Esperanza Rising Summary
by Pam Muñoz Ryan

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Esperanza Rising Summary

The novel begins with Esperanza, aged six, walking through "the gentle slopes of the vineyard" on the family's ranch in Aguascalientes, Mexico, with her father, whom she calls Papi (and later Papa). Papi explains that the valley "breathes and lives" and urges her to feel the heartbeat of the earth. The two lie together in the grass; Papi tells Esperanza she must be patient in order to feel the "gentle thumping." When she feels "the heart of the valley," she looks at Papa, and they understand each other: their hearts and that of the valley are beating together.

The story flashes forward to six years later. It is now 1930, and Esperanza is ceremonially invited to cut the first grapes of the harvest. We learn that Esperanza's family are wealthy estate owners, with Esperanza's parents, Ramona and Sixto Ortega, employing numerous campesinos who work in the fields. Esperanza will be thirteen this year, which puts her two years closer to her longed-for fifteenth birthday, at which point she will be considered a woman. For now, however, Esperanza is still thinking about entering her teens. While gathering flowers for her party, Esperanza cuts herself on a thorn and ponders whether this is "bad luck." Her father is late returning from work.

There have been reports of bandits in the area; Esperanza's mother is concerned about this, because Papa is the sort of wealthy landowner who was targeted during the recent Mexican Revolution. Esperanza's grandmother, whom she calls Abuelita, tries to distract Esperanza from her worry by teaching her to crochet. Meanwhile, the housekeeper's husband and her son, Miguel—a sixteen-year-old whom Esperanza once wanted to marry, before she realized they were divided by class differences—have gone to look for Papa.

Papa's brothers, Luis and Marcos, arrive at the house carrying a belt buckle that was brought to them by one of their fieldworkers. Esperanza recognizes it as Papa's and has a sinking feeling, moments before Miguel and his father, Alfonso, return with Papa's body. He has been killed by bandits.

The next day, Esperanza's birthday, is not the celebration she had planned. Instead, she has to suffer through Papa's funeral, which nothing, even the presence of her friend Marisol, can make better. She does not want to open her birthday presents; when she eventually does, she finds a doll in a white dress, her final present from Papa. She is devastated by this and unable to open any of her other presents.

Meanwhile, Luis and Marco are dealing with Papa's estate, and it is implied that Luis has an interest in Mama—he suggests her mourning clothes do not flatter her. His interests become more sinister when the family that, although the house and all Papa's goods have been left to his wife and daughter, the land itself has been left to Luis. When Mama refuses to sell the house to Luis, Luis asks her to marry him instead.

Mama refuses, but this will make life difficult for her family for a number of reasons. Luis, the bank president, has control of all their money and wants Mama by his side to help him secure a position as governor. When Miguel and Esperanza discuss the difficult situation, Miguel explains that if Luis does take over control of the ranch, Miguel and his parents will emigrate to the United States, which distresses Esperanza. But Miguel explains that, here in Mexico, the "river" of class will always separate them, whereas in the United States that might not be true.

That night, the house is set on fire. Mama and Esperanza, who carries her precious doll, escape the house, while Miguel helps Abuelita to escape. In the morning, Luis asks Mama again to marry him, saying that if she does not, he will not rebuild the house or replant the vines, and everyone will be destitute. Luis also threatens to send Esperanza away to be educated. Mama does not want to marry Luis, but she also cannot see a way out—except perhaps by traveling to the United States with Alfonso, Miguel, and Hortensia. They decide...

(The entire section is 2,390 words.)