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The time: the turn of the 20th century (1910-1917); the place: a ranch somewhere far off in Mexico. Something is cooking in the kitchen—and yes we do mean that literally and figuratively. The narrator of Like Water For Chocolate is the great-niece of Tita De la Garza, the main protagonist of the novel.
"It wasn't easy for [Tita] whose knowledge of life was based on the kitchen to comprehend the outside world" (1, 7). From the very beginning, we realize that Tita's life is really, really unfair. Here's a point by point summary of just how sucky things are in her life:
So Tita is up against a lot. Luckily for us, she's a true fighter and muscles through her hardships with grace and cunning. One way she does this? She expresses her love for Pedro through her food. Halfway through the novel, she escapes from the ranch with John. After Nacha dies, she keeps her close by cooking and continuing on the family recipes.
Cooking, for Tita, is a form of therapy (chicken enchiladas are good for the soul.). It helps her through physical and mental abuse by her mom, losing her nephew, depression, and more. Of course, there are other elements besides family drama—there's a war going on.
And not just any war—for Mexico, it was the BIG war, the one in which peasants and natives came together under the leadership of the likes of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata to revolt against the current dictatorship. These men and women wanted a free Mexico, a democratic Mexico, and set the country boiling, much like the women under the tyrannical rule of Mama Elena.