himself. He sees Tres Marias's decline since his father's death as not a result of an absence on capital investment, but of an absence of work.
Linked to the question of class is a question of genealogy. Since it is to a great degree independent of material wealth, class status is primarily passed through genealogy. It is not, however, simply tied in with biological parenting. Esteban's refusal to acknowledge any of the children he fathers in Tres Marias, and most significantly his refusal to allow any of them to carry his last name, cuts those children out of his genealogy. As they do not inherit his name, Esteban's bastard children will not inherit any of his estate.
Gender complicates class analysis. Although the narrators never explicitly condemn gender inequality, they consistently explain the different experiences of men and women. In the face of his financial situation, Esteban is able to go out, find work, and better his situation. His sister Ferula on the other hand could only have bettered her lot by marrying someone with more money. Even that option was not quite open to her since, as the daughter, the care of their mother fell on her shoulders. Gender also comes to play in the peasants' class situation. When Esteban arrives in Tres Marias he notices that very few men of working age remain. Those men left their families to find work while the women stayed at home, parallel to the Trueba family situation. Esteban perpetuates gender inequality as he distributes Christmas bonuses only to the men, considering that only men head households.