Like Water for Chocolate – A Book Review
Like Water for Chocolate is a fictional novel written by author Laura Esquivel. It takes place during the Mexican Revolution, and follows the life of Tita De La Garza. As the youngest of three daughters, Tita’s fate, dictated by family tradition, is to remain single so that she can take care of her mother until the day she dies.
Mama Elena, Tita’s mother, is the tyrannical matriarch of the De La Garza family, and is the prime cause of Tita’s suffering. The novel follows Tita’s life from birth to death and focuses on Tita and Mama Elena’s struggle against one another as well as Tita’s tortured relationship with Pedro, her one true love.
The book has twelve chapters, each marked as a “monthly installment” and thus are labeled with the months of the year. Each new chapter features a recipe that somehow becomes central to that particular chapter’s story. Fraught with magical realism, the stories in the novel often blur the lines between reality and fantasy.
Confined to an abusive relationship with her mother and forced to partake in traditional female roles, Tita finds that the only place where she feels free and powerful is in the kitchen. Through food and cooking, she is able to express the emotions she is expected to repress without the need for words.
The dishes that Tita prepares throughout the novel are infused with feelings of love, sorrow, passion and anger. When eaten, her food holds the power to raise these same emotions in those consume it, as if they were their very own. Luckily for Tita, this is one aspect of her life that her mother has no control over. In a way, cooking becomes a form of rebellion for Tita and allows her to push the social and emotional constraints of her world.
Going Against Tradition
The theme of going against tradition is highlighted by the fact that the book takes place during a time when social and political systems are being challenged (i.e., The Mexican Revolution). Throughout the novel, Tita finds herself questioning family traditions and the expectations that people have for her as a woman.
In Mexican society and culture, the family unit is a social order that is upheld by tradition and gender roles. Children are expected to be obedient to parental authority even in adulthood. While there were positives to the Revolution, there were also several ways in which the characters within the novel were affected by its violence.
Much like those fighting in the revolution, at home, Tita also fights for liberation from unfair systems and authorities (her mother). However, liberation from these social structures comes at a cost. One has to decide whether the struggle for liberation outweighs the pain of remaining prisoner to oppressive systems of tradition.
Ultimately, Tita’s actions show that for her, liberation is worth the price she must pay for it. being true to herself and following what her heart wants proves to be more important than any social legitimacy she may lose in the eyes of her community and even her family.