Like Water for Chocolate is divided into twelve chapters, one for each month of the year. Each chapter is preceded by a recipe that corresponds to the action that follows. The structure of the novel suggests the tradition of women’s magazines that came into vogue during the mid-nineteenth century. These periodicals included, like Esquivel’s novel, recipes, home remedies, and, often, sentimental novels in monthly installments.
The novel takes place on a ranch in northern Mexico at the time of the Revolution. Just as the country is in a state of flux, the family must also adapt to changing times. Tita is in love with Pedro, but because she cannot be married, Pedro marries her sister, Rosaura. When Rosaura is unable to care for her newborn son, Roberto, Tita assumes all the caretaking responsibilities for the child. As the attraction between Tita and Pedro becomes increasingly evident, however, Mamá Elena orders Pedro and Rosaura to move to San Antonio. Separated from his aunt, the child dies, and Tita suffers an emotional crisis. The family doctor, John Brown, is summoned to take the girl to an asylum. Because he is in love with Tita, however, rather than complying with her mother’s request, he brings her to live with him, and she eventually recovers.
Meanwhile, the ranch has been caught in revolutionary crossfire, leaving Mamá Elena paralyzed. Tita returns home to care for her mother, but Elena remains as dictatorial as ever and dies soon after from a prolonged attack of vomiting. After Elena’s death, Pedro and Rosaura return to the ranch with a second child, Esperanza. Although Rosaura insists upon preparing her only daughter to be her caretaker, Tita teaches Esperanza the secrets of the kitchen. It is during this period that Pedro and Tita consummate their love and Tita suspects she may be pregnant. No sooner does this prove to be a false alarm than Pedro, attacked by the ghost of Mamá Elena, is seriously burned by a kerosene lamp. In the final chapter, the action of the novel shifts to several years later. Rosaura has died and her daughter, Esperanza, is marrying Alex, the son of John Brown. After the wedding guests have left, Pedro and Tita give full rein to their pleasure for the first time. Pedro dies at the moment of climax, and to join him, Tita must rekindle the flame of passion. To do so, she swallows matches, and their bodies are so inflamed at the moment of her death that the entire ranch burns. When Esperanza returns from her honeymoon, she recovers Tita’s recipe book, which her daughter, the narrator of the novel, inherits upon her death.
Despite the book’s popularity with the reading public, initial critical reaction to Like Water for Chocolate has tended to dismiss the work as, at best, a poor imitation of the male canon. Limited by conventional reading expectations, such criticism seemingly fails to admit the possibility that Esquivel’s appropriation of past texts, both from the male canon and from popular literature, indicates anything more than a lack of originality. A careful examination of the text reveals that Esquivel has replicated neither the male canon nor popular literature. In fact, underlying the appearance of conventionalism and traditional gender roles is a subtle form of parodic inversion that serves not only to undermine the canon but also to redirect its focus to an aesthetic project in which binary oppositions of “high art” and popular literature are overturned.
The use of traditional resources becomes revolutionary when it is reorganized from the vantage point of women or any other...
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marginalized group. The fact that Esquivel has chosen discourses not merely outside the canon but specifically associated with women’s values and experiences allows her to set forth an alternative to the hegemonic standard, based upon real women’s lives.Like Water for Chocolate portrays women and men as individuals, not as allegorical others. Real women, the novel demonstrates, may have “masculine” attributes such as strength and courage, just as real men may show “feminine” sides. In the canon, male voice and vision are often privileged as the source of power. Humorously deconstructing this gaze and proclaiming women as a source of energy in their own right causes such patriarchal binary schemes to be undermined and an alternate order to be posited. While reaffirming the traditional roles of women, Esquivel asserts their value with a project based on—but not replicating—such roles. When the borders between canonized and popular literatures, between oral and written discourses, are dissolved, the hierarchy governing such distinctions is subverted as well.
The Mexican Revolution Although Mexico had been independent from Spain since the early nineteenth century, their governments were continually beset by internal and external conflicts. In the early part of the twentieth century, revolution tore the country apart. In November 1910, liberal leader Francisco Madero led a successful revolt against Mexican President Porfirio Diaz after having lost a rigged election. Diaz soon resigned and Madero replaced him as president in November 1911. Considered ineffectual by both conservatives and liberals, Madero was soon overthrown and executed by his general, Victoriano Huerta. Soon after the tyrannical Huerta became president, his oppressive regime came under attack. Venustiano Carranza, Francisco "Pancho" Villa, and Emiliano Zapata led revolts against the government. In 1914 Carranza became president as civil war erupted. By the end of 1915, the war ended, but Villa and Zapata continued to oppose the new government and maintained rebel groups for several years.
A Woman's Place Richard Corliss, in his Time review of Like Water for Chocolate, writes that "Laura Esquivel brought Gabriel Garcia Marquez's brand of magic realism into the kitchen and the bedroom, the Latin woman's traditional castle and dungeon." Traditionally, a Latin woman's place is in the home. In the patriarchal society of the early part of the twentieth century, Mexican women were expected to serve their fathers and brothers and then when married, their husbands, sons, and daughters. These women often turned to the domestic arts—cooking, sewing, and interior decoration—for creative outlets, along with storytelling, gossip, and advice. As a result, they created their own female culture within the social prison of married life.
Maria Elena de Valdes, in her article on Like Water for Chocolate in World Literature Today, notes that little has changed for the Mexican woman. She defines the model Mexican rural, middle-class woman: "She must be strong and far more clever that 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."
Reading women's magazines became a popular pastime for many married Mexican women. These magazines often contained fiction published in monthly installments, poetry, recipes, home remedies, sewing and decoration tips, advice, and a calendar of religious observances. Valdes finds similarities between the structure of Like Water for Chocolate and these magazines. She explains that "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."
Point of View In fiction, the point of view is the perspective from which the story is presented The unique point of view in Like Water for Chocolate helps convey the significance of the narrative. Esperanza, Tita De la Garza's niece, finds her aunt's cookbook in the ruins of the De la Garza ranch. As she recreates the recipes in her own home, she passes down the family stories to her daughter. Her daughter becomes the novel's narrator as she incorporates her great-aunt's recipes, remedies, and experiences into one book. She justifies her unique narrative when she explains that Tita "will go on living as long as there is someone who cooks her recipes."
Setting The turbulent age of rebellion in Mexico provides an appropriate setting for the novel's focus on tyranny and resistance. Soldiers, bandits, and rebels are regularly mentioned in the novel, and often make appearances important to the narrative. It is a bandit's attack, for instance, that compels Tita's return home after her mother has disowned her. As Pancho Villa's revolutionary forces clash with the oppressive Mexican regime, Tita wages her own battle against her mother's dictates.
Structure The narrative structure, or form, of the novel intersperses Tita's story with the recipes and remedies that figure so prominently in her life. By placing an actual recipe at the beginning of each chapter, the author is reinforcing the importance of food to the narrative. This structure thus attests to the female bonding and creativity that can emerge within a focus on the domestic arts.
Symbolism A symbol is an object or image that suggests or stands for another object or image. Food is the dominant symbol in the novel, especially as expressed in the title. "Like water for (hot) chocolate" is a Mexican expression that literally means water at the boiling point and figuratively means intense emotions on the verge of exploding into expression. Throughout the novel, Tita's passion for Pedro is "Like Water for Chocolate" but is constantly repressed by her dictatorial mother. An incident that symbolizes Mama Elena's oppression occurs when Tita is preparing two hundred roosters for the wedding feast. As she castrates live roosters to insure that they will be fat and tender enough for the guests, the violent and gruesome process makes her swoon and shake with anger. She admits "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." Food becomes a symbol of Tita's love for Pedro as she uses it to communicate her feelings. 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 his children, and thus as an expression of her rebellion against her mother's efforts to separate them.
Style Magic realism is a fictional style, popularized by Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, that appears most often in Latin American literature. Authors who use this technique mingle the fantastic or bizarre with the realistic. Magic realism often involves time shifts, dreams, myths, fairy tales, surrealistic descriptions, the element of surprise and shock, and the inexplicable. Examples of magic realism in Like Water for Chocolate occur when Tita's recipes have strange effects on those who eat them, when spirits appear to her, and when she cries actual rivers of tears. The fantastic element in Tita's cooking is that it produces such strong emotions in her family. The art of cooking, however, does reflect the patience and talent of the cook—qualities that are appreciated by those who enjoy the results. The spirits who appear to Tita symbolize the long lasting effects of those who impact our lives and our own feelings of responsibility and guilt.
Foreshadowing Foreshadowing is a literary device used to create an expectation of future events. In Like Water for Chocolate, foreshadowing occurs when 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.
Paradox A paradox is a statement or situation that seems contradictory or absurd, but is actually true. The kitchen becomes a paradoxical symbol in the novel. On the one hand, it is a place where Tita is confined exclusively to domestic tasks, a place that threatens to deny her a sense of identity. Yet it is also a nurturing and creative domain, providing Tita with an outlet for her passions and providing others with sustenance and pleasure.
The form of Like Water for Chocolate, spelled out in its subtitle, "A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances and Home Remedies," creates a hybrid of typically female texts—the cookbook, the personal diary, the romance, the how-to manual—that allows for maximum flexibility on the part of the narrator. The book reads like the sort of conversation between friends or family that might take place around the kitchen table, filled with free associations, abrupt shifts in time or place, and changes in mode from narrative to exposition. The recipes are personal in tone, the sort that might be spoken aloud while working. For example, the book opens with, "Take care to chop the onion fine. To keep from crying when you chop it (which is so annoying), I suggest you place a little bit on your head . . . ." The voice goes on to say that "once the tears begin to well up, the next thing you know, you just can't stop." But the tears in this book come from more than onions, and the recipe provides the perfect segue into the tears Tita shed when she was born and on to the many tears she shed in her life, both of joy and sorrow. The frame of the cookbook with the story in installments also provides the perfect authenticating device for the narrator, Tita's grandniece, who is reconstructing her story for us some fifty years later on the basis of the surviving cookbook/diary, which we're told Tita began the day Gertrudis ran away. This text is supplemented by details told to her by her mother, Esperanza, who heard the stories from Tita herself.
The narrative is enhanced by marvelous exaggerations, verging at times on the tall tale. The tears Tita cried at birth left a salt residue on the floor that when swept up filled a ten pound sack. The bedspread she began the day Pedro first spoke of marriage grew until it covered the whole ranch, all three hectares. The longing and illness produced by Rosaura's wedding cake create a river of vomit that sweeps Rosaura away. The excitement caused when Tita throws out bits of tortilla to the chickens creates "a hen hurricane [that] was boring a hole in the dirt of the patio, a hole so deep that most of the chickens disappeared from the face of the earth. The earth swallowed them up."
Such extreme details serve to intensify the real experiences. Other events go further—into the realm of magic, where happenings cannot be explained by the laws of the universe. The longing Tita unconsciously bakes into Rosaura's wedding, cake, the powerful sexual stimulus contained in the quail with rose petals, the milk that fills Tita's breasts to feed Roberto are some such magical events. Unnatural heat and light are generated by moments of passion: the wooden shower that bursts into flame from the heat of Gertrudis's body and the pink cloud that wrapped itself around Juan and drew him to her from the field of battle; the "plumes of phosphorescent colors . . . ascending to the sky like delicate Bengal lights" from the dark room the night Tita and Pedro first make love; the transformation of that room on their final night into an erupting volcano spewing out stones and ash and multicolored lights visible for miles. The dead appear as well—Nacha, Morning Light, Mama Elena. Mama Elena's presence at the Three Kings' Day celebration is felt by many, even the dog, who begins to bark and back away in fear. In a later appearance to Tita alone, Tita's declaration of "I hate you, I've always hated you!" is enough to make her disappear forever but not before shrinking to a tiny light that begins to spin feverishly toward an oil lamp next to Pedro, exploding it into a thousand pieces and setting Pedro afire.
Images of heat and cold, fertility and castration, light and dark abound in this book. By far, however, the most important imagery is associated with food. Food, as Kristine Ibsen observes, "transports both the characters and the reader into a sensual dimension of reality." In Esquivel's own words,
the simple act of cooking is, in fact, an act of love. . . . And I am convinced that cooking ... is an inversion of the couple's sexual role. This nurturing that our essence carries, and that our love carries and all these emotions, where we are all contained—this is how the woman can, in fact, penetrate the man, this is how it converts, and the man is the passive one, he receives this, and for me it is very intense and very erotic.
We see this process at work at the dinner table: "It was as if a strange alchemical process had dissolved her entire being into 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." That consummation, in turn, infuses Gertrudis's body, and she becomes the medium to live out their passion in flesh and blood. Love is invariably associated with food. Tita declares Esperanza and Alex in love, for example, when she tells her aunt that "when she felt Alex's eyes on her body, she felt like dough being plunged in boiling oil" just as Pedro's glance, years earlier, made Tita realize "how fire transforms the elements, how a lump of corn flour is changed into a tortilla."
Sometimes food imagery is used to denote absence of love, Faced with the prospect of telling John she would not marry him, Tita "felt complete empty, like a platter that held only crumbs, all that was left of a. marvelous pastry." Sometimes, too, cooking cannot do its magic. To be totally successful, cooking must be done calmly, lovingly, slowly. Negative vibrations during preparation—like rushing or arguing—can be disastrous. When Tita is preparing Beans with Chile for John and his Aunt Mary, the beans refuse to soften because they "had witnessed her fight with Rosaura. That meant all she could do was to try to improve their mood," which she does by singing a song full of love. Immediately, the beans allowed the liquid in which they were floating to penetrate them, they swelled until they were about to burst. The kitchen must be a place of love in order for food to reach perfection. Interestingly, the food image in the title suggests emotions at the danger point: "like water for chocolate" is a common Mexican expression for being on the verge of boiling over, whether in passion or anger.
With Like Water for Chocolate so heavily steeped in the literature and experience of women, men will be at something of a disadvantage in discussions of this book. Much of the subtext is encoded with messages that will be obvious to women but sometimes elusive to men.
1. In what ways is Like Water for Chocolate typical of popular love stories you have read? In what ways does it go beyond these expectations?
2. Like Water for Chocolate has been summed up by one critic as "Love is Food." Explore the accuracy and relevance of this statement in understanding the book. Do you agree, from your own experience, that love is food? Is the inverse also true—that food is love?
3. Like Water for Chocolate is, among other things, a recipe book. Esquivel maintains that all recipes included are real recipes, drawn from all regions of Mexico. What is the role of the recipes in the overall scheme of the book? What qualities of recipes make them the perfect medium around which to shape her story? On the simplest level recipes denote directions for cooking, but the implications of the word reach into many other areas of life. Consider as many possible applications as you can in evaluating the role played by recipes.
4. One message of the book is to follow one's desires, whatever the cost. The cost in this instance is great, and the prize, Pedro, seems so unworthy an object of desire. Explore Esquivel's intentions in presenting Pedro as she does.
5. Is Mama Elena a villain? Esquivel says she "transforms herself into a represser because she herself was repressed." Can her behavior be explained, justified, or forgiven?
6. Crying is a recurring image. In fact, the book opens and closes with crying (and onions). What makes Tita cry? Who else cries? Who never cries? What does sensitivity to onions (and the tendency to cry) suggest about a person?
7. Tita is confused about which is true love—the peace and security John gives her or the agitation and anxiety she feels when she is with Pedro. What advice would you give her? What definition of "true love" does Esquivel suggest?
8. (Suzanne Ruta, who reviewed the novel for Women's Review of Books, praises its feminist message but feels the magical elements are distractions that weaken the book. She objects to the "lovers who embrace in a shower of doves, of fireworks, of flames, kindly ghosts who roam old houses to protect the deserving, [and] prostitutes who just adore their work" on the basis that such "ersatz ingredients dilute the power of Esquivel's work." Do you agree? Explore the effect of Esquivel's use of magic. What does it add or take away? Can you justify its use?
9. The fact that Like Water for Chocolate has been used by psychotherapists to facilitate their sessions with mothers and daughters about their relationships and about getting in touch with their emotions pleases Esquivel. What does the book reveal about the mother-daughter dynamic? The circumstances of Mama Elena and Tita's relationship are unique, but obviously their difficulties touch some common chords with other mothers and daughters. What elements in particular are useful in exploring and understanding how mothers and daughters relate to each other?
10. Critic Maria Elena deValdes has written that Like Water for Chocolate, as feminist art, is not a protest movement but rather a celebration of the space of one's own which may have been hidden from view in the past but is now open to all. She sees the book largely as a celebration of women's creativity. Do you agree? What is Esquivel's message about women and the women's movement in this book? How do you respond to that message?
Like Water for Chocolate suggests a variety of precedents, some seriously and some ironically. One form Esquivel borrows is the nineteenth-century Mexican women's magazine, called a "calendar for young ladies." In these publications, fiction appeared in monthly installments, interspersed with recipes, home remedies, dressmaking patterns, short poems, moral advice, home decorating hints, and upcoming events. These stories were sentimental, the characters stereotypical, the plots melodramatic. This fiction was looked down upon by the literary establishment, but was very important to its women readers, who enjoyed this writing for women by women which answered the need for creativity and love in their lives. The model is perfect for Esquivel, who can use the form to question its assumptions of how a proper middleclass woman should behave. This tradition of the woman's narrative, centering around domestic activities, is not, of course, limited to Mexico. A recent book that draws on such women's discourse is Whitney Otto's How to Make an American Quilt (1991), with which Like Water for Chocolate has been compared.
Esquivel follows a long and rich line of Latin American women writers. Myriam Jehensen traces this heritage in her 1995 book, calling attention to "a feminine tradition in Latin America that focuses on the formation of the woman's voice as a collective as well as an individual subject." She notes that Latin American women are, in fact, oppressed as women and that wealth does not free them, only changes the terms of oppression. Women writers have highlighted these problems and fought to change the prevailing attitudes. Esquivel, in her speaking out for the De la Garza women's need to control their own destiny, adds her voice to this chorus.
Another tradition largely associated with Latin America that we see reflected in Like Water for Chocolate is magical realism. In such fiction, made familiar by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, real elements exist side by side with magical elements that can't be explained by science or logic. Unlike fantasy or allegory, magical realism is grounded in history, in events that did or could happen. The story takes place at the intersection of two worlds that approach each other but do not merge. Fluid boundaries exist between matter and spirit, real and imaginary, life and death. Phenomenal events are narrated as if they are perfectly ordinary, not at all open to question. Clearly Esquivel's use of magic and exaggeration, the phenomenal powers she ascribes to food, the role of Nacha, and other elements fit the model of magical realism.
Like Water for Chocolate also echoes a number of familiar tales. Tita is a Cinderella figure, condemned to servanthood by her own mother, protected by a fairy godmother (Nacha), but not really getting her prince and living happily ever after. There are elements of Snow White, too (with a wicked mother rather than stepmother), and of the Little Match Girl. Feminist and postmodernist critics have explored in depth Esquivel's use of parody of these and other stories. They have looked at the relationship with the telenovela, too, and the popular romance. Esquivel draws on the familiarity of her readers, especially her female readers, with all of these models, and uses her gifts of storytelling and humor to make her readers take seriously these popular genres generally dismissed as trivial by serious critics. Modern critics who trivialize the novel for its melodrama or hyperbole miss the point; Esquivel can allow her readers to relax and enjoy the story while fully realizing the irony at work.
After publishing Like Water for Chocolate in Mexico in 1989, Esquivel wrote a screenplay based on the novel, which was subsequently produced and directed by her husband, Alfonso Alau, distributed in Mexico by Arau Films International, and then, with subtitles, by Miramax in the United States. Esquivel had been a screenwriter first, before ever writing a novel, and so the usual sequence of book first, film second, was somewhat altered in this instance. Esquivel herself admits that to a certain extent, from the start the book was written through a camera's eye. "I see an image and then I explain it," she says. Her method of composition is very visual. So in a sense, the text and the visual representation were created simultaneously.
Even so, the translation to another medium did not come without a price. The multilayers of the book are flattened into a single unrelenting story line in the film. Mama Elena becomes one-dimensional. Subtlety is lost. Camera angles are unable to capture the essence of what is happening so well as written metaphors and imagination can. The film adds voiceover—in the form of Tita's grand niece speaking directly into the camera some of the key words and images from the text—in an attempt to regain what has been lost, but it is not the same. Still, Esquivel's tale of frustrated passion was wildly successful both in film and print. The film, in fact, grossed more than any other Latin American film released in the United States. The popularity of both book and movie were enhanced by the simultaneous release of the subtitled film by Miramax and the hardcover translation of the book by Doubleday in February 1993. A fine full-length audiotape of Like Water for Chocolate, recorded by Kate Reading, was also released by Books on Tape.
Based on Esquivel's own screenplay, Like Water for Chocolate was adapted as a film in Spanish by Alfonso Arau, starring Lumi Cavazos, Regina Torne, and Marco Leonardi, Arau Films, 1992; with English subtitles, New Republic, 1993.
Sources Marialisa Calta, "The Art of the Novel as Cookbook," in the New York Times Book Review, February 17, 1993.
Richard Corliss, review of Like Water for Chocolate, in Time, Vol. 141, No. 14, April 5,1993, p. 61.
Maria Elena de Valdes, "Verbal and Visual Representation of Women 'Like Water for Chocolate,'" in World Literature Today, Vol. 69, No. 1, Winter 1995, pp. 78-82.
Barbara Hoffert, review of The Law of Love, in Library Journal, July, 1996, p 156.
Mansa Januzzi, review of Like Water for Chocolate, in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol 13, No. 2, Summer, 1993, pp 245-46.
Molly O'Neill, "At Dinner with Laura Esquivel: Sensing the Spirit in All Things, Seen and Unseen," in the New York Times, March 31, 1993, pp. Cl, C8.
Lilian Pizzichim, review of The Law of Love, in Times Literary Supplement, October 18, 1996, p 23.
James Polk, review of Like Water for Chocolate, in Tribune Books (Chicago), October 8, 1992, p. 8.
Karen Stabiner, review of Like Water for Chocolate, in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 1,1992, p. 6.
Han Stavans, review of Like Water for Chocolate, in Nation, Vol. 256, No. 23, June 14, 1993, p. 846.
Victor Zamudio-Taylor and Inma Gulu, "Criss-Crossing Texts Reading Images in 'Like Water for Chocolate,'" in The Mexican Cinema Project Studies in History, Criticism, and Theory, edited by Chon Nonega and Steven Ricci, The UCLA Film and TV Archive, 1994, pp. 45-52.
Further Reading Mary Batts Estrada, review of Like Water for Chocolate, in the Washington Post, September 25, 1993, p B2. This review praises the novel for its mixture of culinary knowledge, sensuality, and magic as "the secrets of love and life [are] revealed by the kitchen."
Stanley Kauffmann, review of Like Water for Chocolate, in New Republic, Vol. 208, No. 9, March 1, 1993, pp 24-25. Kauffmann reviews the movie version of the novel and finds it "drawn-out" and "lacking in focus"
Curtin, Deane W., and Lisa M. Heldke, eds. Cooking, Eating, Thinking: Transformative Philosophies of Food. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992. In the introduction to this collection of essays, Curtin maintains that cooking is an activity in which practice is more important than theory, and this practice hinges on physical experience and contextual knowledge. Heidke terms this approach “bodily knowledge” because it is a kind of perception that transcends the subject/object dichotomy and admits an interrelationship between human subjects and food.
Dobrian, Susan Lucas. “Romancing the Cook: Parodic Consumption of Popular Romance Myths in Como agua para chocolate.” Latin American Review 24 (July-December, 1996): 56-66. Dobrian argues that Esquivel parodies many genres in her novel, including the romance novel and its popular myths. Instead of the female character finding herself through submission to the male, she gains her sense of identity by rebelling against her mother. Dobrian cites one of the primary characters who becomes a female warrior in the Mexican Revolution as an example of the “new woman” in Latino literature.
Esquivel, Laura. “Revolucion Interior al Exterior: An Interview with Laura Esquivel.” Interview by Claudia Loewenstein. Southwest Review 79 (Autumn, 1994): 592-607. In this interview Esquivel discusses the use of her novel by psychotherapists to explore mother and daughter relationships. She shows how masculine norms have been transmitted by women, and how the three daughters in the novel respond: one seeks liberation publicly which leads to masculinization, one seeks change within the family, and one seeks balance. Cooking represents an inversion of sexuality in which the male is passive and is penetrated by the woman’s nurturing.
Franco, Jean. “The Incorporation of Women: A Comparison of North American and Mexican Popular Narrative.” In Studies in Entertainment: Critical Approaches to Mass Culture, edited by Tania Modleski. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986. A study on popular narrative that relates to the novel in that, as Franco points out, one of the common themes of the romance and the telenovela is that of a woman faced by “rules she has not made and over which she has no control.”
Franco, Jean. Plotting Women: Gender and Representation in Mexico. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989. Although this text does not discuss Esquivel’s novel, it provides a seminal analysis of gender issues in Mexico. Essential reading for the scholar unfamiliar with Mexican literature.
Ibsen, Kristine. “On Recipes, Reading, and Revolution: Postboom Parody in Como agua para chocolate.” Hispanic Review 63 (Spring, 1995): 133-146. Ibsen claims that the magical realism in Esquivel’s novel was inspired by Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, but demonstrates that the two novels are very different in terms of perspective. Ibsen asserts that Esquivel presents the individual experience of history (an example would be that Esquivel’s heroines exhibit traits not traditionally associated with women), while Márquez’s novel reexamines historical trends.
Jaffe, Janice A. “Hispanic American Women Writers’ Novel Recipes and Laura Esquivel’s Como agua para chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate).” Women’s Studies 22 (March, 1993): 217-230. Esquivel’s use of the kitchen is depicted as liberating and creative for women. The novel is placed in the context of literature by female writers that envisions the kitchen as a space of female repression or, alternatively, of community and creativity. Concludes that Esquivel’s positive appropriation of the kitchen was possible only after earlier feminist writers’ denunciation of how domestic chores enslaved generations of women.
Leonardi, Susan J. “Recipes for Reading: Summer Pasta, Lobster à la Riseholme, and Key Lime Pie.” PMLA 104, no. 3 (May, 1989): 340-347. Leonardi considers the act of foodmaking a collaborative activity that implicates the reader, since the nature of sharing recipes has “some interesting relationships to both reading and writing. . . . Even the root of recipe—the Latin recipere—implies an exchange, a giver and a receiver.”
McMurray, George. “Two Mexican Feminist Writers.” Hispania 73 (December, 1990): 1035-1036. McMurray briefly outlines the novel’s plot, emphasizing the Magical Realism. He attributes the book’s popularity to Magical Realism and traces this aspect of the novel to the work of Gabriel García Márquez. Also discusses a novel by Mexican writer Angeles Mastretta that McMurray views as representative of contemporary feminist trends in Latino literature.
Radway, Janice. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984. Radway shows that popular romances share many characteristics with oral literature, which reinforces a connection to the orally transmitted traditions of cooking and household remedies that structure the novel. Similarly, both the novela rosa and the telenovela emphasize the notion of pleasure in storytelling, a pleasure Radway considers utopian.