Tita De la Garza
Tita De la Garza is the youngest daughter of Mama Elena. A bright, spirited girl, she is constantly berated by her mother, who is determined to turn her into a submissive and dutiful daughter. Elena also prevents Tita from marrying Pedro Muzquiz, matching him with Tita's sister Rosaura instead. Pedro marries Rosaura just to be near Tita, and Tita is forced to accept that arrangement. When Pedro's son Roberto is born, however, Rosaura is unable to nurse him, but Tita magically can. In this way she, Pedro, and the baby become a secret family. Elena sends Pedro's family away to separate the lovers, and little Roberto dies of malnutrition. Tita finally rebels, accusing her mother of killing the child, but Tita has a mental breakdown. She is nursed back to health by the gentle Dr. John Brown, who also teaches her what she must do to light the fire within herself. When Elena is injured, Tita returns to the ranch, vibrant and beautiful, to care for her. Her mother cannot accept her help, though, and dies within a month. When Pedro and Rosaura return, Pedro and Tita finally become lovers, and the three adults form an uneasy truce, even raising Rosaura's daughter Esperanza together. A disagreement over the girl's decision to marry Alex Brown literally kills Rosaura, and Tita and Pedro are finally free to be together. Their passion is so intense it opens a door to the afterlife, which they enter together.
Pedro Muzquiz is the son of a neighboring landowner. He is a shallow, somewhat selfish young man, but he is deeply in love with Tita De la Garza, who loves him as well. When Tita's mother forbids them to marry, Pedro agrees to marry Tita's sister Rosaura instead. This way, he feels, he can at least be close to Tita, although Tita later tells him this was a cowardly solution and they should have run off together. Over the years Pedro remains in his empty marriage but continues to love Tita. Pedro is shocked and upset, therefore, when Tita later finds a possible husband in Dr. John Brown, and he turns into a figure of jealousy and selfishness. When John is away Pedro forces himself on Tita, who does not protest, and later he is delighted to find out he may have gotten Tita pregnant. This would mean she cannot marry John and he and Tita have a reason for being together. When the pregnancy turns out to be false, Pedro's reaction is one of anger. He is fortunate, though, that Tita loves him despite his flaws and rejects Dr. Brown's marriage proposal. When Rosaura finally dies and his daughter Esperanza marries, he and Tita finally come together in an explosion of passion that opens the door to the afterlife, which they enter together.
One of the most complex characters in the novel, Mama Elena is the oppressive matriarch of the De la Garza family. Determined to see her daughters become the women society expects them to be, she tries to force them into the role of dutiful daughter, wife, or mother. She tolerates no opposition from her children or anyone else and is willing to break her youngest daughter's spirit to keep her in line. Yet Elena herself is extremely strong willed and fiercely independent, courageous enough to stand up to armed soldiers. Unfortunately, events in her past have turned her into the cold, bitter tyrant she is. Only after Elena dies does Tita find out her mother was once a vibrant young woman who was not allowed to marry José Treviño, the half-black man she loved. She defied her parents by continuing her affair after she was married off to the "right" man; her daughter Gertrudis was the result. José was killed before they could run away, and Elena's ability to love, once so strong within her, simply died. From that point on she seemed to have decided to allow no one to find the happiness she herself had been denied.
Rosaura De la Garza
Mama Elena's eldest daughter, Rosaura never thinks to question her mother or her role in society. She knows her destiny is to be a wife and mother, and she yields without protest when Mama Elena tells her to marry Pedro, even though she knows Pedro and Tita are in love. Once Rosaura actually becomes a wife and mother, however, she proves to be woefully inadequate. Her body holds no attraction for her husband, she is unable to cook a decent meal, and when her children are born, she is not able to care for them. She knows her sister Tita, though, is more than capable of all these things, and Rosaura's frustration and unhappiness begin to manifest themselves physically. She becomes bloated and gassy, further distancing her from her husband. Only when she finally realizes Pedro and Tita are still in love does her anger temporarily force her to stand up for herself. Her weight suddenly drops away, and she forbids Tita to care for her daughter, warning Tita and Pedro not to publicly humiliate her. But in the end appearances and the approval of society are all that matter. Rosaura insists on maintaining the façade of her socially acceptable marriage and eventually settles into a life of hypocrisy and denial, living with her husband and his lover and watching as they raise her child.
Gertrudis De la Garza
Gertrudis De la Garza is Mama Elena's middle daughter, and the one least troubled by the constraints of tradition or the expectations of society. This may be because, unknown to her, Gertrudis is the product of a forbidden love. In any case Gertrudis is passionate by nature, and once Tita's food awakens her sexuality she erupts like a volcano. She races from the house, sets a wooden shower stall on fire with the heat of her body, and then leaps into the arms of a soldier whom she immediately takes as her lover. Her passions are so strong that she soon enters a brothel in an attempt to relieve her sexual hunger, but eventually she leaves to join a band of revolutionaries. There the unconventional Gertrudis discovers she has a talent for leadership, and eventually she becomes a general in the army. She finds her soldier again and later marries him and has children with him, proving that a woman can literally have it all in the context of the story. Her own experiences also make her the best adviser Tita could have. She tells her sister there is no one truth when it comes to what is right or wrong and it's all a matter of point of view. She urges Tita not to give up on the one thing she does know is true for her, which is that she loves Pedro Muzquiz.
Dr. John Brown, an American, is a kind, gentle and empathetic man who is the opposite of Pedro in almost every way. Where Pedro is the source of much of Tita's pain, John Brown is the source of comfort and healing. He is also the keeper of his grandmother's wisdom and shares with Tita the secret to fulfillment in life. He tells her his grandmother's theory that every person has a box of matches inside and to set them aflame, each person needs to discover what he or she is passionate about and then find a lover's breath to ignite them. Unfortunately, although John loves Tita, he cannot ignite that passion within her. Yet his goodness is such that he is able to release her to find passion with someone else. He continues to love her quietly and without reproach and eventually takes joy in the fact his son marries Tita's niece Esperanza, a young woman with all the spirit and beauty of her aunt.