The mother-daughter relationship is fraught with difficulty from its inception, when Tita is brought into the world prematurely after her father’s sudden death. Mama Elena is the opposite of a nurturer, never forging any bond with Tita. Tita, as a result develops a relationship with food that gives her power later. Tita’s oldest sister Rosaura marries Pedro after Mama Elena orders her too. Pedro agrees, and a heartbroken, angry Tita, begins to find her strength in her cooking, using it to express her sadness, love, joy, and anger.
Her emotions and passions are impetus for expression and action, not through the normal means of communication, however through the food she prepares which begin to affect the people she feeds. It especially affects her sister’s husband’s Pedro, leading them to an affair. Only then she is able to consummate her love with Pedro through the food she serves. This is clearly much more than communication through food or mere aphrodisiac; this is a form of sexual release whereby the rose petal sauce the quail recipe represents Tita’s body.
The revelation that Mama Elena had an adulterous affair with an African American, and her second daughter, Gertrudis is the offspring of that relationship is an important thematic compliment to Tita’s deprivation. This transgression of the norms of proper behavior remains hidden from public view, although there is gossip, however it is only when Mama Elena dies when Tita learns Gertrudis, is her half-sister. The life long tyranny of the mother toward Tita is a result of Mama Elena’s shame and lost love. The reaction of these women to Mama Elena’s predicament helps delineate their differing characters. Mama Elena is angry and punishes everybody else for her loss of love turning her into a sinister and domineering mother to her daughters meanwhile Tita, takes her sadness of her lost love, making it work for her through her cooking.
The oldest daughter, Rosaura never questions her mother’s authority and tries to follow her dictation submissively. After she is married she becomes a pale comparison of Mama Elena, lacking the strength, skill, and determination of her mother. She therefore tries to live the model, invoking her mother’s authority because she has none of her own. Gertrudis does not challenge her mother but instead responds to her emotions and passions in a direct manner unbecoming a lady. This physical directness leads her to adopt an androgynous life-style and leaves home and her mother’s authority escapes from the brothel and becomes a general of the Revolutionary army, taking a subordinate as a lover. She returns home as a dominant sexual, being dressing like a man, and giving orders like a man.
Tita, the youngest of the three sisters, speaks out against her mother’s authority arbitrary rule but cannot escape until she temporarily loses her mind. She induces sadness, and
physical discomfort through her cooking by keeping Rosaura, fat, having bad breath, and frequently breaking nauseating wind, therefore keeping Pedro from having sexual relations with her and becomes pregnant with Pedro’s child. Thus we get to know these woman as persons however, above all, becomes involved with the embodied speaking subject from the past, Tita, represents by her grand-niece (who tells the story) and her cooking.
The reader receives verbal food as an imaginative refiguration of one’s woman response to the model that was imposed on her on her by accident of birth. The body of these women is in the place of the living. It is the dwelling place of the human subject. The essential questions of health, illness, pregnancy, childbirth, sexual, and morals are tied together very directly in the novel to the emotional and physical needs of the body. The preparation and eating of food is thus a symbolic representation of living.
Mama Elena lingers on in partial madness until long after an attack on the hacienda by outlaws; convinced that Tita is trying to poison her. She cuts her death short to one sudden violent episode and having her visage returns to taunt Tita by cursing the child she is carrying and to renounce her heritage. Tita defeats the ghost by telling her that she knows Gertrudis is illegitimate and hates Mama Elena for everything she never been to her. The rigidity and harshness of Mama Elena is overwhelmingly sociocultural and not peculiar to Tita as a victim.
The cook Nacha, who is the only one who gives Tita the love she always wanted from her mother, represents a symbol of integrity. She is the one who teaches Tita how to express her feelings through cooking. Tita herself is a symbol of integrity in the beginning of the book. The writer shows her as a victim of archaic cultural rules keeping her from her one true love. It is only until she realizes her power through her cooking when she loosens her moral integrity to take revenge at the people who have hurt her. So, this makes Tita a hero fighting against the tyranny of Mama Elena.
Tita’s magic are all related to food, with the exception of the kilometer long bedspread she knits during lengthy nights of insomnia. Tita’s cooking controls the pattern of those living in the household because the food she prepares is an extension of her. The vomiting and moroseness at Rosaura’s wedding, is the result of the guests eating the cake of Tita’s tears. Likewise, the sexual frenzy that compels Gertrudis to leave the ranch is occasioned by the transmission of Tita’s passion for Pedro into the dish she prepares for dinner. These incidents suggest a simultaneous and uncontrollability of emotion; food is a potent force in the world of the novel, and lets Tita assert her identity through immorality like her sisters and mother.
Esquivel extends the religious–mythical morals of magical realism to the everyday world of the domestic realm of a female-dominated household. This strategy leads the reader to also explore the feminist properties of "Like water for chocolate", which are also evident in the depictions of Tita’s struggle for independence and develop her identity through her immorality.
In creating this female-centered cast of characters, Esquivel imagines a world in which men are physically present occasionally, though the legacy of sexism and the confinement of woman to freely express their emotions to the domestic sphere persist. Esquivel does not offer readers the vision of a Utopian sisterhood, Esquivel instead brings insight into the way women are restricted by standards of societal propriety perpetuated by other woman.
Reference site: Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel