“Like Water for Chocolate” is a contemporary romantic novel by Laura Esquivel who decided to depict in her book the home remedies and recipes in 1989, Mexico. The story describes the life of Tita, a young girl who craves all her life to get married with Pedro, her lover, however, it can never become a reality as her mother closely upholds the family tradition which presupposes the youngest daughter never get married but dedicate her life to taking care of the mother until she dies. Tita feels like in a cage and can only express her real sorrows and wishes when she cooks. Laura Esquivel employs the tactics of magical realism which allows her to intertwine the ordinary with the supernatural in order to stress on the main problem (Dennard, n.d.).
The novel has quite an interesting composition: Twelve sections are named after the twelve month, beginning with January. A Mexican recipe plays the role of a caption for each section. The cooking process lies in the foundation of each chapter and is closely tied to the events from Tita’s life.
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Tita de la Garza is only fifteen when the story begins. Living together with Mama Elena and two elder sisters Rosaura and Gertrudis on a small ranch located near the border of the United States with Mexico, she does not have the opportunity to lead the life she is dreaming of. Her lover, Pedro, is their neighbor, and when he asks Tita’s mother to marry her daughter, she strictly refuses explaining that the De la Garza family has that special tradition. The mother does not take into consideration the preferences for happiness of her daughter at all which constitutes one of the main conflicts of the novel (Dennard, n.d.).
Tita’s strong connection with cooking is greatly enhanced by the fact that her family cook took a lot of care for Tita during her childhood passing her the necessary skills which doubled and reached some magical heights with the love and tenderness between the two of them. Moreover, the girl also appeared to the world in the kitchen making the power of her dedication even stronger. On the contrary, the cooking skills of Rosaura are very poor, therefore, she is less attractive in the eyes of Pedro, her husband. Nonetheless, the couple has a son, Roberto. For some reason, Rosaura cannot nurse Roberto properly. Therefore, Tita starts feeding Roberto herself to stop him from constant crying. Gradually, she starts producing breast milk and has a good opportunity to nurse the baby. Pedro is attracted to her more than ever before. The two of them start meeting secretly, stealing the few moments together from their families by hiding around on the ranch behind the backs of Rosaura and Mama Elena.
At this moment, the author starts instilling the magical situation into the novel. Because of the strong emotions of Tita, her cooking takes on a completely new side and she unintentionally starts affecting people around her by means of the food she cooks. After one especially rich dinner of quail with the rose petal sauce flavored abundantly with the erotic thoughts about Pedro, the elder sister Gertrudis gets overwhelmed with lust and decides to escape from the ranch after making rapacious love with a radical soldier in quite an unusual position on the back of a horse. Her life does not end happily after this: She is dumped into a cheap brothel and consequently disowned by the mother.
At the urge of Mama Elena, Pedro and Rosaura has to leave for the city in Texas, San Antonio. The mother started suspecting that there is some romantic relationship between Pedro and Tita. Rosaura’s life as well as her Gertrudis’ is getting very bad. She loses Roberto and later on becomes completely infertile after the serious complications during the delivery of Esperanza, her daughter.
Tita accuses her mother when she finds out about death of her nephew who was like a son to her. Mama Elena slaps strongly Tita across the face with a hard, wooden spoon. The daughter who has no more desire to cope with the mother's ways of controlling, goes away and hides in the dovecote until Dr. John Brown shares his sympathies with her and convinces Tita to calm down. The mother clearly gives Tita to understand that there is no room for such "lunatics" like her on the farm, therefore, she has to be institutionalized. Fortunately, the doctor is very kind and brings Tita to his home where he can take care of her instead. Tita’s relationship with Dr. Brown become quite intimate and she even starts planning about getting married with him one day, however, her strong feelings for Pedro remain the same.
While the doctor is away, Pedro and Tita make love for the first time. A couple of months later, Tita is haunted with the thoughts whether she can be possibly pregnant from Pedro. One special holiday Gertrudis comes to the ranch and eavesdrop about Tita’s pregnancy. Pedro and Tita start arguing whether they should run away together or stay there. Because of the problem Pedro gets very drunk and goes singing under the window of Tita’s bedroom at the same time when his beloved is quarreling with her mother’s ghost who tells her that she is not pregnant at all. At this moment, the story turns into a tale which possesses a good number of magical elements who show the absurdity of the situations as well as outlining the most worrying thoughts and of the protagonists.
Mama Elena decides to avenge Tita for her behavior and sets her lover on fire. Pedro is left bedridden and can behave only like “a child throwing a tantrum”. The evil spirit of the mother does not know the limits and is able to hurt even the daughter. In the meantime, Tita thinks about returning to her fiancé, Doctor John, however, she hesitates whether she should tell him that they cannot marry anymore as she has lost her virginity (Like Water for Chocolate, n.d.).
The family situation becomes worse with each coming day. Rosaura enters the kitchen at the time when Tita is making food and begins quarreling with her about her close involvement with Esperenza’s life and their family tradition due to which the youngest daughter has to stay at home and care for her mother until the death takes her away. However, Tita hates this tradition and understands that Esperanza’s life would be as miserable as hers when she keeps up the custom.
John together with his great-aunt who is deaf visits Tita and she confesses to him that she can no longer marry him. However, John does not give up and accepts her situation, “reaching for Tita’s hand...with a smile on his face” (Coffin, n.d.).
Times go by, and the author depicts the situation when Tita is getting ready for the wedding of Esperenza and Alex – Rosaura has succumbed to serious digestive problems and her daughter is finally free to choose to be with the love of her life. At the wedding, Pedro asks Tita to marry him stating that he cannot imagine that he would spend the rest of his life without her and will die without even knowing how it is to be married to her. Tita accepts his proposal and Pedro leaves the life whole making love with his wife in the storage room of the kitchen right after the wedding ceremony.
Tita’s sorrow does not know limits and tries to commit a suicide by eating a lot of maches. The magic appears and the candles are lighted by the passion of their memories, creating a devouring fire which engulfs the two of them and causing their deaths in a peaceful union of love. The ranch is totally destroyed as well as the land fertility under the ranch declines drastically.
The story is being told then by Esperanza’s daughter who reveals that all what has survived the fire on the ranch was only the cookbook of Tita with all the recipes which were described in the chapters of the book.
It is important to note that behind the magical events a much deeper meaning is found, Laura Esquivel used the genre to show the bothering problems of the whole society, namely the concept of the Mexican Revolution which shows that despite the disasters it brings into the lives of the citizens, the true emotions will always be there in any time and in any place. The Mexican Revolution was a time of a great change for the whole country outlining the conflict created by new, innovative forces against the old political power. The author transferred the burning political issues in the family story where Mama Elena’s rule represented an unfair, conservative government that made the whole country suffer (Secret Meaning of the Mexican Revolution, 2007).
Moreover, the Mexican Revolution was not the first civil war in the Mexico – during the earlier years, the War of Reform as well as the Independence War had shaken the country contributing to the storyline of the “Like Water for Chocolate”. These wars feature the relationship between the family members very brightly stressing on the need of some progress, a revolution between the rules existing in the small unit which reflects the needs of a larger community (Secret Meaning of the Mexican Revolution, 2007).
Laura Esquivel’s application of the traits of the magical realism allowed her to stress on the ongoing problems of her motherland without directly referring to them. the author showed that even in a very conservative, traditional environment, the innovation will take over with time, making a significant difference in the society and uprooting the establishes, out-of-date order which cannot satisfy the growing needs of the nation anymore.
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