Category: Review

In Laura Esquivel’s novel “Like Water for Chocolate” the narrator tells about the magnificent life of Tita de la Garza. It continues the tradition of Latin magical realism, the main goal of which is to express the reality using fantastic, magical and mythological elements. The author also uses this style in order to reduce vital and archaic sources of human existence, so the main component of this reduction is food. Food and its cooking is a method of establishing a connection with other people and building their lives both on local (the world of human passions) and global (the world of Mexican culture) levels of reality. The essay will discuss the use of magical realism as a central way of storytelling from the exposition to the resolution of the conflict between Tita and her mother.

The Exposition

The novel is divided into twelve chapters, from the Tita’s birth on the kitchen table to her death. However, it can be read as a collection of Tita’s favorite recipes from the cookbook and then interpreted as a chronicle of her life. In this case, the novel’s narrator says that Tita “will go on living as long as there is someone who cooks her recipes” (Esquivel). Laura Esquivel proposes that every episode of one’s life must be prepared in a certain way, with giving some spices, so Jaffe stated that the protagonist teaches “the secrets of life” in the kitchen.

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“Like Water for Chocolate” is unusual from the very beginning that brings in mind the best examples from magical realism. The setting of the story takes place in the rebellion of Mexico, where bandits and robbers are repeatedly appearing and often take place in the Tita’s life. However, the real setting is the kitchen, where “the joy of living was wrapped up in the delights of food” (Esquivel). It is at the beginning of the story, and there is no coincidence that Tita will have a specific (or spiced?) life with numerous episodes. Perhaps, Tita is crying not only because of onions, but also, as Januzzi proposed, she already knows about her fate to adhere to ridiculous family traditions, especially to be unmarried in order to take care of the old mother. This is the first detail that indicates that we are dealing with magical realism, similar to Gabriel García Márquez’s writing style. For Latin, Americans cuisine has a very essential meaning, even a sacral sense, especially in wartime when food is not enough for everyone. In other words, there is an untypical situation in every-day life that constantly changed someone’s life. In this particular situation, supernatural or even unreal elements fully exist in Tita’s life. For example, her youngest sister Gertrudis is so greasy that the wooden shower becomes burning: “On her, the food seemed to act as an aphrodisiac; she began to feel an intense heat pulsing through her limbs” (Esquivel). Esquivel uses this hyperbole in order to express the special meaning of food as it has even a destructive nature.

As we see, this is a very odd family with Mama’s Elena, who is a leader there. Actually, she makes all decisions and indicates what must be done and what not. Elena refuses Pedro Muzquiz, who comes to the family and wants to marry Tita, who was a teenager at that time. Mother said to Tita that she (Tita) knows perfectly that “the youngest daughter means you have to take care of me until the day I die” (Esquivel). The girl stays at the kitchen while her fate is decided, so later Elena told her that Pedro has agreed to marry Rosaura. In fact, it is a great tragedy for Tita, because she cannot believe that her beloved could make such a suggestion. On the other hand, she understands that he could do nothing in this situation. She is practically a hostage of matriarchy, humbly adhering to its rules. However, this does not reduce Tita’s pain, even more, escalating the conflict between her and Mama Elena. This fact also separates the girl and her sisters, who have always been opposed to her world that “seemed full of unknown dangers, and they were terrified of it” (Esquivel). The choice of a family is also typical for Latin American magical realism because it condenses all the fears and joys of the nation. It is also a holistic repository of myths, which are binding both historical and imaginary realities.