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Like Water for Chocolate | Study Guide

Laura Esquivel

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Like Water for Chocolate | Chapter 6 : June | Summary



The June chapter begins with a departure from traditional recipes. This one is for making matches. The shift occurs because this "recipe" belongs to Dr. John Brown. He has defied Mama Elena's orders and brought Tita into his home, intending to help her heal. He bathes her and cleans her with his "large, loving hands," and Tita will always remember those hands had "rescued her from horror."

Tita is at first broken and silent. She has no interest in food, or in the woman Katy who runs the kitchen, or in the doctor's little boy Alex. She does not want to speak for fear her words would be a shriek of pain. She does not even know what to do with her hands, which are no longer doing her mother's bidding. She has never made a choice for herself before, at least not outside the realm of her kitchen.

One day, though, she sees a thin cloud of smoke and smells something delicious. She follows the smell to a small room and sees a woman who looks like Nacha but has braided hair, crouched by a stove. The woman gives her tea she has just brewed, and Tita feels a bit of warmth for the first time since the chill took over her body when Pedro and Rosaura became engaged. Over the next few days she continues to visit the woman, whom she gradually realizes is only a spirit now realized in her descendant, Dr. Brown. The room they are in is his laboratory.

Dr. Brown tells Tita this was his grandmother's room. She, a Kikapu Indian whose name was Morning Light, had not been accepted by his grandfather's proud Yankee family. They had no use for her or respect for her culture until the day her father-in-law became ill. All attempts to heal him failed, especially the use of leeches, which caused the man to hemorrhage. Morning Light placed her hands on the wound and the bleeding stopped. She then went on to cure him completely and became known as a miracle healer. The family built her the little room John now works in so she could practice her art.

Morning Light, whom Tita gradually realizes is the woman whose spirit drew her to the laboratory in the first place, is John's inspiration. He studies modern medicine in an attempt to validate what his grandmother already knew how to do. He is convinced that by combining modern theory with her ancient wisdom, he will find medicine greater than both.

As he makes his matches, John explains to the still-silent Tita his grandmother's theory that each person is born with a box of matches inside. But to catch fire the box requires the breath from a person one loves and the things a person is passionate about. Each person must discover what will light the matches because the combustion that results is what nourishes the soul. If a person doesn't find the secret in time, the matches dampen and the soul flees, leaving a cold, defenseless body behind. However, it is also dangerous to light all the matches at once. When that happens, the resulting splendor would open a tunnel to the place from which everyone comes and to which everyone wants to return, leaving the body lifeless.

Tita realizes her own matches are damp and moldy, and John Brown warns her to keep her distance from people who have what he calls frigid breath. But he assures her there is a way to dry out the matches, and together they will find a cure. Tita, still not speaking, feels tears run down her face. John asks her to play a game with him, one his grandmother taught him. It involves Tita writing a sentence on the wall in an invisible liquid. That night, John will try to guess what she has written. He asks her to write why she won't talk. The "ink" is phosphorous, which glows in the dark, and John is able to see Tita's reply is, "Because I don't want to." With those words she takes her first steps toward independence.

Tita begins to wonder if, indeed, her own soul can stir again, and whether the kind doctor could be the one who makes that happen. She is not sure, but she does know she will never return to Mama Elena.


The bath at the opening of this chapter is a beautiful contrast to the punishing bath Mama Elena forced Tita to give her at home. That bath was to degrade the girl and continue to chip away at her confidence. This one is to heal Tita, and to clean her of the literal and figurative filth of subservience that Elena has coated Tita with. The bath is also a symbol of John Brown's kindness and his nurturing soul.

John Brown, a white male, might seem to be a character that could further put Tita in a serving role. Instead it's the reverse. He seems to channel the nurturing spirit and traditional values of his grandmother. As a result he becomes what could be considered the ideal modern man, one with both strength and a strong, almost feminine, side. Like Tita, he grew up alongside a strong woman. Instead of a kitchen, though, they spent time in a lab. Instead of food they studied the healing arts. But all four—Tita, Nacha, John, and Morning Light—sought to nurture the human body and spirit through what they did, and it is interesting that John describes his match-making process in a way that reflects both the language and style of the food recipe descriptions related elsewhere. After some time in John's home, Tita begins to feel a flicker of warmth inside her always chilled body.

The metaphor of the matches is an interesting one. Morning Light's description goes far beyond a description of literal, physical matches, turning his description into an explanation of what is needed to nourish the soul. The metaphor therefore becomes a perfect one to help Tita, who realizes that "she knew what set off her explosions." Each time she had managed to light a match, though, through her love of Pedro and then Roberto, "it had persistently been blown out." Her determination not to allow herself to return to Elena and her frigid breath is another step toward her becoming her own woman. Whether John Brown is the person who will provide the "breath of the person you love" remains to be seen in the story.

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