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Like Water for Chocolate

Laura Esquivel

May (Chapter 5)

April (Chapter 4)

June (Chapter 6)

Summary

In the wake of Pedro's departure, Tita is moved to do little but tend to a pigeon she has taken as a pet. She grows despondent and ignores her duties in the household. During this time, federal troops raid the ranch. Mama Elena confronts them with a shotgun hidden in her petticoats and proves herself a formidable opponent when she shoots the chickens they have stolen from her and threatens them with her best shot. When she finally lets them search her property, they find nothing but Tita's large dovecote filled with her cherished doves and pigeons. The soldiers trap as many birds as they can and depart. Before the arrival of the regiment, Mama Elena had skillfully hidden most of her valuable goods and livestock, ensuring that the ranch would not be totally plundered.

The absence of the doves and pigeons heightens Tita's sense of loss after the departure of Roberto and Pedro. In the midst of this depression, word arrives from San Antonio that Roberto has died, unable to consume anything but his Aunt Tita's breast milk. When she is rebuked for mourning the child, Tita lashes out at Mama Elena, screaming that Mama Elena is to blame for the baby's death. Mama Elena strikes Tita across the face with a wooden spoon, breaking her nose. Tita retreats to her dovecote; when Chencha tries to retrieve her, she finds Tita in a catatonic state. Mama Elena orders Tita to be sent to an asylum. Dr. John Brown rescues Tita from the dovecote and takes her away. As Tita leaves, Chencha gives her the enormous bedspread that Tita has been crocheting. It is now a full kilometer long, the product of Tita's endless sorrow.

Commentary

Tita's confrontation with Mama Elena marks the first time that Tita is able to assert her beliefs, though she does so from a position of weakness in a moment of tremendous anguish. Her grief at learning of Roberto's death inspires Tita to challenge Mama Elena's cruelty, and she manages, tentatively, to establish the power of her voice. This proves important, as Tita soon retreats into silence, but eventually finds power over Elena by means of words. However, her bold protest here is not triumphant; rather, Mama Elena rewards Tita with another beating. As with the beating after the spoiled wedding of Pedro and Rosaura, Mama Elena's chief mechanism for countering Tita's rare moments of opposition to her is physical attack. These abuses, physical and emotional, subject Tita's body and mind to the constant threat of violence. She is unable to exert control over her emotional and physical well-being. The domestic space, in which Tita is usually able to exercise some measure of power through her motherly activities, is now entirely hostile.

The coupling of this watershed moment between Tita and Mama Elena with the raid of federal troops draws a parallel between the disruption of the ranch by outside forces and Mama Elena's aggression. The turbulence of the revolution disturbs the domestic space, and in robbing Tita of her pet birds, the soldiers not only strip her of the opportunity to nurture, but also steal symbols of freedom. Likewise the violent attack from Mama Elena finally raids Tita's spirit of its remaining sustenance, letting Mama Elena keep Tita under her control. Tita's subsequent withdrawal into mental oblivion and physical detachment suggest that her only way out of this broken world is madness. Lying naked in the dovecote, covered with bird droppings, Tita's body is no longer a source of pleasure or nurture, but merely a shell racked with pain and grief.

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