Is there a common theme shared among the novels Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood, and Chocolat by Joanne Harris?
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Undeniably, the common theme that these novels share is the search for self-identity in a male-dominated society, where the woman is relegated to specific and limiting roles: those of nurturers, servants, and followers. In all, the main characters of these novels go through the same struggle: they are all trying to determine who they are in a world that continuously ignores or undermines their needs and wishes.
For example, in The Edible Woman, Marian fears that her life will end up stuck in the same rut as her two friends, Clara and Ainsley. She wonders if women only have those two choices: becoming a sacrificed mother and bored wife like Clara, or becoming a man-hungry "loose-cannon" like Ainsley. In a world that seems to offer very few choices, Marian feels eaten alive by the social expectations bestowed upon women. For this reason, she develops an aversion to eating and a subsequently major disorder that, in the end, demonstrates to be a reflection of her wildest fears.
Tita's character in Like Water for Chocolate is also limited by society in that her own mother, Mama Elena, seeks to obtain Tita's complete obedience in order to fulfill the duties that she is supposed to perform as the youngest daughter of a Spanish-blood family. Mama Elena does this through humiliation, and sometimes even through violence. Mama Elena's argument is that Tita has not done "what she is supposed to do" as the youngest daughter and, for this reason, she feels the need to make Tita comply with her so-called social duties by force. In the process, Tita tries to find herself in those very little moments where she is allowed to become free from the mental and physical imprisonment created by her mother.
Finally, Viane Rocher, the main character from Chocolat, breaks the social norms of the women of the village to which she moves. She is a single mother (her daughter Anouk lives with her), young, independent, outspoken, indulgent, and openly willing to break formalities by infusing her own way of doing things into an otherwise traditional village. Her entrance into the village creates commotion, for she represents social change: how could a conservative and well-established village accept a single, vivacious mother and, to top it off, to allow her to open a business that encourages self-indulgence? Viane also shares the problem of wanting to belong somewhere. She also seeks for self-identity, but finds it very hard to find her place.
the neediness of the town is gone; I can feel satisfaction in its place, a full-bellied satiety with no more room for me.
For this reason, it is quite reasonable to argue that the search for a place in society, and for self-identity, are the main themes that bind the novels together.
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