Like Water for Chocolate | Study Guide

Laura Esquivel

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Like Water for Chocolate | Chapter 5 : May | Summary



The May chapter begins with a recipe for Northern-style chorizo, a dish that will make the most of the meager resources left on the ranch as the rest of it is diverted to the revolution going on around them. But cooking is far from Tita's mind: Pedro, Rosaura, and Roberto have gone to San Antonio, and Tita is dejected and despondent.

As Tita becomes lost in her grief, revolutionaries arrive at the ranch. Only Mama Elena, Tita, Chencha, and two farmhands are there at the time. Mama Elena, who firmly believes all revolutionaries are thieves and rapists, tells Tita to hide in the basement (with the ranch's one remaining pig and some of the ranch's most valuable resources). Elena meets the revolutionaries at the door armed with a shotgun, telling them they can take what they like but the house is off limits. Knowing a powerful adversary when he sees one and falling under the spell of her "maternal authority," the captain agrees.

The captain then mentions he had heard Elena had three daughters. She tells him that two are in America and one is dead. He responds with kindness, and from that time on Mama Elena is not quick to judge the revolutionaries. What she does not know is the captain is Juan Alejandrez, the same man who had carried off Gertrudis.

After the soldiers leave, Tita finds a newborn pigeon in the dovecote, which had always been her sanctuary but from which all the other birds have now been taken. As she begins to feed the bird, as she had fed her nephew, she finds her life beginning to make a little more sense. But she wonders who is keeping little Roberto alive. The worry has been keeping her awake through endless nights, during which she has quintupled the size of her magical bedspread.

Several days later the family makes sausage and other products out of the pig. In the middle of the process Mama Elena enters and announces it is time for Tita to help her with her bath, an elaborate ritual that involves many detailed steps. As her mother's caretaker, only Tita can perform these tasks. This time, though, she makes many mistakes, including burning her mother's clothes with the iron. She is berated by Elena, whose "genius was for finding fault." When Tita returns to the sausage making, she remembers a summer night when the family had slept outside, and she and Pedro had encountered each other in the middle of the night, kissed, and explored each other's bodies. Only a few days after that, Elena had sent the little family away.

Suddenly Elena enters the kitchen with Chencha, who is crying uncontrollably. Tita learns little Roberto is dead; food he had been eating "didn't agree with him." Tita's world comes crashing down around her, but Elena orders everyone back to work. Instead Tita begins tearing apart the sausages they were making, screaming she is sick of obeying Elena's orders. Mama Elena hits her in the face, and Tita screams, "You did it, you killed Roberto!" She flees to the empty dovecote, and Elena and Chencha finish making the sausages. A week later it is discovered all of the sausages are "swarming with worms."

In the dovecote the next morning Chencha finds Tita trying to feed worms to the dead baby pigeon. Mama Elena immediately decides to send her to an insane asylum and calls for Dr. Brown. The doctor finds Tita naked and bleeding in the dovecote, but after several hours she comes down with him, fully dressed, and they leave together. Chencha, weeping, tosses the enormous bedspread into the carriage after her, and it drags behind the carriage like a huge wedding train, a full kilometer long.


In Chapter 5 readers see an unexpected side of Mama Elena that temporarily redeems her. Her fierce protection of the ranch and her utter courage as she faces the revolutionary soldiers show her to be a formidable individual and a woman of great strength. At one point her power is described as indomitable "maternal authority" that can conquer anyone who has ever experienced it. Elena's willingness to shoot the chickens being carried by the sergeant takes away any doubt she will follow through on her threats, and she would rather die herself than back down. Had Elena been a good woman at her core, these traits could have made her an admirable figure. As it is, however, her actions are just a temporary departure from cruelty and selfishness. She seems to take an almost sadistic pleasure in humiliating Tita, using even her own bath ritual as an opportunity to browbeat her daughter who must wash her.

The chapter provides another view of Tita as well, but one that is painful to witness. Her sorrow at losing her "family" strips away her womanhood, her sexuality, and her role as a mother. Her milk dries up, she loses interest in cooking, and she is unable to sleep. She becomes lost in memories of Roberto and Pedro and tries to fill the void by feeding the baby pigeon she finds. The woman "not meant for the loser's role" has been almost entirely beaten down.

Only the revelation that Roberto has died, likely from being denied his aunt's milk, briefly rouses Tita from her despondency. The girl stands up to Mama Elena, defying her orders to keep working and furiously accusing her of killing Roberto. But this explosion of rage, combined with her devastating grief, finally break her. Her attempt to bring the baby bird back to life is a heartbreaking expression of her loss and of her desire to resurrect her dead nephew. Had Elena's plan to send her to an asylum been successful, Tita's life would have been over. But the girl is rescued by the gentle, empathetic Dr. Brown. And Tita's power with food provides one last bit of defiance against her mother. The worms she had used to nurture the birds in the dovecote now appear in sausage, turning Elena's prized dish into so much rotting meat.

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