Laura Esquivel’s “Like Water for Chocolate” is a magical, vivid and tragically romantic novel that tastes as satisfying as its delectable featured recipes.
The novel is especially meaningful today, with major themes including female liberation and female sexuality. Female sexuality, in particular,
“Like Water for Chocolate,” which was originally published in monthly installments, is separated into twelve sections, each beginning with a Mexican recipe that weaves into the narrative and connects to events in the main character, Tita’s, life. It takes place in Mexico at the turn of the century during a revolution, though it was published in 1989.
Tita de la Garza, the novel’s protagonist, is born under fantastical circumstances. Her mother, Mama Elena, goes into labor on the kitchen table while the cook, Nacha, is chopping onions, and Tita pops out in a flood of tears, which later evaporates into piles of salt. This theme of extraordinary events that take place in everyday life is central to the novel.
From the moment she is born, Tita is doomed to be a tragic heroine. Her mother does not care for Tita, who instead grows up in the kitchen cooking alongside the family cook and mother figure, Nacha and ranch maid Chencha. Citing family tradition, Mama Elena tells Tita that as the youngest daughter of the family, she must care for her mother until she dies.
Because of the tradition, the cruel Mama Elena forbids her to marry the man who she falls for
The title hints at the nature of the novel, as water used to make chocolate must be near the boiling point. This alludes to both the rage and sexual tension felt by Tita and other characters throughout the novel.
The book is rich with imagery and metaphors so that readers can nearly smell the boiling stews and see the last morsel of food left politely on the serving platter by the dinner guests. The
Tita’s story represents the struggles of women trapped in domestic servitude. Tita constantly rebels against her mother’s cruelty, questioning the tradition and fighting against her predestined future. Tita uses her food as an outlet to convey her romantic and sexual feelings towards
In fact, the entire de la Garza household is female, as Mama Elena’s husband died at Tita’s birth. In this way, the novel serves as a feminist manifesto.
However, what makes the novel so interesting is its constant, subtle inconsistency with feminist ideals. For the entirety of
Similarly, many of the other women in the book treat marriage as the only escape from servitude to their families, therefore entering into another type of servitude for their husbands. The entire novel is incredibly male-centric, although most events take place through a female gaze.
The novel, overall, would not pass the Bechdel Test, which is an evaluation that checks whether a work of fiction includes a scene in which two women have a conversation with each other about something other than a man.
Tita essentially forms her life around Pedro and eventually makes an incredible sacrifice for love.
This juxtaposition of a household and society built on female subjugation with a seemingly independent and sexually liberated female lead makes for a compelling read. Simultaneously a coming of age story and a romantic, magical fable, the novel has elements of value for any reader.
“Like Water for Chocolate” is a rich, enticing
Read it here, or for better formatting, check it out at the library!