Discuss the role of magical realism in the novel.
Magical realism allows Esquivel to join the ordinary and the supernatural. It imbues her work with fantasy but also enhances the use of metaphor and symbolism. Instead of suggesting that everyone has a fire within, magical realism permits the idea that every character literally has a matchbook within him or her that can be lit aflame. Magical realism elevates the figurative language of the work into literal occurrence.
Discuss the relationship between smells and memory in the novel.
Smells from food and nature remind many characters of their joyful or painful pasts. The smell of roses reminds Juan Alejandrez of the day he first met Gertrudis, and the smell of Ox-tail soup reminds Tita of Nacha. Through smells, as through food, the characters are able to access hidden memories.
Explain the significance of food in the novel. How does it affect characters' behaviors?
Food frequently has the power of changing characters’ emotions and affecting their behaviors. Tita often conveys her powerful emotions to others through her cooking as in the instance when she shares her feeling of longing through Rosaura and Pedro’s wedding cake. Likewise, food also has the ability to heal. Inevitably, cooking always reminds Tita of Nacha, the surrogate mother from whom she inherited all the recipes.
How are the characters affected by the war? Does the war play a primary or secondary role in the novel?
The war is frequently a harbinger of bad news in the work. It claims more than one life and causes random inconveniences throughout the novel. However, the war never assumes a truly primary role in the characters’ lives even though Gertrudis becomes a General in the Revolutionary Army. Rather, the war exists almost exclusively as background. No dates, little context, and few names are provided to sufficiently describe it.
How do Tita's feelings towards Mama Elena evolve?
Until Mama Elena dies, Tita considers her to be a “castrating mother,” one who is too rigid and who inhibits the happiness of others. After discovering Mama Elena’s forbidden lover José Treviño Tita begins to understand the woman better. However, when Mama Elena’s ghost returns and continues to haunt Tita she finally expresses her hate for her mother and casts her spirit away.
Discuss Elena's role as a mother.
Mama Elena is a powerful matriarch. She lives by tradition and strictly enforces the rules of the ranch. Mama Elena’s lack of compassion drives many away from her including some of her daughters. Nevertheless, Mama Elena reveals the well-meaning intentions behind her brashness when she defends Chencha from the ravaging bandits. In a way, she is only trying to protect her daughters.
Discuss the structure of the novel. Why does Esquivel decide to begin each chapter with a recipe?
The structure of the work models both a diary and the cookbook Tita leaves behind for Esperanza. The structure fuses life and food in the same way that they are joined in Tita’s life. Beginning each chapter with a recipe reinforces that the food is just as central as, if not more central than, the actions that follow.
Compare the love feels for Dr. Brown and the love she feels for Pedro
Tita frequently remarks that Dr. Brown makes her feel at peace and stable. However, she feels intense heat whenever Pedro touches her or looks her way. Dr. Brown represents a practical and safe love while Pedro excites an unchecked passion in Tita.
Explain the significance of tradition in the work.
Tradition both blesses and curses the characters in Esquivel’s work. Tradition tragically keeps Tita from marrying the love of her life, yet tradition also gives Tita one of her greatest pleasures in life, cooking. Tita shares the cooking tradition that she inherits from Nacha through her cookbook. It passes through generations of De la Garza women and at last finds its way to us, the readers, through Esquivel’s work.
What does Tita's bedspread represent?
Tita’s bedspread is a metaphor for her bridal gown. She spends countless nights working on it beginning with the night that she first decides to marry Pedro. When she leaves the ranch with Dr. Brown, it trails behind the carriage like the train of a wedding gown. By the end of the novel, just before Tita goes to spend eternity with Pedro, she wraps the bedspread around her like a garment to keep her warm. Tita is never married but the bedspread is the closest thing to a wedding dress that she ever has.