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.
Femininity and Women’s Roles ThemeTracker
Femininity and Women’s Roles Quotes in Like Water for Chocolate
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
[…] 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.
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.
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.
You know how men are. They all say they won’t eat off a plate that isn’t clean.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.