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Magic realism is an artistic, literary genre in which magical elements are combined with the real world. The story begins and ends with magical scenes, which not only make the story more interesting but also causes the reader to be drawn between the two views of reality. In her novel, Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel uses magic realism in order to develop the plot in unique ways.
The story starts with the birth of the protagonist Tita. Tita was very sensitive to onions that even when she was in her mother’s belly she cried.
Her crying has led Mama Elena to have a premature labor, and Tita came into this world in a flood of tears (5,6). Although Esquivel uses figurative language, most of the things stated in the book should be taken literally. For example, during Tita’s birth there was a flood of tears; and after the water was dried up, the salt that remained was used for cooking for an exceptionally long time.
From the first few pages the author intrigues the reader.
Throughout the book there are various instances of magic realism associated with food that Tita has prepared. While preparing the Chabela Wedding Cake for Pedro and Rosaura’s wedding, Tita was very sad and cried into the icing. When Nacha tasted it to make sure that the tears did not affect the flavor, she was overcome with these strong feelings of longing, and it may have possibly caused her death (36). At the wedding, when people started eating the cake, they also experienced feelings of longing for lost love.
They start sobbing, feeling pain and frustration, and vomiting (39). Sometimes when you eat a specific food, you feel sad and remember somebody, but in this story all feeling and emotions are taken to the extreme. The theme of food is universal, so when you mix emotions and food, more people can relate to it.
The way Tita feels while preparing the food, is the way the people feel when they it eat it, but in a more extraordinary way. Another example of how Tita’s food affects is how the quail in rose petal sauce acted as an aphrodisiac to Getrudis (51). While preparing it, Tita felt aroused and hot, so when Getrudis ate the food she was lustful and literally inflamed. The water evaporated before touching her skin and the wood was set on fire, due to the extreme heat coming from her body. Tita expresses her emotions though her food, like a musician conveys his feeling through music. Another way of how magic blends together with food is when Tita drank the ox tale soup. Tita was mentally unstable, and hasn’t spoken for six months. When Chencha brought Tita some ox-tail soup, her senses came back to her. This proves that the ox-tail soup can cure any illness whether physical or mental (123). Without magic realism Getrudis would have not ran away and Tita wouldn’t have been cured.
Other instances where magic mixes with reality is when the ghosts appear. Throughout the novel Tita encounters several ghosts including Mama Elena, Nacha, and Morning Light. The first ghost she encounters is Nacha’s spirit after she dies. While preparing the food, Nacha’s spirit dictated the recipe, helping and comforting Tita at the same time (50). The second time was when Rosaura was giving birth to Roberto. Tita prayed for Nacha’s help, and suddenly Nacha’s spirit appeared and guided her safely to bring the baby into the world (72). Mama Elena appears to Tita to scold her about her relationship with Pedro and curses the unborn baby inside of Tita. Mama Elena’s ghost appears a second time to Tita and orders her to leave the house, but Tita is fed up with her mother so she stands up her and demands her to leave her alone. Mama Elena’s ghost turns into a spinning light and causes the lamp near Pedro to explode, causing his body to be set on fire (199). Morning Light was an Indian healer that appeared to Tita when she was sick (110). Some people have mentioned that these ghosts are just figments of Tita’s imagination. As you may have noticed Nacha appears when Tita feels sad or needs help, Mama Elena appears when Tita is feeling guilty or sinful, and Morning Light appears when Tita required healing. The existence of ghosts not only develops the story, but also helps in the growth of the characters.
One of the most fascinating magic realism ideas in the story is the “matchbox” within each person. John brown explained to Tita that everybody is born with a box of matches inside of them, but they need somebody or something that sparks the explosion that lights one of the matches. The flame slowly fades out and then the person must find a way to revive the explosion again. The person must find what flames his candles before its too late and he dies. If the matches were lit at the same time, it would lead the soul to return to the place it came from (115). Through out most of the story, Tita was feeling cold because the flames were disappearing. At the very end of the story Tita and Pedro make love for the first time without any worries. The experience is intensely strong, that Pedro’s matches are all lit at the same time that he dies. Tita realized that if she doesn’t calm down then the same thing would happen to her, so she relaxes. She then realizes that she wants to go with him into the tunnel so she literally eats the candles and enters the tunnel with him. In the end, their spirit bodies create a spark, which causes the whole ranch to burn to the ground (243).
Like Water for Chocolate is best known for its use of magical realism. Magic realism is literary device that incorporates myth and supernatural themes into realistic settings and plots. Laura Esquivel uses this device to expand and unfold the plot in unique ways. Magic realism is also blended with the major themes of the novel such as tears, tradition, food, and love.
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