Like Water for Chocolate
November (Chapter 11)
Tita, busy nursing Pedro back to health, is nervous around John, because she is certain that she must call off the engagement because she is no longer a virgin. While Tita prepares tamales for dinner, Rosaura emerges from her weeklong exile, having lost sixty-five pounds. Rosaura confronts Tita about her relationship with Pedro, claiming that she has been made a laughingstock while Tita has assumed the wifely role in caring for the injured Pedro. Tita finally voices her anger at Rosaura for marrying Pedro in the first place. Rosaura bitterly insults Tita as a "loose woman" and says that she will no longer let Esperanza be in her presence.
After her fight with Rosaura, Tita returns to cooking. Suddenly, a frenzy erupts in the yard as all the chickens on the ranch violently attack each other, filling the air with bloody feathers. Tita tries to stop them but the fury continues, such that the immaculate, embroidered baby diapers hanging outside on the clothesline become stained with blood. The chicken fight creates a huge whirl of energy, turning into a forceful tornado. Tita attempts to save a few of Esperanza's precious diapers, but soon has to focus her energy on not being swept away by the wind. The tornado whips so vigorously that it burrows a hole in the ground, and all but three chickens are sucked into this void.
When it is finally safe, Tita staggers back to the kitchen, where she finds that her tamales are not ready for the meal. She remembers Nacha's wise saying that tamales don't cook when people are arguing. In order to counteract the force of the bad blood between her and Rosaura, Tita conjures up all of her happiest memories of Pedro and sings to the beans. Just as she expects, the beans react to this infusion of joy and become ready to cook.
Tita begins the dinner with John and his aunt with much apprehension, as she knows that she must end her engagement. John senses that she is disturbed. The two talk in Spanish to keep the matter from John's aunt (who is deaf and can only read lips in English), and Tita reveals everything to John. Though disappointed, John says that he still loves Tita and is willing to marry her despite her relations with Pedro. However, he asks her to decide for herself with which man she wants to spend her life.
The confrontation between Tita and Rosaura illustrates the strong contrasts that delineate their personas. Rosaura counters the established dichotomy that separates Tita, the desired nurturer, from Rosaura, the undesirable failed mother, with a social construct concerning female sexuality. In calling Tita a "loose woman," Rosaura claims for herself the status of the proper, wedded matriarch. The employment of this virgin/whore dichotomy hits on Tita's rejection of a value central to the De La Garza family and to the culture in which the family lives. By constructing Tita as a defiled woman, Rosaura deflects whatever pain she caused Tita by marrying Pedro. Further, in her declaration that she will no longer touch Pedro, thus leaving him to pursue Tita for his sexual needs, Rosaura wields sex as a weapon against both her husband and her sister. This further illustrates the limits of female sexuality in the novel: For Rosaura, sexuality is utterly divorced from desire and love, and is laden with shame.
The chicken fight symbolizes the chaos in Tita's life and the disorder that has overwhelmed the household. Tita feels a figurative pressure equal to the intensity of the literal pressure of the vicious tornado that sucks up the chickens. The image of Esperanza's pure white diapers recurs throughout the scene as a locus of Tita's anxiety. Tita fixates on keeping these clean diapers from becoming bloodied because they represent her purity, which Rosaura has just challenged. When these precious diapers are spattered with chicken blood and sucked into the tornado, Tita's status as a sinner is reinforced.
The impartial care and understanding with which John listens to Tita's confession separates him from the other characters in the novel. Mama Elena exemplifies the belief in the subjugation of the individual to tradition, while Gertrudis, at the other extreme, embodies the reckless indulgence of individual needs and disregard for societal norms. John offers a rational approach to Tita's situation, advising her to reason out her options. John's values as a white man contrast with those of the Mexican De La Garza family; he is not imbued with the same passion as the De La Garzas, but is endowed with a spiritual wisdom that they do not possess. It is this quality that makes John capable of guiding Tita closer to her own heart.
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