Study Guide

Like Water for Chocolate Themes

By Laura Esquivel

  • Family

    We are family, I got all my sisters with me. Family, la familia, the gang, whatever you want to call them, they're there for better or worse. In the case of the De la Garza clan, family is a major source of pain, suffering, repression, and injustice. To survive, one has to either fight or submit. Kind of like the revolution in Mexico (a backdrop that we'd like to personally tip our hat to), the ranch is a symbolic battlefield for every single member of the family, and a huge source of drama.

    Questions About Family

    1. Do you think Mama Elena is justified in her treatment of Tita?
    2. Is Tita like her mother? Why or why not?
    3. Which sister manages to attain freedom, if any?
    4. What role do men play (or not play) in the family in Like Water for Chocolate?

    Chew on This

    The reason Mama Elena is so hard on Tita is because she doesn't want her to make the same mistakes she made when it comes to family and love.

    Tita decides to stay at the ranch for so long because she doesn't know how to live without her mother, or under the rule of her mother.

  • Love

    All you need is love. To love and have lost is better than to have never loved at all. We could go on and on with the sappy, mushy stuff, but we gotta wonder—is love really a source of joy or pain in this novel? It seems like most of the characters are tortured by some lost or forbidden love, restricted either by the time period or familial duty. Or, maybe love is drag if you're a woman. Let's face it—women in this novel don't have much power when it comes to choosing a mate (look at Mama Elena, Rosaura, Tita, even Gertrudis). The question is, is it worth the fight?

    Questions About Love

    1. Is this novel ultimately in support of love? Or does it function as a warning of the dangers of love?
    2. Do the novel's female characters experience love differently than the males?
    3. How do you interpret the lack of love between the family members in this book? Or do they simply love each other too much?

    Chew on This

    The only people who suffer as a result of love are women.

    Gertrudis is happy with her partner because she was able to escape the ranch.

  • Sexuality

    Let's talk about sex baby, let's talk about you and me…or, you know, not talk about it ever. Not too different from current times in the U.S. (abstinence only, anyone?), sex and sexual relations are definitely not supposed to happen before marriage. At least, that is, if you're a woman. A huge part of this book is how the female characters navigate the issue of sex and all the baggage that comes with it—body image issues/shame, body confusion, sexual repression, and sexual liberation. We'd like to point out how little of an issue sexuality is for the men in the book. It makes you think…has much changed?

    Questions About Sexuality

    1. Why do you think it's necessary for Gertrudis to go work in a brothel?
    2. Could the encounter Pedro and Tita have in the dark room be considered sexual abuse?
    3. Are men more or less sexual in Like Water for Chocolate?
    4. What are the different ways in which Mama Elena, Tita, Rosaura, and Gertrudis deal with their sexuality or sexual frustration?

    Chew on This

    Not allowing women to have sex before marriage is a way of controlling them.

    The only sexually liberated woman in the novel is Gertrudis. Is she happier, or more successful as a result of her corporal explorations?

  • Freedom/Liberation

    "Give me liverty, or give me death."

    For much of the novel, Tita is trying or longing to break free of the rule of Mama Elena. For many reasons, it takes a while for her to get off the ranch (many, many years). When she does finally leave, she is able to live as an individual for the first time in her life. The other character that does this? Gertrudis. As with our theme of love, it seems like the two daughters are on one side of the battle (rebels) against more conventional and, at times, powerful forces of Mama Elena and Rosaura (the Federales).

    Questions About Freedom/Liberation

    1. Does Tita attain freedom when she goes to live with John?
    2. Does any female character attain freedom without the help of a male?
    3. Was Mama Elena a liberated woman? Why or why not?
    4. Does freedom mean having nothing left to lose? Is anyone in Like Water for Chocolate free?

    Chew on This

    The only way for Tita to be free was to die.

    Gertrudis attained true freedom from her mother and family by running away. Does this make her brave or a coward?

  • Violence/Abuse (Physical and Mental)

    From a very early age, Tita experiences a heavy dose of abuse from her mother. She is spanked, beaten, insulted, and berated numerous times throughout the novel. Despite this (or because of it), we think Tita is a pretty tough enchilada. We think violence is used throughout the novel as a form of control, and it's not exclusively a Mama Elena tactic. Look at the soldiers in the Mexican revolution (or any war, for that matter). People often turn to violence when they can't come to an agreement, when they don't know how to communicate. Then again, could we argue that violence is a form of communication?

    Questions About Violence/Abuse (Physical and Mental)

    1. Why does Mama Elena only abuse Tita? Why is she so hard on her?
    2. Does Rosaura follow in the path of Mama Elena? How so?
    3. Would you consider Tita to be a passive character? Does she allow herself to be abused?
    4. What do you think the motivations are for Mama Elena's form of parenting?

    Chew on This

    Violence is a form of communication in the De la Garza household.

    Mama Elena, a woman, is more violent than any of the men in Like Water for Chocolate.

  • Cooking as a Remedy

    Babies born on kitchen tables, quail and rose petals burning up sexual appetites, ox-tail soup for the mommy-battered soul; cooking and food is so much more than a remedy, so much more than a theme. It's a way to gather people together, to recall lost loves and childhood sweethearts. Tita knows better than anyone in the novel how much food can mean to a person, especially for someone who wants to be free and can't be.

    Questions About Cooking as a Remedy

    1. Do you think cooking allows Tita to find freedom on the ranch? Is she controlled by anybody in the kitchen?
    2. What power does cooking have over Tita? Over the people who eat her dishes?
    3. Which dish do you think has the most power in the novel and why?
    4. Do you think chapter 6 is considered cooking? Is John also a sort of healer?

    Chew on This

    For Tita, violence is not a form of communication but cooking is.

    Cookbooks are a form of literature and should be read and shared within families.

  • Men and Masculinity

    This is a man's world, and we're not surprised, what with a revolution in full swing and a pretty machismo culture. Of course, this is way back in the day. Nowadays in Mexico, men and women are equal…right? Just like men and women are equal in the United States. Right? Hmm. As much as we'd like to believe that all that macho stuff is in the past, we're not quite sure it is. Just look at the books you read in English lit (by male authors), and the movie directors (only one woman has ever won the Oscar for Best Director), and the politicians (have we ever had a female president in the US?)…the list goes on and on. Then again, without women, men wouldn't exist.

    Questions About Men and Masculinity

    1. Do you think Mama Elena could be considered macho? Why or why not?
    2. The only man who lives on the ranch is Pedro. Does he have a lot of power?
    3. Mama Elena says at one point she doesn't need a man. Do you think that's true?
    4. Can you find any instances of equality between men and women in Like Water for Chocolate?

    Chew on This

    Men aren't the cause of suffering in the novel, women are.

    The only way to survive in a man's world is to act like a man.

  • Tradition/Society

    Rules, rules, and more rules. It seems to us that living on a ranch in Mexico during the Revolution as a woman is no walk in thepark. Everything these people do and say is scrutinized and controlled—from the dances they dance to the people they love. It makes us feel pretty darn lucky to have freedom of choice, but also pretty inspired with how some of the characters manage to break free…

    Questions About Tradition/Society

    1. Why do you think Mama Elena is harder on Tita than her other daughters?
    2. Do you think Tita was right in staying so long at the ranch? Should she have left earlier?
    3. Why do you think the rule of the youngest child was first started?
    4. How important is marriage and family in Like Water for Chocolate?

    Chew on This

    The tradition of the youngest daughter taking care of the mother is a form of enslavement.

    The only character to break free of societal norms is Gertrudis.

  • Race

    Indians, mulattoes, and gringos, oh my. Although not always at the forefront, the theme of race is like a giant cactus in the room that nobody wants to talk about. We think it's worthy of note that the women who are in the kitchen are almost exclusively of Indigenous blood, minus Tita. And that the women who are indigenous are significantly more superstitious or magical in some form or another. Not to mention the scandal and drama that comes with anyone with just a tiny bit of African blood in them… Ah, the good ol' 1900s.

    Questions About Race

    1. What powers does Nacha have that other women don't in Like Water for Chocolate?
    2. Do you think Tita could be categorized as indigenous? Why or why not?
    3. Compare and contrast the mulatto characters of Jose and Gertrudis.
    4. How does Dr. Brown, a gringo (white male), fit into the world of the Mexicans?

    Chew on This

    Both Indigenous characters and Indigenous people are kept hidden away or pushed out by society.

    Tita successfully joins the worlds of both Mexicans and Indigenous people.