Discuss the role of magical realism in the novel.
Magical realism allows Esquivel to join the ordinary and the supernatural. It imbues her work with fantasy but also enhances the use of metaphor and symbolism. Instead of suggesting that everyone has a fire within, magical realism permits the idea that every character literally has a matchbook within him or her that can be lit aflame. Magical realism elevates the figurative language of the work into literal occurrence.
Discuss the relationship between smells and memory in the novel.
Smells from food and nature remind many characters of their joyful or painful pasts. The smell of roses reminds Juan Alejandrez of the day he first met Gertrudis, and the smell of Ox-tail soup reminds Tita of Nacha. Through smells, as through food, the characters are able to access hidden memories.
Explain the significance of food in the novel. How does it affect characters' behaviors?
Food frequently has the power of changing characters’ emotions and affecting their behaviors. Tita often conveys her powerful emotions to others through her cooking as in the instance when she shares her feeling of longing through Rosaura and Pedro’s wedding cake. Likewise, food also has the ability to heal. Inevitably, cooking always reminds Tita of Nacha, the surrogate mother from whom she inherited all the recipes.
How are the characters affected by the war? Does the war play a primary or secondary role in the novel?
The war is frequently a harbinger of bad news in the work. It claims more than one life and causes random inconveniences throughout the novel. However, the war never assumes a truly primary role in the characters’ lives even though Gertrudis becomes a General in the Revolutionary Army. Rather, the war exists almost exclusively as background. No dates, little context, and few names are provided to sufficiently describe it.
How do Tita's feelings towards Mama Elena evolve?
Until Mama Elena dies, Tita considers her to be a “castrating mother,” one who is too rigid and who inhibits the happiness of others. After discovering Mama Elena’s forbidden lover José Treviño Tita begins to understand the woman better. However, when Mama Elena’s ghost returns and continues to haunt Tita she finally expresses her hate for her mother and casts her spirit away.
Discuss Elena's role as a mother.
Mama Elena is a powerful matriarch. She lives by tradition and strictly enforces the rules of the ranch. Mama Elena’s lack of compassion drives many away from her including some of her daughters. Nevertheless, Mama Elena reveals the well-meaning intentions behind her brashness when she defends Chencha from the ravaging bandits. In a way, she is only trying to protect her daughters.
Discuss the structure of the novel. Why does Esquivel decide to begin each chapter with a recipe?
The structure of the work models both a diary and the cookbook Tita leaves behind for Esperanza. The structure fuses life and food in the same way that they are joined in Tita’s life. Beginning each chapter with a recipe reinforces that the food is just as central as, if not more central than, the actions that follow.
Compare the love feels for Dr. Brown and the love she feels for Pedro
Tita frequently remarks that Dr. Brown makes her feel at peace and stable. However, she feels intense heat whenever Pedro touches her or looks her way. Dr. Brown represents a practical and safe love while Pedro excites an unchecked passion in Tita.
Explain the significance of tradition in the work.
Tradition both blesses and curses the characters in Esquivel’s work. Tradition tragically keeps Tita from marrying the love of her life, yet tradition also gives Tita one of her greatest pleasures in life, cooking. Tita shares the cooking tradition that she inherits from Nacha through her cookbook. It passes through generations of De la Garza women and at last finds its way to us, the readers, through Esquivel’s work.
What does Tita's bedspread represent?
Tita’s bedspread is a metaphor for her bridal gown. She spends countless nights working on it beginning with the night that she first decides to marry Pedro. When she leaves the ranch with Dr. Brown, it trails behind the carriage like the train of a wedding gown. By the end of the novel, just before Tita goes to spend eternity with Pedro, she wraps the bedspread around her like a garment to keep her warm. Tita is never married but the bedspread is the closest thing to a wedding dress that she ever has.
Tita de la Garza
Tita de la Garza (TEE-tah), the youngest daughter in a ranch-owning family. The rules of her tradition-bound family dictate that the youngest daughter remain single and care for her mother until the latter dies; therefore, Tita grows up in the kitchen, learning about life and cooking from the ranch’s Indian cook, Nacha. Her childhood sweetheart marries her older sister Rosaura so that he can be near Tita, but Tita’s vengeful mother regularly punishes the lovers for their clandestine meetings. Tita rebels against her fate through the marvelous recipes she prepares, which provoke magical reactions. After the deaths of her mother and her sister, Tita and her lover, Pedro, are united in a passion so intense that they perish in its blaze. Tita is immortalized in her diary and recipe book, in which she had written all of her recipes and the events surrounding their preparation.
Mamá Elena (mah-MAH eh-LEH-nah), Tita’s tyrannical mother, widowed with three daughters. Her attempts to prevent an adulterous relationship between Tita and Pedro occupy much of Mamá Elena’s destructive attention. Fearless in her cruelty, she even intimidates the captain of a marauding band of revolutionary soldiers, thus preserving the ranch’s inhabitants and livestock from attack. Later, she becomes paralyzed from a spinal injury she suffers when a group of bandits try unsuccessfully to rape her. She is then forced to rely on Tita to cook for her. Needlessly suspicious that Tita is poisoning her food, Mamá Elena soon dies from an overdose of the emetic she takes to counteract the food’s supposed noxious effects. She continues to plague Tita and Pedro from beyond the grave. After Mamá Elena’s death, Tita discovers her secret past: Her mother had enjoyed an affair with a mulatto man who fathered Tita’s sister Gertrudis. When her family discovered Mamá Elena’s relationship, they forced her into marriage with a white man and had the mulatto murdered when the affair continued.
Rosaura de la Garza
Rosaura de la Garza (rroh-SOW-rah), Tita’s older sister, who marries Pedro Muzquiz at Mamá Elena’s suggestion. Rosaura lives her life according to her mother’s dictates, attempting to maintain the respect and admiration of the cream of society. Jealous of his love for Tita, Rosaura tries unsuccessfully to impress Pedro with her cooking. Rosaura cannot even produce milk to nurse her son and daughter. Her attitude toward cooking and her knowledge of Pedro’s undying love for Tita are manifested in Rosaura’s obesity and flatulence.
Gertrudis de la Garza
Gertrudis de la Garza (hehr-TREW-dees), Tita’s rebellious older sister, fathered by Mamá Elena’s mulatto lover. Loyal and sympathetic to her sister Tita and a great fan of her sister’s culinary talents, Gertrudis is so overwhelmed by passion after eating one of Tita’s special dishes that she abandons her family and rides off on horseback with a revolutionary soldier. Unable to satisfy her lust with him, she tames her sexual appetite as a prostitute until the soldier returns and marries her. She lives happily, eventually becomes a general in the revolutionary army, and visits the ranch with her soldiers after Mamá Elena’s death.
Pedro Muzquiz (mews-KEES), Tita’s childhood sweetheart, who marries her sister Rosaura to remain near Tita. After her death, Mamá Elena whirls into him in the form of a firecracker, nearly burning him to death, but he recovers under Tita’s care. When Rosaura dies, he is finally freely united with Tita, and his ecstasy is so overwhelming that it proves fatal.
John Brown, the de la Garzas’ family doctor from Texas. A widower with a young son, he visits the de la Garza ranch when Rosaura gives birth. He admires Tita. When she suffers a nervous breakdown, he rescues her and cares for her in his home and later proposes marriage. They become engaged, but when Tita breaks off the relationship, he bows out amicably. He later returns to the ranch happily to celebrate his son Alex’s marriage to Rosaura’s daughter Esperanza.
Nacha (NAH-chah), the de la Garzas’ Indian cook. One of a long line of expert cooks, she rears Tita from childhood in the kitchen and teaches her secrets to Tita, even whispering recipes to her from beyond the grave. On the day of Rosaura’s wedding, after tasting the wedding cake icing in which Tita has shed tears, Nacha dies, overcome with grief and loneliness for the fiancé whom Mamá Elena had forbidden her to marry.