Eliza is one character in Allende's work who breaks out from a traditional or expected role. Her background is one aspect that represents her breaking out from a socially dictated notion of identity. Being half Chilean and half English, Eliza is in a position where it is very difficult for her to conform to expectations. Convergent with a different idea of cultural identity, Eliza demonstrates her defiant and individualistic nature and this furthers her separation from that which is expected. She takes Joaquin as her lover and then does not acquiesce to the traditional notion of a silent and domesticated woman when he leaves for the New World. She follows him, and in breaking the expected role of a woman, she enters a realm where nothing from a traditional identity is evident. In her arrival in America, she pretends to be a man and struggles to find Joaquin. Her journey to find him gives way to a journey to find herself. As a result, her breaking free of expectations and norms enables her to reclaim a voice and identity that would have been lost had she conformed to expectations around her. Allende writes Eliza's character with this smashing of culturally bound notions of the good in mind. She describes Eliza as "young woman's search for self-knowledge" and the struggle that is associated with feminism. The result of Eliza breaking out of socially constrictive roles is a loss of shackles that inhibited her sense of self. Allende notes that through her experiences, Eliza lost the “fear of God . . . of her adoptive parents, of illness and evil tongues . . . fear of her own fragility as a woman, of dishonor and truth.” With this in mind, Eliza has to be seen as better for rebelling against social norms as she is able to gain "wings" to be free and not be inhibited as a result of external reality.
Tao Chi'en is another example of one who breaks against society's norms. He does not conform to social expectations as he moves into the New World. His voyage to America is one that breaks the expectations placed upon him. However, this exercise in autonomy and self- construction carries some level of pain with him for he has to learn how to live with the pain of his wife's passing. This is compounded by what he sees in America. The legions of many young girls imported into San Francisco for prostitution cause him great pain. The "tao" or "path" for so many leading into so much of self- ruin causes great pain for him to witness. This causes him to commit himself to helping those who are in such duress. In Tao's case, the path of breaking free from socially cultured notions of the good is one where pain is evident. Whereas Eliza experiences the emotional prosperity associated with freedom, Tao experiences some of the futility that is the child of freedom and endeavor. In both, the human experience of freedom is revealed. It is for this reason that Eliza's and Tao's growing relationship complements one another and reflects how struggle and pain can live alongside freedom and hope.