Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate shows contrasts in many of the characters throughout the lifetime of Tita. Tita’s role as the protagonist reveals her struggle within the family, but also her development as a care-taker and nurturer throughout the novel. Rosaura’s spite for Pedro’s love of Tita causes a rift between the sisters, but also gives the reader a close look at the type of woman she is as compared to Rosaura. Through the pairing of Tita and Rosaura in sisterhood, Tita is revealed to be a more complete woman in physical and nurturing characteristics while Rosaura’s bitterness and spite eat away at her until she passes.
One of the most illustrative comparisons between Tita and Rosaura involves descriptions of physicality, especially towards the end of the novel. Tita is described as the more beautiful of the two sisters, while Rosaura is viewed as more plain and undesirable (Esquivel 67). Tita’s beauty advances as she ages, growing and developing into a very attractive woman. She is the more vivacious and active child from youth, and as she grows she is consistently seen as more attractive than Rosaura physically and emotionally – which is the cause of Pedro’s love for the sweet, caring Tita as opposed to the bitter, less attractive Rosaura. Tita and Pedro’s love begins as an ineffable feeling of desire and emotion that they can barely control in their youth. Pedro’s marriage to Rosaura is the only vector through which he can be with Tita, so he marries her without love or attraction (Esquivel 15). As they age, Rosaura becomes gradually more undesirable as notes of Tita’s beauty are woven into the novel. Dr. Brown is surprised by Tita’s beauty, but Rosaura is seen as becoming more and more overweight and prone to flatulence (Esquivel 74). Rosaura’s condition seems to grow out of envy for Tita’s beauty and Pedro’s love for Tita, and she dies a bloated, overweight cynic.
From the beginning of their lives, Tita and Rosaura have different relationships with their mother. Mama Elena demands the utmost respect from her children, and Rosaura is a poster child in her eyes. Even in the beginning, her suggestion of Rosaura’s hand in marriage in place of Tita’s showed an air of favoritism. Tita was to serve Mama Elena for life, but her rebellions caused Mama Elena to put a tighter chokehold on Tita’s life. Her rebellions began as Mama Elena demanded her children to refer to her as “Mami” (Esquivel 13). Tita, being the only daughter to resist this command, began her rebellion from a young age. Rosaura’s submissiveness is shown through the novel as she treats Mama Elena with the utmost respect. In Mexican culture, the mother is supposed to serve as the cook and caretaker for the family, and the father is the unquestionable head of household reserving the right to be in charge of all family decisions without question (Meleen). Without Tita’s father there, Mama Elena assumes the role of the effective father of the family. Tita’s protest of her inability to marry and indifference toward her mother are signs of disrespect in Mexican culture, but Rosaura’s inherent submissiveness causes Mama Elena to favor her over Tita.
As Rosaura has children, there are clear symbols that show the difference between the maternal instincts and nurturing abilities of Tita and Rosaura. After the birth of Roberto, Rosaura is unable to produce breastmilk. The common practice of the time was to search for a wet nurse, but with no one able, Tita finds herself able to produce milk (Esquivel 76). The only way that breastmilk is produced is through giving birth, yet her ability to produce milk shows us that Tita was supposed to be the mother of Roberto – not Rosaura (Lowen). During Roberto’s time in Mexico, Tita is the de facto mother of the child and serves in the traditional mother role by cooking and caring for the child (Meleen). Rosaura’s mothering abilities begin with her ineptitude to produce milk and culminate with the death of Roberto. When Rosaura and Pedro move to San Antonio, they are unable to care for Roberto and he dies. Tita comes into her own as a mother during this time, serving the same role that Nacha did for her. Rosaura’s second child Esperanza is kept in Mexico and Tita serves once again as the effective caretaker. She attempts to prevent Esperanza’s marriage, proving her shortcomings as a mother align with Mama Elena. However, Esperanza’s marriage is the ultimate success of Tita essentially mothering the Esperanza and escaping the cycle of the De La Garza tradition.
The cycle of the youngest daughter taking care of the mother without marrying is a large part of the De La Garza history. Tita attempts to escape this cycle herself as she initially attempts to marry Pedro, but Rosaura is seen to uphold tradition up until her death. Rosaura goes her whole life without questioning Mama Elena’s orders or anything dictated about the customs of the family. She carries these traditions on to her children, and seemingly she carries on the bitterness of Mama Elena as well. Tita’s growth through the book is shown through her eventual decision to not marry, but she does not continue to uphold the traditions. Throughout her life, she despised the De La Garza’s imposition upon the youngest daughter as she worried she would never be able to love. Tita never marries but instead takes joy in the marriage of Esperanza, who effectively becomes her daughter through the death of Rosaura. Tita’s nurturing and mothering wins over the tradition of the De La Garza family, as Esperanza grows to be “feminine and womanly, in the fullest sense of the word” (Esquivel 240).
Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate develops Rosaura and Tita into two polar opposite characters. Tita, who was raised in the kitchen, serves as a nurturer and becomes a great mother-figure without ever having a child, while Rosaura fails to ever truly become a mother. She never cares for her children in the same manner that Tita does and fails to see the shortcomings of Mama Elena’s parenting. The magical realism of the book serves to exaggerate and empower certain emotions through the book. Through this literary mode, emotions drive a lot of actions through this book, but often the emotions can contain physical implications as well, such as Rosaura’s case. Rosaura’s resentment and near hatred of Tita seems to foster and worsen her gastrointestinal condition. Pedro never loves Rosaura, and she just becomes more and more bitter and resentful of Tita as Pedro is still evidently in love with Tita. These characters serve as great foils to each other as Tita grows out of her bitterness for her fate as a single woman and finds joy in other things, but Rosaura dies pitifully due to her digestive issues, still envying Tita for the love she never could have from Pedro.
Esquivel, Laura. Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments, with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies. New York: Doubleday, 1995. Print.
Linda, Lowen. “Would You Let Another Women Nurse Your Children? A History of Wet Nurses.” About.com News & Issues. About News, 4 Dec. 2014. Web. 09 Feb. 2016.
Meleen, Michelle. “Mexican Family Culture.” LoveToKnow. Lifestyle, n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2016.