Summary: Chapter 4

Patria begins her story by telling us that believing in God and loving everything around her comes automatically. Early on, Padre Ignacio suggested that she may have a calling to the religious life. At age fourteen, she went off to the convent, Inmaculada Concepción.

At age sixteen, Patria struggles to reconcile her earthly desires with her desire to be a nun. She prays to discern God’s will. The calling, the nuns tell her, could come at any time in all sorts of ways. 

At the Holy Thursday liturgy, Patria washes the feet of a young man, and gives him what he later calls a “beatific smile.” Her prayers are answered, she is in love. Patria and Pedrito Gonzalez marry and move to San José de Conuco. Nelson, their son is born, followed two years later by Noris, a daughter. 

Patria, pregnant now with her third child, worries about Minerva’s increasingly vocal disagreement with Trujillo’s government. She suffers a miscarriage, and wonders if this is God’s punishment for her not becoming a nun. 

Mamá suggests that she and her daughters take a pilgrimage to Higūey, an unusual suggestion for Mamá who likes to stay close to home. During the pilgrimage, Patria prays the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary with Mamá, and senses the pain and need in Mamá’s prayer. Patria asks her what the matter is. Mamá reveals that Papá is a scoundrel, he has been unfaithful. 

Analysis: Chapter 4

This chapter develops Patria’s character, continuing the novel’s themes of religion and femininity. Patria begins this section deeply and naturally devoted to God, so much so that her mother feared she might not live long, since she seemed too angelic. She and her family imagine she will become a nun, and the principal of her school advises her to pray to the Virgin Mary for guidance. Her transformation in this chapter is from an otherworldly “spirit baby” to a sexually awakened young woman, becoming aware first of her own body’s sexual nature and then her attraction to Pedrito. She first experiences her sexuality as a challenge to her faith, praying and even putting a crucifix beside her bed to distract herself from exploring her own body, but in Pedrito she finds her spirituality and her bodily desire brought together, as she washes his feet in a Holy Week ritual and describes him as her “earthly groom,” in contrast to Jesus, the heavenly groom of nuns.

Patria changes again after the stillborn death of her third child, though people around her see only the public loss of her baby and not the private loss of her faith. Patria’s faith has always been a natural part of her life, and without it, she is not herself. She feels empty and wonders how God could allow such suffering. It is during this time that she comes to understand Minerva’s hatred of Trujillo, equating her position as someone who had never been hurt by Trujillo with her former position of someone who had never been hurt by God. Alvarez shows Patria and Minerva considering the side-by-side portraits of Jesus and Trujillo, each picture symbolizing an all-powerful Father allowing his people to suffer.
Themes of religion feature prominently in Patria’s chapters. Patria frequently feels a special connection with the Virgin Mary. Like Mary, Patria experiences a closeness to God that is both spiritual and embodied through physical sensations and through the work of motherhood. She prays to Mary beginning in childhood, including while attempting to determine if she should become a nun. As an adult, it is a pilgrimage to the Virgin Mary that restores her lost faith. She describes its return as if it is a baby moving inside her womb. This description indicates that she, like Mary, is being made holy through conception. Patria then quietly prays to Mary and hears the saint answer her prayer through the sounds of the crowd around her. This shows Patria’s understanding of God has transformed from one rooted in the church into a larger sense of the divine as present in people all around her.