Even after the four García girls have been married or begun raising families, they still return home alone for an intimate family reunion on their father's birthday. This year, though, the youngest girl, Sofía, wants to hold the celebration at her house. She does not want to travel because of her four-year-old daughter and newborn son, but she also does not want to miss the celebration, since she is now on speaking terms with her father for the first time since she eloped with her German husband Otto six years ago. Sofía's son is the first boy born into the family in two generations, and is named Carlos after his maternal grandfather. His fair Germanic looks, name, and masculinity make him a favorite of Carlos, who coos the name of famous men named Charles over the crib, much to Sofía’s disgruntlement.
Sofía is characterized as the daughter with a fiercely independent spirit and a constant string of boyfriends. She dropped out of college and worked as a secretary while dating a man with whom she thought herself in love. Unable to sleep with him in New York, she went on vacation to Bogotá, Colombia with him, but soon lost interest. While in Colombia, she met a German tourist on the streets and fell in love. Though she hid the relationship, her father was suspicious and searched her drawers until she found Otto's love letters. Furious, he demanded an explanation from Sofía and asked if she were a whore, after which she snarled a curse at him, packed her bags, and left the house. She managed to fly to Germany, found Otto's house, and asked him to marry her. She discovered only afterward that he was a world-class chemist, but even his fame did not appease her father.
When Sofía's daughter was born at her new house in Michigan, her mother flew out to visit the family, dragging Carlos in tow. However, he refused to speak with Sofía. The next year Sofía came to the house for his birthday. Though she spent the next six years slowly trying to patch up their relationship, he remained stiff and distant.
The narration jumps forward to Carlos' seventieth birthday, to be held the same day as Sofía's son's christening. A large contingent of the family would be convening in Michigan for the party, including all the daughters' husbands for the first time. Sofía planned the party with excruciating care, hiring a band, buying paper hats, pins, and balloons, and planning eating and sleeping arrangements. At first, the party goes off splendidly, with gifts, toasts, and live music. However, one paragraph of free indirect narration reveals that Carlos feels out of place and superfluous among his daughters' young, fancy, high-talking friends, comparing their youth and inexperience to his long, eventful life and imagining how little material impact his death would have on their lives.
Noticing his sour mood, Yolanda arranges a game in which Carlos sits blindfolded in a chair while his daughters peck him on the cheek or forehead; he must then guess which daughter kissed him. Sofía is in the bedroom tending to her son, but when she returns, she notices that her father never guesses her name. Upset, she decides to surprise him by slowly licking his ear in a sensuous way. Furious at having been aroused in public by his own daughter, he snatches the blindfold from his face and angrily ends both the game and the party.
This chapter focuses on Carlos García’s masculine pride of ownership and control. He writes his name on the top bill of the stacks he gives his daughters, as though claiming possession of them. By refusing to give them money when their husbands are present, he implies a connection between economic power and manhood. At his party, he becomes depressed when he realizes that his professional, educated daughters and his resourceful wife do not depend on him as women are expected to in Dominican culture. He does not imagine the emotional role he could play in their life, not does he admit that his insistence on patriarchal values has excluded him from large parts of his daughters’ lives.
The chapter hints at the superficiality of a patriarchal system based on gender roles and family status determined by birth. Ironically, the Germanic male child that will provide “good blood” to the family lineage is born to the most rebellious daughter, and from a marriage never approved by her parents. Nevertheless, Carlos dotes on the child that will keep his name alive in the United States.
However, the girls remain loving daughters who, despite their progressive feminism, have “devotions…like roots” that are “sunk into the past towards the old man” (24). Their family ties, like an invisible or hidden part of themselves, keep them attached to their father despite their American values of independence and female equality. Beneath the superficial structure of patriarchal power, these loving family bonds, like tree roots, bring the true nourishment of affection to the family.
Even Sofía feels the pull of these deep roots, although she has one of the most forceful personalities in the novel. The chapter contains various similes comparing Sofía to a natural force such as a “powerful, tamed animal” (28) or calling her face as impassive as a “pale ivory moon” (30) that pulls the tide of her father’s anger when he finds her love letters. These comparisons suggest how Sofía’s instinctive confidence and comfort in her own skin give her an aura of strength that even her father’s fury cannot overcome. Also like a force of nature, she follows her own principles and does not strive to conform to either American or Dominican expectation. She rejects the American ideal of personal ambition, dropping out of college and abandoning pursuit of a career. She also refuses to obey the edicts of the Dominican patriarchy. Perhaps because she does not accept outwardly imposed rules, she acts and speaks without artificiality or nervous self-doubt.
The kiss Sofía gives her father at the end of the party is an example of how she refuses to play by the rules. She makes a statement with her kiss, rather than simply offering the daughterly kisses given by everyone else. The kiss is the emotional climax of the scene, and the chapter builds up to it by repeatedly mention that everyone has drunk too much. Although there is no warning that something might go wrong, the repetition of the statement that the guests are all drunk hints that the party is beginning to spin out of control and so create a tense, expectant mood for the reader. Ironically, Sofía is one of the few characters not drunk, since she has been too busy throughout the party. Instead, it is her bold personality and refusal to play things safe that causes problems.