These roles can be restricting, particularly for modern women, and the author challenges this image of woman in her novel. The daughters in the novel, Esperanza, Fe, Caridad, and La Loca all try to be dutiful daughters and wives, yet they are unsuccessful in these roles. Esperanza's boyfriend leaves her for another woman, while Fe's husband drives her to a job that kills her. Caridad's marriage falls apart as do all of her other relationships, while La Loca's hatred of people effectively precludes romance. Even Sofi, the mother, acts like a dutiful daughter and passes up the chance for true love. The men are showed to have much role in the wasting of these women's lives. In courtship, in relationships, as well as in marriage, the men only acted as exhausting the resources of these women, whether of their material wealth, their health, or their energy.
In the novel, the men represent society's systematic domination of women as accomplished and preserved through male control of cultural, social, and economic institutions. However, the author creates a cast of male characters who are demasculinized. Sofia's husband, Domingo, an addicted gambler, cannot earn a living or fix a thing. His exclusive function in the household is to watch television and decode Caridad's mysterious episodes of ESP so he can place winning bets. Eventually, he begins gambling away Sofia's home. When Sofi discovers her own assertive voice, she serves him with divorce papers, and Domingo humbly vanishes from the story.
Esperanza, one of the daughters, had one love in her life: her college sweetheart Ruben. He holds a magic spell over Esperanza and controls her until she wises up and leaves him to pursue her career. After Esperanza died, Ruben becomes a miserable man who, sad and alone, remembers how the days with most meaning in his life were those of his youth spent observing and admiring Esperanza's militancy in the cause of La Raza. Without Esperanza to open his eyes, Ruben would have seen very little. Now, without her, he will see nothing and therefore stand for even less.
There were men in Fe's life. The first one, Tom, breaks his engagement with Fe. When Sofia calls in Tom's house to seek for an explanation for the breakup, his mother informs her that Tom has become a victim of susto, or cold feet. Sofia angrily doubts Tom's manhood: "Susto Susto ... You think that cowardly son of yours without pelos on his maracas has susto" Tom's destiny after his relationship with Fe leads to a lonely life, where he remains forever locked into remedying machines as the handler of a convenience store. The second love of Fe is her cousin, Casimiro, who is completely devoted to her. Soft-spoken, this college-educated man's gentle talk includes bleating like a sheep, a trait he had inherited from being a shepherd. Fe becomes increasingly ill, but Casimiro is too timid to urge her to seek medical attention, and he waits until Sofia intervenes. By then it is too late. There are men like Casimiro who are worse than a mouse. They cannot lead, cannot talk, and when they do, there is hardly time to make repair.
An interesting male character in the novel is Francisco el Penitente. A Vietnam veteran who loses himself in drugs and failed relationships, he finds his calling as wood carver. He becomes a religious fanatic and deprives himself of all worldly pleasures. He meets Caridad after she has taken on the