Esperanza Rising

Esperanza Rising Summary and Analysis of Chapter 5: Los Melones (Cantaloupes)


After several days, the train ride comes to an end. Esperanza, Hortensia, Alfonso, Miguel, and Mama arrive at the Mexican-American border. Esperanza and Mama get in line at the immigration office. Esperanza notices that the first class passengers get preference and speed through the process. Esperanza is nervous when she sees that some people are getting rejected from the border, but she and Mama pass through immigration without any complications. They board another train to the United States. Hortensia, Alfonso, and Miguel board at the last minute.

Mama wakes Esperanza up when they arrive in Los Angeles, where Alfonso’s brother and his family are waiting for them. Esperanza meets the whole family: Alfonso’s brother Juan, his wife Josefina, their twin babies, Lupe and Pepe, and their daughter Isabel, who is about the same age as Esperanza. Isabel immediately questions Esperanza about her family's wealth in Mexico, which catches Esperanza off guard. She assumes that Miguel has told his cousin that Esperanza is a spoiled brat.

Everyone loads into Juan’s beat up truck; the adults sit in the cab and the children climb into the flatbed. Isabel tells them about the past year. The family has been living in a tent and working to afford their current residence on a larger estate. Now, Isabel hopes to start attending school so that she can learn English. Esperanza explains that she is quite well-educated and plans to return to school once Abuelita arrives.

When they stop for lunch, Esperanza wanders off on her own. As she looks out at the valleys below, she thinks about how Papa taught her to feel connected with the land. Esperanza tries to hear the heartbeat of the earth but she cannot, which frustrates her. In a fit of tears, Esperanza falls back onto the ground and suddenly feels as if she is floating above it without any anchor. Esperanza feels like she is floating higher - but she is uncertain about whether or not she enjoys the sensation of being unmoored. Miguel brings her back to reality by holding her hand and confessing that he, too, misses Papa.

They keep driving until the mountains disappear and all Esperanza can see are fields full of workers. Juan stops so that a girl, Marta, can get into the car. Marta is about Miguel’s age and has a sharp tongue. Upon learning that Esperanza was once wealthy, Marta begins to taunt her. Esperanza tries to explain that her father was a kind man and Isabel explains that Esperanza lost everything in a fire, but Marta does not stop ridiculing the new arrival.

Marta has become jaded after suffering her own losses and living in the San Joaquin Valley for many years. She explains the reality of the Mexican workers' situation. Migrant workers are separated by place of origin (Mexico, Japan, Oklahoma) so that there is no inter-communication between ethnic groups. Marta explains that landowners do this to keep the workers from uniting in an uprising against their masters.

Esperanza is distressed after hearing Marta's revelations. She is also jealous that Miguel keeps speaking to Marta after the way she has spoken about Esperanza's father. At this point, Esperanza is uncertain about her new life but she is certain that she does not like Marta.


Chapter 5 is full of confrontation and uncertainty. Esperanza feels as though she is losing her connection to Papa and the land, and later, Marta’s harsh words feel like an unnecessary attack. Esperanza realizes that her past social standing actually makes people dislike her in her new life. As a result of this difficult realization, Esperanza can finally start to understand the world outside her sheltered past at el Rancho de las Rosas.

Isabel serves as a foil to Esperanza. She constantly prods Esperanza about her family’s wealth to the point where Esperanza is embarrassed. She is not used to speaking about her family's money. However, Esperanza's interactions with Isabel and Marta force Esperanza to realize that in her new circumstances, her past wealth is more of a hindrance than a boon. She feels different from those around her, and not in a way that makes her feel confident.

Marta acts as a catalyst in changing the way that Esperanza views her past life. Marta shines light on the harsh reality that even though Papa was a kind, decent man, he was defined by his wealth. Esperanza is both shocked and hurt by Marta’s outrage; she feels that she is not deserving of Marta’s anger because she did not do anything wrong. In her interactions with Marta over the course of the novel, Esperanza learns to develop her own perspective instead of taking all her old beliefs for granted.

Esperanza’s reaction to Marta’s outburst is a microcosmic representation of the class divide on the farm. Marta comes from a poor background. She has always had to fight for survival and knows that if she wants something to change, she has to do it herself. She has seen injustice firsthand, which is why she lashes out against the wealthy and speaks openly about the difficulties of life in the San Joaquin Valley. In contrast, Esperanza keeps her feelings to herself and lets others speak up in her defense. She has always had someone else to protect her - Papa, Mama, or Miguel. However, Esperanza does develop one strong opinion of her own - she dislikes Marta.

Esperanza reaches an emotional climax towards the middle of the chapter. While she is alone, she starts remembering her father and tries to feel a connection to him again. She describes her heart as “untethered” when she is unable to hear the heartbeat of the land. Esperanza's fantasy of floating above the ground is representative of the fact that her entire life has been uprooted. She has lost her father, her home, and everything she has ever known. She no longer has anything to keep her grounded.

Miguel - not Mama - brings Esperanza out of her daydream. When Esperanza feels like she is floating away, Miguel is there to bring her back to Earth. In this chapter, it becomes clear that their relationship is developing into something more than friendship. They hold hands during the lunch break and Esperanza feels jealous when Miguel talks to Marta. While Esperanza and Miguel have always been close, external forces (like their class differences) created a rift between them. However, in America, Esperanza and Miguel are social equals and therefore free to explore their true feelings without any reprimand from society.