Tita de la Garza
Tita de la Garza (TEE-tah), the youngest daughter in a ranch-owning family. The rules of her tradition-bound family dictate that the youngest daughter remain single and care for her mother until the latter dies; therefore, Tita grows up in the kitchen, learning about life and cooking from the ranch’s Indian cook, Nacha. Her childhood sweetheart marries her older sister Rosaura so that he can be near Tita, but Tita’s vengeful mother regularly punishes the lovers for their clandestine meetings. Tita rebels against her fate through the marvelous recipes she prepares, which provoke magical reactions. After the deaths of her mother and her sister, Tita and her lover, Pedro, are united in a passion so intense that they perish in its blaze. Tita is immortalized in her diary and recipe book, in which she had written all of her recipes and the events surrounding their preparation.
Mamá Elena (mah-MAH eh-LEH-nah), Tita’s tyrannical mother, widowed with three daughters. Her attempts to prevent an adulterous relationship between Tita and Pedro occupy much of Mamá Elena’s destructive attention. Fearless in her cruelty, she even intimidates the captain of a marauding band of revolutionary soldiers, thus preserving the ranch’s inhabitants and livestock from attack. Later, she becomes paralyzed from a spinal injury she suffers when a group of bandits try unsuccessfully to rape her. She is then forced to rely on Tita to cook for her. Needlessly suspicious that Tita is poisoning her food, Mamá Elena soon dies from an overdose of the emetic she takes to counteract the food’s supposed noxious effects. She continues to plague Tita and Pedro from beyond the grave. After Mamá Elena’s death, Tita discovers her secret past: Her mother had enjoyed an affair with a mulatto man who fathered Tita’s sister Gertrudis. When her family discovered Mamá Elena’s relationship, they forced her into marriage with a white man and had the mulatto murdered when the affair continued.
Rosaura de la Garza
Rosaura de la Garza (rroh-SOW-rah), Tita’s older sister, who marries Pedro Muzquiz at Mamá Elena’s suggestion. Rosaura lives her life according to her mother’s dictates, attempting to maintain the respect and admiration of the cream of society. Jealous of his love for Tita, Rosaura tries unsuccessfully to impress Pedro with her cooking. Rosaura cannot even produce milk to nurse her son and daughter. Her attitude toward cooking and her knowledge of Pedro’s undying love for Tita are manifested in Rosaura’s obesity and flatulence.
Gertrudis de la Garza
Gertrudis de la Garza (hehr-TREW-dees), Tita’s rebellious older sister, fathered by Mamá Elena’s mulatto lover. Loyal and sympathetic to her sister Tita and a great fan of her sister’s culinary talents, Gertrudis is so overwhelmed by passion after eating one of Tita’s special dishes that she abandons her family and rides off on horseback with a revolutionary soldier. Unable to satisfy her lust with him, she tames her sexual appetite as a prostitute until the soldier returns and marries her. She lives happily, eventually becomes a general in the revolutionary army, and visits the ranch with her soldiers after Mamá Elena’s death.
Pedro Muzquiz (mews-KEES), Tita’s childhood sweetheart, who marries her sister Rosaura to remain near Tita. After her death, Mamá Elena whirls into him in the form of a firecracker, nearly burning him to death, but he recovers under Tita’s care. When Rosaura dies, he is finally freely united with Tita, and his ecstasy is so overwhelming that it proves fatal.
John Brown, the de la Garzas’ family doctor from Texas. A widower with a young son, he visits the de la Garza ranch when Rosaura gives birth. He admires Tita. When she suffers a nervous breakdown, he rescues her and cares for her in his home and later proposes marriage. They become engaged, but when Tita breaks off the relationship, he bows out amicably. He later returns to the ranch happily to celebrate his son Alex’s marriage to Rosaura’s daughter Esperanza.
Nacha (NAH-chah), the de la Garzas’ Indian cook. One of a long line of expert cooks, she rears Tita from childhood in the kitchen and teaches her secrets to Tita, even whispering recipes to her from beyond the grave. On the day of Rosaura’s wedding, after tasting the wedding cake icing in which Tita has shed tears, Nacha dies, overcome with grief and loneliness for the fiancé whom Mamá Elena had forbidden her to marry.
Tita de la Garza, the youngest daughter in her family, wins the reader’s sympathy immediately as the victim of the repressive family tradition that prevents her from marrying. Like most of the characters in the novel, in certain respects she resembles someone from a fairy tale. Beautiful, desirous of pleasing her mother, enormously talented, but cursed by an unfortunate destiny and a wicked mother and sister, Tita can be likened to Cinderella. She propels the novel’s action forward through the effects produced by the dishes she prepares. Tita represents a model of female liberation because, rather than rejecting the domestic space that confines her, she employs the resources of the kitchen to obtain self-fulfillment.
Mamá Elena, Tita’s cruel mother, like most female characters in the novel, is characterized largely by her relationship to the activities of the kitchen. In contrast to Tita, who uses ingredients creatively and generously, Mamá Elena displays and demands rigid obedience to rules in cooking. She is the principal villain, notorious for loving any destructive culinary activity, such as dividing, dismembering, detaching, or carving. She inspires a modicum of sympathy after her death, when Tita discovers Mamá Elena’s secret: Before and during marriage, she had enjoyed an affair with a mulatto until her scandalized family had the lover murdered. Readers interpret her authoritarian ways as the tragic result of being so severely punished herself for defying repressive societal rules.
Rosaura, the unattractive and inept sister obsessed with keeping up appearances, resembles a fairy-tale wicked stepsister and thus gains virtually no sympathy from the reader. Diametrically opposed to Tita, she shows her lack of creativity in her fear of the kitchen. Her death is an act of poetic justice, punishment for unquestioning allegiance to societal norms.
Gertrudis, the rebellious, unfettered daughter of Mamá Elena and her mulatto lover, is depicted in stark contrast to Rosaura. She fully appreciates Tita’s talents and observes that an entire family history is contained in Tita’s recipes. She is the receptacle for the erotic response that one of Tita’s recipes provokes and is the embodiment of unbridled female freedom.
Nacha, the ranch’s Indian cook, serves as a kind of surrogate mother to Tita. She is the representative of a centuries-long tradition of culinary art that is transmitted only orally until Tita begins writing down her recipes. Through this character, Esquivel pays tribute to the contributions of Mexico’s indigenous female population.
Pedro Muzquiz, Tita’s lover and Rosaura’s husband, like all the male characters in the novel, remains relatively undeveloped. He exists principally as the object of Tita’s quest for romantic happiness and as the lens through which to admire Tita’s beauty and talent.
John Brown, the family doctor and Pedro’s rival for Tita’s affections, is a relatively bland stock character, as his name might suggest. His kindly presence serves to highlight Tita’s virtues and to introduce tension into Pedro and Tita’s love story.