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Like Water for Chocolate
March 10, 2011 - Regina Gonzalez
The 1989 novel, Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel, is an exquisite example of what food can do as the driving theme of a story. The book follows a girl named Tita. Tita has been in love with Pedro for as long as she can remember. All she wants from life is to be with her love, but there is one problem. Tita is the youngest daughter. In her Hispanic family that means it is tradition for her not to marry, but to stay home and take care of her mother until her mother dies. Obviously, Tita is oppressed. She is trapped by the traditions of her own family and heritage. The only way she can express herself is through her cooking. In Like Water for Chocolate food symbolizes a simple, but beautiful concept--expression.
Laura Esquivel choose to use a style called magical realism in order to mix the real and the unreal. Early in the novel Tita is having very strong sexual thoughts about Pedro, and, to distract herself, she throws all of her pent up passion into a quail meal with rose petal sauce. After eating the dish, her sister, Gertrudis, becomes so filled with lust she makes love to a soldier on horseback. By employing magical realism Esquivel really drives home her meaning. It can almost be other worldly how much blood, sweat and tears can go into a homemade dish and the effect this can have. This style combines that passion and reality to create a perfect example of food as expression. The story follows Tita from the time she is fifteen up until she is an adult woman. During this time we see the love between Tita and Pedro grow. When they both come of age, Pedro asks for Tita’s hand in marriage, but her mother refuses to give her blessing. Instead, Pedro marries Tita’s older sister, Rosaura, so he can stay close to Tita. Pedro is not attracted to Rosaura. One of the main reasons is because she cannot cook. Tita, on the other hand, was raised mostly by the family cook and is gifted in the kitchen. This is another example of the theme of food acting as a symbol of expression. Pedro is in love with Tita because she is a woman filled with passion and ideas. Her love of food and cooking shows this: just as Rosaura’s lack of skill in the kitchen shows her lack of expression. A perfect example of this is the outcome of Pedro and Tita. Towards the end of the novel, Rosaura dies. This leaves the couple somewhat free to finally express their love. They are left alone and make love for the first time without restraint or fear of being caught. The passion is so great that Tita sees a tunnel leading to the spirit world. She avoids going into the light, but Pedro does not do the same. Pedro crosses over into the spirit world because he is so overtaken with finally being able to express his love for Tita. Tita wants to follow him into the next life, so she consumes the lit candles that were in the room. Shortly after, she sees the tunnel again, and Pedro standing in it. She joins him, and they both dissipate into a bright show of lights, much like fireworks. This whole scene embodies the amount of passion and life within Tita. The energy of her love making has been transferred into cooking for such a long time, that when it was finally expressed, it was monumental.
The importance of food as expression is even seen in the book‘s setup. Each chapter starts with a different recipe. The chapters in the book are labeled in one-month installments. The set-up of the chapters shows how through life, and the changes we go through over time, we can always find some kind of outlet, some way to let it all out, even in the everyday task of cooking a meal.
Food and cooking in general are powerful tools that may be overlooked by those not ordinarily in the kitchen, but Like Water for Chocolate sends the message that it can be used as an escape and to express freely what we might not be able to say aloud.
So, take some time to smell the freshly chopped garlic, taste the delicate mixture of spices and feel the texture of breadcrumbs between your fingers. It might help you work through something you’re bottling up inside yourself.
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