Three Views of Feminism in Like Water for Chocolate
Most feminist literature would look at the kitchen as a space that typically oppresses women and limits their opportunities. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel seems like an unlikely source for a feminist novel because so much of the action takes place with women in a stereotypical traditional kitchen. In Esquivel’s novel only women willing to break with traditional viewpoints and values are allowed in her kitchen. Tita, Gertrudis and Mama Elena are three strong women with different ideas about what their roles in life should be. Like Water for Chocolate protagonist Tita depicts a woman in a traditional role attempting to do what is expected of her. By the end of the novel she is a triumph of feminism by living her life exactly as she pleases. Like Water for Chocolate is a feminist novel complete with three strong female characters, magic and a few recipes.
Mama Elena has taken over the role as head of household for the De la Garza family. She must protect her family after her husband passes away. Elena is a strong independent female character doing the best she can to raise her family during the Mexican Revolution. Mama Elena is trying to keep her family traditions alive while running a ranch and butting heads with her children. She takes on the role of protector typically associated with men. Mama Elena portrays the feminist philosophy that women are equal to men at every level and thus deserve equal treatment. Mama Elena never sets foot in the kitchen to actually cook. Elena prefers “killing with a single blow” (49), showing her incredible physical strength. Mama Elena refuses to enjoy food Tita has made because she is convinced that it tastes “nasty and bitter” (130) if it is made by her daughter. This reflects her refusal to embrace anything that challenges the traditional social norms. In the novel the way the characters interact with food is indicative of who they are as people. Mama Elena has a violent, angry food handling style. Mama Elena was described cracking nuts as “Applying pressure, smashing to bits, skinning, those were among her favorite activities” (230). The problem with Mama Elena's character is that this is how she treated her children as well. Elena is a true feminist but an unlikable character.
Gertrudis is the most unconventional female character in the novel. She leaves the ranch naked on horseback, works in a brothel and then becomes a general in the Revolutionary Army. Gertrudis relationship with food is shown in the novel when she is left alone in the kitchen to make fritters. A male Sergeant is left with her and there is a role reversal in which the man takes up the traditionally female task of cooking while Gertrudis orders him around. In this scene Gertrudis “reads the recipe as if she were reading hieroglyphics” (192). While the kitchen is a female space the only women in the kitchen are strong like Gertrudis. She rejects women only being capable of being a housewife and having no career by making becoming a general. Gertrudis found the strength to leave the family ranch after eating a sensual meal made by Tita. Tita’s food made “Gertrudis the medium, the conducting body through which the singular sexual message was passed “ (52). She also fulfills a feminist idea with her overt sexuality becoming a prostitute until her sexual fill was completed.
Tita is the main protagonist of the novel as she discovers her ability to channel her emotions through food. The kitchen is an unusual place to find your feminist hero. For Tita “the joy of living was wrapped up in the delights of food” (7). Tita finds her strength in her ability to influence others through food. Tita ruined her sister's wedding because she “had only added one extra ingredient to the cake, the tears she had shed “ (41). Tita figured out she can transmit her desire to be with Pedro through cooking, “the food seemed to act as an aphrodisiac” (51). When Tita prepares beans she sings to them and “the beans allowed the liquid in which they were floating to penetrate them; they swelled up until they were about to burst” (219). All of Tita's desires come out through her food. When Tita finds out that John is willing to marry her even though she is not a virgin she still refuses because she wants to live her own life. This is a perfect feminist idea. Even though she has the opportunity to live in a traditional role she chooses to go her own way and wait for her true love instead of settling on a traditional marriage with a man she does not love. Once Tita finds her voice she tells the ghosts of her mother that she is “A person who has a perfect right to live her life as she pleases” (199). With these words Tita made Mama Elena disappear forever and created her own destiny. Mama Elena, Gertrudis and Tita are all true feminist.