Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1002
Lola, Oscar’s older sister, is in frequent conflict with her mother. Constantly subject to physical, verbal, and emotional abuse, Lola has little love or respect for her. When her mother takes Lola's hand and places it on the lump in her breast, Lola is unmoved. She has always been embarrassed by her mother’s voluptuousness and does not feel any sorrow—not for the loss of the feature her mother is most proud of, nor even for the eventual loss of her mother's life. The possibility of love has been killed by the constant abuse. Hate is returned with hate.
Lola has always excelled at academics, but not in the social life attached to school. Teased and tormented, Lola dreams of escaping, both from school and from home. She is intrigued by the world cultures she hears about, intending someday to escape Paterson, New Jersey, to a life on her own. She hopes college will give her the escape she wants someday, but for now she is left with few options.
Lola mentions unemotionally her rape by a neighbor at the age of eight. When she tells her mother about it, her mother reacts with indifference. In her teen years, she cuts off all her hair, an act that enrages her mother, who wants to force her to wear a wig. Lola responds by burning the wig, at which her mother reaches out to slap her face. However, Lola slaps her hand aside, an act that puts the nail in the coffin of their relationship. When her mother shouts, “How do you treat your mother this way?” Lola responds, “How dare you treat your daughter this way?” By this she has proclaimed herself free of any responsibility for being a dutiful daughter in the face of the failure of her mother to be a dutiful parent.
Lola runs off to join Aldo, who works and lives on the boardwalk. She moves in with him and his father, but the atmosphere mirrors that of her own home. Aldo’s father hates his son as much as Lola hates her mother and treats Lola with the same contempt that her mother did. After enduring this for several months, Lola calls home and convinces Oscar to bring her all the money in the house. Oscar does so, but he also brings their mother, aunt, and uncle. Furious at Oscar’s betrayal, Lola runs off, knocking her mother to the ground. When she returns to make sure she is not seriously injured, Lola discovers that her mother had been faking her pain. Lola associates this with Lot’s wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt for turning back.
Lola is sent to live with her maternal grandmother in the Dominican Republic. She and her grandmother get along well. Lola joins the track team at the private school she attends and meets Max, her new boyfriend.
Lola’s grandmother shows her some pictures of her mother as a child. At one point, her grandmother begins to reveal some secret from her past. Lola has an intense feeling of the importance of what she is about to hear, sensing that this is the moment at which her life will really begin.
The narrative changes to the viewpoint of Lola and switches from the third-person to the first-person point of view. This gives the reader a new angle on the home life of Oscar and Lola. While Lola appears to be a strong individual in Chapter 1, in this chapter she is presented as a lost soul, seeking a life of fulfillment that she cannot have at home.
The characterization of Lola’s mother is such that she is a one-dimensional, seething ball of anger and abuse. Without any redeeming qualities, Lola’s mother becomes a bully, one of the many bullies in the novel. This underlying theme of violence presents the actions of the protagonists as justified, even if not admirable, in the normal course of events. Lola’s escape from her home to the home of Aldo presents a feeling of tragic fate: anger will follow her anywhere she goes. The metaphor of smoke for anger describes its pervasive nature in every aspect of Lola’s life. It fills the air, seeps into everything, leaves its stink behind. Yet Lola’s greatest fear is in her often-repeated phrase: “I am my mother’s daughter.” It is not out of pride but terror that she thinks she will grow up to be just as miserable and hateful as her mother.
Lola in this chapter is like a tragic princess needing to be rescued by a knight in shining armor. Instead of waiting for such a knight to appear, she latches on to any sign of rescue. However, every sign of rescue is just a change of venue, not of circumstance. The fukú curse follows her, despite her attempts to escape. Her rape at the hands of a neighbor as a child seems to make little difference, almost as if it is expected. This continues the theme of the subjugation of Dominican women that pervades the novel. Victims of male machismo, the women have little power except in sexuality. When Lola voluntarily gives herself to Aldo, she regrets it mostly because it is the loss of the only power a Dominican woman has.
It is only in her ancestral home in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic that Lola finds some measure of peace. She excels at track and finds a decent boyfriend, but most importantly she finds a home and a kindred spirit with her grandmother, her mother’s mother. The two connect when the older woman admits that she and her daughter did not get along, thus freeing Lola from responsibility for the failed relationship. Lola sees in grandmother something like a mentor or fairy godmother. The chapter ends with the expectation that her grandmother will say the magic words that will set her free to be what she is meant to be.