Like Water for Chocolate

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Femininity and Women’s Roles Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Tradition vs. Revolution Theme Icon
Femininity and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Emotion and Repression Theme Icon
Food and Cooking Theme Icon
Violence and Abuse Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Like Water for Chocolate, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Femininity and Women’s Roles Theme Icon

Within the historical context of greater social change, the novel allows femininity to be defined differently between characters and within each character’s development. Challenging the classic dichotomy between the “virgin/mother” and the “whore” (traditional stereotypes of femininity), the novel allows each female character to struggle with her needs for belonging and security, as well as her desires for adventure, sex, and liberation.

On the surface, Tita fulfills many characteristics of the pure virginal archetype, such as chastity and obedience. Following the family tradition forbidding her from marrying, Tita at first resigns herself to a virginal life. She is prepared to deny her own desires for love and freedom and ignore her loneliness. At the same time, Tita also embodies the ideals of the perfect wife and mother. Though forbidden from having her own family, Tita is the primary caregiver for her mother, sister Rosaura, Pedro, and their children. Her role as the mother figure is emphasized by her miraculous ability to nurse Roberto, Rosaura’s first child. As a self-sacrificing virgin-mother figure, the character of Tita evokes ideas of the Virgin Mary.

However, Tita shatters the Virgin Mary image through her defiant thoughts and desires, and through her eventual rebellion. Though Mama Elena forbids her from expressing her feelings, Tita’s magical ability to infuse her cooking with her desires and emotions allows her an outlet for rebellion. Through her food, she intimately affects people around her even when she feels powerless. In time, Tita must decide whether to remain obedient and become a shell of herself, or to stand up to Mama Elena. Eventually, after a complete nervous breakdown brings her to the home of Dr. Brown, Tita defies Mama Elena and refuses to come home. Tita gradually musters the courage to pursue Pedro’s love, even when he is still married to Rosaura. She gives up the possibility of a proper marriage with John in order to live the rest of her life as Pedro’s mistress.

Rosaura, meanwhile, represents a fractured, hollow version of the wife/mother figure. Determined to maintain the image of a perfect life, she never challenges tradition or society’s values. Rosaura accepts without question when her mother offers to marry her off to Pedro. Rather than searching for her own path, Rosaura begins her adult life accepting choices others make for her. Rosaura loses her relationship with Tita by marrying Pedro, just as she later loses her relationship with Esperanza by continuing the family tradition of forbidding the youngest daughter from marrying. After Tita and Pedro decide to continue their affair, Rosaura resigns herself to a loveless marriage by refusing to allow Pedro a divorce. Throughout her life, Rosaura becomes increasingly miserable and ultimately dies of chronic indigestion – a symbol for her failure to nourish or be nourished in life.

Like Rosaura, Mama Elena represents another warped version of the mother figure. But unlike Rosaura, Mama Elena is powerful and devoid of feeling. She shows no warmth of affection, and instead uses her maternal role to violently abuse and control her children and servants. If Tita is the embodiment of the perfect mother, Mama Elena is its heartless opposite. Even though Mama Elena demands her daughters remain chaste and obedient, she personally defies traditional female ideals of chastity and submission. She is the novel’s most powerful character, capable of inspiring fear in every man or woman who crosses her. Though she denies her daughters the pursuit of true love, Mama Elena hides her own history of forbidden love and infidelities. She is a complex character, who both embodies tradition and authority and defies the patriarchy through her own rebellion.

Gertrudis, like Mama Elena, is another anti-feminine female character. Unlike Mama Elena, however, Gertrudis embraces her rebellion and encourages other women to do the same. Driven to a mystical, passionate frenzy when she eats Tita’s cooking, Gertrudis runs away to make love with Juan Alejandrez, a captain in the rebel army. She later goes to work in a brothel because he couldn’t “quench the fire inside” her. Gertrudis never attempts to hide her sexual adventures, but openly talks about them without shame. Later, by achieving status as a general in the Revolution, Gertrudis defies the social norm that men fight and women stay at home. Gertrudis not only lives and fights alongside men, but also dominates them. At the same time, Gertrudis is considerate of her soldiers. She takes care not to insult Sergeant Treviño when he struggles to follow a recipe for her favorite dessert. She warmly encourages Tita to accept herself and her desires, and to fight against the tyranny of tradition. Unlike her mother, Gertrudis represents female liberation and power that threatens to shake the system through empowerment of others.

In Like Water for Chocolate, there is no such thing as a “good” or a “bad” woman. Women are capable of an array of complex and often contradictory emotions and characteristics. While the novel overall favors revolution over tradition, it takes a nuanced view of traditional female ideals. Warmth and affection are positive female ideals, while chastity and obedience are negative. Tita and Gertrudis are both cast in a positive, heroic light, while Mama Elena and Rosaura are portrayed as unhappy and often villainous. The key distinctions are that despite their different paths, Tita and Gertrudis are both warm and loving, and they seek autonomy for themselves and for other women. Esquivel doesn’t value Tita’s domesticity over Gertrudis’ life as a soldier, but rather emphasizes the value of a woman’s right to choose her path and support others’ paths.

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Femininity and Women’s Roles ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Femininity and Women’s Roles appears in each Chapter of Like Water for Chocolate. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Femininity and Women’s Roles Quotes in Like Water for Chocolate

Below you will find the important quotes in Like Water for Chocolate related to the theme of Femininity and Women’s Roles.
Chapter 1: January Quotes

Sometimes she would cry for no reason at all, like when Nacha chopped onions, but since they both knew the cause of those tears, they didn’t pay them much mind. They made them a source of entertainment, so that during her childhood Tita didn’t distinguish between tears of laughter and tears of sorrow. For her laughter was a form of crying. Likewise for Tita the joy of living was wrapped up in the delights of food.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tita de la Garza, Nacha
Related Symbols: Crying/ Tears
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator emphasizes Tita’s wide range of emotions, which she naturally embraces before she learns to repress them. Tita is a sensitive and passionate person, who loves the different textures and experiences that human emotion brings. Within the novel, crying is a often symbol of the depth and power of female emotion.

The narrator immediately connects Tita’s emotional depth to her intense relationship with food, which provides Tita a means for rich sensory experiences, creativity and self-expression. The narrator makes this observation about Tita after describing Tita’s childhood. Born on the kitchen table and left to the care of Nacha, the cook, Tita developed a love of cooking as a child. She played in the kitchen, and loved trying new and strange foods.

By connecting Tita’s emotional depth to her relationship with food, the narrator foreshadows the magical ability Tita later develops of infusing her repressed emotions into her cooking.

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You don’t have an opinion, and that’s all I want to hear about it. For generations, not a single person in my family has ever questioned this tradition, and no daughter of mine is going to be the one to start.

Related Characters: Mama Elena (Elena de la Garza) (speaker), Tita de la Garza
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

Tita has come to Mama Elena to discuss the possibility of marrying Pedro. Mama Elena immediately shuts her daughter down, reminding her about the family tradition forbidding the youngest daughter from marrying and obliging her to devote her life to her mother. For the first time in her life, Tita tries to argue with her mother.

By denying Tita’s request, Mama Elena rejects the importance of true love and shows her unquestioning belief in tradition and authority. Mama Elena’s language highlights her need to control Tita. By telling Tita that she “doesn’t have an opinion,” she denies Tita not only the right to her own actions, but also the right to her own thoughts. Mama Elena’s insistence on controlling Tita’s thoughts and expressions shows the extent of her emotional abuse.

Chapter 3: March Quotes

Mama Elena’s eyes were as sharp as ever and she knew what would happen if Pedro and Tita ever got the chance to be alone […] She had let one little thing slip past her: With Nacha dead, Tita was the best qualified of all the women in the house to fill the vacant post in the kitchen, and in there flavors, smells, textures and the effects they could have were beyond Mama Elena’s iron command.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tita de la Garza, Mama Elena (Elena de la Garza) , Pedro Musquiz
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

Pedro and Rosaura have now been married for about a year, living on the ranch the whole time. Mama Elena is unable to stop Pedro and Tita’s love, so she does everything she can to prevent them from having the chance to act on or express their feelings. In this chapter, Pedro upsets Mama Elena and Rosaura by bringing Tita roses, which Tita promptly gets rid of by making quail in rose petal sauce. It is this same dish that, infused with Tita’s passion, communicates her feelings fully to Pedro and stimulates Gertrudis’ passionate frenzy.

Tita’s emotional relationship with food represents the depth and power of her feelings. No matter how hard Mama Elena tries to repress Tita’s passion and deny her autonomy, Tita always has the kitchen as her outlet for creativity, rebellion, and communication. Mama Elena, dispassionate about food and in denial about the power of emotion and love, fails to see how Tita continues to subtly assert her agency and express her love for Pedro.

It occurred to her that she could use her mother’s strength right now. Mama Elena was merciless, killing with single blow. But then again not always. For Tita she had made an exception; she had been killing her a little at a time since she was a child, and she still hadn’t quite finished her off. Pedro and Rosaura’s marriage had left Tita broken in both heart and in mind, like the quail.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tita de la Garza, Mama Elena (Elena de la Garza)
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

Tita is killing quail to prepare the quail in rose petal sauce. When she first tried to catch and kill one of the quail, she twists its neck too hesitantly, and the maimed quail runs around with its head hanging off. She has raised and fed the quail, and her affection for it makes it hard to kill. She discovers that it is better to kill quickly and without letting emotions interfere, so as not to make the animal suffer more.

Tita often thinks of Mama Elena as efficient or skilled at violent acts, such as slaughtering animals for food. Tita, abused physically and emotionally by Mama Elena, identifies with the suffering of the quail. This passage also builds the image of Mama Elena as a sadistic abuser, who enjoys the power she derives from making Tita suffer. She might be “merciful” in killing animals quickly, but Mama Elena is totally merciless in drawing out Tita’s pain.

It was as if a strange alchemical process had dissolved her entire being in the rose petal sauce, in the tender flesh of the quails, in the wine, in every one of the meal’s aromas. That was the way she entered Pedro’s body, hot, voluptuous, perfumed, totally sensuous.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tita de la Garza, Gertrudis, Pedro Musquiz
Related Symbols: Heat and Fire
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

The De la Garza family is at the dinner table eating Tita’s quail in rose petal sauce. This is the meal that awakens in Gertrudis such an insatiable physical lust that the heat from her body causes the shower to catch fire and provides the catalyst for her to run away with captain Juan Alejandrez.

Tita’s cooking, infused with her own lustful thoughts about Pedro, makes Pedro feel as if he were devouring Tita herself—or as if Tita were “entering” him, in a reversal of the archetypal masculine/feminine sexual roles. Tita’s passion and creativity creates texture and life in her food, speaking to the power of food as an intimate, sensory experience. Pedro and Tita’s repressed desire then creates such energy that it transforms eating into an act of sexual intimacy. The metaphor of devouring Tita’s flesh through her food alludes to the Catholic concept of the communion bread transforming into Christ’ body. Tita and Pedro’s love, however sinful by religious standards, holds such devotion and sacrifice that it evokes religious imagery. Their love, not their belief systems, is the thing most sacred to them.

Chapter 4: April Quotes

She stopped grinding, straightened up, and proudly lifted her chest so Pedro could see it better. His scrutiny changed their relationship forever. After that penetrating look that saw through clothes, nothing would ever be the same. Tita saw through her own flesh how fire transformed the elements, how a lump of corn flour is changed into a tortilla, how a soul that hasn’t been warmed by the fire of love is lifeless, like a useless ball of corn flour. In a few moment’s time, Pedro had transformed Tita’s breasts from chaste to experienced flesh, without even touching them.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tita de la Garza, Pedro Musquiz
Related Symbols: Heat and Fire
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

Rosaura has just given birth to her first child, Roberto, and Tita is preparing food for his baptism. Pedro walks into the kitchen to find Tita alone, kneeling on the floor over a bowl, rhythmically grinding the nuts for the turkey mole.

Since Pedro’s marriage to Rosaura, he and Tita have not yet kissed or been intimate in any physical way. Tita’s virginity still feels like a burden to her, a reminder of her lost love and her lack of control over her future. Her virginity is strongly connected to her hopelessness and loneliness. The sexual gaze of the man she loves, then, is enough to make Tita feel unchaste and “experienced,” making her feel alive again. The symbol of fire is especially significant, as fire represents the effect of love and passion on the human spirit. The fire of Pedro’s gaze “transforms” Tita in the way that fire transforms corn flour into tortillas. Tita often identifies with food, reflecting how she sees cooking as an ongoing point of reference for understanding the world.

The baby’s cries filled all the empty space in Tita’s heart. She realized that she was feeling a new love; for life, for this child, for Pedro, even for the sister she had despised for so long. She took the child in her hands, carried him to Rosaura, and they wept together for a long while, holding the child.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tita de la Garza, Rosaura , Roberto
Related Symbols: Crying/ Tears
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

Tita has just delivered Rosaura’s first child, Roberto. Before his birth, Tita had no interest in the child. Now, Tita’s emotions surprise her. Her instant affection for her nephew, whom she could easily have hated as the product of Rosaura and Pedro’s marriage, provides a testimony to Tita’s deeply loving and nurturing character.

It also reveals the novel’s emphasis on birth, babies, and fertility as symbols of new beginnings and hope. For a long time, Rosaura and Tita have both been insecure and miserable, each nurturing a sense of resentment. Now, even Rosaura, who is usually so focused on outward appearances, can’t help but feel genuine emotion and connection. Tita, whose emotions and desire for connection are always so powerful, allows Roberto to penetrate her heart and prevent her from drowning in her loneliness. Even if for just a moment, their shared love of Roberto washes the slate clean for them both and provides them hope for the future.

Chapter 5: May Quotes

I have a very good aim and a very bad temper, Captain. The next shot is for you, and I assure you that I can shoot you before they can kill me, so it would be best for us to respect each other. If we die, no one will miss me very much, but won’t the nation mourn your loss?

Related Characters: Mama Elena (Elena de la Garza) (speaker), Juan Alejandrez
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:

When a rebel troop arrives at the ranch demanding food and supplies, Mama Elena refuses to allow them to take control of the situation. She allows them only to look for food outside the house, and denies them entry into her cellar where she is hiding Tita, Chencha, and her food reserves. When one of the soldiers suggests they enter with force, Mama Elena shoots live chickens dead out of their hands, and delivers this speech. Mama Elena inspires fear and respect in the men, including Captain Juan Alejandrez, who unbeknownst to Mama Elena is Gertrudis’ lover.

Mama Elena’s speech reflects the authority and power of her character. She surprises the troop because they expect a woman to be fearful and compliant, especially without a “man of the house” to protect her. Mama Elena’s capacity for violence competes with displays of male violence in the novel, which are likewise aggressive and unapologetic. Her sharp tongue also reveals her calculating nature. She is both feminist in how she stands up to male aggressors, and anti-feminist in how she treats other women less powerful than herself.

[…] She placed the pigeon between her breasts to free her hands for the dangerous ladder, and climbed down from the dovecote. From then on, her main interest lay in feeding that pathetic baby pigeon. Only then did life seem to make sense. It didn’t compare with the satisfaction derived from nursing a human being, but in some way it was similar.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tita de la Garza, Roberto
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

When the rebel troop comes to the ranch to demand donations of food, Mama Elena allows them to kill and take all of the pigeons on the dovecote. After they leave, Tita emerges from the cellar and climbs onto the dovecote. She finds one surviving baby pigeon.

At this time, it has been a month since Mama Elena sent Rosaura, Pedro, and baby Roberto to live in San Antonio. Tita is motivated to adopt and feed the baby pigeon because without Roberto to nurse, she has an empty place in her heart. She derives great joy from nurturing and caring for others, as this is what gives life meaning for her. Her need to fulfill the caregiver/mother role is essential to her character and her sense of self. Tita’s fixation on the baby pigeon also shows her survivor instinct, which constantly pushes her to find a reason to keep going.

Chapter 6: June Quotes

Instead of eating, she would stare at her hands for hours on end. She would regard them like a baby, marveling that they belonged to her. She could move them however she pleased, yet she didn’t know what to do with them, other than knitting. She had never taken time to stop and think about these things.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tita de la Garza, Mama Elena (Elena de la Garza)
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

Tita is now staying at John’s house. For the first time in her life, she doesn’t have to wait for Mama Elena’s orders or fear what will happen if she deviates from her assigned tasks. Tita has no job at John’s house, other than to regain her strength. The time and space she finds there allow her to process and think about her life with little interference. Tita’s hands represent her sense of agency. By focusing on her hands, Tita allows herself to process the concept of her individuality. After years of abuse and control, the idea of belonging only to herself brings overwhelming possibilities. For Tita, this is a moment of total physical liberation. Yet, it is only the beginning of her emotional liberation—and for now glimpses of such freedom seem as paralyzing as they do exciting.

Chapter 7: July Quotes

He left because I had exhausted his strength, though he hadn’t managed to quench the fire inside me. Now at last, after so many men have been with me, I feel a great relief. Perhaps someday I will return home and explain it to you.

Related Characters: Gertrudis (speaker), Tita de la Garza, Juan Alejandrez
Related Symbols: Heat and Fire
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

While Tita is staying at Dr. John Brown’s house, Chencha brings her a letter from Gertrudis. Gertrudis describes her life since she ran away to make love with Juan Alejandrez. After some time with him, he left her and she began working at a brothel.

The tone of Gertrudis’ letter is shameless and triumphant. To Gertrudis, her lust and her sexual adventures are no cause for embarrassment or ridicule. She doesn’t see herself as the object of male lust, but rather as the instigator of sexual passion. Gertrudis’ character provides a foil to traditional sexual dynamics, which frame the male as more dominant/active and the female as more passive. She also contrasts with Tita herself, who is passionate but who often waits for Pedro’s advances. Gertrudis’ attitude allows her to characterize a new kind of modern and empowered female sexuality.

You know how men are. They all say they won’t eat off a plate that isn’t clean.

Related Characters: Chencha (speaker), Tita de la Garza
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:

After the bandits rape Chencha, she enters a dark and enduring depression. She explains to Tita that what upsets her most is her fear that no man will want her now that she is no longer a virgin. It is noteworthy that Chencha doesn’t talk about the trauma of her experience or her own sense of anger or loss. What she focuses on is how this experience will affect her future prospects at love and marriage, in a society where men value virginity. The social consequences of rape fill Chencha with anxiety, robbing her of the mental space to process her deeper emotions about the traumatic event.

Chencha’s choice of words in this passage draws attention to the male views of women that Chencha has encountered in her life experience. In the expression she references, women are pictured as the “plate” from which men “eat.” In this metaphor, sexual experiences are the food, men the consumers, and women the medium or vessel from which men consume—a kind of perverse twisting of the (usually positive) food and cooking imagery of the novel. To Chencha, this degree of male objectification of women is not reprehensible but to be expected. Though her society does not condemn men for these views, it is clear that the novel does. Furthermore, the novel offers several positive portrayals of male characters who value women regardless of their virginity or sexual histories, such as Chencha’s future husband Jesús, Gertrudis’ husband Juan Alejandrez, and Dr. John Brown.

During the funeral Tita really wept for her mother. Not for the castrating mother who had repressed Tita her entire life, but for the person who had lived a frustrated love. And she swore in front of Mama Elena’s tomb that come what may, she would never renounce love.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tita de la Garza, Mama Elena (Elena de la Garza)
Page Number: 138
Explanation and Analysis:

After dressing Mama Elena for her wake, Tita finds a box of love letters from a man named Jose Treviño. Tita discovers that Jose was Mama Elena’s childhood sweetheart, secret lover, and the biological father of Gertrudis. After learning of her mother’s forbidden love affair, Tita’s feelings toward her change from ambivalence to true sadness. Tita identifies and empathizes with Mama Elena’s secret, given her own heartbreak through her separation from Pedro. This motivates Tita to fortify her own commitment to holding onto love. At this time, however, she thinks her true love is John.

Further, knowing her mother had the capacity for such passionate love and tenderness humanizes Mama Elena. For all of Tita’s life, Mama Elena was cold, calculating, and focused entirely on rules and traditions. And yet, this same woman was once so in love that she broke the rules of decency to continue her love affair. Mama Elena’s secret makes her both more hypocritical in her treatment of Tita and more of a real person, with a fuller depth of emotions and contradictions—and thus a person capable of being mourned.

Chapter 8: August Quotes

Pedro! What are you doing here?
Without answering, Pedro went to her, extinguished the lamp, pulled her to a brass bed that had once belonged to her sister, Gertrudis, and throwing himself upon her, caused her to lose her virginity and learn of true love.

Related Characters: Tita de la Garza (speaker), The Narrator (speaker), Gertrudis, Pedro Musquiz
Page Number: 158
Explanation and Analysis:

Tita has just accepted John’s marriage proposal, and he has just left to travel to the United States before their wedding. In so few words, then, Esquivel describes the pivotal moment when Pedro and Tita finally have sex. Even though many things have occurred, they have actually only waited about four years since they first met until now. This moment changes everything for Tita, who can no longer deny her enduring feelings for Pedro and pretend to herself that she is falling in love with John. She has crossed an emotional and moral boundary, and will have to deal with the consequences and self-reflection that must ensue.

The language Esquivel uses to describe Pedro and Tita’s first sexual encounter also draws attention to Pedro as the dominant party. It is he who enters her room. He ignores her use of words, and instead responds with actions. The words “throws himself upon her” and “caused her to lose her virginity” heavily convey sexual dominance. Even with regard to the emotional transfer they share, it is Pedro who is “causing” Tita to learn about love. Throughout their exchange, Tita is the receiver, and Pedro the initiator. It is important to note, however, that this traditional gender dynamic, although typical of Pedro and Tita’s relationship, isn’t the only sexual dynamic depicted in the novel. It is in contrast with other gender dynamics, in particular the one between Gertrudis and Juan Alejandrez, in which it is Gertrudis’ desire and sexual power that is the driving force.

Chapter 9: September Quotes

Life had taught her that it was not that easy; there are few prepared to fulfill their desires whatever the cost, and the right to determine the course of one’s own life would take more effort than she had imagined. That battle she had to fight alone, and it weighed on her.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tita de la Garza
Page Number: 168
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the novel, Tita believes that she is pregnant with Pedro’s baby. John is still away in the United States, and Tita hasn’t yet told anyone about the pregnancy. She is preparing the Three Kings’ Day bread and chocolate, remembering all of the times she and her household made that traditional meal throughout her childhood. An essential part of the holiday bread is the porcelain doll that is baked inside—and the person who finds it must then make a wish. Tita sadly reflects over how much simpler making wishes was when she was a child, when problems were small and the world seemed full of possibility. She wishes she still had the friendship of Nacha, Chencha, Gertrudis, and even Rosaura before their enmity over Pedro destroyed their relationship.

Tita realizes that happiness can’t just be wished for, that it comes with a “cost.” To be happy, one must fulfill one’s desires. Without Mama Elena controlling her, Tita now has the freedom to “determine the course” of her life. But she realizes that agency comes with its own struggles—she is now responsible for dealing with the consequences of her choices. Further, she is also responsible for making choices that will lead to her own happiness. With right and wrong no longer defined for her, she must also create and live by her own moral compass. She imagines this to be a lonely fight because she doesn’t yet know the role that others, such as Gertrudis and John, will have in shaping her views on morality and supporting her in her choices.

Chapter 10: October Quotes

The truth! The truth! Look, Tita, the simple truth is that the truth does not exist; it all depends on a person’s point of view. For example, in your case, the truth could be that Rosaura married Pedro, showing no loyalty, not caring a damn that you really loved him, that’s the truth, isn’t it?

Related Characters: Gertrudis (speaker), Tita de la Garza, Rosaura , Pedro Musquiz
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:

Gertrudis is nearing the end of her visit to the ranch. During their week of catching up, Tita has hesitated to tell her sister about her pregnancy because she fears her judgment. Now, she breaks the news to Gertrudis and explains her intense fear about how Rosaura might react if she learns “the truth.”

Gertrudis’ response is contrary to Tita’s expectations. Rather than judging or blaming her, Gertrudis encourages Tita to reconsider the sources of her guilt. By questioning Tita’s concept of “the truth,” Gertrudis asks Tita to reconsider her narrative of reality. Until now, Tita hasn’t questioned the standards of moral propriety, responsibility, and sacrifice that Mama Elena taught her and that polite society reinforced. Gertrudis, who has lived outside the boundaries of that same polite society, doesn’t buy into its moral standards anymore. For Gertrudis, the only way Tita can clear her conscience and move forward is by shedding the entire system of traditional moral views in order to find her own definition of truth.

By suggesting that truth “depends on a person’s point of view,” Gertrudis asks Tita to step outside traditional views of morality to consider a morally relativist point of view. The morally relativist view that she presents is then mirrored in the novel’s own fundamental position on right and wrong—a worldview in which true love is a much stronger and more sacred bond than more socially constructed roles like marriage.

I know who I am! A person who has a perfect right to live her life as she pleases. Once and for all, leave me alone; I won’t put up with you! I hate you, I’ve always hated you!
Tita had said the magic words that would make Mama Elena disappear forever.

Related Characters: Tita de la Garza (speaker), The Narrator (speaker), Mama Elena (Elena de la Garza)
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:

While Gertrudis and her troop are visiting, Tita is plagued by unwanted visits by the ghost of Mama Elena. The ghost taunts Tita, cursing her “unborn baby” and shaming her for having sex with Pedro. After Tita utters these words, however, the ghost leaves her, dwindling into a tiny, angry light. Tita’s menstrual period then releases below her, revealing that she wasn’t pregnant after all.

The “magic words” that can send Mama Elena away are the words that best describe Tita’s self-knowledge and agency: “I know who I am!” refers to Tita’s journey of self-discovery. She is a full person, and she is not the person Mama Elena wanted her to be. To know herself, Tita has had to accept her own emotions and desires. She has had to learn that she has a “right to live her life as she pleases.” Living her life as she pleases means determining for herself what moral standards she wants to live by and refusing to accept those imposed on her by others.

These words send Mama Elena away because the thing most threatening to her was Tita’s ability to fight back. As the abuser, Mama Elena needed to have control over Tita. For her to gain power, she had to make Tita buy into her judgments and care about her anger. If Tita rejects Mama Elena’s rules and traditions, then Mama Elena’s judgments mean nothing. If she knows herself and feels entitled to determine her own future, then Mama Elena has nothing she can take away from Tita. In this scene, Tita finally sheds the emotional grasp her mother’s abuse left on her.

Chapter 11: November Quotes

I, I have some self-respect left! Let him go to a loose woman like you for his filthy needs, but here’s the thing; in this house, I intend to go on being his wife. And in the eyes of everybody else too. Because the day someone sees you two, and I end up looking ridiculous again, I swear that you’re going to be very sorry.

Related Characters: Rosaura (speaker), Tita de la Garza, Pedro Musquiz
Page Number: 214
Explanation and Analysis:

Gertrudis is furious at Tita and Pedro for publically showing their affection when Tita ran to Pedro after he was caught on fire. Until this point, Gertrudis has been in denial about the continued relationship between Tita and Pedro. As long as she saw no clear signs, and as long as Tita was clearly going to marry John, Rosaura could choose to ignore subtle signs of romance between her husband and sister. Now, after they have revealed their true feelings in front of several party guests, Rosaura feels the shock of facing the truth. Even more, however, her anger stems from her deep desire to maintain the social appearances of a perfect marriage and perfect family.

Rosaura punishes Pedro by refusing to sleep with him any more, out of “self-respect.” By calling Tita a “loose woman,” she also emphasizes the social shame of Tita’s actions rather than the personal hurt they have caused her. Rosaura makes herself invulnerable, focusing on her anger about losing social status rather than her sense of emotional betrayal. Her words also reinforce the importance that outward appearances hold to her. She plans to stay Pedro’s wife, refusing to give up a title that she feels gives importance and therefore meaning to her life.

Tita, it doesn’t matter to me what you did, there are some things in life that shouldn’t be given so much importance, if they don’t change what is essential. What you’ve told me hasn’t changed the way I think; I’ll say again, I would be delighted to be your companion for the rest of your life – but you must think over very carefully whether I am the man for you or not. If your answer is yes, we will celebrate our wedding in a few days. If it’s no, I will be the first to congratulate Pedro and ask him to give you the respect you deserve.

Related Characters: Dr. John Brown (speaker), Tita de la Garza, Pedro Musquiz
Page Number: 223
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Tita reveals to John that she has lost her virginity to another man (Pedro). With great emotion, she explains her actions as the reason why she can no longer marry John. She expects that knowing the truth, he will make the difficult decision to end their engagement for her. John refuses to accept Tita’s reasoning, however, which is based off of society’s expectations of female chastity. It “doesn’t matter” to John whether or not Tita is a virgin, and even more, it doesn’t matter to him that she has been unfaithful. He acknowledges Tita’s agency and gives her back the power to choose between lovers, putting her future entirely in her hands.

In contrast with Pedro, who is jealous and possessive of Tita, John doesn’t allow his personal feeling of hurt to give him a sense of ownership over Tita. Any human would be hurt, but John doesn’t want Tita to act out of a sense of shame, guilt, or obligation. His sustained desire to be with her reflects his feminist thinking, further casting him as a character with a progressive and individualistic moral sense.

Chapter 12: December Quotes

Esperanza went to the best school, with the object of improving her mind. Tita, for her part, taught her something just as valuable: the secrets of love and life as revealed by the kitchen.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tita de la Garza, Esperanza
Page Number: 239
Explanation and Analysis:

While raising Esperanza together, Pedro and Tita convince Rosaura to let the child attend school to gain a more well-rounded education than she could at home. This is a struggle because Rosaura believes that, according to their agreement, she is the only one in charge of Esperanza’s “education.” Meanwhile, she agrees to let Tita teach Esperanza how to cook and take care of feeding her. Rosaura thus believes that she (Rosaura herself0 will be the only one influencing her daughter’s thinking. Tita subversively influences Esperanza, however, not only by convincing Rosaura that Esperanza should go to school, but by sneaking her own worldview into Esperanza’s culinary lessons.

The phrase “the secrets of love and life as revealed by the kitchen” captures one of the essential philosophies of the novel. Food and cooking offer a lens for understanding and experimenting with love, the self, and the world. Tita knows this, and it gives her power over other characters who try to oppress her, particularly Mama Elena and Rosaura.