There are many different definitions of feminism. Some people regard feminism as the idea that women deserve the same amount of respect that men deserve. There are the other schools of feminist thought that hold women superior to men. Yet another believes that the gender roles controlling women are artificially created and not innate knowledge, and thus men and women are equals with only history the determining factor and how gender equality is established.
There are clear feminist overtones in Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. Esquivel pointes to a more radical definition of feminism in Like Water for Chocolate. The story focuses on mostly female characters that assume the gender roles typically associated with men. Esquivel presents these strong female figures in such a way as to make the reader begin to question any preconceptions previously held about the capabilities of women.
Feminism has been a concept long thought about. Generally dealing with the idea that men have historically been thought of as superior to women, the feminist philosophy contends that men and women are equal and thus deserve equal treatment. Esquivel makes it clear that all the women characters are not dependent in any way to any men. This independence of men that she creates is a key to understanding the feminist nature of the novel.
Early on with Tita’s father dying we see that now Mama Elena is charged with the care and protecting of her family. At this point Esquivel has already created the first independent strong female character. Mama Elena goes on, for better or worse, attempting the best she can to raise a family in the tumultuous time of the Mexican revolution. She struggles against her rebellious daughter in her own attempt to keep her family’s heritage and traditions alive.
Not only does she raise a family but she also runs the ranch on which the live and on derive their sustenance. Early on in the novel we see that Esquivel presents a character that deserves the same amount of respect normally giving to a male character in this same role. By placing this normally male role in a woman Esquivel questions the typical role of the woman in a home of just raising children by bestowing additional responsibilities.
We see elsewhere in the novel the strength in Gertrudis, Tita’s sister. Gertrudis escapes the ranch after reacting mysteriously to one of Tita’s recipes. She runs away with a rebel soldier, works in a brothel at the Mexico-Texas border, and eventually returns to the ranch as a general in the revolutionary army. Here we witness the creation of a second strong female character. When we first see Gertrudis we see just another female character. But after her return we find that she has become a leader of in the revolution. Again Esquivel takes a potion that is typically male associated and fills that role with and equally respectable female character.
There is then the focal character, Tita. Tita is the pivotal character in defining Like Water for Chocolate as a feminist novel. Tita more than her mother, is the glue that holds her family together. It is she that cares for the ranch and feeds everyone. Tita is the one who ensures that everything goes to plan. After her mother becomes paralyzed, even with her hatred towards her she still continues to care for her.
Tita is the strongest feminine figure in this novel. She continues to strive for what she wants form life and stops at nothing to get it. Through Esquivel creates a sense that Tita is not someone who you would want to get in the way of. Esquivel does this in such a way so that readers come to love and respect the character of Tita as opposed to seeing her as a selfish demanding woman.
Like Water for Chocolate takes an intriguing look at radical feminism. Most importantly, through the portrayal of Elena and, Esquivel takes an approach at shows that although she fits a feminist roll, she does not need to be liked. Elena is opposed by the more endearing and lovable characters like Nacha, Gertrudis, and Tita. With these characters we see Gertrudis make a leap forward and size power as the head of a revolutionary army. Tita of course finally fights her mother and begins her life anew with her own wants and desires.
Esquivel, Laura. Like Water for Chocolate. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.