How do the characters of Cooking Lesson by Rosario Castellanos help develop the theme of the story?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Cooking Lesson, Rosario Castellanos is able to express the feelings and fears of many young women as they face their futures; conflicted by their expected roles and their actual aspirations because in reality "My place is here. I've been here since the beginning of time." The narrator, the young bride, explores various possibilities and expectations as she laments her position and her lack of skill in the kitchen, almost as if it is sinful.

The theme is intensified through the characterizations and there can be no question of gender roles being misunderstood. The theme is also reinforced by the easily-recognizable resentment that the young woman feels and which she expresses through the introduction of the various characters whom she aspires to be or who may have contributed to her situation. 

The first person she references is "the experienced housewife." She goes on to express her dissatisfaction with the recipe book - and therefore the author of it - because, if she understood it, she wouldn't need the recipe book and therein lies the irony of her predicament.  She berates the author, and all contributors, for assuming that all women should understand the technical jargon - be "in on the secret." This internal dialogue develops the theme and the reader understands that her situation is far from glamorous and is thus sympathetic to her plight - the plight that she cannot voice because it would shatter the illusion of her revered position as a new wife whereas, in fact, she is the "self-sacrificing little Mexican wife."  

The introduction of the guard on the tram reveals how she met her husband and develops her character as she remains hopeful that maybe her life with her husband will become more meaningful than a "secretion." She looks forward to potentially being "perfect lovers" later in their marriage. There is also no doubt as to how serious she takes her marriage, this "sacrament" and that she will remain faithful and "stay the same as I am" although this indicates how she is resigning herself to being just "your wife." Her husband's character is essentially a stereotypical man, wanting everything pure in his wife but also expecting her to transform instantaneously.

The imaginings of the woman as she thinks about what she may have preferred - a sorceress, a fashion-designer and so on  - reveal the extent of her confusion as they are so far-removed from her reality. She describes an "older man" and how her interaction with him would go and, for a moment, relishes the possibility of a "jealous" husband - more stereotypes to reinforce the theme.

As she continues, her resentment also reveals her desperation and how she perhaps pities herself - the "useless" wife who should perhaps just admit her inadequacies.  Even the piece of meat takes on a character in order to help her explain herself and the fact that she had overlooked the completeness of her situation and that she must now resign herself to being her husband's wife on more than the "Sublime Occasion." 

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Cooking Lesson

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