How is heat and fire imagery used in "Like Water for Chocolate," and how is heat and fire a symbol of intense emotion and desire?
In the novel, heat and fire imagery is used to represent the potency of sexual desire and the power of a woman's wrath.
When Pedro first consummated his love for Tita on Gertrudis' old bed, it was said that a "strange glow" came from the room they were in. From her own room, Rosaura could see that "plumes of phosphorescent colors were ascending to the sky like delicate Bengal lights." Since neither she nor Chencha could decide what the strange fire represented, both concluded that it was Mama Elena's ghost visiting her wrath upon the family. Rosaura and Chencha's conclusion was fueled by extreme speculation and superstition; however, it was the perfect cover for Pedro and Tita's sexual rendezvous. The formidable light, heat, and fire imagery symbolizes both sexual passion and female wrath.
On another occasion, Mama Elena's ghost confronts Tita menacingly. However, this time, Tita refuses to be intimidated. She stands her ground and fights back, reducing her mother's ghost to a tiny speck of light. However, this light is a very dangerous one: it makes its way furiously to where Pedro is standing, right under Tita's window. With a tempestuous burst of energy, the tiny light crashes into a lamp nearest to Pedro and causes it to explode. Tita's lover is soon covered in fiery flames. It is only through Tita's loving ministrations that Pedro recovers from his terrible burns. Again, in this episode fraught with magical realism, heat and fire symbolize feminine vengeance and judgment.
Perhaps the most fascinating light and heat imagery can be found in the last pages of the book. Pedro and Tita's final act of sexual passion concludes with the two souls clasped in a fiery embrace of ecstasy in the afterlife. This spiritual consummation leads to the burning of the entire ranch; as the ranch burns like a volcano, stone and ash are thrown in every direction. At great heights, the burning stones explode into multi-colored lights; this supernatural event lasts for a whole week. Here, heat and fire symbolize both intense passion and sexual ecstasy.
Throughout Laura Esquivel’s 1989 novel Like Water for Chocolate (originally released in Spanish as Como agua para chocolate), heat and fire represent emotion and desire.
Heat is tied to the preparation of food, a central motif of the story. Even the title refers to the boiling of water in the preparation of hot chocolate. The act of cooking imparts Tita’s feelings onto other people. For example, the rose petals Pedro gave Tita are cooked with quail and impart to Gertrudis Tita’s feelings of desire. These feelings are physically manifest in the form of heat.
However, the heat the characters experience is not so easily controlled or expressed. Much of the story centers around Tita’s struggle to cultivate her own inner fire. John Brown teaches Tita that, like the matches he makes, every individual has a box of matches inside them that must be lit. Tita fears that her figurative matches may have already burnt out or been soaked through. Dr. Brown encourages her, though, to stay away from those who would extinguish her soul. This advice likely refers to the cold influence of Mama Elena.
The story also addresses the dual nature of fire as a source of strength and destruction. Tita and Pedro’s romance epitomizes these dual forces, coupling death and desire. After the couple is finally married, Pedro dies, and Tita reacts to her feelings of cold and sorrow by eating matches. The matches spark with the heat of the memory of her beloved. The resulting fire engulfs the couple and the entire ranch. This ending thus emphasizes the fire imagery that is central to the story.
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Fire symbolizes desire and destructive passion in the novel, as there are actually three different times when characters explode into flames. The first example is when Gertrudis eats Tita's rose petals and becomes so aroused that she sets the walls of the family's outdoor shower on fire. A second occasion is when Mama Elena's spirit becomes so angry about Tita and Pedro's relationship that it causes an oil lamp to explode and burn Pedro. The final example of this explosive passion is when Tita eats candles after Pedro's death, killing herself and destroying the family's ranch.