Study Guide

Cooking Lesson

by Rosario Castellanos

Cooking Lesson Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A recently married Mexican woman explains that because she does not know how to cook, she must resort to a cookbook for guidance. Her frustration grows as she skims through recipes too difficult for novices to follow. Feeling dishonest in wearing an apron that suggests an expertise that is generally assumed to be second nature to women, the narrator finally decides to defrost and prepare a roast. While thus occupied, her mind wanders back and forth between her culinary task and the changes that have occurred in her life since she met her husband. Remarks that she makes, such as, “The meat hasn’t stopped existing. It has undergone a series of metamorphoses,” apply to both her cooking and her life—both of which have undergone major transformations. Meanwhile, her resentment toward other household matters surfaces.

Despite her supervision, the roast eventually burns, leaving her to contemplate two possible ways in which to deal with the problem. As a woman who has been socialized to be a wife who embodies perfection, she can air out the kitchen, toss out the burned roast to hide the evidence of her failure, and await her husband coquettishly dressed to go out for dinner. Her other option is to accept responsibility for the fiasco and risk shattering her husband’s image of her. The story ends with her weighing the satisfaction of showing her true self against the ensuing consequences of not using traditional feminine wiles.