GradeSaver(TM) ClassicNotes: Like Water for Chocolate

Like Water for Chocolate Themes

by Laura Esquivel

Major Themes

Tears

Tita’s onion-induced crying brings her into the world prematurely. Thereafter, tears reemerge in the novel as symbols of Tita’s deep emotional connections. While cooking with Nacha, Tita realizes that her tears come not only from sadness but also appear when she is deeply moved. Tita’s tears often cause flooding, as on the day of her birth and on the day Chencha brings ox-tail soup to end Tita’s days of silence. Tita’s tears renew and cleanse. They are the physical manifestation of her emotional catharsis.

Tradition

Like Water for Chocolate focuses almost exclusively on the legacy of one family, the De la Garzas. The De la Garza family comes with its own set of traditions, which are both favorable and inhibiting. The cooking tradition is passed along from Nacha to Tita and later to Esperanza’s daughter. By keeping alive the recipes, the future generations of De la Garzas are able to remember and honor their ancestors. However, the tradition of keeping the youngest child from marrying threatens to inhibit two of the work’s characters from finding true love. Unlike the cooking tradition which exists only to serve and please its adherents, this tradition is abandoned because of the displeasure it produces.

Sight and Seeing

Sight, like food, sometimes dictates characters’ actions and feelings. Mama Elena is most noted for her powerful gaze that has the ability to both start and stop conversations and the force of which prevents the rebel army from raiding her ranch. The look Pedro gives Tita is so strong that it causes her entire body to heat up. The power of a look is often stronger than that of any physical force. Though the eyes, characters communicate desires and demands without needing to speak at all.

Food and Cooking

Food as a means of communication and transferal is a common theme in this novel. Tita uses food to convey her emotions to others. Through one dish, she communicates her passion to Pedro; through another, she communicates her longing and sadness to Rosaura and Pedro’s wedding guests. Food is also a means of transferring family history. The structure of the work relies largely on food as a means to narrate the memories and lives of the De la Garza family. Finally, the kitchen is a site of birth, heritage, and nourishment. There, children are born, raised, and fed, and the family recipes and stories are passed down to future generations.

Love

At its heart, Like Water for Chocolate is the story of a girl trying to find and enjoy true love. Tita is the vessel through which the novel illustrates familial, passionate, and romantic love. Love, it seems, is one of the only things strong enough to light the “matchbox” within each of the characters.

Magic/Fantasy

Magical happenings blend seamlessly into the quotidian for the De la Garza women. Esquivel combines symbolism with realism and fuses the fantastical with the real. Characters literally burn with passion, eat their feelings, and come back from the dead.

Redemption

Redemption for the victimized is a common theme in the work. Those who commit wrongs are typically punished for their actions later. Mama Elena, who disciplines her daughter and keeps her from marrying, must later rely on the care of that daughter after she becomes paralyzed. Rosaura, who steals her sister’s lover and is obsessed with her public image, dies while passing gas and is shunned by her husband and friends because of her foul odor. Tita, who withstands the most abuse in the novel from family and lovers, is also the most triumphant by the novel’s end.

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