What is the significance of the many physical illnesses that plague characters throughout the novel?
The physical ailments depicted in the novel serve to illustrate the spiritual and psychological predicaments of the characters they affect. There is a strong connection between these ailments and food, as sickness is often the result of an undernourished spirit or the intake of something hostile to the digestive system. Specific recipes offer cures for specific conditions, such as the oxtail soup that Chencha prepares for Tita after her breakdown. Tita attempts to prepare special foods to solve Rosaura's digestive disorder, but Rosaura eventually dies, never having been cured of the disorder. Her ailment continues even after her death, as her body continues to emit a smell so terrible that few people attend her funeral. The recovery of Tita and the succumbing of Rosaura speak to the essential element of their characters. While Tita's good heart and strong spirit help her overcome debilitating mental and physical conditions, other characters, such as Rosaura and Mama Elena, die unable to control their illnesses, which symbolize their own bitterness toward life.
Discuss the importance of the narrator.
The novel is told from the point of view of an unnamed, presumably female descendant of the De La Garza clan. From the first chapter, in which the narrative voice directly addresses the reader, to the final page, on which the reader learns that the novel's recipes have been preserved in a book passed down through generations, the narrator is the guide through this complex and often improbable tale. The narrator structures the novel by dividing the story into "monthly installments," and the recipes that begin each chapter act as anchors to the story.
The presence of a narrator who speaks about the past from a contemporary context allows greater space for the fantastical elements of the novel's magical realism. The reader understands implicitly that the narrator is recounting family lore and consequently does not require the narrator to prove the possibility of such things as pink sweat (whether real or exaggerated), but rather accepts these happenings as a part of the mystical world of the novel.
Finally, as the child of Alex and Esperanza, the narrator, by the very fact of her existence, stands as a testimony to the triumph of Tita's spirit, because the family tradition prohibiting the marriage of the youngest daughter has been successfully abolished.
Discuss the role of ghosts in the novel.
In a novel so concerned with the human spirit, it is no surprise that the spirits of the dead surface as significant figures. The most important spirit figures are those of Nacha and Mama Elena (the spirit of John Brown's grandmother, Morning Light, plays a lesser role). In life and in death, Nacha and Mama Elena are the two central maternal figures for Tita; Nacha provides nourishment, love, and support, while Mama Elena is an oppressive, abusive force. The reader can view these two, who continue to influence Tita as she develops, as the separate halves of an unreconciled whole, each trying to counteract the will of the other.
Nacha appears when Tita is in need, offering wisdom in the form of advice and recipes. Throughout the novel, whenever Tita voices longing for Nacha's companionship, Nacha appears. She offers crucial support for Tita in her determined struggle for love. Mama Elena, on the other hand, is a constant source of vexation for Tita. Her death seems to grant Tita the right to live her life according to her wishes; however, her spirit surfaces when Tita becomes pregnant with Pedro's child, flouting the familial tradition so important to Mama Elena. Mama Elena's terrifying threats and curses leave Tita feeling completely distraught. When Tita finally stands up to her, the ghost shrinks into a fiery, spinning light and sets fire to Pedro. This violence is a clear illustration of the sheer power of Mama Elena's vengeance; even when seemingly defeated, Mama Elena uses her last ounce of power is used toward the destruction of Tita's love. The counterbalancing forces of these two spirits accompany Tita on a path that eventually leads to Tita's own manifestation in spirit form, at her ecstatic death after making love with Pedro. Finally, Tita's spirit is free and her tumultuous struggle is complete.
Discuss the role of tradition in the novel and the impact it has on the characters' lives.
The three De La Garza sisters possess differing personalities. By tracing their trajectories through the course of the novel, discuss the way each sister embodies a female stereotype. What statement might the author be making through these types about options in the lives of women?
Compare and contrast the two prime male figures in the novel, Pedro and John Brown, paying attention to their respective relationships with Tita.
How is fire used as a symbol in the text?
Several instances of sensual love are described in the novel. Analyze these episodes to discuss the depictions of women in love.
In your opinion, is Tita a strong female figure? A feminist character?
What does the novel tell us about the domestic life of women?
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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"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."
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→
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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→
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