Like Water for Chocolate

by Laura Esquivel

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Magical Realism in Like Water for Chocolate

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In an interview with Laura Esquivel, published in the New York Times Book Review, Molly O'Neill notes that Like Water for Chocolate has not received a great deal of critical attention because it is "often consigned to the 'charming but aren't we moderns above it' ghetto of magical realism." Some critics, however, recognize the importance of the novel's themes: Ilan Stavans, in his review of the novel for The Nation, praises its mapping of "the trajectory of feminist history in Mexican society." In an article in World Literature Today, Maria Elena de Valdes argues that the novel reveals how a woman's culture can be created and maintained "within the social prison of marriage." Esquivel's unique narrative design is also worthy of critical attention. Her employment of magic realism, with its mingling of the fantastic and the real, provides an apt vehicle for the exploration of the forces of rebellion, submission, and retribution, and of the domestic sphere that can both limit and encourage self-expression.

Tita De la Garza, the novel's central character, makes her entrance into the world in her mother's kitchen, and this female realm becomes both a creative retreat and a prison for her. As a site for the crucial link between food and life, the kitchen becomes the center of Tita's world. Here she gains physical and emotional sustenance as Nacha, the family's servant and Tita's surrogate mother, teaches her the art of cooking. The kitchen also, however, becomes a site of oppression when Tita's mother forbids her to marry the man she loves and forces her into the role of family cook. The novel's public and private realms merge under the symbol of rebellion. As Pancho Villa's revolutionary forces clash with the oppressive Mexican regime, Tita wages her own battle against her mother's dictates. As Tita prepares magical dishes that stir strong emotions in all who enjoy them, the kitchen becomes an outlet for her thwarted passion. Thus the kitchen becomes a site for hunger and fulfillment. Yet, Tita's cooking does not nourish all who sample it. In some instances her meals exact a certain retribution for her confinement to this domestic arena.

Throughout Tita's childhood, "the joy of living was wrapped up in the delights of food." The kitchen was her domain, the place where Nacha taught her the domestic and communal rituals of food preparation and encouraged her creative input. Here she lovingly prepares meals for her family, including her sister's children, who thrive under her care. The narrative structure of the novel attests to the female bonding and creativity that can emerge within this domestic realm. The narrator, Tita's grandniece, intersperses Tita's story with the recipes that figure so prominently in her life.

The kitchen, however, soon becomes a site of repression for Tita when her mother, Mama Elena, refuses to allow her to marry. Here the mother/daughter relationship enacts a structure of political authority and submission when Mama Elena enforces the family tradition that compels the youngest daughter to care for her widowed mother for the remainder of her life. Thus the walls of the kitchen restrict Tita's life as she resigns herself to the role of cook for her mother as well as the other members of her family. An incident that symbolizes Mama Elena's oppression occurs when Tita is preparing two hundred roosters for the wedding feast. Mama Elena has compounded Tita's despair over losing Pedro by announcing that her sister, Rosaura, will marry Pedro instead, and that Tita will cook for the wedding party. One task Tita must complete is the castration of live roosters to...

(This entire section contains 1725 words.)

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ensure that they will be fat and tender enough for the guests. The violent and gruesome process makes Tita swoon and shake with anger, as she thinks "when they had chosen something to be neutered, they'd made a mistake, they should have chosen her. At least then there would be some justification for not allowing her to marry and giving Rosaura her place beside the man she loved."

Yet ironically, Tita's passion for Pedro, her lost love, and her independent spirit find a creative and rebellious outlet in this same domestic realm. While Mama Elena successfully represses Tita's public voice, she cannot quell the private expression of her emotion. Tita subconsciously redefines her domestic space, transforming it from a site of repression into one of expression when she is forced to prepare her sister's wedding dinner. This time her creativity results in an act of retribution. As she completes the wedding cake, her sorrow over Rosaura's impending marriage to Pedro causes her tears to spill into the icing. This alchemic mixture affects the entire wedding party: "The moment they took their first bite of the cake, everyone was flooded with a great wave of longing.... Mama Elena, who hadn't shed a single tear over her husband's death, was sobbing silently. But the weeping was just the first symptom of a strange intoxication—an acute attack of pain and frustration—that seized the guests and scattered them across the patio and the grounds and in the bathrooms, all of them wailing over lost love." Thus Tita effectively, if not purposefully, ruins her sister's wedding.

The kitchen also becomes an outlet for Tita's repressed passion for Pedro. After Pedro gives Tita a bouquet of pink roses, Tita clutches them to her chest so tightly, "that when she got to the kitchen, the roses, which had been mostly pink, had turned quite red from the blood that was flowing from [her] hands and breasts." She then creates a sauce from these stained petals that she serves over quail. The dish elicits a unique response from each member of her family that reflects and intensifies hidden desires or the lack thereof: Pedro "couldn't help closing his eyes in voluptuous delight," while Rosaura, a woman who does not appear to have the capacity for love, becomes nauseous.

The most startling response comes from Tita's other sister, Gertrudis, who responds to the food as an aphrodisiac. Unable to bear the heat emanating from her body, Gertrudis runs from the table, tears off her clothes, and attempts to cool herself in the shower. Her body radiates so much heat, however, that the wooden walls of the shower "split and burst into flame." Her perfumed scent carries across the plain and attracts a revolutionary soldier, who swoops her up, naked, onto his horse and rides off with her, freeing her, if not her sister, from Mama Elena's oppression. Private and public worlds merge as Gertrudis escapes the confinements of her life on the farm and begins a journey of self-discovery that results in her success as a revolutionary general. The meal of rose petals and quail also intensifies the passion between Tita and Pedro and initiates a new system of communication between them that will help sustain their love while they are physically separated. Even though Tita remains confined to the kitchen, her creative preparation of the family's meals continues to serve as a vehicle for her love for Pedro, and thus as an expression of her rebellion against her mother's efforts to separate the two. Her cooking also continues to exact retribution against those who have contributed to her suffering.

When Rosaura and Pedro move away from the ranch, Tita's confinement to the kitchen drives her mad, and she leaves in an effort to regain her sanity. She later returns to the ranch and to the domestic realm, willingly, to care for Mama Elena, who has become an invalid. This willingness to return to the kitchen, coupled with her mother's need for her, empowers her, yet her mother continues her battle for authority. Even though Tita prepares her mother's meals carefully, Mama Elena cannot stand the taste and refuses to eat. Convinced that Tita intends to poison her slowly in order to be free to marry, she continues to refuse all nourishment and soon conveniently dies—suggesting the cause to be either her refusal to accept Tita's offer of love and nourishment, or the food itself. Esquivel leaves this question unanswered.

When Rosaura and Pedro return to the ranch after Mama Elena's death, Tita again resumes her role as family cook. Even though she has decided to stay in the kitchen and not run off with Pedro so as not to hurt her sister, she ultimately, albeit unwittingly, causes her sister's death. Tita confronts her sister over her part in aiding Mama Elena's efforts to separate Tita from the man she loves. Rosaura, however, refuses to acknowledge her role in her sister's oppression and threatens to leave with Pedro and her daughter, whom Tita has grown to love as her own. As a result, Tita wishes "with all her heart that her sister would be swallowed up by the earth. That was the least she deserved." As Tita continues to cook for the family, Rosaura begins to have severe digestive problems Tita shows concern over her sister's health and tries to alter her diet to ease her suffering. But Rosaura's severe flatulence and bad breath continue unabated, to the point where her husband and child cannot stand to be in the same room with her. Rosaura's suffering increases until one evening Pedro finds "her lips purple, body deflated, eyes wild, with a distant look, sighing out her last flatulent breath." The doctor determines the cause of death as "an acute congestion of the stomach."

Here Esquivel again, as she did after Mama Elena's death, leaves the question of cause open. Rosaura could have died from a diseased system, compounded by her inability to receive and provide love and comfort. Or she could have died as a direct result of Tita's subconscious efforts to poison her. Either way, Rosaura's death releases Tita from the oppressive nature of her domestic realm and allows her to continue to express herself through her cooking.

In Like Water for Chocolate, magic realism becomes an appropriate vehicle for the expression of the paradoxical nature of the kitchen as domestic space. This novel reveals how the kitchen can become a nurturing and creative domain, providing sustenance and pleasure for others; a site for repression, where one can be confined exclusively to domestic tasks and lose or be denied a sense of self; and a site for rebellion against traditional boundaries.

Source: Wendy Perkins, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 1999

Spanish American Women Writers: Simmering Identity Over a Low Fire

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When Virginia Woolf argues in A Room of One's Own for an appropriate and pertinent place for a woman, she never mentions the kitchen as a possible space in which her intellectual liberation from the patriarchal system could be enacted. At first glance, this area had always been assigned to a wife, servant, daughter, slave, mother, grandmother, sister or an aunt. For feminists, the kitchen has come to symbolize the world that traditionally marginalized and limited a woman. It represents a space associated with repetitive work, lacking any "real" creativity, and having no possibility for the fulfillment of women's existential needs, individualization or self-expression.

A different, quite parodic and critical gender perspective has been presented in several recently published (cook)books by Latin American women writers. Laura Esquivel's Como agua para chocolate: Novelet de entregas mensuales con recetas, amores y remedios caseros (1989) (Like Water for Chocolate. A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances and Home Remedies) and Silvia Plager's Como papas para varenikes: Novela contraentregas mensuales, en tarjeta o efectivo. Romances apasionados, recetas judias con poder afrodisiaco y chimentos (Like Potatoes for Varenike: A Novel in Monthly Installments, Cash or Charge. Passionate Romances, Jewish Recipes With Aphrodisiac Power and Gossips) (1994) have tried to revise stereotypical power relations and interpretations of male and female identity symbols. After all, alchemy and cooking probably did not always have rooms of their own, but may have shared the same transformative space.

In these novels the mythical, homogenized wholeness of Latin American identity posited by Garcia Marquez, along with the exploration of its origins vis-a-vis Europe, becomes fragmented. The power of medieval alchemy, introduced by a vagabond tribe of gypsies who paradoxically bring the spirit of Western modernity, is parodically replaced by different ethnic cuisines: Aztec in the case of the Mexican writer and Jewish in the Argentine example. Both gastrotexts can be labeled as postmodern in the sense that they mimic mass-mediated explorations of gender identities. Their surprisingly similar subtitles replicate the format of a monthly magazine whose readers are housewives, or to use a more expressive, literal translation from the Spanish term amas de casa, mistresses of the home. Like Water for Chocolate is composed of twelve parts clearly identified by months and their corresponding dishes, with the list of ingredients heading the "Preparation" section.... By amalgamating the novelistic genre with cookbook recipes, Esquivel and Plager actualize a postmodern blurring of distinctions between high and low cultural values. Both writers insist on the cover that their respective books are actually novels, but they also subvert this code of reference by adding a lengthy subtitle that recalls and imitates the particular realms of popular culture that are associated with women. Although both of the books under consideration here are authored by women, I am not making the claim that recipe-writing is an archetypically female activity. As a matter of fact, by making a connection with alchemy, I would like to suggest that both activities have a common androginous origin in the past.

Esquivel's book was originally published in Mexico in 1989, became a national bestseller in 1990, continued its success with a movie version that garnered many international film awards, and in 1992 swept across the English speaking world— primarily the North American market—as a New York Times bestseller for several weeks. Plager's book came out in Argentina in April of 1994 and the public is still digesting it. Critics too. The editors' blurb on the jacket suggests that in Like potatoes for varenike the writer... 'shows us her culinary and humorous talents through an entertaining parody of the successful Like Water for Chocolate.' This statement is very significant for several reasons: first of all it represents the female writer primarily as a talented cook; second, it invokes the model, recognizes its success and appeals to the rights of cultural reproduction; and third, it claims that the book that the reader has in hand is actually a parody of that model.

Invoking the culinary expertise of the fiction writer, specially if the wnter is a woman, fits all too well into the current, end of the century, wave of neo-conservativism. It also feeds into the postmodern confusion between reality and its simulation. Fiction is required to have the qualities of reality and reality is defined as what we see on television or read about in the newspaper; that "reality," however, is physically and psychologically fragmented and can only offer an illusion of wholeness. The avant garde insistence on the power of the imagination is giving way to research, "objectivity" and "expertise." Personal confession and "true stories" are valued higher than "imagined" ones and experience—in this case the culinary one—becomes the basis of identity and the source of discursive production. No wonder that the genre of the nineties is testimonial writing!...

The gastrotexts that I am discussing deal with gendered identities in a truly postmodern fashion: by situating the female protagonist in the kitchen and by literally allowing her to produce only a "kitchen table talk" spiced with melodrama instead of grandiose philosophical contraptions, their authors "install and destabilize convention in parodic ways, self-consciously pointing both to their own inherent paradoxes and... to their critical or ironic rereading of the art of the past [according to Linda Hutcheon in her book A Poetics of Modernism]." In that sense the feminist discourse becomes paradoxical: instead of insisting on the liberational dimension of feminism which wants to get woman out of the kitchen, the postmodernist return to the discourses of power leads Esquivel and Plager to reclaim the kitchen as a not necessarily gender exclusive space of "one's own." Both writers rely heavily on traditional cultural practices and subvert the patriarchal values associated with masculinity and femininity

Esquivel and Plager construct texts that do not fit into the traditional discourse of maternity. Like Water for Chocolate is constructed around the mother, who by invoking social rules, requires her youngest daughter Tita to reject any prospects of independent life, and take care of her until death. After Tita's premature birth on the kitchen table,. ' amid the smells of simmering noodle soup, thyme, bayleaves, and cilantro, steamed milk, garlic, and, of course, onion,' Mama Elena does not satisfy the baby's need for food, and Tita has to turn to Nacha, the cook, with whom she establishes the successful object relation. The proto object— the breast—determines the relationship that the individual will have with other objects in the course of life, is the foundation upon which the construction of individual subjectivity takes place. In this carnavalesque farce, the mother becomes a fairytale-like stepmother, while Tita, who will never feed her own child, becomes the nurturer for all in need. She appropriates the space of the kitchen, transforming it into the center of her power which alters the dominant patriarchal family structure. Hence, her emotions and well being determine the course of other's lives and she literally shares herself with the outside world: when she makes the cake for her sister's wedding to Pedro—with whom she was planning to get married—her tears of desperation mix with sugar, flour, eggs and lime peel. This later provokes melancholy, sadness and finally uncontrollable vomiting among the guests:...

The moment they took their first bite of the cake, everyone was flooded with a great wave of longing. Even Pedro, usually so proper, was having trouble holding back his tears Mama Elena, who hadn't shed a single tear over her husband's death, was sobbing silently. But the weeping was just the first symptom of a strange intoxication—an acute attack of pain and frustration—that seized the guests and scattered them across the patio and the grounds and in the bathrooms, all of them wailing over lost love. Everyone there, every last person, fell under this spell, and not very many of them made it to the bathrooms in time—those who didn't joined the collective vomiting that was going on all over the paao.

The somatic reaction provoked by Tita's bodily fluids actually shows how the daughter undermines the mother's authority and prohibition. Something similar happens with "Quail in Rose Petal Sauce": Tita decides to use the rose that Pedro gave her as a sign of his eternal love, and prepares a meal that will awake Gertrudis' uncontrollable sexual appetite. By introducing the discourse of sexuality without necessarily relating it to marriage and by nurturing without procreating, Esquivel opens for discussion the ever present topics of feminine self-sacrifice and subordination that have traditionally been promoted by patriarchal literature....

By breaking the boundaries between body and soul and by showing that they are actually one, both Esquivel and Plager successfully undermine the duality so embedded in Western culture. They— latter day apprentices of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz—go against Plato and his all too well known argument that the soul can best reflect if there are no distractions from the body. They dismantle that same duality that puts masculinity on one side and femininity on the other. Like Water for Chocolate and Like Potatoes for Varenike unlock the kitchen door and present us its most common inhabitants— women. Then, they leave this door wide open and invite man to share. In Esquivel's version sergeant Trevino is the one who helps Gertrudis decipher the recipe for cream fritters and in Plager's book Saul and Kathy work together from the beginning in meal preparation. By going against the rigid patriarchal binary thinking they, in Derridean fashion, reveal that there is no "transcendental signified." There is no original recipe either, nor original cook. It is all about transcending ego boundaries through dialogic, polyphonic texts, emphasizing the importance of nurturing, both for man and women, going against sexual oppression and connecting those "honey-tongued" people who are not only making their cake, but are ready to eat it too.

Source: Ksenija Bilbija, "Spanish American Women Writers: Simmering Identity Over a Low Fire," in Studies in 20th Century Literature, Vol 20, No 1, Winter 1996, pg 147-61

Verbal and Visual Representation of Women: Como agua para chocolate / Like Water for Chocolate

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Como agua para chocolate is the first novel by Laura Esquivel (b. 1950). Published in Spanish in 1989 and in English translation in 1992, followed by the release of the feature film that same year, the novel has thrust this Mexican woman writer into the world of international critical acclaim as well as best-seller popularity. Since Esquivel also wrote the screenplay for director Alfonso Arau, the novel and the film together offer us an excellent opportunity to examine the interplay between the verbal and visual representation of women. Esquivel's previous work had all been as a screenwriter. Her script for Chido Guan, el Tacos de Oro (1985) was nominated for the Ariel in Mexico, an award she won eight years later for Como agua para chocolate.

The study of verbal and visual imagery must begin with the understanding that both the novel and, to a lesser extent, the film work as a parody of a genre. The genre in question is the Mexican version of women's fiction published in monthly installments together with recipes, home remedies, dressmaking patterns, short poems, moral exhortations, ideas on home decoration, and the calendar of church observances. In brief, this genre is the nineteenth-century forerunner of what is known throughout Europe and America as a woman's magazine. Around 1850 these publications in Mexico were called "calendars for young ladies." Since home and church were the private and public sites of all educated young ladies, these publications represented the written counterpart to women's socialization, and as such, they are documents that conserve and transmit a Mexican female culture in which the social context and cultural space are particularly for women by women.

It was in the 1850s that fiction began to take a prominent role. At first the writings were descriptions of places for family excursions, moralizing tales, or detailed narratives on cooking. By 1860 the installment novel grew out of the monthly recipe or recommended excursion. More elaborate love stories by women began to appear regularly by the 1880s. The genre was never considered literature by the literary establishment because of its episodic plots, overt sentimentality, and highly stylized characterization. Nevertheless, by the turn of the century every literate woman in Mexico was or had been an avid reader of the genre. But what has been completely overlooked by the male-dominated literary culture of Mexico is that these novels were highly coded in an authentic women's language of inference and reference to the commonplaces of the kitchen and the home which were completely unknown by any man.

Behind the purportedly simple episodic plots there was an infrahistory of life as it was lived, with all its multiple restrictions for women of this social class. The characterization followed the forms of life of these women rather than their unique individuality; thus the heroines were the survivors, those who were able to live out a full life in spite of the institution of marriage, which in theory, if not in practice, was a form of indentured slavery for life in which a woman served father and brothers then moved on to serve husband and sons together with her daughters and, of course, the women from the servant class. The women's fiction of this woman's world concentrated on one overwhelming fact of life: how to transcend the conditions of existence and express oneself in love and in creativity.

Cooking, sewing, embroidery, and decoration were the usual creative outlets for these women, and of course conversation, storytelling, gossip, and advice, which engulfed every waking day of the Mexican lady of the home. Writing for other women was quite naturally an extension of this in-frahistorical conversation and gossip. Therefore, if one has the social codes of these women, one can read these novels as a way of life in nineteenth-century Mexico. Laura Esquivel's recognition of this world and its language comes from her Mexican heritage of fiercely independent women, who created a woman's culture within the social prison of marriage.

Como aguapara chocolate is a parody of nineteenth-century women's periodical fiction in the same way that Don Quijote is a parody of the novel of chivalry. Both genres were expressions of popular culture that created a unique space for a segment of the population....

Obviously, for the parody to work at its highest level of dual representation, both the parody and the parodic model must be present in the reading experience. Esquivel creates the duality in several ways. First, she begins with the title of the novel, Like Water for Chocolate, a locution which translates as "water at the boiling point" and is used as a simile in Mexico to describe any event or relationship that is so tense, hot, and extraordinary that it can only be compared to scalding water on the verge of boiling, as called for in the preparation of that most Mexican of all beverages, dating from at least the thirteenth century: hot chocolate. Second, the subtitle is taken directly from the model: "A Novel in Monthly Installments, with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies." Together the title and subtitle therefore cover both the parody and the model. Third, the reader finds upon opening the book, in place of an epigraph, a traditional Mexican proverb. "A la mesa y a la cama / Una sola vez se llama" (To the table or to bed / You must come when you are bid). The woodcut that decorates the page is the typical nineteenth-century cooking stove. The fourth and most explicit dualistic technique is Esquivel's reproduction of the format of her model.

Each chapter is prefaced by the title, the subtitle, the month, and the recipe for that month. The narration that follows is a combination of direct address on how to prepare the recipe of the month and interspersed stories about the loves and times of the narrator's great-aunt Tita. The narration moves effortlessly from the first-person to the third-person omniscient narrative voice of all storytellers. Each chapter ends with the information that the story will be continued and an announcement of what the next month's—that is, the next chapter's—recipe will be. These elements, taken from the model, are never mere embellishments. The recipes and their preparation, as well as the home remedies and their application, are an intrinsic part of the story. There is therefore an intricate symbiotic relationship between the novel and its model in the reading experience. Each is feeding on the other.

In this study I am concerned with the model of the human subject, specifically the female subject, as it is developed in and through language and visual signification in a situated context of time and place. The verbal imaging of the novel makes use of the elaborate signifying system of language as a dwelling place. The visual imagery that at first expands the narrative in the film soon exacts its own place as a nonlinguistic signifying system drawing upon its own repertoire of referentiality and establishing a different model of the human subject than that elucidated by the verbal imagery alone. I intend to examine the novelistic signifying system and the model thus established and then follow with the cinematic signifying system and its model.

The speaking subject or narrative voice in the novel is characterized, as Emile Benveniste has shown, as a living presence by speaking. That voice begins in the first person, speaking the conversational Mexican Spanish of a woman from Mexico's north, near the U.S. border. Like all Mexican speech, it is clearly marked with register and socio-cultural indicators, in this case of the landowning middle class, mixing colloquial local usage with standard Spanish. The entry point is always the same: the direct address of one woman telling another how to prepare the recipe she is recommending. As one does the cooking, it is quite natural for the cook to liven the session with some storytelling, prompted by the previous preparation of the food. As she effortlessly moves from first-person culinary instructor to storyteller, she shifts to the third-person and gradually appropriates a time and place and refigures a social world

A verbal image emerges of the model Mexican rural, middle-class woman. She must be strong and far more clever than the men who supposedly protect her. She must be pious, observing all the religious requirements of a virtuous daughter, wife, and mother. She must exercise great care to keep her sentimental relations as private as possible, and, most important of all, she must be in control of life in her house, which means essentially the kitchen and bedroom or food and sex. In Esquivel's novel there are four women who must respond to the model: the mother Elena and the three daughters Rosaura, Gertrudis, and Josefita, known as Tita.

The ways of living within the limits of the model are demonstrated first by the mother, who thinks of herself as its very incarnation. She interprets the model in terms of control and domination of her entire household. She is represented through a filter of awe and fear, for the ostensible source is Tita's diary-cookbook, written beginning in 1910, when she was fifteen years old, and now transmitted by her grandniece. Therefore the verbal images that characterize Mama Elena must be understood as those of her youngest daughter, who has been made into a personal servant from the time the little girl was able to work.

Mama Elena is depicted as strong, self-reliant, absolutely tyrannical with her daughters and servants, but especially so with Tita, who from birth has been designated as the one who will not marry because she must care for her mother until she dies. Mama Elena believes in order, her order. Although she observes the strictures of church and society, she has secretly had an adulterous love affair with an African American, and her second daughter, Gertrudis, is the offspring of that relationship. This transgression of the norms of proper behavior remains hidden from public view, although there is gossip, but only after her mother's death does Tita discover that Gertrudis is her half-sister. The tyranny imposed on the three sisters is therefore the rigid, self-designed model of a woman's life pitilessly enforced by Mama Elena, and each of the three responds in her own way to the model.

Rosaura never questions her mother's authority and follows her dictates submissively; after she is married she becomes an insignificant imitation of her mother. She lacks the strength, skill, and determination of Mama Elena and tries to compensate by appealing to the mother's model as absolute. She therefore tries to live the model, invoking her mother's authority because she has none of her own. Gertrudis does not challenge her mother but instead responds to her emotions and passions in a direct manner unbecoming a lady. This physical directness leads her to adopt an androgynous life-style: she leaves home and her mother's authority, escapes from the brothel where she subsequently landed, and becomes a general of the revolutionary army, taking a subordinate as her lover and, later, husband. When she returns to the family hacienda, she dresses like a man, gives orders like a man, and is the dominant sexual partner.

Tita, the youngest of the three daughters, speaks out against her mother's arbitrary rule but cannot escape until she temporarily loses her mind. She is able to survive her mother's harsh rule by transferring her love, joy, sadness, and anger into her cooking. Tita's emotions and passions are the impetus for expression and action, not through the normal means of communication but through the food she prepares. She is therefore able to consummate her love with Pedro through the food she serves....

It was as if a strange alchemical process had dissolved her entire being in the rose petal sauce, in the tender flesh of the quails, in the wine, in every one of the meal's aromas. That was the way she entered Pedro's body, hot, voluptuous, perfumed, totally sensuous

This clearly is much more than communication through food or a mere aphrodisiac; this is a form of sexual transubstantiation whereby the rose petal sauce and the quail have been turned into the body of Tita.

Thus it is that the reader gets to know these women as persons but, above all, becomes involved with the embodied speaking subject from the past, Tita, represented by her grandniece (who transmits her story) and her cooking. The reader receives verbal food for the imaginative refiguration of one woman's response to the model that was imposed on her by accident of birth. The body of these women is the place of living. It is the dwelling place of the human subject. The essential questions of health, illness, pregnancy, childbirth, and sexuality are tied very directly in this novel to the physical and emotional needs of the body. The preparation and eating of food is thus a symbolic representation of living, and Tita's cookbook bequeaths to Esperanza and to Esperanza's daughter, her grand-niece, a woman's creation of space that is hers in a hostile world.

Source: Maria Elena de Valde's, "Verbal and Visual Representation of Women: Como agua para chocolate / Like Water for Chocolate" in World Literature Today, Vol 69, No 1, Winter 1995, pp. 78-82.


Critical Overview