How do Laura Esquivel's personal background and experiences connect to the novel Like Water for Chocolate? Are any of Esquivel's own experiences portrayed in the novel?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Like Water for Chocolate is a novel by Laura Esquivel that has been made into a movie. In a 1993 interview documented in the Sun Sentinel (Florida), Esquivel explains the inspiration for this story, and not surprisingly that inspiration consists of family, cooking, and the role of women in society.

She claims the idea first came to her when she was cooking the recipes of her mother and grandmother; the smells of the food were evocative of both the relationships and the memories she shared with the females in her family. As they cooked, they would talk. As Esquivel cooked, the smells would take her back to those conversations. She says:

"The transfer is a natural occurrence. It's what happens to families. The same way one tells a recipe, one tells a family history. Each one of us has our past locked inside."

In general, then, the idea for this novel came from those shared cooking and talking moments with her mother and grandmother.

Specifically, Esquivel reveals that the primary story line comes from an incident which happened in her own family. The article says:

She had a great-aunt named Tita, who was forbidden to wed. Tita never did anything but care for her own mother. Soon after her mother died, so did Tita.

Of course the novel is a fictionalized account of that story that takes many liberties with this one family event.

In the novel, the youngest daughter in the family is also named Tita, and she is not allowed to marry the man she falls in love with because of a family tradition which requires the youngest daughter to remain single in order to take care of her mother when she is old. Of course we know that the fictional Tita, though she does not marry, also does not meekly accept her fate and die once her mother does. The Tita in the novel is passionate and feisty, and the contrast between what she is forced to do and what she feels is a constant source of conflict.

All of the recipes in the novel are actual family recipes passed down through generations of women in Esquivel's family. The entire concept of cooking is interwoven both through Esquivel's life and her novel. This passion for cooking and the resultant conversations are also a reflection of the role women once had in society.

"In this century, everything that took place in the kitchen was devalued. So were women. We all thought important social changes would happen outside the home."

Of course that did not happen, and women were eventually valued more for what they did outside the home, specifically in the workplace.

The only unchanging element in society, the only way to know where we have been and where we are going, according to Esquivel, 

"is to look at the past and to remember who we were through ceremonies and rituals."

That is represented in this novel through the antiquated practice of keeping the youngest daughter from marrying as well as through the powerful element of food. Food in this novel has almost magical powers to incite or tame passions and even change the destinies of those who eat it and prepare it. 

In short, Esquivel's experiences in the kitchen, with the other women in her family, and as a woman in society growing up in a particular time and place have all contributed to the plot and themes of this novel. While the kitchen appears to be the figurative prison for women in history, it is really society that placed restrictions on women's independence. In this novel, the kitchen is the place that allows Tita some independence and, in the end, sets her free. 

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