Form and Content (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Like Water for Chocolate is divided into twelve chapters, one for each month of the year. Each chapter is preceded by a recipe that corresponds to the action that follows. The structure of the novel suggests the tradition of women’s magazines that came into vogue during the mid-nineteenth century. These periodicals included, like Esquivel’s novel, recipes, home remedies, and, often, sentimental novels in monthly installments.
The novel takes place on a ranch in northern Mexico at the time of the Revolution. Just as the country is in a state of flux, the family must also adapt to changing times. Tita is in love with Pedro, but because she cannot be married, Pedro marries her sister, Rosaura. When Rosaura is unable to care for her newborn son, Roberto, Tita assumes all the caretaking responsibilities for the child. As the attraction between Tita and Pedro becomes increasingly evident, however, Mamá Elena orders Pedro and Rosaura to move to San Antonio. Separated from his aunt, the child dies, and Tita suffers an emotional crisis. The family doctor, John Brown, is summoned to take the girl to an asylum. Because he is in love with Tita, however, rather than complying with her mother’s request, he brings her to live with him, and she eventually recovers.
Meanwhile, the ranch has been caught in revolutionary crossfire, leaving Mamá Elena paralyzed. Tita returns home to care for her mother, but Elena remains as dictatorial as ever...
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Context (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Despite the book’s popularity with the reading public, initial critical reaction to Like Water for Chocolate has tended to dismiss the work as, at best, a poor imitation of the male canon. Limited by conventional reading expectations, such criticism seemingly fails to admit the possibility that Esquivel’s appropriation of past texts, both from the male canon and from popular literature, indicates anything more than a lack of originality. A careful examination of the text reveals that Esquivel has replicated neither the male canon nor popular literature. In fact, underlying the appearance of conventionalism and traditional gender roles is a subtle form of parodic inversion that serves not only to undermine the canon but also to redirect its focus to an aesthetic project in which binary oppositions of “high art” and popular literature are overturned.
The use of traditional resources becomes revolutionary when it is reorganized from the vantage point of women or any other marginalized group. The fact that Esquivel has chosen discourses not merely outside the canon but specifically associated with women’s values and experiences allows her to set forth an alternative to the hegemonic standard, based upon real women’s lives. Like Water for Chocolate portrays women and men as individuals, not as allegorical others. Real women, the novel demonstrates, may have “masculine” attributes such as strength and courage, just as real men may show “feminine” sides. In the canon, male voice and vision are often privileged as the source of power. Humorously deconstructing this gaze and proclaiming women as a source of energy in their own right causes such patriarchal binary schemes to be undermined and an alternate order to be posited. While reaffirming the traditional roles of women, Esquivel asserts their value with a project based on—but not replicating—such roles. When the borders between canonized and popular literatures, between oral and written discourses, are dissolved, the hierarchy governing such distinctions is subverted as well.
Ideas for Group Discussions
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Curtin, Deane W., and Lisa M. Heldke, eds. Cooking, Eating, Thinking: Transformative Philosophies of Food. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992. In the introduction to this collection of essays, Curtin maintains that cooking is an activity in which practice is more important than theory, and this practice hinges on physical experience and contextual knowledge. Heidke terms this approach “bodily knowledge” because it is a kind of perception that transcends the subject/object dichotomy and admits an interrelationship between human subjects and food.
Dobrian, Susan Lucas. “Romancing the Cook: Parodic Consumption of Popular Romance...
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