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Like Water for Chocolate | Study Guide

Laura Esquivel

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Like Water for Chocolate | Symbols



Throughout the novel food represents family, all aspects of life-giving nourishment, and the traditions passed down from generation to generation. The recipe for Christmas rolls, the first recipe in the novel and the one Tita's great-niece is preparing on the last page, is the richest and most obvious example. In fact the tie between food and family tradition is so clear that Gertrudis at one point remarks that when Tita and her recipes disappear from the earth, "the family's past would die with her."

Food is also used as a symbol for the pleasures (and the dangers) of life, echoing Tita's belief "the joy of living was wrapped up in the delights of food." Food in the novel becomes a metaphor for sex, for love, for longing, for hope, and for happiness. The symbolism is particularly hard to miss because, thanks to the use of magic realism, it is shown in very literal ways. (The rose petal sauce, for example, becomes the channel through which Pedro and Tita, through Gertrudis, have a highly charged sexual experience.)

But food also can represent life's disappointments and frustrations: Rosaura becomes bloated and gassy from the food she digests, which is a reflection of the unhealthy situation in which she has trapped herself. And Mama Elena dies, a victim of the "bitter" food she is forced to eat when Tita returns to the ranch, beautiful and vibrant.

Tita's Wedding Bedspread

Tita begins to crochet her wedding bedspread on the day Pedro expresses his love for her. Ironically though, it becomes a symbol of her unhappiness. She works on it whenever grief and worry overwhelm her. It becomes her focus when Pedro is promised to Rosaura and after Gertrudis leaves home. She quintuples its size when she worries about who is feeding Roberto after Pedro and Rosaura leave for San Antonio. By the time she leaves with John Brown after her mental collapse, it is a full kilometer (more than half a mile) long. This use of magic realism, which allows impossible things to be presented as reality, means that for the reader the size of the bedspread can become a literal measure of Tita's sadness and worry.

Heat and Cold

Throughout the novel characters experience different types and intensities of heat and cold. Both sensations reflect the emotional state of the person experiencing anything from love to despair. At the top of the intensity level is heat. It can represent intense anger, as when Tita begins boiling "like water for chocolate" when she hears her sister's plans for Esperanza, or when steam escapes through her nose, ears, and pores after Pedro tells her not to marry John. But heat also becomes the literal expression of passion, strong enough to burn down shower stalls and, eventually, an entire ranch. In the wrong environment, however, even heat that intense may begin to cool, and the flames can be extinguished altogether.

The most consistent example of the cold caused by a toxic situation is the chill Tita begins to feel the moment Pedro is promised to Rosaura. It continues to greater or lesser degrees for most of her life. The chill reflects her unhappiness, isolation, and helplessness, and even her massive wedding bedspread cannot stop her from feeling the cold. She feels the chill again when Pedro is forced by Elena to stop complimenting Tita's cooking, which is his only way of telling her how he feels. She loses more warmth when Pedro and his family move away, and her fire goes out entirely when little Roberto dies. But ultimately, it is her mother, with her "frigid breath" and "chilling presence," who has been working systematically to put out Tita's fire. Tita is saved primarily by John Brown, who brings her back to a place of warmth through Morning Light's tea, his own loving embraces, and his willingness to help her rekindle her inner fire even if it means losing her to Pedro.

The Color White

In a culture where color is celebrated, white takes on very special significance. It is the color of purity and virginity, associated with the Virgin Mary and the innocence of spring. Young girls wear it when they make an offering to the Virgin, and white is also the color of a bride at her wedding. This virginal whiteness takes on another meaning, though, when Tita sees the white embroidered wedding sheet being prepared for Pedro and her sister. At that point white becomes a reproach, a sign she herself will never know wedded happiness. Whiteness literally blinds her, and her whole world becomes devoid of color. Toward the end of the novel, however, Pedro promises Tita a white wedding, and the color regains its original meaning of purity though it never is realized since there is no wedding on earth for them.

Questions for Symbols

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