Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Like Water for Chocolate playfully imitates the steamy romances included in Hispanic women’s magazines and simultaneously pays tribute to the arts of the kitchen. The novel begins and ends in the kitchen, where Tita’s grandniece prepares one of Tita’s recipes, illustrating that the plot is above all a vehicle for the author to celebrate food and cooking as the center of daily lives and destinies. This message is also evident in the fact that cooking is the root cause for the events of Magical Realism or fantasy that pervade the novel. The importance of freedom for women is the novel’s central feminist theme.
Tita learns the most important lessons about life in the kitchen from the Indian cook Nacha. As in the book’s title, descriptions of how characters feel in various situations are presented in imagery from food and cooking. In addition, the unique ways in which food is prepared and the ingredients employed are shown as determining or redefining people’s fates, as with the wedding cake prepared by Tita that spoils Rosaura’s reception and destroys Nacha’s life. The novel equates understanding these secrets of the power of food with understanding life. In its language, food-related events, characterization in terms of attitudes toward food and cooking, and cookbook-like form, this novel makes culinary activity itself the captivating stuff of literature.
Central to conveying a message of liberation for Mexican women is...
(The entire section is 427 words.)
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Duty and Responsibility
The first chapter begins the novel's exploration of duty, responsibility, and tradition as they present Tita's main conflict. Family tradition requires that she reject Pedro's marriage proposal so she can stay at home and take care of her widowed mother for the rest of her life. If she turns her back on this tradition, she will not fulfill what society considers her responsibility to her mother. Rosaura decides that she also will impose this tradition upon her daughter Esperanza and so prevent her from marrying Alex Brown. Tita recognizes, however, that the tradition is unfair; if she cannot marry and have children, who will support her in her old age? She tells Rosaura that she will go against tradition as long as she has to, "as long as this cursed tradition doesn't take me into account." Nevertheless, she and Pedro respect his duty toward his wife and child, for they remain discreet in their love as long as she lives.
In order to fulfill her responsibilities toward her mother, Tita must obey her—a difficult task, given Mama Elena's authoritative nature. Mama Elena makes harsh demands on Tita throughout her life and expects her to obey without question. Mama Elena feels that Tita has never had the "proper deference" towards her mother, and so she is particularly harsh on her youngest daughter. Even when Tita sews "perfect creation" for the wedding, Mama Elena makes her rip out the seam and do...
(The entire section is 1225 words.)
Love is the most powerful force in this book. It is associated with dazzling light and heat, its absence with unbearable chill. A look can literally start a fire. Tita, feeling cold and alone, imagines Gertrudis, after she fled the ranch in a burst of passion, looking up at a star: "Surely the heat from her body, which was inflamed by love, would travel with that gaze across an infinite distance, with no loss of energy, until it landed on the star she was watching." The power is so great that
those huge stars have lasted for millions of years by taking care never to absorb any of the fiery rays lovers all over the world send up at them night after night. To avoid that, the star generates so much heat inside itself that it shatters the rays into a thousand pieces. . . . This is the reason the stars shine so brightly at night.
Like fire, love must be handled with care. As John Brown explains to Tita,
each of us is born with a box of matches inside us but we can't strike them all by ourselves. . . . Each person has to discover what will set off those explosions in order to live, since the combustion that occurs when one of them is ignited is what nourishes the soul. ... If one doesn't find out in time what will set off those explosions, the box of matches dampens, and not a single match will ever be lighted.
Once started, however, the fire can spread out of...
(The entire section is 1399 words.)