Like water for chocolate

In the novels 'Like Water For Chocolate'by Laura Esquivel and the novel, 'House Of Spirits' by Isabel Allende, injustices to characters is widely portrayed. Both authors have portrayed situations where the characters suffer traditional and customary pressures, class distinction, gender roles and expectations as well as double standards. The main sufferers in both novels are mostly women and the situation is portrayed in such a way that it develops the reader's sympathy. They have little freedom as individuals; their opinions are not valued. Their lives are often in emotional perplexity and void of passion.

The female protagonists in each novel, Tita, from Laura Esquivel's 'Like water for chocolate' and Blanca, From Isabelle Allende's 'House of spirits' are both being suffocated by a commanding and authoritative parent, Tita by Mama Elena and Blanca, by her father, Esteban Trueba. Both are tormented very badly. However, there is a motherly character in each novel that balances out this hostility and roughness; Nacha the cook in 'Like water for Chocolate' and Clara, Blanca's mother, in 'The house of spirits'. Nacha takes care of Tita since the time she is born till the time she herself dies. She consoles Tita whenever Mama Elena gets angry on her. While in 'Like Water for chocolate', Clara supports Blanca in every possible way she can. She even gets beaten up by her husband Esteban Trueba once because she took Blanca's side. Thus, for every pessimistic aspect resulting from a dangerous relationship there is a mother-daughter bond that balances out the coldness and brings warmth and understanding to the character's life.

In Laura Esquivel's 'Like water for Chocolate', Tita's mother, Mama Elena, is the dominating figure who destroys Tita's dreams. Tita is not allowed to marry the man she loves, i.e. Pedro because of the family tradition that the last daughter of the family cannot marry and has to take care of her mother till her death. Above that, Mama Elena gets Rosaura, Tita's elder sister married to Pedro. Tita is not allowed anywhere near Pedro and Mama Elena is very strict with her.The news of Pedro and Rosaura's marriage hit Tita so badly that ''she could not sleep that night, nor many others, for as long as she lived, she could not free herself from that cold", (Esquivel, pg 21). The word cold here is used as a metaphor and symbolizes her emptiness and loneliness that she always felt after this incident.''Mama Elena had been killing her a little at a time since she was a child, and still quite hadn't finished off'', (Esquivel, pg 47).This also suggests how Tita had always faced tortures. It is very ironic, that she having faced the same situation makes her daughter Tita also undergo the same pain she had felt. Being a mother, Mama Elena should have cared deeply about her daughter, she should have made sure that her daughter does not does not face what she herself faced, the loneliness and the pain, but, unlike what a mother should have done, she herself, takes away her daughter's happiness and leaves her in a world full of pain, emptiness, sadness and loneliness.

On the other hand, the dominating parental figure in 'The House of Spirits' is Esteban Trueba. He has a very tense relationship with his daughter Blanca. Just like Mama Elena does not let Tita and Pedro unite, Esteban does not let Blanca and Pedro Tercero unite. He does not separate them directly as he does not know about their relationship initially, but Blanca and Pedro were forced to remain separate because Blanca knew that her father would never approve their relationship. She knew that her father hadn't liked it when she used to play with Pedro Tercero when they were children and that obviously meant that he would not approve of their relationship because of the fact that Pedro Tercero was of a lower class. Here, Isabelle Allende has used the factor of class distinction, which separates both the lovers, and this creates sympathy in the reader's mind for them. It is very ironic that even though Esteban slept with women not of his own class, he did not approve of Blanca and Pedro's relationship. "You also slept with women of not your own class. The only difference that Blanca and Pedro did it out of love", Clara said (Allende, pg 233). When Clara had said these words, Esteban struck her badly. This proves that even though he did what he was stopping his daughter Blanca from doing, he just didn't want to accept it and this clearly shows the double standards of Esteban.

Another character from The House of Spirits that can be compared to Tita is Ferula. Ferula is also bound to stay by her mother's side till her death. The only difference between Ferula and Tita was that Tita was forced to take care of her mother, while Ferula had made that decision herself, but it is clear to the reader that she obviously regrets her decision when she says "It bothered her to stay locked...., to be awake at night by the moans of her sick mother......while her brother had no taste of such obligations. Before him lay a destiny...... He could marry, have children and know what love was." (Allende, Pg 59). But if we look deeply into this, we can also say that Ferula was also forced to take care of her mother. In fact, it was her duty to do so, how could she have left her sick mother unattended and ran away? And besides, even if she would have done that, the society would have killed her with their taunts. Now here, the injustice with Ferula wasn't the duty she was obliged to perform but the fact that only Ferula was burdened with the duty of attending to their sick mother while her brother Esteban lived his own life, not caring about his mother, was the injustice. Esteban should have cared about his mother, attended to her, and taken care of her just like Ferula did. Why wasn't Esteban bound the same way? Because Ferula was a woman and Esteban a man; because all restrictions apply to women and not men? In Tita's case, she didn't have a brother who she can be compared to, but it is obvious from the family tradition that even if she did, she would have been bound in the same way.

So, basically Tita, Blanca and Ferula, all faced almost the same fate. They had to take of their mothers, could not marry because of either traditional pressures or due to class distinction. All this evokes sympathy in the readers mind towards the characters.

On the other hand if we look at the "dominating parental figure", which as mentioned above, filled the main characters life with miseries and sufferings; she is also sympathized by the readers at SOME points. The reader sympathizes with Mama Elena, because she could not marry Jose, the man she loved. Her parents did not approve of their love as Jose had Negro blood in his veins, and fixed her marriage with Tita's father. But she had decided to run with Jose, when she found out that she was pregnant with Gertrudis, who was the proof of her and Jose's love. But Jose was killed when he was on his way to get Mama Elena. After that incident, she was forced to marry Tita's father. After reading what happened with Mama Elena, the reader sympathizes with her, thinking that this incident might have changed her to be strict and be a tortured soul but when she does exactly what she had been through, the reader does not sympathize with her any more, and instead, their sympathy goes towards Tita.

Even the minor women characters in 'The House of Spirits', including Pancha Garcia and all the women who were raped by Esteban Trueba are sympathized by the readers' because of what they suffered. Every woman in town was raped by Esteban Trueba. Every girl's virginity was taken by him; he just couldn't stop and because of it every girl, every woman suffered. Esteban was one character who just couldn't stop making people suffer. He did not even leave his own daughter, and continued to make her suffer.

Thus, almost all the female characters, whether major or minor, faced many hardships and injustices like social and traditional pressures and other injustices because of class distinction and double standards. Because of these unjust treatments of characters like Mama Elena and Esteban Trueba on the female characters, sympathy is evoked for these characters in the reader's minds. The books clearly convey the fact the only women were the sufferers while men could do anything they wanted; they were not restricted in the same way as women were and this I believe, is very unfair.


  • Allende, Isabelle, 1985, House Of Spirits, Great Britain, Jonathan Cape Ltd.
  • Esquivel, Laura, 1992, Like Water For Chocolate, New York, First anchor books edition, Doubleday

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