The primary conflict in the García family that runs through the novel is between the father, Carlos García, and the daughters. His conservative upbringing engrained the idea of strict patriarchal control, and he could never completely hide his disappointment at having only daughters and no sons. As the girls grow up and seek their individual voices and paths, their rebellions against his control include self-destructive behavior such as drug use. After they move to the United States, conflicts with their mother increase, as she worries over their Americanization even though she hopes to remain there.
One example of the father’s lack of understanding is his treatment of Yolanda—not just dismissing her dreams of writing, but actually tearing up her work. Sofia, in going against her father’s wishes by marrying a German man, becomes estranged from him for years. However, she cannot abandon the hope that she could win the approval he will only bestow on males—even her own son.
In addition, as they move into adulthood, conflicts among the girls sometimes create deep rifts. Age is one important factor; for example, Carla’s move to boarding school to finish her education more thoroughly Americanizes her than the others, who often feel—despite their desire for solidarity—that the cultural distance cannot be overcome.