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In The House On Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, the chapter "What Sally Said" ends with the following:

Then we didn't need to worry. Until one day Sally's father catches her talking to a boy and the next day she doesn't come to school. And the next. Until the way Sally tells it, he just went crazy, he just forgot he was her father between the buckle and the belt.

You're not my daughter, you're not my daughter. And then he broke into his hands.

I understand the implication is that Sally's father hit her with a belt, but what does "he broke into his hands" mean?

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This probably means:

he broke down crying in his hands

After saying "you're not my daughter" two times, he might have felt overwhelmed by the anger.

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  • Taking the quoted sentence out of context, your interpretation sounds reasonable, but I don't think this is what the author was saying; please see my comment to the answer by @LetEpsilonBeLessThanZero. Jul 15, 2022 at 1:58
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Especially from the context of the previous paragraph, it seems to me that it implies:

And then he broke into (using) his hands (to hit her).

This is a similar form of "break into" meaning "begin suddenly" as is found in phrases like "break into laughter" or "break into a sprint" but applied to the use of his hands/fists for physical violence.

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A friend suggested it could mean the father swung the belt so aggressively that it left a mark on his hands. IE: Breaking into the skin.

And then he broke into (the skin of) his hands.

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