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Like Water for Chocolate

Laura Esquivel

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Summary

Mexican screenwriter Laura Esquivel's first novel, Like Water For Chocolate, met with unusual success when it was published in 1989. The enthusiasm about the book led to a Spanish-language movie of the same title, which also was immensely popular. Upon translation from Spanish into English in 1992, the novel incited similar excitement, becoming a best-seller; subsequently, the English-subtitled film became one of the most popular foreign-language films in American film history. In addition to this popular success, Like Water For Chocolate received critical acclaim, as it emerged during the early 1990s, when new ideas about multiculturalism in literature brought attention to the work of previously ignored minority women authors.

Like Water For Chocolate belongs to the genre of magical realism. This literary style, first developed by the Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier in his 1949 essay "Lo maravilloso real," generally describes novels by Latin American writers (though it is increasingly applied to writers of any background) that are infused with distinct fantastic, mythical, and epic themes. Magical realism is often explained as a unique product of the Latin American condition, particularly its history of European colonialism, which resulted in a delicate relationship between the contradictory yet co-existing forces of indigenous religion and myth and the powerful Catholic Church. In the case of Mexico, Esquivel's homeland, one need only look as far as two of the country's dearest cultural narratives for an example of this balance. The first is the Aztec myth describing the founding of Tenochitlan, which later became Mexico City. The myth tells the story of the Mexica, wandering hunters who received the vision that their empire would be built upon an island where an eagle sat on a cactus devouring a serpent. The fulfillment of this apparition is still held today as the historical beginning of the Aztec empire and modern-day Mexico. The second cultural narrative involves the Virgen de Guadalupe, who, according to legend, appeared to the indigenous man Juan Diego as a brown-skinned Madonna amidst a flurry of rose petals. Catholicism came to the conquered natives thus embodied, and the Virgen eventually became the patron saint of the country. Both stories rely on potent visual imagery that heightened natural elements and events by adding an element of the fantastic.

The characters in Like Water for Chocolate are set against the backdrop of the most important modernizing force in Mexican history, the Mexican Revolution of 1910-17. During this time, peasants and natives banded together under the leadership of figures such as Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata to reject the old order's dictatorship, revive democracy, and claim Mexico for the everyday man and woman. Esquivel uses the revolution to explore themes of masculinity and gender identity, and examine how individuals appropriate for themselves the revolution's goal of liberty.

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Feminism

by kat_salle, December 05, 2016

Violence is another trait that is not in tune with the female ideal in Mexico during the Mexican revolution, where only men are expected to be aggressive. However, while Mama Elena’s masculinity can be perceived as her having an unfavorable character, there might be an underlying reason for her becoming so hard and unyielding. It is possible that she decided to take on the role of household patriarch to keep a sense of stability on the ranch. During the Mexican revolution many women found themselves head of the household after their husban... Read more

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Magical Realism through cooking

by macbeth_1, December 05, 2016

"Something strange was going on. Tita remembered that Nacha had always said that when people argue while preparing tamales, the tamales won’t get cooked. They can be heated day after day and still stay raw, because the tamales are angry. In a case like that, you have to sing to them, which makes them happy, then they’ll cook."

218-219
Rosaura and Tita get into a heated argument when Rosaura accuses Tita of sneaking around with Pedro and prohibits Tita from having any more to do with Esperanza. The intensity of their argument... Read more

Passion in Like Water for Chocolate

by sravsa, December 05, 2016

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 ... Read more