Like Water for Chocolate
July (Chapter 7)
Appropriately enough, it is food that finally restores Tita to stability. Visiting from the De La Garza ranch, Chencha brings her ox-tail soup. With one spoonful Tita instantly recalls the best time of her life, her youth in the kitchen with Nacha, where she enjoyed many foods and Nacha's love. Crying with Chencha, Tita remembers and recounts the recipe for the soup--the first recipe she has been able to remember since her breakdown.
Chencha brings news of the ranch, where Tita's name is no longer spoken, and a letter from Gertrudis, who is living and working in a brothel. Tita asks Chencha to return to the ranch with the news that Tita has decided never to return. After Chencha leaves, John Brown proposes marriage to Tita, who, now fully recovered, looks forward to beginning a new life with him.
Before Chencha can deliver Tita's message to Mama Elena, a group of bandits attacks the ranch. The bandits rape Chencha and thrash Mama Elena, who was trying to defend Chencha, rendering her a paraplegic. Tita returns to the ranch to care for Chencha and Mama Elena. In hopes of helping her mother to a full recovery, Tita prepares the same ox-tail soup that so miraculously cured her own illness. Mama Elena rejects Tita's care, humiliated that her disowned daughter has returned. Tita is crestfallen, confident that her meal, prepared with such love and care, would heal Mama Elena. But Mama Elena refuses to eat Tita's food, certain that it is poisoned. Mama Elena only lets Chencha prepare and serve her food. One day, when Chencha is unavailable, Tita secretly prepares food for Mama Elena, but Mama Elena is not fooled. She immediately detects the "bitter taste" always present in Tita's food. Furious, Mama Elena fires Chencha. Unable to find anyone else to satisfy the demanding needs of her mother, Tita herself eventually resumes cooking for Mama Elena. Within a month, Mama Elena dies. The cause of her ailments and eventual death is revealed to be massive doses of ipecac (an emetic she took when she feared poisoning), not Tita's cooking.
Despite the endless cruelty that she suffered at the hands of Mama Elena, Tita is moved to great sorrow by her mother's death. Further, when dressing the dead body of Mama Elena for the wake, Tita discovers a set of keys that open a box of love letters. The letters reveal that as a young woman, Elena was deeply in love with a mulatto man. Her parents forbid this relationship and forced her into a marriage with the man who would become Tita's father. However, Mama Elena continued the affair, and she eventually became pregnant with Gertrudis. Elena planned to run away with her lover but he was murdered, so she gave into her loveless marriage and hid the true identity of her second child's father.
Tita mourns Mama Elena and this thwarted love. At the funeral, she swears that "she would never renounce love." She feels ready to accept John as her true love and companion, but her love for Pedro still survives, creating tension in her heart. Now that Mama Elena is dead, and with her the dictate forbidding Tita to marry, Pedro is determined to have Tita.
The attack of the bandits represents another invasion of the domestic sphere, highlighting the vulnerability of the female-dominated ranch. In raping Chencha and injuring Mama Elena, the bandits reduce the two women to mere objects of male aggression. The absence of Tita, the customary target of Mama Elena's abuse, leaves Mama Elena no outlet for her own aggression, thus reinforcing her vulnerability and victim status. In contrast, when the federal troops raided the ranch, Tita's mourning for the dead Roberto provided Mama Elena a reason to explode at Tita, letting Mama Elena exercise some degree of control in her life. However, the bandits' attack revisits upon Mama Elena the emotional and physical trauma that she created in Tita's life.
Tita's return to the ranch thrusts her back into the role of caretaker. She enters this role gracefully, her spirit renewed by the stint at John Brown's. The ever-difficult Mama Elena, however, thwarts Tita's steadfast belief in the healing properties of food. Despite her weakened condition, Mama Elena continues to wield tremendous power over Tita, reaffirming the mother-daughter hierarchy. One can interpret Mama Elena's particular nastiness in this chapter as her desperate attempt to retain control over Tita in the face of her own mortality. Snubbing Tita's cooking is the sole remaining means for Mama Elena to hurt her youngest daughter. More than simply rejecting the food, Mama Elena knowingly rejects the love, healing, and nourishment with which Tita always imbues her offerings. Mama Elena's fatal self-poisoning is the literal effect of the medicine she takes to counteract Tita's "bitter" food and the metaphorical effect of so many years of bitter living.
The revelation about Mama Elena's own forbidden love is a crucial moment in Tita's development, as Tita comes to understand Mama Elena's cruelty toward her. Her ability to sympathize with her mother about the pain of restrained love--even though Mama Elena was never willing to sympathize with Tita--coupled with her initial grief at her mother's death, demonstrates her maturity. Tita possesses the strength to confront her feelings, and with a new understanding of her mother's life and a recognition of the fact that she is not the only one to have loved against the wishes of others, she resolves to be steadfast in her own pursuit of true love.
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