The death of Nacha leaves Tita alone and without a confidant in the domain of the De La Garza kitchen. Inheriting the role of ranch cook, Tita comforts herself by preparing elaborate dishes. With a rose given to her secretly by Pedro, Tita prepares quail in rose petal sauce. The recipe is of pre-Hispanic origin, and it is in Nacha's voice that the secrets are transmitted.
The meal receives an ecstatic response from Tita's family members, especially Pedro, who always compliments Tita's cooking. A more curious affect is observed in Gertrudis, the second sister. The meal serves as an aphrodisiac for her, arousing in her an insatiable sexual desire. This turbulent emotion pulses through Gertrudis and on to Pedro. Tita herself goes through a sort of out-of-body experience. Throughout the dinner, Tita and Pedro stare at each other, entranced.
When the meal is complete, Gertrudis goes to prepare a shower to rid herself of the pink sweat and rose-scented aroma she emits. The force of her heat and passion, still strong from the aphrodisiacal meal, causes the water from the primitive ranch shower to evaporate on contact and eventually sets the structure on fire. Fleeing naked from the burning shower, Gertrudis is scooped up onto a galloping horse by a soldier in the revolutionary army, who was drawn to the area by her intoxicating scent. The soldier and Gertrudis ride off. Unable to follow the lustful path of Gertrudis, Tita is left on the ranch.
The escape of Gertrudis serves as a foil to Tita's stifled passion. The intensity of the former's reaction to the meal serves to communicate the potency of the passion that the latter possesses but is unable to express directly. With her primary form of expression limited to food, Tita takes the illicit token of love from Pedro and returns the gift, transforming it into a meal filled with lust. The manner in which Gertrudis is affected by the food and later swept away on a galloping horse is clearly fantastical, and the vivid imagery (the pink sweat and powerful aroma) exemplifies the novel's magical realism.
The disappearance of Gertrudis reveals much about female sexuality in Like Water for Chocolate. While Tita can only articulate her sexuality within the domestic sphere, Gertrudis is able to exceed these boundaries without a second thought. Her flight can be seen as a triumph, wherein she sheds notions of social propriety to pursue her unbridled desires. Conversely, her departure from the ranch is also a sort of expulsion: The free expression of female desire clearly has no place in the ordered domestic realm. The contrasting experiences of Gertrudis and Tita illustrate the only two possibilities for female desire, both of which are extremes: stifled and unarticulated, or hypersexualized to the point of being pornographic.
The later revelation that Gertrudis is of mixed ancestry makes it interesting to read this chapter (and further characterizations of Gertrudis) in terms of racial stereotypes. Her intense eroticism (her strong sense of rhythm is mentioned later) corresponds to typical depictions of mulatto characters. It is possible to argue that, in showering, Gertrudis is attempting to rid herself of her inherent sexuality. Additionally, her insatiable desire may also be related to the circumstances of her parentage, because she was born of a love that was never fulfilled. Yet, though there is some textual support for a reading of Gertrudis as sexualized by her background, such a reading seems out of place in a novel normally so sensitive to issues of marginality and otherness.
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