Like Water for Chocolate
U.S book cover
|Original title||Como agua para chocolate|
|Genre||Romance, Magical realism, Tragedy|
|Publisher||Doubleday, 1992 (Mexico)|
Perfection Learning, 1995 (U.S)
ISBN 978-0780739079 (English)
The novel follows the story of a young girl named Tita, who longs for her lover, Pedro, but can never have him because of her mother's upholding of the family tradition: the youngest daughter cannot marry, but instead must take care of her mother until she dies. Tita is only able to express herself when she cooks.
The book is divided into 12 sections named after the months of the year, starting in January and ending in December. Each section begins with a Mexican recipe. The chapters connect each dish to an event in the protagonist's life.
Tita de la Garza, the novel's main protagonist, is 15 at the start of the story. She lives on a ranch near the Mexico—US border with her mother, Mamá Elena, and her older sisters Gertrudis and Rosaura.
Pedro is their neighbor, with whom Tita falls in love at first sight. The feeling turns out to be mutual, so Pedro asks Mamá Elena for Tita’s hand in marriage. Unfortunately, she forbids it, citing the de la Garza family tradition that the youngest daughter (in this case, Tita) must remain unmarried and take care of her mother until her mother's death. She suggests that Pedro marries Tita's sister, Rosaura, instead. In order to stay close to Tita, Pedro decides to follow this advice.
Tita has a deep connection with food and a love for cooking, enhanced by the fact that Tita's primary caretaker as a child was Nacha, the family cook. Her love for cooking also comes from the fact that she was born in the kitchen.
In preparation of the wedding, Tita is forced to prepare the cake with Nacha. While preparing the cake, Tita is overcome with sadness, and cries into the cake batter. At the wedding, everyone gets violently sick, vomiting everywhere. Suspecting Tita was behind the incident, Mama Elena punishes Tita. After the wedding, Nacha is found dead, with a picture of her fiancé.
Later, Pedro and Rosaura have a son, Roberto. Rosaura is unable to nurse Roberto, so Tita brings Roberto to her breast to stop the baby from crying. Tita begins to produce breast milk and is able to nurse the baby. This draws her and Pedro closer than ever. They begin meeting secretly, snatching their few times together by sneaking around the ranch and behind the backs of Mamá Elena and Rosaura.
Tita’s strong emotions become infused into her cooking, unintentionally affecting the people around her through her food. After one particularly rich meal of quail in rose petal sauce flavored with Tita’s erotic thoughts of Pedro, Gertrudis becomes inflamed with lust and leaves the ranch in order to make ravenous love to a revolutionary soldier on the back of a horse, later ending up in a brothel and subsequently disowned by her mother.
Rosaura and Pedro are forced to leave for San Antonio, Texas, at the urging of Mamá Elena, who suspects a relationship between Tita and Pedro. Rosaura loses her son Roberto and later becomes infertile from complications during the birth of her daughter, Esperanza.
Upon learning the news of her nephew's death, whom she cared for herself, Tita blames her mother, who responds by smacking Tita across the face with a wooden spoon. Tita, destroyed by the death of her beloved nephew and unwilling to cope with her mother's controlling ways, secludes herself in the dovecote until the sympathetic Dr. John Brown soothes and comforts her. Mamá Elena states there is no place for "lunatics" like Tita on the farm, and wants her to be institutionalized. However, the doctor decides to take care of Tita at his home instead. Tita develops a close relationship with Dr. Brown, even planning to marry him, but her underlying feelings for Pedro do not waver.
While John is away, Tita loses her virginity to Pedro. A month later, Tita is worried she may be pregnant with Pedro’s child. Her mother's ghost taunts her, telling her that she and her child are cursed. Gertrudis visits the ranch for a special holiday and makes Pedro overhear about Tita’s pregnancy, causing Tita and Pedro to argue about running away together. This causes Pedro to get drunk and sing below Tita’s window while she is arguing with Mama Elena’s ghost. Just as she confirms she isn't pregnant and frees herself of her mother's grasp once and for all, Mamá Elena's ghost gets revenge on Tita by setting Pedro on fire, leaving him bedridden for a while and behaving like “a child throwing a tantrum”. Meanwhile, Tita is preparing for John's return, and is hesitant to tell him that she cannot marry him because she is no longer a virgin. Rosaura comes to the kitchen while Tita is cooking and argues with her over Tita's involvement with Rosaura’s daughter Esperanza’s life and the tradition of the youngest daughter remaining at home to care for the mother until she dies, a tradition which Tita despises. She vows not to let it ruin her niece's life as it did hers. John and his deaf great-aunt come over and Tita tells him that she cannot marry him. John seems to accept it, “reaching for Tita’s hand...with a smile on his face”.
Many years later, Tita is preparing for Esperanza’s and John's son Alex’s wedding to one another, now that Rosaura has died from digestive problems. During the wedding, Pedro proposes to Tita saying that he does not want to “die without making [Tita] [his] wife”. Tita accepts and Pedro dies making love to her in the kitchen storage room right after the wedding. Tita is overcome with sorrow and cold, and begins to eat a box of candles. The candles are sparked by the heat of Pedro's memory, creating a spectacular fire that engulfs them both, eventually consuming the entire ranch.
The narrator of the story is the daughter of Esperanza, nicknamed "Tita", after her great-aunt. She describes how after the fire, the only thing that survived under the smoldering rubble of the ranch was Tita's cookbook, which contained all the recipes described in the preceding chapters.
- Josefita (Tita) de la Garza – main character; a talented cook and Pedro's lover
- Pedro Muzquiz – Tita's lover, marries Rosaura to be closer to Tita.
- Elena de la Garza (Mamá Elena) – Tita's mother who Tita thinks is cruel and controlling.
- Gertrudis de la Garza – Tita's older sister, Mama Elena's illegitimate daughter. She runs away with Juan.
- Rosaura de la Garza – Tita's oldest sister who marries Pedro; had a son (Roberto) who died. She later had a daughter (Esperanza)
- Dr. John Brown – the family doctor who falls in love with Tita and has a son from a previous marriage.
- Nacha – the family cook. She was like a mother to Tita.
- Chencha – ranch maid for Mama Elena and her family; Married to Jesus
- Roberto Muzquiz – son of Pedro and Rosaura. He dies young.
- Esperanza Muzquiz – daughter of Pedro and Rosaura, she marries Alex Brown. She is also the mother of the narrator.
- Alex Brown – son of John Brown, marries Esperanza.
- Nicolas – the manager of the ranch.
- Juan Alejandrez – the captain in the military who took Gertrudis and eventually marries her.
- Jesus Martinez – Chencha's first love and husband.
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At the beginning of the novel, Tita was a generally submissive young lady. As the novel progresses, Tita learns to disobey the injustice of her mother, and gradually becomes more and more adept at expressing her inner fire through various means. Cooking through enlightenment she learned to express her feelings, and cope with her mother.
Mama Elena often resorts to violence as she forces Tita to obey her. Many of the responsibilities she imposes on Tita, especially those relating to Pedro and Rosaura's wedding, are blatant acts of cruelty, given Tita's pain over losing Pedro. Mama Elena meets Tita's slightest protest with angry tirades and beatings. If she even suspects that Tita has not fulfilled her duties, she beats her. One example is when she thought that Tita intentionally ruined the wedding cake. When Tita dares to stand up to her mother, blaming her for Roberto's death, Mama Elena smacks her across the face, breaking her nose. Since Mama Elena must protect herself and her family from bandits and revolutionaries, her cruelty could be interpreted for strength. Then again, Tita's later illusions indicate that Mama Elena's actions were far from typical and deeply scarred Tita.
The romantic love that is so exalted throughout the novel is forbidden by Tita's mother in order to blindly enforce the tradition that the youngest daughter be her mother's chaste guardian. However, the traditional etiquette enforced by Mama Elena is defied progressively throughout the novel. This parallels the setting of the Mexican Revolution growing in intensity. The novel further parallels the Mexican Revolution because during the Mexican Revolution the power of the country was in the hands of a select few and the people had no power to express their opinions. Likewise, in Like Water for Chocolate, Mama Elena represents the select few who had the power in their hands, while Tita represents the people because she had no power to express her opinions but had to obey her mother's rules.
Tita is born in the kitchen—a place that foreshadows her calling. Due to the tradition that requires the youngest daughter to care for her mother, Mama Elena forbids Tita from falling in love, marrying, or becoming pregnant, forcing her to work in the kitchen. As she becomes a young woman, Tita appears to conform to the gender role her mother expects; however, Tita rebels, creatively devising a way in which she can express her suppressed feelings and emotions through her cooking. She has the magical ability to send her desires and emotions into the food she prepares. Tita bakes the wedding cake for her sister Rosaura and the man she wishes she was marrying, Pedro. Deeply depressed about the fact that her sister is marrying her one true love, she places her feelings of despair and sadness into the wedding cake. When the guests eat the cake, they weep over their lost loves and eventually became intoxicated and sick. Another example of her inclusion of suppressed emotions into her cooking is when Tita’s blood infects the rose sauce and quail dinner that she serves to Pedro, Rosaura, and Gertrudis. Rosaura becomes physically ill while Getrudis is instantly aroused. Finally, as a result of Pedro devouring this food, he becomes aware of Tita’s feelings and has a better understanding of the passion and love that she has for him. Even though Tita is not allowed to share her intimate feelings, she conveys her passions to the world through the action of cooking and sharing her food.
Food is also one of the major themes in the story which is seen throughout the story. It is used very creatively to represent the characters' feelings and situations. Due to the magical nature of food in the story, it has literal effects on the people eating the food in terms of infusing the cook Tita's emotions into the food which are thus transferred beyond the food into the hearts and minds of those who devour it.
Meaning of title
Like Water for Chocolate's full title is: Like Water for Chocolate: A novel in monthly installments with recipes, romances and home remedies.
The phrase "like water for chocolate" comes from the Spanish phrase como agua para chocolate. This is a common expression in some Spanish-speaking countries, and it means that one is very angry. In some Latin American countries, such as Mexico, hot chocolate is made not with milk, but with near-boiling water instead.
An alternate interpretation of the saying "like water for chocolate" is to be like water that is hot enough to receive the chocolate (when preparing hot chocolate to drink). It is a simile for describing a state of passion or sexual arousal (i.e. 'hot and ready'). This would describe the bubbling passion Tita and Pedro have for each other throughout the book.
The Washington Post summed up the novel's significance to the genre and cultural history: it “portray[s] the fantastical as everyday," and "aims to portray the onset of Mexican feminism." The reviewer described the novel "an overly rich fable."
Like Water for Chocolate has been translated from the original Spanish into numerous languages; the English translation is by Carol and Thomas Christensen. The novel has sold close to a million copies in Spain and Hispanic America and at last count, in 1993, more than 202,000 copies in the United States.
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