What is the relationship between food and tradition in Laura Esquivel's novel Like Water for Chocolate? What is the overall meaning of the relationship between food and tradition in the book?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In the novel Like Water for Chocolate, author Laura Esquivel develops the food motif through the protagonist Tita, who was born in the kitchen and even raised in the kitchen when her mother left her to the care of their Indian cook Nacha. What's more, her dictatorial mother forbids Tita from marrying Pedro, arguing that there is a need to uphold the family tradition that the youngest daughter must remain in the household to care for the parents until their deaths. To overcome her heartbreak, Tita throws herself into cooking. Tita's cooking, before and after her heartbreak, both adheres to and defies traditions. The dual nature of the food motif serves to develop Esquivel's feminist theme.

One example of cooking that adheres to traditions can be seen early on in the novel with respect to the family of women making sausages. The narrator describes "sausage making" as a "real ritual" in the household. The narrator continues to detail the elaborate process:

The day before, [the household] started peeling garlic, cleaning chiles, and grinding spices. All the women in the family had to participate: Mama Elena; her daughters, Gertrudis, Rosaura, and Tita; Nacha, the cook; and Chencha, the maid. (Ch. 1)

The narrator further describes that "they gathered around the dining-room table," making sausages starting in the afternoon until it grew dark. But most importantly, the author reveals this tradition of food preparation as an excuse for Mama Elena to exercise her dictatorial power by commanding when the process would stop with her statement, "That's it for today." Hence, this example of food preparation depicts the women in the family adhering to a tradition of cooking but also adhering to the tradition of yielding to Mama Elena's authority.

A second example of cooking in a way that adheres to tradition can be seen in the moment Tita is forced by Mother Elana to prepare the wedding cake for her sister Rosaura and the man that Tita wanted to marry herself, Pedro. Preparing a wedding cake is an age-old tradition, yet Tita manages to defy this tradition by adding in her own ingredient: the tears she cries as she makes it. While one would think tears would have no effect as an added ingredient, in the novel, anyone who tasted the cake and icing was immediately overcome by sorrow. After tasting the cake, Nacha was so overcome by sorrow for the thought of her own lost fiance that she soon dies of a broken heart. Also, all the wedding guests who eat the cake are overcome by sorrow to the point that they become physically ill. In short, Tita manages to destroy the tradition of the wedding ceremony by adding her own ingredient to the traditional wedding cake.

Tita's ability to wreck traditions in her own way through her cooking is also a way for her to rebel against her tyrannical mother. In particular, Tita is rebelling against her mother's notion that a woman's place, especially the youngest daughter's place, is inside of the home. Hence, Esquivel uses Tita's rebellion through the tradition of cooking to illustrate her feminist theme throughout the book.

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