The Magical Realism in the Novel Like Water for Chocolate
Like Water for Chocolate is the debut novel of the modern Mexican writer Laura Esquivel. This work “has thrust this Mexican woman writer into the world of international critical acclaim as well as best-seller popularity” (de Valdes 78). It harmoniously unites the tradition of Latin American magic realism, the felicity of phrase and the depth of emotions. The novel opens the new phase in the development of the Latin American magical realism. It paradoxically unites the reality and fantasy, the history of love and the recipes of the Mexican cuisine, sensuality, and mysticism. Thus, Laura Esquivel does not resemble Gabriel Garcia Marquez with his severe and global-mythological world-view. The analyzed novel touches upon the only kind of magic – the magic of women, of love, which is culinary-sexual. This paper is an attempt to consider the peculiarities of the style of the Mexican writer Laura Esquivel in the novel Like Water for Chocolate.
The magical realism is an artistic method in which the description of the reality incorporates magical elements. It is a peculiar tendency in the Latin American literature of the 20th century, which is not the same as the genre of fiction in European literature. According to Faris, the text which is written in the genre of magical realism contains an “irreducible element” of magic”. Moreover, “the descriptions in magical realism detail a presence of the phenomenal world… and the reader may experience some unsettling doubts in the effort to reconcile the two contradictory understandings of events”. The author argues that magical realism changes the usual ideas about time, space, and identity (“Ordinary Enchantments” 7).
Indeed, , the main characters of the books written in the genre of magical realism are usually Indians or black men. They represent Latin American cultural originality with its irrational consciousness and magical world-outlook. The characters are the subjects of the collective mythological consciousness: “the idea that reality contains magical elements is inseparable from the cultural assumptions of the people who embrace such ideas and are reflective to their system of beliefs” (Srikanth 329). Thus, the individual nature is not significant. The author that creates a book in the tradition of magical realism always replaces the civilized view with the outlook of the primitive person with his mythological ideology.
The analyzed novel of Laura Esquivel embodies these distinct features of magical realism with particular peculiarities. Thus, Like Water for Chocolate is a natural continuation of the development of this artistic tendency in Latin America. The whole book resembles the myth, in which “anything could be true or false, depending on whether one believed it” (Esquivel 57). It is an interweaving of different scenarios, different destinies, and world-views. However, each of them is magical and original. Every life develops against the similar mythological background, where the meals can suggest the particular mood, the products may feel the cook, and dead people may come to the real world to help or disturb us.
No one wonders the unordinary things that happen because the whole world seems to be full of miracles. Due to such world-outlook, the relationships between the world and people are closer and more sincere. Tita De la Garza, who is the main character in the novel, embodies such attitude towards the universe. She feels deep every movement of her life. As the author of the novel writes, “she was already crying as she emerged, maybe that was because she knew then that it would be her lot in life to be denied marriage” (Esquivel 1). She understands a close connection of the universal laws and her life. Thus, she perceives the world from the inside. Such perspective is also one of the most peculiar features of magical realism.
At the same time, this engagement in the life does not mean the impossibility to choose and influence the consequences. Tita can take responsibility for her actions in the context of magical floating reality, which is not hostile towards her. On the contrary, this symbiosis of the human mentality and the spirit of the world, where different dimensions exist together, enables people to live according to their intuition. Moreover, it helps a person to feel the support and answer of the whole universe when the difficult times come.
This novel is the story inside of the narrative about the life as the rebellion and struggle of Tita. Her world was the kitchen and its flavors, where magic and love existed together. As Esquivel writes, that world was an endless expanse that began at the door between the kitchen and the rest of the house, whereas everything on the kitchen side of that door, on through the door leading to the patio and the kitchen and herb gardens was completely hers—it was Tita’s realm. (Esquivel 2).
Tita is not an ordinary person. Her inner constitution is unique. Tita can see the things in the unique way, which other people could not approach. The instrument of her self-realization and the field of her creativity is the kitchen. She perceives the process of cooking as if it was magic in action. Being a real professional that feels the opportunities of this activity, Tita is able to change the world around. Her emotions and feelings are the instruments in the practical life. When her elder sister marries Pedro, who loves Tita, she embodies all her pain and sorrow in her creations – the meal for the celebration. All the guests experience Tita’s heartache. They can feel the pain and inner torments (Esquivel 20).
Thus, in the world that magical realism creates everything can become a medium; everything may turn into something else. There are no stable meanings. Moreover, there are no unchangeable things. It is always possible to transform the reality with the help of the personal contact with it. Furthermore, the reality has its inner sense. Although everything floats, the universe has the ultimate meaning. Not everyone can get to this sense because it is necessary to be “in” it and feel its rhythm. Tita knows the world via the smells; she sees the soul in everything around her. Therefore, she is sympathetic to every expression of life.
In Tita’s case, this meaning of the world is the true love and freedom. Although she experiences the love throughout her life, the only moment Tita understands its real essence is extremely swift-flowing at the end of her life. The author describes this state of the soul:
If a strong emotion suddenly lights all the candles we carry inside ourselves, it creates a brightness that shines far beyond our normal vision and then a splendid tunnel appears that shows us the way that we forgot when were born and calls us to recover our lost divine origin. The soul longs to return to the place it came from, leaving the body lifeless. (Esquivel 117)
Why is such an approach of magical realism appropriate to the story narrated by Laura Esquivel? In my opinion, the tools of magical realism give an opportunity to construct the reality, which the readers cannot put in the defined measures. Magical realism is always the combination of fantasy and the real story. The books written in this genre stresses:
the existence of an irreducible element that is unexplainable according to the laws of the universe as they have been formulated by modern, post-enlightenment empiricism, with its heavy reliance on sensory data, together with a preponderance of realistic event, character, and description that conform to the conventions of literary realism. (Faris, “The Question of the Other” 102)
With the help of the combination of different elements of magic and history, Laura Esquivel endeavors to express the world-view of the Mexican people at the beginning of the 20th century, when Mexico was not a developed country. The majority of people lived in mythological world. It was just another type of rationality that we possess nowadays. In the book, the author inserts the character of John for the demonstration of the parallel way of thinking, which resembles the rational Western attitude. Such contrast helps to understand better the motivations and peculiarities of Tita’s understanding of the world.
Moreover, the tools of the magical realism make possible the comprehension of the long period of time in the past better because the author directly appeals to readers’ emotions and feelings. There is no need for Laura Esquivel to retell the history of the Mexican revolution in terms of the history of the family who lived at that time. The book is not about the revolutionary developments of the beginning of the 20th century in Mexico. Laura Esquivel, in my opinion, stresses the complex of the real social problems and their reflection in the inner world and outer activity of Tita and her family. Their persuasions, way of life with its rules, moments of happiness and sorrow – these all aspects are the prism to perceive the world of the Mexican people of that time.
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However, this book is not only about the past. Laura Esquivel manages to bridge the past and the present. The cuisine, the traditions, smells and collective memory help to achieve this target. The power of family traditions and the recollections of the past are real phenomena. However, not all literature genres are able to illustrate the full extent of their influence and significance. Therefore, the style, which the author has chosen, fits the best the context and the task of this novel.
Thus, it is convenient to use the tools that magical realism provides to describe the outlook of the people, who do not oppose the reality, but dive in it having their personal persuasions and desires.
To sum up, the analyzed novel of Laura Esquivel continues the traditions of magical realism that is a peculiar genre in the Latin American literature development since the 20th century. She reconsiders the principles of this style and applies it in order to picture the nearest past, which premises our modernity. She perfectly shows the deep feelings and experience of people in their close connection to the universal laws and its character. According to the author, all people have different destinies but they all belong to the same world. The differences between them are just in their ability to feel the world and its hints, to maintain the tradition, which is the bridge between the generations. Thus, our power is in our history and activity in the real practical life now and here. Such sophisticated interweaving of different dimensions of humans’ life can be exactly described by means of magical realism, which is reflected in the novel of Laura Esquivel Like Water for Chocolate.