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.

B A Woman’s Place

Richard Corliss, in his Time review of Like Water for Chocolate, writes that “Laura Esquivel brought Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s brand of magic realism into the kitchen and the bedroom, the Latin woman’s traditional castle and dungeon.” Traditionally, a Latin woman’s place is in the home. In the patriarchal society of the early part of the twentieth century, Mexican women were expected to serve their fathers and brothers and then when married, their husbands, sons, and daughters. These women often turned to the domestic arts-cooking, sewing, and interior decoration-for creative outlets, along with storytelling, gossip, and advice. As a result, they created their own female culture within the social prison of married life.

Maria Elena de Valdes, in her article on Like Water for Chocolate in World Literature Today, notes that little has changed for the Mexican woman. She defines the model Mexican rural, middle-class woman: “She must be strong and far more clever that 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 the kitchen and bedroom or food and sex.”

Reading women’s magazines became a popular pastime for many married Mexican women. These magazines often contained fiction published in monthly installments, poetry, recipes, home remedies, sewing and decoration tips, advice, and a calendar of religious observances. Valdes find similarities between the structure of Like Water for Chocolate and these magazines. She explains that “since home and church were the private and public sites of all educated young ladies, these publications represented the written counterpart to women’s socialization, and as such, they are documents that conserve and transmit a Mexican female culture in which the social context and cultural space are particularly for women by women.”