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Literature / Like Water for Chocolate

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Like Water for Chocolate (Spanish title: Como Agua Para Chocolate) is a 1989 Mexican novel by Laura Esquivel. It chronicles the story of Tita (full name: Josefita De La Garza), a fifteen year-old growing up during The Mexican Revolution with her mother, Mama Elena, her older sisters Gertrudis and Rosaura, the cook Nacha and maid Chencha on a ranch in Piedras Negras, a town near the Mexico – U.S. border. Tita has a love of the kitchen and a deep connection with food, a skill enhanced by the fact that she was practically raised from birth by the cook. Her love for cooking also comes from the fact that she was actually born in the kitchen. Pedro, a ranch hand, and Tita fall in Love at First Sight. He asks Mama Elena for Tita’s hand in marriage, but Mama Elena forbids it, citing the De la Garza family tradition which demands that the youngest daughter (in this case Tita) must remain unmarried and take care of her mother until her mother's death.

Like Water for Chocolate is broken into twelve chapters, monthly installments, each containing a Mexican recipe important to the story at hand. The novel uses Magic Realism to mix the ordinary with the supernatural.

The book was later adapted into a film directed by Alfonso Arau and released in 1992, which became the highest grossing Spanish-language film ever released in the United States at the time. It was also later adapted into a ballet in 2022, with choreography by Christopher Wheeldon and music by Joby Talbot.

This story provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Is it possible to have ANY sympathy for Mama Elena? And not even death will stop her from making Tita her personal stress toy.
  • Affair Letters: Elena had at least one child with a mulatto man, and Tita finds the letters about it after Elena dies.
  • Amicable Exes: Tita and John by the end of the book.
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: After Rosaura dies, Esperanza is free to marry Alex.
  • Arc Symbol: Matchboxes. John Brown's family used to say that finding love or happiness lit one of a set of internal matches, and intense love burns them all out in one go. Don't worry, it all gets explained in Chapter 12.
  • Break the Cutie:
    • Tita. Physical abuse, emotional abuse, family burdens, broken heart, loss of loved ones and finally a total breakdown.
    • Chencha, when she gets raped and has Mama Elena's verbal abuse thrown at her.
  • Butt-Monkey: Rosaura. Her husband marries her so he can be close to Tita. He makes it obvious that he prefers Tita even in front of others. She has difficult births and is unable to nurse her children. And she farts herself to death.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Pedro.
  • Chocolate Baby: Subverted that Gertrudis does not have a lot of the obvious traits which fools Elena's husband for years. Invoked when Gertrudis gives birth to a octaroon baby and Juan accuses her of having an affair until Tita informs them of Gertrudis's parentage.
  • Celebration Miscalculation: Pedro and Tita's matchsticks burning out turn into fireworks, which the rest of the village mistake for Esperanza and Alex's marriage celebration. That is, until it lasts for a whole week.
  • Contemplating Your Hands: Tita does this for a short while after her mental breakdown.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Rosaura dies while in the middle of passing fetid, sonorous gas. Pedro finds her as she literally expires, with her lips purple.
  • Died Happily Ever After: Pedro and Tita get together in death.
  • Dirty Coward: (Novel Only). When she is rendered paraplegic by bandit thugs and has no choice, but to revoke her disownment of Tita, Mamá Elena becomes this; paranoid that Tita will poison her out of vengeance now that she is unable to keep Tita under her thumb through wanton violence. Downplayed in that it doesn’t stop her from tossing verbal acrimony at Tita whenever she gets the chance.
  • Disappeared Dad: The father of the three De la Garza sisters. He died of a heart attack a day after Tita's birth after learning that Gertrudis wasn't his daughter.
  • Deus Exit Machina: When Pedro and Rosaura's first son Roberto is born, Tita is conveniently the only person around to help deliver him.
  • Death by Despair: Nacha. She was always upset because of the loss of the man she loved, but after tasting frosting accidentally mixed with Tita's tears, she crosses the Despair Event Horizon and dies of a broken heart.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Tita was sad enough after her nephew Roberto and Pedro left the ranch with Rosaura at Mama Elena's request. However, it's receiving news that Roberto died of indigestion that pushes her over the edge and makes her snap.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Mama Elena offers her older daughter Rosaura to Pedro when he asks for Tita's hand rather than closing the matter. She's then shocked on seeing how this horribly goes wrong: Tita's cooking makes everyone throw up at the wedding, Rosaura's son by Pedro dies from indigestion, and Gertrudis gets the hell out of there before she's drawn into the drama.
  • Does Not Like Soft-Boiled Eggs: Tita usually eats everything except soft-boiled eggs, at least until Mama Elena gives her a smack across the face to loosen her throat.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: It's often argued that the cockfighting scene in Chapter 10 mirrors Tita and Rosaura arguing just before - pointlessly getting so worked up over something.
  • The Dutiful Son: A gender-flipped example. De La Garza family tradition is that the youngest daughter is forbidden from getting married, having to care for her mother until her death. Tita must act like this for Mama Elena. Rosaura also intends on having her daughter, Esperanza, uphold the tradition as well. Tita protests against this, fervently. Once Rosaura dies, however, Esperanza gets Happily Married to Dr. Brown's son Alex.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex: An amusing variation. After Esperanza and Alex's wedding, the food was so good it makes everybody try to do it wherever they can. Oh, and the book goes out of its way to give us a list of places.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Or rather, the stiff traditional housewife (Rosaura) cannot comprehend passion. Thus why the amorous quail in rose petal sauce does not seem to affect her. Subverted by Mama Elena who had once been in a passionate affair who constantly tries to resist the passion of Tita's food.
  • Evil Is Petty: You would think that Mama Elena would honor her end of the tradition’s policy by allowing Tita her marital freedom (or freedom in general) after her death. You would be wrong. She returns as a poltergeist to psychologically (and physically) torture Tita for “disobeying” her; proving that for all of her authoritarian rhetoric about duty, compliance, respect, and honor, all she really wants is to make Tita suffer even more than she did.
  • Evil Matriarch: Mama Elena is this.
  • Exact Words: Double subversion. After Pedro dies, Tita can't ignite her internal matchsticks to die to be with him eternally. She instead decides to swallow her physical matchsticks in the hope of joining him, and one of them ignites.
  • Fanservice: The book goes out of its way to point out that Tita never wore a bra and that's why Pedro stared at her while she was grinding in the kitchen.
  • Food Porn: One of the most mouthwatering cases, thanks to the protagonist being a Supreme Chef.
  • For the Evulz: It's confirmed that it wasn't just tradition that had Mama Elena force Tita to care for her in old age. She just wanted a puppy to kick to vent about her ill-fated affair.
  • Foregone Conclusion: We are told explicitly by page two that Tita will never marry. That doesn't mean she won't know love, passion, or sex, though.
  • G-Rated Sex: Tita and Pedro initially have sex through the food Tita cooks, which is how she expresses herself. Specifically, Tita is, in a way, actually penetrating Pedro when he eats her cooking. Pedro's raving compliments of her cooking is also gratuitous, at least until Mama Elena "asks" him to stop. Averted later on with Juan and Gertrudis, and others, who have sex for real.
    • The book also chronicles how Tita and Pedro move away from this trope and closer to the real thing, with occurrences like Pedro seeing Tita cooking in an erotic posture to the two of them briefly fondling each other.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Tita and Rosaura. Tita and Gertrudis, however, are on better terms.
  • Gossipy Hens: A lot of the townsfolk start gossiping about Pedro marrying Rosaura, since he wanted to marry Tita instead.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: What Tita realizes Pedro becomes after he forces her to cheat on Dr. Brown.
  • Homeless Pigeon Person: Tita goes through this phase after her mother sends her sister Rosaura and Pedro away, a move that results in the death of Tita's nephew, whom she had been breastfeeding because Rosaura had been unable to feed him. In her grief, Tita takes to living in the dove-cote and treating the doves as children.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Rosaura sees how the family tradition has hurt Tita, and at least tries to come to a truce with her. Then she plans to have her own daughter never marry, and is confused when Tita protests against this.
  • I Have No Son!: Mama Elena's mentality after Gertrudis runs away.
    • Notice that she at first nomourned for her, but later swore by the trope when she learned who she ran away with: a Revolutionary soldier named Juan. And as the cherry on top, Gertrudis is apparently seen in a brothel.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: John is this.
  • It's All About Me: Rosaura tries to aid Pedro in his terrible burn injuries, but when Pedro cries for Tita instead, she shuts herself away in humiliation, worried for her image rather than Pedro.
  • Jerkass: Pedro comes off as this for many readers. Sure, he makes both Rosaura and Tita's lives extremely complicated (and destroys their already shaky sisterly bonds) with the Settle for Sibling deal, but even after he does so, he bullies and pressures Tita when Nice Guy Dr. Brown shows interest in her? Come ON, Pedro.
    • Rosaura, too; but see the YMMV page.
    • Mama Elena, FULL STOP.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Granted, Rosaura does have a lot to put up and even Tita tries to accommodate her feelings by setting up a pact. Really, Rosaura crosses the line when she decides her daughter should live up to an unfair tradition. This sets the rest of the family against her.
  • Karmic Death: Rosaura dies shortly after deciding that she's going to continue the family tradition and make her only daughter care for her in old age.
  • Lets Wait Awhile: On the first night of Pedro's and Rosaura's loveless marriage Pedro delays an uncomfortable marriage obligation with an excuse. The deed is later done to produce Roberto.
  • Lethal Chef: Rosaura, in sharp contrast to Tita. When Rosaura tries to cook a family dinner to impress Pedro, nobody likes her food. It doesn't help that she wouldn't even take Tita's advice.
  • Lie Back and Think of England: When the time comes to consummate their marriage, Pedro prays for forgiveness for any pleasure they might take out of it and that they are simply trying to produce a child to serve. In Pedro's case, he is simply fulfilling an obligation as he doesn't have any feelings for Rosaura.
  • Love at First Sight: Tita and Pedro, as well as and with Juan and Gertrudis... kinda.
  • Made of Explodium: In the Como Agua universe, we're all made of self-igniting matches. When we feel an extreme amount of happiness, one of our matches burns out. What you shouldn't do is ignite them all at once.
  • Master of the Mixed Message: What Pedro is to Rosaura and Tita. He performs obligations to his wife Rosaura, yet keeps acting on his lust for Tita every chance he gets. Years later, Tita calls Pedro out on this and she and Rosaura try to set up 20 year pact over sharing Pedro.
  • Only Sane Man: Pedro's father. He tells his son that it is downright stupid for him to marry Rosaura when he doesn't love her. If Pedro had listened to him, a lot of the conflict would have been avoided.
  • Only Sane Woman: Gertrudis manages to avoid most of the family drama because she's not the target of Mama Elena's scorn. She runs away with a soldier before the lady can start making her suffer as well.
  • Out with a Bang: Pedro, while making true love to Tita for the first time.
  • Parental Hypocrisy: Mama Elena was in a forbidden affair once. Not that Elena actually cares for Tita's welfare.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: One scene in which Tita attempts to drown her sorrows with apricot liqueur over Pedro's marriage to Rosaura instead was not included in the film. Another scene in the book in which the chickens on the ranch go crazy for whatever reason and bore a hole in the earth was not included, either.
  • Rape as Drama: Poor Chencha.
  • Romantic Runner-Up: Dr. Brown.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Very present, sometimes going hand-in-hand with the Magic Realism in the story. The various recipes in the story are usually some kind of symbol as well.
  • Sadist: Mama Elena. There are some passages and shots that indicate not only does she use extreme physical force to keep everyone in line, but also to gain excitement and some catharsis from it; especially, when she inflicts it on Tita.
  • Settle for Sibling: Pedro marries Rosaura in order to be close to Tita, the one he truly loves.
  • Sexy Priest: The film throws in a shot of him going to participate in the ending!
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: After waiting for Mama Elena and Rosaura to die and Esperanza to grow up and get married before they can be together, Pedro goes Out with a Bang and Tita is Driven to Suicide.
  • Stalking is Love: This seems to be Pedro's idea of love as he spies on her lustfully as she showers. Subverted that Tita is incredibly displeased at Pedro's peeping.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Tita and Pedro. Curse you, tradition!
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: This is both deconstructed and played straight:
    • Tita's losing her virginity to Pedro while she is engaged to Dr. John Brown is portrayed as weak and disrespectul. Tita realizes that though Dr. Brown is not the one she would spend the rest of the life with, she stills loves and respects him as her savior and gathers the courage to call off the wedding.
    • Before the Doctor comes in, Pedro's acts of adultery are portrayed as hope for Tita's and Pedro's love... yet some readers feel that Rosaura, who is not fine with it, has every right to be pissed. There is arguably Character Development for Tita who does start to take Rosaura's, albeit selfish, emotions into account (though retaining her resentment for Rosaura for passively marrying Pedro is still questionable).
    • Played straight in that Pedro gets Tita's love and forgiveness at the end, despite doing nothing to deserve her affection, other than regretting his marriage to Rosaura.
  • Supreme Chef: Nacha and Tita.
  • Tangled Family Tree: John Brown's family tree is particularly complicated and takes half a page to explain. Plus the book insists on giving us a rundown of the personality of every one of them for a subplot about Tita hallucinating.
  • This Is Unforgivable!: Tita tries to make peace with Rosaura, understanding her perspective about the marriage to Pedro being a sham. Then Rosaura reveals that she will not allow her only daughter Esperanza to marry because she will be expected to take care of Rosaura in old age. Tita calls her out for this, as she will put her only child through the same hell that Tita suffered.
  • Time Skip: Officially the book takes place over 12 months, but the book regularly hops 10 years or so into the future and back a few years to talk about events they missed.
  • Title Drop: Used to describe Tita's highly volatile and irritable mood. It's a traditional Mexican proverb relating to how chocolate and hot water go well together.
  • Too Many Cooks Spoil the Soup:
    • Inverted when Rosaura takes control of the kitchen. She can't cook and doesn't have Tita's appreciation for food, and it tastes awful.
    • Played for laughs when Gertrudis, a fellow awful cook, tries to cook to give Tita and Pedro time to talk things over. She ends up getting one of the men under her command, Sgt. Treviño, to follow the recipe for cream fritters even though he is barely literate. Somehow, he manages to do a decent job.
  • Toxic Family Influence: Tita's sister Rosaura decides to follow their mother's example and forbid her own daughter, Esperanza, to marry and take care of her mother until her death. Tita cannot understand why Rosaura wants this, having witnessed all the misery caused by this tradition.
  • Trippy Finale Syndrome: After Esperanza and Alex Brown marry, everyone runs away to have sex wherever they can (even in tree tops). Pedro and Tita go into the home and make love in a room set up by Nacha’s ghost. Pedro has a heart attack and dies in the middle of it. Tita eats matches to die with him. The house catches fire and burns to the ground. But it’s all good because now the ashes of their passion made the ranch fertile and Esperanza finds Tita’s cookbook/journal. Which she bequeaths to her own daughter.
  • Troubled Fetal Position: Tita assumes this position when hiding in the dovecote, after crossing the Despair Event Horizon.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Justified given Tita’s likely lack of familiarity with men's bodies:
    While she was receiving a kiss on the lips, Pedro took her hand in his and invited her to explore his body. Tita timidly touched the hard muscles on Pedro's chest, lower down, she felt a red-hot coal that throbbed through her clothes.
  • Vengeful Ghost: Mama Elena returns as one to resume making Tita’s life a living hell. Its downplayed in that unlike most examples of this trope, Tita didn’t do anything wrong or cause Elena’s death. The latter just wants to spite her for wanting to be with the love of her life.
  • Villain Ball: Mama Elena makes Tita cook for Pedro and Rosaura. Even though Nacha’s death leaves Tita as the only person who can cook decent food in the house, Tita's food causes trouble for everyone in the family by revealing their true feelings.
  • Vomit Chain Reaction: Every single person (save Tita) at Pedro and Rosaura's wedding, after eating the cake with her tears mixed in. Special mention goes to Rosaura, who is covered in vomit despite her attempts to evade it and has her wedding dress ruined.
    • Vomit Discretion Shot: Unlike the sea of vomit described in the book, no one is shown actually vomiting on-screen in the film.
  • Wedding Bells... for Someone Else: The reader is led to think the wedding in Chapter 12 is for Tita and John... until we find out John is only there for his son, Alex.
  • Wedlock Block
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Pedro tries to do this to Tita for being engaged to the doting, loving Dr. Brown. In return Tita angrily calls out against Pedro's ridiculous rationalization "me marrying your sister to be close to you meant nothing to you?!" Pedro does not seem to catch on until 20 years later.
  • You Can Leave Your Hat On: The way Getrudis leaves the ranch. After her shower cubicle catches fire she runs out to be rescued on horseback by Juan, a revolutionary. Of course, it's played up in the film too.
When she is kidnapped by revolutionaries, Gertrudis runs across the ranch field naked and climbs onto the soldier's horse. Of course, it's played up in the film too.
  • You Monster!: A downplayed example. After Tita receives news of the death of her nephew, Roberto, she tells Mama Elena, "You did it, you killed Roberto!"In a way, she just might be right, because Mama Elena sent Roberto and his family off the ranch, away from Tita, at a time where the only thing Roberto would eat/drink was Tita's (magic) breast milk...

Alternative Title(s): Like Water For Chocolate