Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The questioning of gender roles, especially women’s, is a principal theme of Rosario Castellanos’s “Cooking Lesson.” Its opening sentence indicates the space that culture assigns to females: the kitchen. Lacking cooking skills, the narrator resentfully comments: “My place is here. I’ve been here from the beginning of time.” She embodies generations of women who have been socialized for domesticity.

As the story progresses, the young woman’s resentment toward other household matters surfaces, suggesting that her struggle with making dinner is merely a catalyst in questioning the cultural forces that give women the roles that trap them in the home, stripping them of self-identity. These views are presented through the anonymous character’s interior monologue. Significantly voiceless and nameless, this woman represents countless married women who silently suffer the loss of their independence, identity, and self-esteem. Castellanos’s irony lends relief to the tale of profound disillusionment with marriage.

In a traditionally patriarchal society, such as that depicted in this story, public forums are reserved for men, while married women are relegated to the private realm of the home. For the narrator, marriage means giving up the independence that she enjoyed while single. Her allusions to schooling and job skills suggest that she was previously gainfully employed. Quite literally, she sacrifices her engagement with the outside world at the altar.

As a devalued worker, the housewife recognizes the selflessness that marriage requires of women. Adopting her husband’s name is the first step in assuming his identity and losing her own: “I lost my old name and I still can’t get used to the new one.” She feels nameless because her own identity is subsumed in her husband’s. His infidelity further accentuates her loss of self.

The patriarchal double standard in sexual matters that condones premarital and extramarital sex for males, while condemning females for the same behaviors, is also a point of bitterness for the narrator. The culture allows a husband to exercise his sexual...

(The entire section is 877 words.)