Recipes in Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
The kitchen has long been associated with the mandatory or compulsory servitude of women. “Barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen” remains the most limiting of the stereotypically masculine preferred roles for women. Cecilia Lawless contends that culinary endeavors, like cooking and creating or following recipes “is traditionally considered a gendered discourse – the woman’s domain, hence marginalized – and therefore not a discourse of empowerment” (Lawless 262).
However, women writers around the globe are finding newfound power in the domestic domain of the kitchen by creating a truly feminine discourse replete with recipes, cooking, and therapeutic female-to-female communication.
Janice Jaffe claims that in particular, “a number of Hispanic American and Latina women writers seem to be reclaiming the kitchen” (Jaffe 218).
Jaffe’s statement, validated by a 1984 conference dedicated to the writings of Latin American and Latina women entitled The Frying Pan by the Handle, supports the proclamation of the importance of the kitchen for all women writers.
She goes on to describe the naming of The Kitchen Table Press in 1981, an U.S.-based organization for women of color. She explains that “the name was chosen ‘because the kitchen is the center of the home, the place where women in particular work and communicate with each other” (219). The commonality among the above-mentioned works of women writers around the globe is that they are “reclaiming the kitchen as a space of creative power rather than confinement” (219).
The remarkable prominence of female authorship in culinary narratives can be attributed in part to the acknowledgement of a tradition: recipe fiction provides a means by which women authors can pay homage to what they have received from their foremothers.
That lineage becomes especially important for today’s society that has allowed for the mass exodus of women from the kitchen. Today’s economy demands that to achieve and maintain a comfortable standard of living, women must enter the workforce, alongside their mates. This migration ultimately leaves little time for the culinary arts, as the experience of food is largely reduced to the acquiring of basic sustenance.
As a result, for many people, food has lost its pleasure and intimacy, transposed as it is to fast-food restaurants and microwave miracles. Once convenience foods had become the “order of the day,” however, culinary romances could function in a contrary action as a means of preserving the Epicurean arts and affirming a matriarchal realm. For both writers and readers, then, these narratives develop a means of both remembering and honoring the lives of our foremothers as most of us hurry about from one meeting to the next, a Big Mac on a food tray, in our cars. (Lawless)
In Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel begins each chapter with a list of ingredients for one particular recipe. She, however, does not index them, or any of the other recipes that she includes, and thus ensures that her book more closely resembles a true cookbook journal than do those written by culinary writers. As the kitchen has traditionally been of little concern to men, very few of them have written or participated in the creation of receipt collections and subsequently in culinary narratives.
Their domain was, and largely still is, that of labour,6 though noticeable exceptions to this avoidance are the many world-class chefs who are male. Typically, throughout patriarchal history, men would go to work, while women would stay at home and prepare the food. Until recently, this pattern has been fairly constant, men have functioned outside the home, and women have tended to function inside it. It is my opinion, then, as a consequence, when men wrote, they wrote about things they knew about or desired—often as not, those things outside the kitchen.
This paper discusses such an example of the kind of culinary empowerment and creative reclamation in Laura Esquivel’s magical realist novel, Like Water for Chocolate. In this text, Esquivel creates a character that has the ability to induce emotional and physical reactions with the food she prepares. By means of mystical subconscious desires and commands. Esquivel’s protagonist affects the minds, hearts and bodies of those around her, and she also elicits physical responses from her own body. Denied the possibility of emotional love and physical, sexual experiences due to family tradition, Tita struggles to repress the desires of her body and heart by means of mental fortitude.
By pitting her mind against her body, Tita suffers internal chaos and turmoil, but her subconscious and her body doesn’t let her submit or surrender. Only by freeing herself from familial restrictions that forced her to negate her physicality can Tita begin to develop to a sense individual agency and self. By breaking out of her cultural confines, she creates a new site of power for herself, one that will eventually unite her body, heart and mind into one complete and whole being, exercising total control of her life, her love and her destiny.
Laura Esquivel’s novel of recipes and romance, a parody of the mid-nineteenth century women’s magazines that included “recipes, home remedies, and. often, sentimental novels in monthly installments” (Ibsen 137), chronicles the birth, life and death of Josefita “Tita” de la Garza. Like Water for Chocolate begins with the story of how Tita precipitated her own birth, a strong indication of her power as an individual.
Tita was so sensitive to onions, any time they were being chopped, they say she would just cry and cry; when she was still in my great-grandmother’s belly her sobs were so loud that even Nacha, the cook, who was half-deaf, could hear them easily. Once her wailing got so violent that it brought on an early labor. And before my great-grandmother could let out a word or even a whimper, Tita made her entrance into this world, prematurely, right there on the kitchen table amidst the smells of simmering noodle soup, thyme, bay leaves, and cilantro, steamed milk, garlic, and of course, onion. (Esquivel 5-6)
However, shortly after her birth, the reader learns of Tita’s utter lack of power to direct her destiny. The book postulates that the reason Tita “was already crying as she emerged,” results from the fact that “maybe…she knew then that it would be her lot in life to be denied marriage” (6). Her mother decreed that as the youngest daughter, Tita was destined to remain unmarried and care for her mother, Mama Elena, until her death. Unfortunately for Tita this meant that she must resist her body and heart’s desire to “experience love” (12).
The novel, most frequently categorized as a parody, can also be classified as both Postmodern and Post-Revolutionary. It is Postmodern in its attempt to subvert and undermine the epigraph addressed to Latina women: “To the table or to bed: You must come when you are bid” (Esquivel). Maria Elena de Valdes elaborates on the statement in this way:
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 kitchen and bedroom, or food and sex. (de Valdes 86)
In a similar vein. Joanne Saltz describes the historical context of the Post-Revolutionary novel by claiming that, the text is one in which the Mexican Revolution reverberates, overturning literary and social conventions of form, the position of women in society, their social conduct and the regulation of their bodies, and at the same time debunking the feminist myth of the superwoman. (Saltz 30-1)
In this atmosphere of change for Latina women in Mexican history, one must align oneself with either the traditional view of women and their place in society described by de Valdes, or the more modern position toward women as depicted by Saltz. The opening pages of Like Water for Chocolate follow a Postmodern/Post-Revolutionary. Mexican literary tendency to ascribe “the fundamental aspects of the liberal hero/heroine as living a life of ‘sacrifice, abnegation (denial of one’s desires), martyrdom’ in the hope of vindication at some time in the future” (Schaefer 83).
That sacrifice and abnegation will be forever present in Tita’s life is evident by Mama Elena’s decree, but Esquivel cues her reader that the character of Tita will also achieve martyrdom and vindication with her statement that. “Tita did not submit” (Esquivel 11). Her subtle hint that Tita would not quietly agree with her mother’s “family tradition” (11). promises to create underlying tension and open conflagration between the two as Tita attempts to redefine the stifling traditional roles for women which Mama Elena so closely follows.
In addition to the “enforced celibate destiny” (Lawless 262) of Tita, Mama Elena dominates and dictates almost every aspect of her children’s lives, as well as the management of the ranch house. Several examples of the matriarch’s total domination and unquestionable authority appear throughout the novel. Tita remarks that, “in the De la Garza family, one obeyed -immediately” (Esquivel 12). When met with any form of disobedience. Mama Elena is quick to “correct” the offender, who is usually Tita.
When presents with a suspiciously unruly look on her daughter’s face, “Mama Elena read the look on her face and flew into a rage, giving Tita a tremendous slap that let her rolling in the dirt” (27). Instances of her physical and mental abuse consistently permeate the entire work, and the character of Mama Elena is portrayed as efficiently violent and destructive. Tita relates that, “unquestionably, when it came to dividing, dismantling, dismembering, desolating, detaching, dispossessing, destroying, or dominating. Mama Elena was a pro” (97). Tita reveals the feelings of defeat and domination she experiences at the hands of her mother in the following passage.
Mama Elena was merciless, killing with a single blow. But then again not always. For Tita she had made an exception; she had been killing her a little at a time since she was a child, and she still hadn’t quite finished her off. (49)
Tita despairingly attempts to please her mother to no avail “no matter how hard Tita tried she always got an infinite number of things wrong” (94). Mama Elena’s strict adherence to cultural, traditional and familial mores, like those taught to all young Mexican girls from “Carreno’s manual of etiquette” (39), serves as the primary source of Tita’s servile confinement in the ranch house. Her mother is linked with the traditional. Europeanized version of middle class women in Mexico, a model that Tita cannot follow. In Mama Elena’s defense, the reader later learns of the possible source of her tyrannical reign in the household. After her death, Tita discovers some old love letters, while going through her mother’s possessions.
Apparently, the true love of Mama Elena’s life was not her husband. Mama Elena had loved a black man, but propriety forbid their relationship. Upon learning the real reason for her mother’s perpetual anger, Tita begins to understand what a wretched existence her mother led. Esquivel describes Tita’s newfound sympathy for her mother: “During the funeral Tita really wept for her mother.
Not for the castrating mother who had repressed Tita her entire life, but for the person who had lived a frustrated love” (138). Enforcing her will upon her daughters is Mama Elena’s attempt to compensate for her own lack of sexual agency. When Tita learns of the source for her mother’s anger and frustration, she sympathizes with her mother’s plight. Unfortunately, this discovery comes only after Mama Elena’s death. During her lifetime, Tita’s relationship with her mother is less like mother/daughter and more like master/servant.
Faced with this unsatisfactory relationship with her mother, Tita turns to the indigenous Indian cook. Nacha, as a substitute mother, a natural turn of events given that Nacha’s domain was the kitchen where Tita was born and cared for as an infant. Esquivel writes that, “thanks to her unusual birth, Tita felt a deep love for the kitchen, where she spent most of her life from the day she was born” (6).
When Mama Elena’s milk dries up, it is Nacha who takes over the feeding of the baby girl who “grew vigorously and healthy on a diet of teas and thin corn gruels” (7). The narrator maintains that this “explains the sixth sense Tita developed about everything concerning food.” and that the kitchen “was Tita’s realm” (7). When she is no longer allowed to play in the kitchen with her sisters, Nacha became her only friend and playmate.
Through her time in the kitchen with Nacha, Tita receives the unconditional love that should have been provided by her mother. Indeed, Tita’s fondest memories of her time spent with Nacha include such maternal activities as “the way she braided her hair and tucked Tita in at night, took care of her when she was sick, and cooked what she craved…” (168). Nacha also serves as an invaluable teacher to Tita, who benefits from her culinary expertise, prowess with herbal remedies, and inventiveness with household tips. Within the narrative of the novel “Nacha serves as the good mother substitute in contrast to the bad biological mother” (Lawless 264).
This binary serves to support Kristine Ibsen’s claim that “the narration privilege: the ancient oral tradition of female knowledge bequeathed to Tita by Nacha over the artificial rules of conduct, upheld by Mama Elena and reproduced by Rosaura” (Ibsen 140). This oppositional relationship between the “female knowledge” of Nacha and Tita and “artificial rules of conduct” followed by Mama Elena and Rosaura produces numerous conflicts and volatile situations throughout the narrative, beginning with Rosaura’s wedding in February’s installment.
From her magical realist birth episode in January’s installment of the novel, Tita subconscious powers increase in potency during the February chapter. In this chapter the reader first learns of Tita’s ability to influence the minds and bodies of others subconsciously through the food she prepares.
Tita helps Nacha with the cooking, and obligingly assists with the preparation of the wedding feast for her older sister, Rosaura. Forbidden by Mama Elena to marry his true love (Tita), Pedro agrees to marry her older sister just to be near Tita. In despair and suffering from a broken heart, Tita weeps into the cake batter and later into the bowl of icing. Nacha tastes the icing to ensure that Tita’s salty tears have not affected the flavor. The flavor was unaffected, but surprisingly, “Nacha was overcome with an intense longing” (Esquivel 34). She went to bed crying and was unable to get out of bed the next morning.
Later that day, after eating the wedding cake, everyone at the reception was “flooded with a great wave of longing” (39), then they began weeping. Inexplicably, under some sort of “strange intoxication” all of the guests began “collective vomiting” (39). Rosaura accuses Tita of ruining her wedding day by poisoning her cake, but only Tita knows that “she had added only one extra ingredient to the cake, the tears she had shed while preparing it” (41).
There was no corroboration for her story because Nacha dies overnight from remembered sorrow; her heart broken years before when Mama Elena refused to allow her to marry her own true love. The emotional state of Tita, made corporeal by her tears, transferred itself through the cake and into the hearts and bodies of those who ate it. As Lawless describes it, “Tita herself has become incarnate in the food” (Lawless 265). Tita’s ability to cause emotional and sexual longing in others subversively serves as a reminder of the bodily urges and corporeality that have been denied Tita.
Yet, this preliminary experience of affecting other people”s emotions and bodies through her cooking appears to go unrecognized by Tita, who continues to prepare the family’s meals. When her body is burning with unrequited love and lust for Pedro, she prepares quail in rose petal sauce using the roses that Pedro had given her as a gift. While handling the roses, Tita pricks herself on a thorn and her blood mixes with the sauce. As the family eats the dish that evening, Tita’s sister Gertrudis is sent into a state of overwhelming lust akin to spontaneous combustion. What follows equates to a psychological sexual experience between Tita and Pedro.
On her the food seemed to act as an aphrodisiac: she began to feel an intense heat pulsing through her limbs. An itch in the center of her body kept her from sitting properly in her chair. She began to sweat, imagining herself on horseback with her arms clasped around one of Pancho Villa’s men. She got her handkerchief and tried to wipe these sinful thoughts from her mind as she wiped away the sweat.
But it was no use, something strange had happened to her. She turned to Tita for help, but Tita wasn’t there, even though her body was sitting up quite properly in her chair; there wasn’t the slightest sign of life in her eyes. 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.
With that meal it seemed they had discovered a new system of communication, in which Tita was the transmitter. Pedro the receiver, and poor Gertrudis the medium, the conducting body through which the singular sexual message was passed. Pedro didn’t offer any resistance. He let Tita penetrate him to the farthest corners of his being, and all the while they couldn’t take their eyes off each other. He said, “Thank you. I have never had anything so exquisite.” (Esquivel 51)
In this rose petal episode, Tita’s powers to invade and affect the bodies of others bears a striking resemblance to the Catholic tradition of communion, de Valdes notes the significance of the encounter in this way: “This is clearly much more than communication through food or a mere aphrodisiac; this is a form of transubstantiation whereby the rose petal sauce and quail have been turned into the body of Tita” (de Valdes 87).
When the “body of Tita” enters Pedro and Gertrudis, they are powerless to stop its effects on their own bodies. Gertrudis continues to suffer an internal burning heat, and she exudes the heavy, heady scent of roses. When she attempts to take a shower in order to quell her burning desires, she sets the shower stall on fire. By coincidence, as she runs naked from the flaming shower stall, a rebel soldier in a nearby city following an irresistible scent of roses, rides in on horseback and sweeps her away with him.
Gertrudis and Juan passionately and skillfully make love on galloping horseback, enacting what Tita and Pedro could only dream of doing together. Held to strict cultural and familial standards that neither could breach, the two lovers continue to suppress their physical attraction for each other. The rose petal episode marks the escalation of Tita’s mystical subconscious ability to transfer her emotions into the food she prepares, which produces psychological and physical reactions in the bodies of the people who consume her culinary products.
The episode also serves as a subversive parody of Catholic discourse, which is historically associated with the hierarchical dualism of mind and body, devaluing carnal appetites. Esquivel instead “both acknowledges the authenticity of the female sex drive in women, who according to tradition, are asexual, and highlights the social conventions that punish women for acting on that drive” (Saltz 35).
In April’s installment, Tita subconsciously influences her body’s reproductive processes when she miraculously produces breast milk for Pedro and Rosaura’s baby. Tita actually birthed Roberto as “she was the only one present at the birth of her nephew” (Esquivel 71), and she instantly falls in love with the child. Esquivel writes that, “the baby’s cries filled all the empty space in Tita’s heart. She realized that she was feeling a new love: for life, for this child, for Pedro, even for the sister she had despised so long” (73).
Rosaura falls very ill from the childbirth and cannot nurse Roberto. Unfortunately, the wet nurse they found for the child is killed after one month’s time. The baby desperately needs milk, and although “she knew it was completely dry” (76), Tita offers her sister’s child her supposedly empty breast. Incredibly, the child sucks happily at Tita’s milk-giving breast, despite Tita’s incapacity to understand or believe what was happening. After all, “it wasn’t possible for an unmarried woman to have milk” (76), but mysteriously, it was possible for Tita.
In another subversive stab at Catholicism, Esquivel depicts the virgin Tita as the virgin mother Mary, able to produce a child and breast milk for that child without ever having “known” a man. Tita subconsciously wishes to be the child’s mother so badly that her body responds rather appropriately by magically providing her with breast milk for the baby. In the same manner in which Nacha had taken over the maternal duties of Tita, so Tita acts as a substitute mother to Rosaura’s child: “it was as if the child’s mother was Tita, not Rosaura.
That’s how she felt and acted” (78). Tita cares for Roberto as if he were her own child, hers and Pedro’s. After all, without her mother’s interference, she would be the wife of Pedro and the mother of Roberto. Having Roberto in her life made her subservient confinement to her mother bearable. She thinks to herself, “What did her fate matter, when she had this child near her, this child who was as much hers and anybody’s? Really, she did a mother’s work without the official title, Pedro and Roberto were hers and that was all she needed” (79).
However, due to her mother’s control, Tita fails to empower herself through her substitute motherhood. Mama Elena suspects that Pedro and Tita secretly have an indecent relationship, and she sends Pedro, Rosaura and Roberto away from the ranch. Without Tita’s breast milk, the child dies, and Tita is overcome with grief. She has nursed and mothered the child, but then she loses him completely.
Interestingly, Tita equates the loss of the child with the destruction of the only place she feels an element of control – the kitchen. When she learns of Roberto’s death, she “felt the household crashing down around her head” and hears “the sound of all the dishes breaking into a thousand pieces” (99). When Mama Elena scolds Tita for having a reaction to the news and commands, “First work, then do as you please, except crying, do you hear?” (99). Tita brazenly confronts her mother for the first time in her life.
Tita felt violent agitation take possession of her being: still fingering the sausage, she calmly met her mother’s gaze and then, instead of obeying her order, she started to tear apart all the sausages she could reach, screaming wildly.
“Here’s what I do with your orders! I’m sick of them! I’m sick of obeying you!” (99)
Suffering greatly from grief and depression and a broken nose at the angry hands of Mama Elena, Tita crawls up into the dovecote and has a breakdown. The entire June installment describes her time of healing with the help of Dr. John Brown. Tita refuses to speak for six months, and when questioned by the doctor as to why she wouldn’t speak to him, Tita uses a piece of phosphorus to write the words, “Because I don’t want to” (118).
The narrator applauds Tita’s initial efforts at selfhood when she informs the reader that, “With these words Tita had taken her first step toward freedom” (118). Only by breaking the stifling rules of conduct and doing what she wants to do instead of what she should do, will Tita develop a sense of self and control over her life. John proves to be of invaluable assistance to Tita during her period of convalescence in his home. His saintly patience with her. coupled with the comforting presence of his grandmother’s ghost, a Kikipu Indian, help Tita regain a sense of stability, inner strength, and an eagerness to live outside the confines of her mother’s convent-like ranch house.
“Her first step toward freedom,” away from her mother and toward selfhood, appears to be short-lived when Tita, who has recently agreed to marry John, leaves the safety and security of his home and returns to the ranch to care for her ailing mother.
Mama Elena is so embittered by what she considers to be Tita’s blatant disobedience and dishonor to the family that every morsel of food prepared by Tita leaves an unbearably bitter taste in her mouth. To counteract the supposed poisoning of her food, Mama Elena drinks large quantities of ipecac syrup every day, which soon brings about her death. Knowing the misery of her mother’s life of unrequited love and unfulfilled corporeal desires. Tita “swore in front of Mama Elena’s tomb that come what may, she would never renounce love” (138).
Little did she know that Tita would soon test her own proclamation. Mama Elena’s death brings Pedro and Rosaura, who is pregnant with her second child, back to the ranch. Tita, engaged to John, still madly loves Pedro, who confesses his love for her. Pedro rationalizes with Tita that now that Mama Elena was dead, they could have a relationship. Tita and Pedro do consummate their love, despite Pedro’s marriage to Tita’s sister and despite Tita’s engagement to John Brown. Soon after their first lovemaking encounter in the bathing room of Mama Elena, Tita begins to suspect that she is pregnant.
At this point in the novel, Tita again exercises incredible subconscious influence and control over her body when she causes her body to spontaneously abort the lovechild. Corresponding to the condition of her pregnancy, the ghost of Mama Elena appears to berate Tita and her behavior. Mama Elena’s ghost curses Tita, her behavior and the unborn child she carries:
“What you have done has no name! You have forgotten all morality, respect, and good behavior. You are worthless, a good-for-nothing who doesn’t respect even yourself. You have blackened the name of my entire family, from my ancestors down to this cursed baby you carry in your belly!” (173)
Tita’s problems are only compounded when she tells Pedro of her pregnancy, who is thrilled to learn that he and Tita would soon have a child together. He proposes that they run away together, but Tita cannot bring herself to hurt her sister and niece by abandoning them that way. She also felt perpetual fear that “any minute some awful punishment was going to descend on her from the great beyond, courtesy of Mama Elena” (198).
Indeed, the spirit of Mama Elena again descends on Tita to mock her situation and remind her of her indecency and unthinking immorality. When Tita confronts the ghost of her mother, she finally rids herself of her mother’s presence and her antiquated traditional ideals of propriety by telling the ghost that she hates her. As soon as Tita frees herself from the confining restrictions of her mother’s domination, she experiences a spontaneous and sudden miscarriage/menstruation.
As the ghost faded away, a sense of relief grew inside Tita’s body. The inflammation in her belly and the pain in her breasts began to subside. The muscles at the center of her body relaxed, loosing a violent menstrual flow.
The discharge, so many days late, relieved all her pains. She gave a deep peaceful sigh. She wasn’t pregnant. (200)
The act empowers her in two ways. First, by eradicating the remnants of her mother’s dominion over her. Tita has simultaneously provided herself with a temporary reprieve from the impending disastrous effects that her pregnancy would have had on the rest of her family. Secondly. Tita rejects the biological maternity of Mama Elena, in essence aborting herself from her dead mother’s womb. Her psyche directed her corporeal reproductive functions by eliminating the problems associated with her pregnancy. Without this impediment, Tita and Pedro continue their relationship, under an agreement made with her sister to keep their relationship hidden from Esperanza, the second child of Pedro and Rosaura, and the rest of the community.
Their love affair lasts for many years, and culminates on the wedding day of Esperanza and Alex, the son of Dr. Brown. As usual, Tita prepares the meal for the feast, and labors terrifically to make chiles in walnut sauce. After many clandestine and secretive years, Tita and Pedro have finally fulfilled their portion of the terms of discretion now that Mama Elena and Rosaura were dead, and Esperanza would be leaving the family home.
Upon her departure, Tita and Pedro would be free to love each other openly. This thought plays upon Tita’s mind as she prepares the chiles, and after eating them, the guests at the reception become incredibly amorous toward their partners. Tita and Pedro especially felt this condition. They knew that “for the first time in their lives” they could “make love freely” (242).
Entering the “dark room,” which has been prepared for the lovers by the caring ghost of Nacha, the two are overcome with passion. For Tita, their lovemaking brings her to the brink of the “brilliant tunnel” that John had warned her about. During her stay with Dr. Brown.
Tita learns of his grandmother’s theory concerning the “spark of life” in each of us in which 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 oxygen and a candle to help. In this case, the oxygen, for example, would come from the breath of the person you love: the candle could be any kind of food, music, caress, word, or sound that engenders the explosion that lights one of the matches. (115)
This theory comes with a strong caution from Dr. Brown in which he warns against lighting all the matches at once because “they would produce a splendor so dazzling…and then a brilliant tunnel would appear before our eyes, revealing the path we forgot the moment we were born, and summoning us to regain the divine origin we had lost” (117). If an individual were to light all the matches, see the tunnel, and follow its path, the body would die. Because she wanted to “explore these emotions many more times,” Tita “checked her passion” (243). Unfortunately, the lovemaking so consumes and enthralls Pedro that he “died at the moment of ecstasy” (244). Determined not to be left alone, Tita decides to join him.
She remembers the lesson taught to her by John and exercises mental control to bring about the desired physical condition – death. She eats candles and envisions the times she and Pedro spent together, “their first kiss, the first caress, the first time they made love” (245). Engaging in this suicidal mental masturbation, she reignites the flame inside of herself achieving an “amorous climax” (245), and joins Pedro who stands waiting for her in a tunnel of light. Love triumphs in death because, “Never again would they be apart” (245).
Just as she induced her own birth, Tita instigates her own death, exercising total control over her body, her love and her destiny. She unites the emotional, mental and physical factors of her being in order to achieve a self-determined level of happiness in her life. The struggle for Tita’s has been arduous and exacting to the point of her death, but she acknowledges that fulfilling one’s desires was an effort worth taking.
Life had taught her that it was not easy; there are few prepared to fulfill their desires whatever the cost, and the right to determine the course of one’s own life would take more effort than she had imagined. That battle she had to fight alone, and it weighed on her. (168)
In this statement, Esquivel echoes the historical Post-Revolutionary realization of many Latina women writers that “social change so often requires individual sacrifice” (Schaefer xiv). The realization followed social disillusionment with “Utopian promises for ‘healing’ both physical and psychological wounds” (xiii). Through her powerful and empowered presence in the kitchen, Tita creates a lasting narrative, which becomes a sort of recipe, “a how-to book on surviving a mother’s tyranny, or finding love in the midst of familial and social struggle, or returning to the paradiscal home” (Lawless 263).
Once denied the body and its pleasures, Tita ultimately owns and controls her body and its functions, refusing to quietly submit to cultural constructs and restraints. Through the use of magical realism’s blurred boundaries, Esquivel creates for Tita “a new terrain…not a room of one’s own, not a merely public or private self, or a domestic realm – it is a space in the imagination which allows for the inside, the outside, and the liminal elements of in between” (268-9).
For Tita, it is a space that allows her to be a whole, unified, balanced woman. In this way, Tita creates a new self, one comprised of equilateral elements of mind, heart and body, which contribute to a condition of self-satisfaction as a being of both corporeal and psychological desires. However, the fact that her self-creation can only be found in death negatively impacts the suggested availability of personal freedoms for women.
Is it only in death that women can be truly free of cultural and familial restrictions and demands? Some would agree, but others envision alternatives. Ibsen claims that by “proclaiming women as a source of energy in their own right, the absolute of the dominant order are undermined and an alternate order is posited” (Ibsen 143). In Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, the dominant order of the hierarchy of mind versus body is displaced, and replaced with a balanced, fulfilled, and whole woman who refuses to submit passively to rules that don’t apply to her.
By including recipes within texts such as Like Water for Chocolate, authors invite the reader to become a part of a specialized community. By sharing her secrets with the audience, the author establishes a level of communication and trust that rises above mere reader response, permitting the reader potentially to take what the author has written and prepare the very meal described in the text s/he has just read. In this recipe sharing, audience participation can move to a whole new level.
If the reader were to prepare one of the prescribed dishes and to enjoy the food, one could argue that she would perhaps appreciate the book more because its sensory pleasure would then have transcended the limitations of the written text and moved onto the palate and provoked further association. Conversely, should the reader be disappointed with the meal, it is also possible that the reader’s enjoyment of the text could be significantly diminished. Thus in allowing the text to become inter-active, the author redefines the boundaries between text and reader.
As the majority of culinary narratives are written by women and are by and large for women, a distinctive feminine voice emerges from these texts, allowing for the creation of a female literary vehicle. This vehicle provides a means to tell the female experience and combined with its inclusion of recipes and cooking instructions, is gradually becoming a popular and innovative new form of writing.
Esquivel, Laura. (1992). Like Water for Chocolate. A Novel in Monthly Installments, with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies. Trans. Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen. New York: Doubleday.
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Jaffe, Janice. (1993). “Hispanic American Women Writer’s Novel Recipes and Laura Esquivel’s Como agua para chocolate” Women’s Studies 22.2: 217-30.
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