Esperanza Rising

Esperanza Rising Summary and Analysis of Chapter 3: Los Higos (Figs)


Esperanza dreams that she is being chased and smothered by a giant bear. She wakes up in a fright when she hears her mother calling her name. Mama shakes her daughter, screaming that the house is on fire and that they must find Abuelita.

The house is ablaze, but Mama and Esperanza (clutching her doll from Papa) are able to escape. Alfonso urges them to leave Abuelita behind, and Miguel dashes back into the house to save the old woman from the fire. Abuelita survives, but she injures her ankle while escaping. Esperanza watches her home, her land, and everything she loves burn to the ground - and she knows that one of her uncles must be responsible.

Mama, Abuelita, and Esperanza spend the night in the servants’ cabin. Later, they search amongst the rubble for their possessions, but there is nothing there. Tío Luis once again offers to marry Mama and promises to build her a bigger, more beautiful home. He threatens Mama and she reluctantly relents, much to everyone’s surprise. However, Mama decides that she and Esperanza will accompany Hortensia, Alfonso, and Miguel to the United States. She explains that she has only agreed to marry Tío Luis in order to buy some time. Esperanza is torn – she does not want Mama to marry Tío Luis, but she also does not want to leave her whole life, including Abuelita, behind. Finally, Esperanza comes around and even suggests that she might do manual labor, the only work that will be available in California. Everyone laughs at Esperanza for suggesting such a thing.

The following day, Abuelita is transported to a nunnery, which is where she will spend her recovery. Esperanza is sad to see her Abuelita go, but she hopes that her grandmother will eventually join them in California. With their legal papers arranged, Esperanza and Mama prepare to leave Mexico. In a poignant moment that reveals just how much their lives have changed, Esperanza and her mother dress in donated clothes from the “poor box.” In the middle of the night, Mama wakes Esperanza and they leave el Rancho de las Rosas for the last time.

Esperanza feels sad about her losses and angry at her uncles. Mama tries to comfort her by saying that Papa will be with them wherever they go, but Esperanza cannot shake the feeling that she will never return home.


The Ortega family's desperation reaches a climax in this chapter, culminating in Mama’s decision to leave el Rancho de las Rosas. She refuses to remain powerless under Tío Luis and Tío Marco. In previous chapters, Esperanza proclaimed that she would stay at el Rancho de las Rosas forever, but after Papa's death, everything is different. In these first three chapters, Esperanza loses everything that once comforted and protected her - Papa, her home, and her identity.

The fire also represents the symbolic destruction of Esperanza's social status. With no belongings or money, Esperanza and her mother are forced to accept clothing donations from the poor box. Initially, Esperanza is confused by the clothes – her childlike innocence protects her from the reality of the situation – but Mama explains that they are in no position to deny such gifts.

In the third chapter, Abuelita repeats the advice she gave Esperanza in the first chapter, “do not be afraid to start over.” In the first chapter, Abuelita was advising her granddaughter on how to crochet, but this time the advice is more urgent, even necessary. Abuelita recounts her own struggles when she moved from Spain to Mexico, but explains that the uncertainty made her life exciting.

While telling Esperanza about her past, Abuelita explains that their family is like the phoenix. The simile is especially apt for describing the Ortegas as they emerge from the ashes of their burned home. After Esperanza and Mama slip down the social ladder, they prepare to leave for the United States in pursuit of the American Dream and upward social mobility. They can only move on as different people, reinventing themselves in another social class.