Like Water for Chocolate

Like Water for Chocolate Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Laura Esquivel

Laura Alicia Palomares Esquivel was born in Mexico City, Mexico, the daughter of César Esquivel and Josefa Valdés. Esquivel first worked as a kindergarten teacher. She started her writing career by writing stories and plays for her students to perform. She married director Alfonso Arau in 1975. She began writing for television, and in 1989 she wrote her first and best-known novel, Like Water for Chocolate. The novel became popular internationally, and was adapted to film in 1992. She has written and published continually since then. Her works include her memoir, Between Two Fires (1995), as well as The Law of Love (1996), Intimas Suculencías (1998), Estrellita Marinera (1999) Libro de las Emociones (2000), Swift as Desire (2001), Malinche (2006), Pierced by the Sun (2016) and El Diario de Tita (2016). Esquivel has also worked as a politician since 2008. In 2012, Esquivel ran and was elected as the Morena party’s Federal Representative to the Mexican government. She is currently divorced and continues to live in Mexico City.
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Historical Context of Like Water for Chocolate

Most of the novel is set during the Mexican Revolution, a revolution against established rule which went on from about 1910-1920 and also took on aspects of a civil war. At the beginning of the novel, the war has a minimal impact on the character’s lives. It makes trade and imports difficult, and stories of violence are told as if they were happening far away. As the novel progresses, the war begins to affect their lives in intimate ways. Tita’s sister Gertrudis runs away with a captain of the rebel army. Later, the federals lay siege to Piedras Negras and briefly capture Pedro. The war soon brings famine and threats of violence directly to the De la Garza ranch. The novel doesn’t describe the end of the war. However, the final chapter fast-forwards to the 1930s, when Model T cars with multiple gears become available in Mexico. Thematically, the novel focuses on the conflict between traditional values and modern moral relativism. Through the life experience of Tita, Esquivel depicts the early twentieth century as a critical era of social and political revolution in Northern Mexico. Through the histories of other characters, the novel also references North American colonialism and slavery in the United States. Tita’s mother, Mama Elena, was forbidden from marrying her childhood sweetheart Jose Treviño because he was mixed-race or mulatto. His father was Mexican, but his mother was the child of slaves from the United States. Before the civil war, they escaped slavery in the American South and fled to Mexico. Their descendants continued to experience racism and prejudice in Mexico. Through the story of Morning Light, the grandmother of Dr. John Brown, Esquivel references colonizers from the United States and Europe settling into Northern Mexico during the early to mid nineteenth century.

Other Books Related to Like Water for Chocolate

A genre called Magical Realism originated in Latin America in the mid-twentieth century, with roots stretching back to indigenous pre-Colombian mythologies as well as to the European literary movements of Modernism and Surrealism. The beginning of Magical Realism is usually associated with the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, who began blurring the lines between fantasy and reality in his short story collections. In the 1960s and 80s, Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez further developed the tenets of the genre, bringing popular international attention to Magical Realism with his novellas and novels. His most famous work, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), tells the multi-generational drama of the Buendía family. Through One Hundred Years and later works, Marquez established one of the defining characteristics of Magical Realism, which is that the characters accept paranormal events and allows these to fold into the logic of their everyday reality. The magical realism of his novels reflects the instability of colonialism (European domination of South and Latin America) as well as the flexibility of individuals and families to survive constant change from exterior forces. Beginning with writers like the Chilean Isabel Allende, female authors began to access and change the genre. Allende, who published The House of the Spirits in 1982, is commonly compared to Marquez in terms of her style and form. Yet, Allende differed through her emphasis on the female experience and her focus on the persistence of hope despite experiences of violence and suffering. The House of the Spirits tells the story of the Trueba family, whose patriarch Esteban is a hard-working, violent man who opposes the rising Socialist party. Esquivel’s work, in contrast with Allende, is more inspired by the genres of romance, allowing characters to be rewarded for their love and goodness. Yet, Esquivel parallels Allende’s themes of male sexual violence, female resilience, and the female connection to nurturing and mysticism. Esquivel’s own novels also share similarities with Like Water for Chocolate. In particular, in her memoir Between Two Fires (1995) Esquivel blends equal parts cookbook, biography and autobiography to tell the story of how she herself learned the magic of food and cooking through the most influential women in her own life. In her novel, the Law of Love (1996), Esquivel tells the story of Azucena Martinez, a woman living in the year 2200 who has finally balanced out her karma from thousands of previous lives and therefore earned her right to meet her twin soul, Rodrigo Sanchez. In Swift as Desire, Esquivel tells the story of Don Jubilo, a man who can read people’s innermost feelings and translate them to others. Yet, he suffers mysterious tragedy and personal loss, including a rift that grows between him and his wife, Lucha. Esquivel’s work is broadly varied, ranging in setting and style.
Key Facts about Like Water for Chocolate
  • Full Title: Like Water for Chocolate (Original Spanish: Como Agua Para Chocolate)
  • When Written: 1989
  • Where Written: Mexico City, Mexico
  • When Published: 1989 (Mexico) 1995 (United States)
  • Literary Period: Contemporary Fiction; Magical Realism
  • Genre: Magical Realism
  • Setting: Near Piedras Negras, Northern Mexico. 1895-1920.
  • Climax: The climax of the novel occurs in Chapter 11, when Tita confesses to her fiancée, John the truth of her affair with her brother-in-law, Pedro. John reacts by telling her he will still marry her, but that she must first decide for herself what life will make her happiest. Tita has never had so much control over her own destiny. Now, she must choose whether to marry John and start a new life with him or break off their engagement and remain as Pedro’s mistress.
  • Antagonist: Mama Elena
  • Point of View: The novel begins and ends in first person, but most of the story is in close third person.

Extra Credit for Like Water for Chocolate

Like Water’s Inspiration: The stories in Like Water for Chocolate were inspired by Esquivel’s experience growing up and her close relationship with the grandmother who taught her to cook. Many of the female character’s stories were inspired by stories passed down from her mother and other women in her life. In her memoir Between Two Fires, Esquivel discusses her own thoughts on the magical relationship between food and emotion through the lens of her own experiences.

International Acclaim: Like Water for Chocolate was Mexico’s bestselling novel in 1990.

Film: The novel was adapted to a Spanish-language film released in Mexico in 1992.