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Like Water for Chocolate | Study Guide

Laura Esquivel

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Like Water for Chocolate | Chapter 9 : September | Summary



The September installment contains two important recipes: one for hot chocolate, and one for Three Kings' Day bread. The bread is a Christmas specialty, actually eaten on Epiphany, January 6th. The bread is prepared so it contains a small porcelain doll, and the person who finds the doll can wish for anything he or she wants. For Tita the bread is also a reminder of happier, simpler times. They make her think of Nacha, who cooked for her, cared for her, and loved her. Today, though, Tita is not feeling particularly happy. She thinks she may be pregnant with Pedro's child and dreads the moment when John will return and she will have to admit everything and call off the wedding. She doesn't know how she will face him since he is the one who had saved her with his "peace, serenity, reason."

Tita is also dealing with her sister Rosaura, who has come to her for help with her marriage. For some unknown reason Rosaura has become obese since returning to the ranch and has developed both bad breath and flatulence. Both, she feels, are driving Pedro away from her emotionally and physically. In fact Rosaura herself has suggested they sleep in separate bedrooms to spare Pedro from the smells.

Rosaura also tells Tita she is ashamed of her earlier jealousy, understanding now that Tita and John are truly in love and her fears had been foolish. Tita feels horribly guilty, especially when Rosaura tells her this final estrangement between her and Pedro began the night Mama Elena's ghost first appeared. This vision, Tita knows, was actually the bright plumes of light produced the night she and Pedro first made love. But her guilt is somewhat lessened when Rosaura says at least she will always have Esperanza, who is "obliged to stay with her forever." Tita wants to shout at her, but her remorse wins out, and she begins to prepare a special diet for her sister she hopes will help.

In the middle of preparing the bread Tita feels a cold chill and turns to see Mama Elena's ghost glaring at her from the doorway. The ghost berates her for her actions with Pedro, telling her she has lost all morality and is "worthless, a good-for-nothing" who doesn't respect even herself. The ghost curses Tita's unborn child, then leaves just before Chencha enters the room.

Their guests, the Lobos, arrive, and Tita is horrified to see her mother's ghost reappear in the dining room. The ghost is seen by no one else but the dog, who barks at her furiously. Tita's distress is compounded by Paquita Lobo, who tells Tita that if she didn't know better, she would swear Tita was pregnant. Tita is saved from further discussion by an unexpected visitor, her sister Gertrudis, leading a band of soldiers, her lover Juan Alejandrez at her side. Both are generals, and they are also married. Gertrudis says she has come for hot chocolate and Three Kings' Day bread, and she and Tita embrace. As Gertrudis eats the delicious food, she thinks that when Tita dies, their family's recipes, traditions, and past will die with her.

Gertrudis feels grief when she hears of Mama Elena's death but then goes on to tell the family of her accomplishments. She showed herself to be a born leader and advanced quickly through the ranks of the army. She only wishes her mother could have seen her accomplishments. A celebration begins, and Gertrudis dances with a beauty and rhythm that confounds Rosaura, who knows no one else in the family had those talents. Tita keeps the secret of Gertrudis's parentage and only reveals it much later when Gertrudis gives birth to a mulatto baby. Tita reveals the secret of their mother's lover to save her sister's reputation, and the couple will be able to live happily together for the rest of their lives.


The elements of magic realism reach a new level in this chapter with the appearance of Mama Elena's ghost. It is not clear if the ghost is "real"—one of the supernatural elements that coexist alongside reality in the novel—or if Elena is simply a manifestation of Tita's guilt. Rosaura and Chencha certainly could have planted the seeds for the apparition in Tita's mind since they were the ones to interpret the glow of Pedro and Tita's lovemaking as Mama Elena's ghost. Only the barking dog and the plumes of light when making love to Pedro lend credence to the idea the ghost is real in the story.

Tita's power over food also makes a reappearance. There seems to be no logical reason for Rosaura's obesity and digestive problems since returning to the ranch. It is possible, therefore, that Tita's resentment of her is finding an outlet in the food, though Tita herself does not realize it. Rosaura's weight, flatulence, and bad breath make her entirely unappealing to Pedro and perhaps are what finally drove him to make love to Tita. Another possibility is the world of the ranch is now entirely Tita's, despite Pedro's role as "man of the house," and Rosaura's body cannot survive in it.

Tita's ability to impact her world through food may also explain the return of Gertrudis since she makes the Three Kings' Day bread as she is wishing she would see her sister again. And when Gertrudis does arrive, she does so as the embodiment of the happiness, freedom, and strength Tita has always dreamed of but never quite achieved. Gertrudis has taken on what is traditionally a man's role, even dressing somewhat like a man and smoking, but she has not lost her beauty, sexuality, or desirability. She is her husband's equal in every way. As she herself says, she is a born leader, and it's possible she is leading the way for other women to break free of old gender roles and traditions. Still, she appreciates the value of the traditions of home and family Tita represents, and seems to understand both are needed to provide balance in the world.

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