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Introduction

First published in 1989, Laura Esquivel’s first novel, Como agua para chocolate: novela de entregas mensuales con recetas, amores, y remedios caseros, became a bestseller in the author’s native Mexico. It has been translated into numerous languages, and the English version, Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments, with Recipes, Romances and Home Remedies, enjoyed similar success in the United States. The film version, scripted by the author and directed by her husband, Alfonso Arau, has become one of the most popular foreign films of the past few decades. In a New York Times interview, Laura Esquivel told Marialisa Calta that her ideas for the novel came out of her own experiences in the kitchen: “When I cook certain dishes, I smell my grandmother’s kitchen, my grandmother’s smells. I thought: what a wonderful way to tell a story.” The story Esquivel tells is that of Tita De la Garza, a young Mexican woman whose world becomes her family’s kitchen after her mother forbids her to marry the man she loves. Esquivel chronicles Tita’s life from her teenage to middle-age years, as she submits to and eventually rebels against her mother’s domination. Readers have praised the novel’s imaginative mix of recipes, home remedies, and love story set in Mexico in the early part of the century. Employing the technique of magic realism, Esquivel has created a bittersweet tale of love and loss and a compelling exploration of a woman’s search for identity and fulfillment.

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Laura Esquivel

Esquivel was born in 1951 in Mexico, the third of four children of Julio Caesar Esquivel, a telegraph operator, and his wife Josephina. In an interview with Molly O’Neill in the New York Times, Esquivel explained, “I grew up in a modern home, but my grandmother lived across the street in an old house that was built when churches were illegal in Mexico. She had a chapel in the home, right between the kitchen and dining room. The smell of nuts and chilies and garlic got all mixed up with the smells from the chapel, my grandmother’s carnations, the liniments and healing herbs.” These experiences in her family’s kitchen provided the inspiration for her first novel.

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Plot Summary

A Chapters 1-4: Under Mama Elena’s Rule

In Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate the narrator chronicles the life of her great-aunt, Tita De la Garza, who lives in northern Mexico during the early part of the century. The novel’s twelve chapters, written one per month in diary/installment form, relate details from over two decades of Tita’s life, beginning in 1910, when she is fifteen years old, and ending with her death at thirty-nine. Each chapter also includes a recipe that Tita prepares for her family during this period. After her mother refuses to allow her to marry the man she loves, Tita channels her frustrated desires into the creation of delicious meals that often have strange effects on her family. Through the expression of her culinary art, Tita learns to cope with and ultimately break free from her mother’s domination.

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Characters

A Juan Alejandrez

Juan is a captain in the revolutionary army when he first sees Gertrudis. He is known for his bravery, but when he smells the scent of roses emanating from Gertrudis’s body after she eats one of Tita’s magical dishes, he leaves the battlefield for the ranch. Juan sweeps Gertrudis up on his horse and carries her away from her home and her mother’s tyranny. The two later marry and return for a visit to the ranch as generals.

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Themes

A Duty and Responsibility

The first chapter begins the novel’s exploration of the theme of duty, responsibility, and tradition as it presents Tita’s main conflict. Family tradition requires that she reject Pedro’s marriage proposal so she can stay at home and take care of her widowed mother for the rest of her life. If she turns her back on this tradition, she will not fulfill what society considers her responsibility to her mother. Rosaura decides that she also will enforce this tradition for her daughter Esperanza and so prevent her from marrying Alex Brown. Tita recognizes, however, that the tradition is unfair; if she cannot marry and have children, who will support her in her age? She tells Rosaura that she will go against tradition as long as she has to, “as long as this cursed tradition doesn’t take me into account.” Nevertheless, she and Pedro respect his duty toward his wife and child, for they remain discreet in their love as long as she lives.

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Construction

A Point of View

In fiction, the point of view is the perspective from which the story is presented. The unique point of view in Like Water for Chocolate helps convey the significance of the narrative. Esperanza, Tita De la Garza’s niece, finds her aunt’s cookbook in the ruins of the De la Garza ranch. As she recreates the recipes in her own home, she passes down to her daughter the family stories. Her daughter becomes the novel’s narrator as she intersperses her great-aunt’s recipes, remedies, and experiences into one book. She justifies her unique narrative when she explains that Tita “will go on living as long as there is someone who cooks her recipes.”

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Historical Perspective

A The Mexican Revolution

Although Mexico had been independent from Spain since the early nineteenth century, its government was continually beset by internal and external conflicts. In the early part of the twentieth century, revolution tore the country apart. In November 1910, liberal leader Francisco Madero led a successful revolt against Mexican President Porfirio Diaz after having lost a rigged election. Diaz soon resigned and Madero replaced him as president in November 1911. Considered ineffectual by both conservatives and liberals, Madero was soon overthrown and executed by his general, Victoriano Huerta. Soon after the tyrannical Huerta became president, his oppressive regime came under attack. Venustiano Carranza, Francisco “Pancho” Villa, and Emiliano Zapata led revolts against the government. In 1914 Carranza became president as civil war erupted. By the end of 1915, the war ended, but Villa and Zapata continued to oppose the new government and maintained rebel groups for several years.

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Questions

Research the rebellion against the Mexican government led by Francisco “Pancho” Villa and Emiliano Zapata. Explain how this rebellion provides an effective backdrop for the tensions in the De la Garza family.

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