The date for Lila's wedding draws closer. She and Stefano have plans to move into a modern and luxurious apartment, further enhancing her social status. However, Stefano is becoming more and more anxious to get at least some of the models of shoes ready for sale. Pinuccia has also demanded that Lila begin working at the family grocery store. In response, Stefano hires new staff so that neither his sister nor mother will need to work, and can focus instead on helping Lila prepare for the wedding.
This new arrangement leads to frequent arguments, and Lila persuades Elena to accompany them and act as mediator, a role she finds that she has a talent for. This occupation distracts her from her studies and the time with Lila also emboldens her. As a result, one day she challenges her religion teacher on a point of doctrine. She gets in trouble, but her argument also gathers notice from some of the less traditional teachers at the school, who admire her intellect and free thought.
A short time later, Nino asks her to write an article based on the argument she made, for publication in a political journal. Elena wants to produce something great, and Lila helps her to edit the article, resulting in a polished and sophisticated final product. Triumphant, and hoping to further show Nino how successful she is, Elena makes her relationship with Antonio more public and invites him to accompany her to Lila's wedding.
When the new models of shoes are put on display shortly before Christmas, none of them sell. They are luxurious and very expensive, and there is no market for them among the usual Cerrullo clientele. When Lila tries to invite her old teacher, Maestra Oliviero, to the wedding, her invitation is coldly refused. And, more distressingly, Stefano invites Silvio Solara to play a prominent role in the wedding reception. Lila strongly objects, but Stefano insists that it is important for business to defer to Silvio, and that this gesture is necessary if the shoe workshop is to succeed. Lila reluctantly consents, but makes Stefano swear that Marcello will not attend the wedding.
Elena helps Lila prepare on the day of her wedding, filled with gloomy foreboding and a sense of abandonment. She is also unhappy throughout much of the wedding; she has to carefully hide her relationship with Antonio, and she feels stifled by the familiar faces around her. She spends much of the reception talking to Nino, making Antonio angry. She then suffers a shock when Nino tells her that her article was not published after all. This makes her feel more doomed than ever.
Towards the end of the reception, Marcello and Michele Solara arrive. More shocking still, Lila notices that Marcello is wearing the original pair of hand-crafted shoes.
In this section, Elena initially seems to be experiencing success, while Lila's dreams seem to be receding. By the end of the novel, however, both girls are confronted with painful realizations that their aspirations have largely been illusions and that their opportunities are as limited as ever.
As the narrative reaches its denouement, Elena's academic prospects are brighter than ever. She also takes a bold new step. Whereas before, she has been an extremely intelligent student, she has also been largely dutiful and orthodox in her approach. Elena's act of challenging the religion teacher, signals a new stage of intellectual maturity marked by freedom and confidence. It is no coincidence she takes this action under the influence of Lila: continuing a pattern that has existed since they were small children, Lila gives Elena strength and self-confidence, empowering her merely by her presence.
This connection is further reinforced by the collaboration on the article. Even though Lila has not been formally educated for years and is moving to a new life stage with little room for intellectual pursuits, it is when the two work together that they produce something Elena is proud of. They form, in a way, two parts of a whole, and are at their best when they can balance each other's tendencies.
This intimacy between the two is threatened by Lila's impending wedding. Not only will she be preoccupied in her new role as a wife, someone will now have more intimate access to her than Elena ever has. Elena experiences almost sexual jealousy as she thinks about the privileged access Stefano will enjoy, but her concern is less with the ownership of Lila's body than the closeness she has always craved and never felt certain she was achieving.
While Elena's life seems to be on an upswing as the wedding approaches, more and more cracks appear in Lila's seemingly flawless future. Her relationship with her mother and sister-in-law is clearly tense, and the shoe project seems to have been a failed dream. Her former role model Maestra Oliviera treats Lila with disgust, implying she had sold herself and lost her identity and dignity. It seems as though Lila has sacrificed so much, and the husband she is getting in return cannot truly ensure her independence, as is revealed when Silvio Solara is invited to play a role in the wedding.
Ironically, the wedding, which is an event young girls of the time dreamed of for years, proves a crashing disappointment to both Elena and Lila. Elena is filled with resentment and loathing as she observes the petty and close-minded world around her. Nino is still not responsive to her hopes, and most damningly still, the publication of her article fails. This was meant to distinguish her and put her on the path to someday being a well-known writer and intellectual, and as the novel ends, it seems that she is doomed to be trapped in the same oppressive world forever.
For Lila, the shock is even more abrupt. The day that was meant to symbolize her escape from Marcello Solara ends with her realizing he is still exerting control over her, her family, and now her new husband. No matter what she has done, it seems that all of Lila's impulses towards autonomy have left her in the same place as so many other women from the neighborhood: a wife now tied to a husband who either cannot or will not truly treat her as her own person.