Under the loving care of Dr. Brown, Tita slowly emerges from her traumatized inner shell. Initially, she is withdrawn and numb, still suffering from the chronic sense of cold that on Rosaura and Pedro's wedding day. Subsequently, she begins to comprehend her new life away from the oppressive ranch and Mama Elena. At John Brown's house she encounters a figure who reminds her of Nacha. Tita is visited daily by the comforting presence of this silent woman, who turns out to be the ghost of John's grandmother, a Native American named Morning Light. It is from Morning Light that John acquired his interest in science and medicine. His house is full of experiments that fascinate Tita.
Throughout her stay at John's house, Tita remains silent. Nevertheless, a bond grows between her and John as they spend a great deal of time together. John shares with Tita a recipe for making matches, and with this recipe, he explains the theory that an inner fire burns in each person and describes the ways in which one must protect this fire. Eventually, John asks Tita to write on the wall (with a glow-in-the-dark stick) her reason for not talking. When he returns, he finds that she has written, "Because I don't want to." With this assertion of her will, Tita moves further toward her freedom and becomes certain that she wishes never to return to her mother's house.
For the first time, Tita is removed from the domestic world of the kitchen and the ranch. At Dr. Brown's house, she is able to explore a new way of existing in the world, not circumscribed by the limits imposed by Mama Elena or by her role as nurturer. For the first time, she is simply an individual, not responsible for the care of anyone but herself. During this time, Tita achieves a bit of independence as she gains a sense of her desires, but she is only able to do so after returning from the depths of madness and remaining still within a very protected domestic space.
The gentle Dr. Brown is the ideal person to guide Tita toward well-being. His position as a white American male lets him offer Tita a completely different set of values (decidedly more liberal than those learned on the De La Garza ranch) with which Tita may function. As an outsider, John offers Tita access to the independence she seeks. Yet even the option that arises out of her relationship with John Brown relies on her domesticity, as they are eventually to become engaged. Despite this, his sensitivity to her plight is crucial and is best exemplified in his explanation to her of his ideas about the internal box of matches, each one containing the explosions necessary for an individual to live. The theory allows Tita a metaphor through which to understand her own situation, for in her thoughts she realizes that "she knew what set off her explosions, but each time she had managed to light a match, it had persistently been blown out." This inner fire becomes the central image of the novel, one that pervades, and comes to symbolize, Tita's continuing journey toward selfhood.