Like Water for Chocolate takes place during the Mexican Revolution, which challenged social and political systems and provided a context for individuals to question existing values and structures. It is against this national scene that the protagonist, Tita, and her sisters face their mother’s authority and their society’s expectations of women. The individual struggle to rebel, like the national struggle for liberation from the oligarchy (a government run by a few powerful people only), can be painful and tumultuous for the self and others.
The family unit is central to the traditional social order. Within the old system, children are accountable to their parents as their closest authority well into adulthood. From an early age, Tita and her sisters are taught to be obedient to their mother, Mama Elena, and to social rules concerning proper female behavior. Tita’s mother teaches her children that self-sacrifice and duty are expressions of love.
Tita’s mother tells her from a young age that she will never be allowed to marry or have her own family, due to a family tradition requiring that the youngest daughter dedicate her life to taking care of her mother until the mother dies. Believing she has no other choice, Tita resigns to a life of servitude to her mother, even when Pedro proposes to her in the beginning of the novel. Tita is often reprimanded by her mother for even the smallest forms of rebellion, including not performing household chores exactly as her mother likes or not addressing her as “Mami” in the right tone of voice.
The Revolution creates the catalyst for disorder and violence, which inevitably lead to suffering. The chaos brought by the fighting threatens the safety and wellbeing of communities, creating famine and making everyday life dangerous. Early on the novel, Roberto’s wet nurse dies by gunshot when she accidentally enters the crossfire. The disorder of the Revolution also inordinately affects the novel’s female characters. Early on a group of rebels invade Tita’s home, destroying her family’s food supplies. Later, a group of bandits take advantage of the chaos to attack the ranch. They beat Mama Elena and rape Chencha, the maid.
At the same time, the Revolution brings the promise of positive social change and liberation from unfair oligarchs and systems. Tita, who hates tyranny in all forms, supports the rebels. She hates the federal troops, who seize cities and cause entire towns to suffer while they fight to re-establish dominance. The Revolution provides the context for Tita’s sister Gertrudis to break through gender roles and reach powerful social status as a general. By achieving such a high rank in the rebel army, Gertrudis defies Mama Elena’s and society’s rules for women and builds a life outside of the patriarchy.
Like the political rebellion, individual rebellion can also create suffering and uncertainty, while still holding the promise of future liberation. Tita’s little rebellions against her mother as she grows up cause her pain, as she must face her mother’s harsh physical and emotional punishments for each expression of agency. When Tita asks her mother to reconsider her stance of continuing the family tradition, Mama Elena tells Tita that she isn’t allowed to have opinions, and gives Tita the silent treatment for a week. Mama Elena soon after offers Rosaura to Pedro, a move so cruel that it can only be seen as punishment for Tita’s attempt to challenge authority and tradition.
Tita’s eventual choice to start a sexual relationship with Pedro, whom she has always believed to be her true love, brings her great joy and ecstasy. By society’s definition, however, Tita’s relationship with Pedro is an illicit affair. After they begin their affair, Tita is so plagued with guilt that she becomes physically and emotionally distraught. In keeping with the novel’s magical realism, Tita’s shame manifests as a phantom pregnancy. It isn’t until after Tita faces Mama Elena’s ghost and declares that she “knows who she is” that Tita is relieved of her phantom pregnancy and her incessant guilt.
Ultimately, Tita’s actions show that for her, liberation is worth the price she must pay for it. She breaks off her engagement with Dr. John Brown, a kindhearted man who could offer her status and legitimacy as his wife. Instead, she chooses to stay with Pedro, even though that means keeping their relationship a secret and navigating Rosaura’s feelings and demands as his lawful wife. To her, being true to herself and following her heart is more important than social legitimacy, propriety, or society’s moral codes.
The novel doesn’t state whether the success of the Mexican Revolution absolves it of its violence. It does, however, make clear through the example of Tita that freedom should be fought for even if it comes at a cost. The suffering brought on from the struggle for liberation pales in comparison to the pain of remaining compliant to oppressive customs or traditional values.
Tradition vs. Revolution ThemeTracker
Tradition vs. Revolution Quotes in Like Water for Chocolate
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.
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?
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.
Now she finally understood the meaning of the expression “fresh as a head of lettuce” – that’s the odd, detached way a lettuce should feel at being separated abruptly from another lettuce with which it had grown up. It would be illogical to expect it to feel pain at this separation from another lettuce with which it had never spoken, nor established any type of communication, and which it only knew from its outer leaves, unaware that there were many others hidden inside it.
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.
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.