A great example is Laura Esquivel’s novel, Like Water For Chocolate. First of all, the title of the novel makes reference to food, but it also has a deeper meaning. Images of heat and fire permeate the novel as expressions of intense emotion. Heat is necessary during the preparation of many foods. In the science of cooking, heat is a force to be used precisely; the novel's title phrase "like water for chocolate," refers to the fact that water must be brought to the threshold of boiling and lowered three times before cacao powder can be added to make hot chocolate. However, the many forms of heat involved in the tale cannot be so controlled.
Heat is used as a symbol for desire and physical love throughout the narrative. Some example can be found in Gertrudis' rush to the ranch showers then escape from the entire ranch itself, in Pedro's lust for Tita, and the death of Pedro after he and Tita passion is finally realized. This heat is used as a source of power and one of destruction. The epitome of this detail in the novel, where death and desire are paired together, occurs when the love between Tita and Pedro is actualized. Secondly, the recurrence of recipes of Hipic delicacies throughout Esquivel’s book parallels their importance in Mexican culture.
Anne Goldman asserts that “the very domestic and commonplace quality of cooking makes it an attractive metonym for culture” (Lawless 213). It is no coincidence that the setting of this novel takes place at the same time as the Mexican Revolution. This event was an important modernizing force in Mexican history and is considered to be “the crucible of social cohesion…in modern Mexico” (Pilcher 88). As a result of the revolution, a unifying national identity was desired. Defining cultural cuisines go hand in hand with cultural definitions.
Like forming a national identity, or writing a novel, deciding on recipes that will define a nation is a long process. The recipes, that Esquivel ultimately chose to be included, represent the Mexican culture well and show their importance in defining it. Like most nationalities, there are delicacies that the Hipic culture is known for. As mentioned above, in her novel, Esquivel makes reference to several traditional Hipic recipes. These recipes introduce each chapter and assist in continuing the novel’s flow. Through these cuisines, the narrator is able to associate another anecdote that forces the tale to carry on.
Without the food, the story would be at a stand still because so much of the narrative revolves around the food. Moreover, Esquivel’s usage of magic realism enhances the importance of the mentioned cuisines. Not only does she mention the food, it also has a profound affect on those that consume the entrees. Therefore, they have a profound affect on the entire story itself. One notable example is the Chabela Wedding Cake Tita bakes for the unfortunate union of Pedro and, her sister, Rosaura. The release of her tears in the batter is a release of the immense loss she feels.
Because of this added ingredient, the guests who consume the cake are overwhelmed by the same emotion that Tita feels. Making anecdotes, such as this one, in connection with a certain dish, impresses a lasting memory of these dishes in the reader. Also, Hipic culture places an importance in the transfer of recipes from one generation down to the next. In this narrative, the tradition continues through Nacha, the De La Garzas’ cook, on to Tita. Because Tita’s mother is sinister, unaffectionate, and unable to produce breastmilk for her daughter, Tita is driven into Nacha’s open arms. Maria Elena does not pass down the recipes.
Instead, Tita is nourished and educated in the art of cooking through her surrogate mother. Nacha teaches Tita through cultural recipes and secrets of the kitchen. The reader finds that the traditions have been passed down because the omniscient narrator of the tale is Tita’s great-niece. In the tale’s beginning, she introduces a recipe for Christmas rolls. Like a cookbook’s author would, the narrator comments on the onions and how they should be chopped up fine for the Christmas rolls and suggests that a little bit of onion should be placed on the reader’s head to keep from crying when dealing with onion. The trouble with crying over an onion,” she states matter-of-factly, “is that once the chopping gets you started and the tears begin…the next thing you know you just can’t stop. ” She adds, “I was especially sensitive…like my great-aunt, Tita” (Esquivel 3). And so the main character is introduced and the story can begin. This description is an allusion to Tita’s tear-filled life and her tear-jerking situation. At the story’s end, Tita’s great-niece mentions that as long as someone cooks her recipes, Tita legacy will live on. “Like a story, a recipe needs…a reason to be” (Jaffe 223).
For Tita’s descendents, the reason for this narrative is the continued remembrance of Tita. Additionally, this onion description is how the reader is invited to become a part of the tradition. As a professor, Cecelia Lawless has noticed firsthand the effect Esquivel’s novel has on its reader and its “potential to provide a base for community building. ” (215). Her students not only took interest in the story, they also wanted to cook the dishes themselves. They were interested in sharing their own personal recipes they had learned from their family members.
Through this Esquivel’s text, which is also considered to be a cookbook, the recipes are sure to be enjoyed for decades. Furthermore, Like Water for Chocolate asserts women as insightful, productive, powerful, sexual, loving individuals through its incorporation of Latino cuisine. In this story, the kitchen is explored as a “space of creative power [for Hipic women] rather than merely confinement” as said by the well-known poet, Rosario Castellanos (Jaffe 221). “It wasn't easy for a person who knew life by way of the kitchen to understand the outside world.
This gigantic world which began from the kitchen door toward the inside of the house, because the one that lay adjacent to the back door of the kitchen and that overlooked the patio, the fruit garden, the vegetable garden, yes it belonged completely to her, she controlled it. ” (Esquivel 5). Tita uses the culinary arts as a way to express herself and she effectively does so. “…Esquivel subverts tradition by ennobling a ‘domestic’ skill and turning it into an art form” (Glenn 41). For example, at one point in the novel, her love, Pedro presents her with roses to hearten Tita after Nacha’s death and as a symbol of his love for her.
Maria Elena immediately sends Tita to throw them away. However, Tita does not want to. Instead, she incorporates her gift into an elaborate dish of quail in rose petal sauce, which turns out to be absolutely divine. She is able to save her present and consummates her love with Pedro through the food she serves. “That was the way she entered Pedro’s body, hot, voluptuous, perfumed, totally sensuous (Esquivel 48). In addition, this amazing dish sends Gertrudis, Tita’s second sister, running towards the shower outside to cool off.
Because she is so hot, the water does not even touch her and the ranch shower is set ablaze. As she runs away, she encounters Juan, a soldier that had been drawn to her scent. Here, Gertrudis exposes her sensuality and courage. She defies social conventions and escapes the oppressive hacienda to pursue what she desires and her independence. And, although, the reader discovers that Gertrudis had run off to a brothel in order to satisfy her desires, she proudly returns, having turned her life around, as Juan’s wife and as a general from the revolution.
She informs her family that earned her commission “by hard work, and fought like mad on the field of battle. Leadership was in her blood” (175). Additionally, Chencha, the ranch maid of the De La Garzas, is shown to possess power through food. An example is Chencha’s soup. Chencha had a firm belief that good soup could cure any illness. In one scene in the story, Tita goes mad after the death of Roberto. She is fed up with her mother, who Tita believes is the reason for Roberto’s death. Tita is sent to stay at Dr. John Brown’s house.
Later, Chencha brings Tita the ox-tail soup that she made especially for Tita. With that, Tita returns to her senses. Although, Chencha is in a lower class than the women of the De La Garzas’, Esquivel still empowers this character. Her ability to help Tita is another example of the transformation of an apparent limitation of the kitchen into knowledge, enriched by cooking. The famous Mexican nun, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, describes the importance of the kitchen for Latin American women and the power it provides. But, Madam, what is there for us women to know, if not bits of kitchen philosophy? …And I always say, when I see these details: If Aristotle had been a cook, he would have written much more. ” (Lawless 217). In conclusion, Esquivel, through Like Water for Chocolate, was effectively able to connect food, culture, and society together. Her decision to portray the novel as if it was also a cookbook energized the tale’s flow, heightened its suspense, and conveyed the importance of cuisine in the lives of human beings.
Because of her brilliance, it has been internationally acclaimed, and righteously so. Like the tradition of passing down culinary secrets has kept the legacies of families, communities, and cultures alive, so will the study and appreciation of Like Water for Chocolate continue to thrive. Works Cited Esquivel, Laura. Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances and Home Remedies. Trans. Christensen Christensen. New York: Double Day, 1992. Fernandez-Armesto, Felipe. Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food. New York: The Free Press, 2002.
Jaffe, Janice. “Hipic American Woman Writers’ Novel Recipes and Laura Esquivel’s Como Agua Para Chocolate. ” Women’s Studies 22. 2 (1993): 217+. Lawless, Cecelia. “Cooking, Community, Culture: A Reading of Like Water for Chocolate” Recipes for Reading: Community Cookbooks, Stories, Histories. (1997) 213-21. Pilcher, Jeffrey M. Que vivan los tamales! : Food and the Making of Mexican Identity. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998. Sceats, Sarah. Food, Consumption and the Body in Contemporary Women’s Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.