To protect the women from bandits and from Tío Luis, Esperanza, Mama, and Hortensia all hide in the secret compartment at the bottom of the wagon, covered with guavas, while Miguel and Alfonso ride on top. The family has to steal away at night, and Esperanza is unable to say goodbye to her best friend, Marisol.
The lack of space in the compartment and the realization that she really is leaving her home behind causes Esperanza to panic and breathe unevenly. Hortensia calms the young girl down by recounting another time when Esperanza had been brave while in hiding. Once when she was younger, bandits had come into the house at el Rancho de las Rosas to steal all of the family’s silver. Miguel warned Esperanza and Hortensia just before the bandits arrived so they could all hide under the bed together. Esperanza accidentally made a sound, but in a moment of clarity, Miguel released a field mouse from his pocket. He had intended to scare Esperanza with the mouse but instead it surprised the bandits and they left.
Esperanza remembers that Papa had rewarded Miguel for his quick thinking by taking him on a train ride. They left from the same station at Zacatecas that the wagon is headed towards now. Esperanza fondly remembers the first class train and her fancy clothes - but that life is gone. She is shocked when she sees that she will be riding in second class this time.
The second-class compartment is filled with peasants. Esperanza is stunned when a small, dirty girl tries to play with the doll that Papa gave her on her birthday. She is even more shocked when Mama scolds Esperanza for being so disrespectful and makes the poor girl a doll out of her extra yarn.
Esperanza notices that Alfonso and Miguel are carrying something in an oilcloth. Every time the train stops, they get out to wet the cloth again. She tries to see what it is but everyone refuses to tell her and urges her to wait until they arrive at their destination. Miguel distracts and annoys Esperanza by talking about trains, but Esperanza is filled with sadness whenever he mentions Papa.
A few days later, a woman named Carmen offers Esperanza some sweets. Carmen and Mama quickly become friends, exchanging life stories. Mama explains the family's situation to this total stranger, which Esperanza had always believed to be improper. When Carmen departs, she gives Mama two of her chickens in exchange for three of the table coverings Mama had been knitting on the train. Esperanza watches as Carmen exits the train and gives some money to a beggar woman. Miguel explains that people without money have to take care of each other because the rich only help themselves. He also points out that wealthy people in Mexico have fairer skin because of their Spanish ancestry – something Esperanza is ashamed to admit she has never noticed.
In this chapter, Esperanza’s youthfulness and inexperience comes into direct conflict with her desperate circumstances. Because the novel is written from Esperanza's perspective, the narrative devolves into confusion the protagonist finds herself unable to cope with the changing world around her.
Although the unfolding events scare and perplex Esperanza at times, the wise elders in her life help to guide her through these difficult times. While Esperanza and Mama are on the train, Esperanza does not want to share her doll with a poor child. Esperanza selfishly believes that she is right to refuse the poor little girl's request. However, Esperanza is surprised when Mama reprimands her for not sharing. Once again, Mama explains that life has changed for them and that they must behave differently now.
Mama shows Esperanza how to adapt to their new circumstances through her words and her actions. She treats Carmen, a woman from a much lower class, with the same respect and compassion that she would have treated any one of her social equals. When Esperanza sees Carmen give money to the poor beggar woman outside the train, she realizes that one does not have to be wealthy to be generous. In fact, Miguel explains to Esperanza that the poor must depend on each other for help because the rich do not help anyone but each other.
The societal expectations of differing social classes become more clear in this chapter, and the concept of racial divisions within social strata comes up for the first time. Miguel points out that those who are wealthy in Mexico often have lighter skin than those who are poor because the wealthier individuals are descended from the Spanish conquerors. Esperanza, who is ignorant about the struggles of others at this point, realizes that Miguel is right. She has never observed this distinction before.
The divisions within Mexico’s social hierarchy are remnants of system put in place by colonial Spanish conquerors. During that time, those with European ancestry ascended the social hierarchy while those with indigenous roots were automatically relegated to the lower class. The social hierarchy of different racial and ethnic groups in Mexico is complicated, and the majority of Mexicans fall somewhere in the middle - they are commonly called “mestizos.”