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”Like Water for Chocolate” is a playful and magical novel rooted in passionate emotion. This short novel links the culinary adventures of its heroine, Tita, to the exterior world of centuries-old Mexican traditions. This lesson contains a brief summary, followed by detailed information about the characters and some important quotes from the novel.

Background Information

Like Water for Chocolate (1989) takes place at the turn of the twentieth century in rural Mexico. Written by Laura Esquivel, the novel was the number one bestseller in Mexico for two years. It is uniquely structured, divided into twelve parts, with a recipe given at the start of each chapter.

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The recipe is linked in some way to the action of the chapter. Like Water for Chocolate is also considered a story of magical realism as everyday occurrences happen alongside magical events.

Summary

In simplest terms, Like Water for Chocolate is about Tita, the youngest daughter of a proud Mexican ranching family, who is, by tradition, supposed to never marry and take care of her mother for the rest of her life. Tita comes into conflict with her mother, Mama Elena, when Tita falls in love with a neighbor, Pedro. Unable to marry Tita, in desperation Pedro marries her sister Rosaura. This creates years of conflict within the family, eventually spilling into the outside world and the events of the Mexican Revolution. Linked since birth to the kitchen and to cooking as ranch cook, Tita begins to exhibit mysterious and magical powers, such as putting emotions into her cooking, with outrageous consequences.

Characters

Tita is the heroine of the novel. As a young child, she is drawn to the kitchen and spends most of her time there. Tita has a rich emotional life which is tied to the sensuality of her cooking.

When Pedro marries Rosaura, Tita unconsciously pours all her grief and frustration into the wedding cake, (Chabela Wedding Cake, one of the recipes). This causes all the wedding guests who eat the cake to not only feel her emotions but become violently sick. From the time Pedro and Rosaura get engaged, Tita feels physically cold and begins knitting a bedspread.

It reaches epic proportions and eventually–in magical realist style–is large enough to cover the entire ranch. Tita is eventually strong enough to defy her mother, but she spends much of the novel living the conflict between duty to oneself and duty to others.Gertrudis is one of Tita’s sisters. When Tita cooks the fancy dish Quails in Rose Petal Sauce, she pours all of her desire into it. When Gertrudis eats it, she radiates so much insistent sensuality that a passing revolutionary from Pancho Villa’s army literally sweeps Gertrudis off her feet and carries her away.

Gertrudis is unafraid to defy convention, is a pillar of strength to her sisters, and eventually becomes a revolutionary general herself.Rosaura is another of Tita’s sisters. She is traditional and jealous of Tita and Pedro’s affection, even though she is Pedro’s wife. She and Pedro have a little boy, to whom Tita becomes very close, but after he dies, Rosaura reacts physically by becoming enormously fat and having stomach problems. Eventually she dies from these problems, implying that her jealousy and conventional attitude have eaten her up from inside.Pedro ,Tita’s love interest, remains in love with her even after he marries Rosaura. He tries to engineer various ways for he and Tita to have romantic encounters.

Whenever they get together–again, in magical realist style–they cause explosions and fires. Pedro is a reactionary character and less dynamic than Tita.Mama Elena is the iron-willed head of the family who manages the ranch on her own, using emotional tyranny and physical force to subjugate everyone.

Although she makes Tita’s life a misery, Tita eventually understands her mother’s motivations, as she was prevented from marrying for love in her own youth, which has made her bitter and controlling.Dr John Brown is an American doctor in the area who falls in love with Tita. He rescues Tita when Mama Elena wants to put her in an insane asylum. He is gentle, emotionally articulate, and scientifically-minded. He doesn’t talk down to Tita and has learned his healing abilities from his Kickapoo Indian grandmother.

Important Quotes

‘Neither the fire nor the passage of time has been able to eliminate the strong smell of roses that lingers at the spot where the shower stood, which is now a parking lot for an apartment building.’This quote references the incident in which Gertrudis became sensually incandescent from Tita’s cooking and was carried away in an intense blaze of passion by a revolutionary. It suggests that Tita’s emotionally-charged magic was so passionate that its effect could still be felt decades later. Esquivel is making the point that female emotion is a force to be reckoned with.’My grandmother had a very interesting theory; she said that each of us is born with a box of matches inside us but we can’t strike them all by ourselves.’Dr Brown says this to Tita, foreshadowing the event that ends the novel.

Tita’s soul can only be ignited by Pedro’s love and reciprocated desire, even if that means Tita’s soul goes out in a blaze of ecstatic glory. Esquivel suggests that this kind of emotional rapture is part of what makes us human beings.’I know who I am! A person who has a perfect right to live her life as she pleases. Once and for all, leave me alone; I won’t put up with you!’With these words, Tita magically banishes her mother, who has subjugated her all her life. One of the most important themes of Like Water for Chocolate is the assertion that Tita (and by extension, everyone) has the right to live for herself, with freedom and dignity.

Mexican hot chocolate

Lesson Summary

Like Water for Chocolate is a novel brimming with passionate emotion through the magical abilities of its heroine, Tita, whose connection to all things culinary is an important theme.

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