Like Water for Chocolate

by Laura Esquivel

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How does Laura Esquivel use literary devices to build the mood in Like Water for Chocolate?


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Esquivel builds a fairytale mood that expresses the variable and most often passionate emotions of the novel's main character, Tita de la Garza. One literary device she employs is what writer Chuck Palahniuk calls ritual repetition. Esquivel creates a ritual by starting off with a recipe at the beginning of each chapter. This structures the novel, anchors it squarely in the women's world of the kitchen, and allows Esquivel to set a tone for each chapter through the food being prepared, which takes on the emotions of the cook—who is almost always Tita.

Esquivel uses rich imagery, which is description using the five senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell, especially food imagery, to establish mood.

Another literary device Esquivel employs is simile, a comparison that uses the words "like" or "as." When Tita and Pedro, for example, see Gertrudis and Juan passionately embrace, they are compared to people watching a movie:

Like silent spectators to a movie, Pedro and Tita began to cry watching the stars act out the love that was denied to them.

In a metaphor, which is a comparison not using "like" or "as," in the quote above, Gertrudis and Juan are likened to movie stars because of the melodramatic way they reunite.

Esquivel uses a food metaphor and alliteration in the following passage about Tita. Alliteration is when two or more words beginning with the same consonant are placed close to one another:

She [Tita] felt so lost and lonely. One last chile in walnut sauce left on the platter after a fancy dinner couldn't feel feel any worse than she did.

Tita is likened to a lone chile. "Lost," "lonely," "last," and "left" are alliterative words. Finally, Esquivel uses personification, attributing human feelings of loneliness to the last chile. All of these literary devices add to the vivid intensity of emotional mood the novel creates.

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Mood, also known as atmosphere, is a literary element that refers to the feeling that readers receive from a story. Writers can use a variety of literary devices, like setting and style. In Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel employs a wide variety of literary devices to develop the mood of the story, but I will focus on the aforementioned two because of their significance.

The novel is set on a ranch in Northern Mexico in the 1910s, during the Mexican Revolution. The physical setting itself evokes a certain mood, but the historical setting provides additional context for the reader to understand the mood that Esquivel hopes to convey. The turbulence of the Mexican Revolution evokes images of soldiers, bandits, and rebels; it sets the atmosphere of a similarly tumultuous story that unfolds for Tita and her family.

Style is another critical literary device that Esquivel employs in Like Water for Chocolate. She famously uses magical realism in the novel to create a sense of magic and the unexplained. For example, food is a central theme of the novel that is connected to the magical realism that Esquivel hopes to portray. When Tita cooks onions, she cries uncontrollably. When she cooks with roses, her family is struck with sexual desire. Food provokes emotions in her and her family in strange ways, which is one of the many ways that Esquivel uses style to infuse a magical atmosphere in her novel.

There is a certain atmosphere or mood that Like Water for Chocolate evokes for its readers—sensitive, emotional, magical, turbulent, with all of the cultural and historical underpinnings of the Mexican Revolution. The setting and the style of the novel are the two most significant literary devices that create such a mood.

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In the novel Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel uses many devices to build the mood in the novel. However, one of the most important aspects of this work is her use of magical realism. Magical realism weaves elements of the fantastic or the supernatural into everyday life and is usually found in Latin American literature.

Through the use of magical realism, Esquivel illustrates Tita's emotions. For example, when Tita is born on the kitchen table, “Tita was literally washed into this world on a great tide of tears that spilled over the edge of the table and flooded across the kitchen floor" (10). Magical realism is used to foreshadow the sadness of Tita's life; the fantastical image that floods the kitchen is one of tears. As well, Tita's place throughout the novel is the kitchen. Tita's recipes also illustrate magical realism as they set the mood for love, lust, bitterness, and sadness, to name a few.

The novel ends on a note of the fantastic as Tita's bedspread covers the entire ranch, and she and Pedro are united in a place beyond earth, "the lost Eden." Through the use of magical realism, Esquivel narrates Tita's life.

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Esquivel uses several literary devices, including foreshadowing, metaphors, symbolism, imagery, and hyperbole, in order to create different moods in her novel, "Like Water for Chocolate." For example, passion is apparent when foreshadowing is introduced. John tells Tita about his grandmother's theory of love and life. She said that "each of us is born with a box of matches inside us but we can't strike them all by ourselves." We need the breath of the person we love to light them and thus nourish our souls. She warns, however, that lighting the matches all at once would be fatal. This process occurs at the end of the novel when Pedro's suppressed passion for Tita is finally "lit," and the intense flame is too much for him to bear. It is then that he dies of a heart attack and she is consumed by a literal and metaphoric/symbolic flame.

Imagery and hyperbole are also helpful in constructing mood in the novel. Through the vivid descriptions of Tita's magical cooking, the reader can imagine the smells, tastes, and feelings that the food evokes. Also, magic realism is evident when these feelings of love, sadness, lust, and resentment are exaggerated through the characters as they cause orgasms, sobs, and even death.

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