Jul 26, 2017

Verbal and Visual Representation of Women

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Verbal and Visual Representation of Women


Read "Like Water for Chocolate" by Laura Esquirel. And see attachments. Could combine topics.


Title: Verbal and Visual Representation of Women: Como agua para chocolate / Like Water for Chocolate
Author(s): María Elena de Valdés
Publication Details: World Literature Today 69.1 (Winter 1995): p78-82.
Source: Literature of Developing Nations for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Literature of Developing Nations. Ed. Elizabeth Bellalouna, Michael L. LaBlanc, and Ira Mark Milne. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale Group, 2000.From Literature Resource Center.
Document Type: Critical essay
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group, COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning
Full Text: 

Como agua para chocolate is the first novel by Laura Esquivel (b. 1950). Published in Spanish in 1989 and in English translation in 1992, followed by the release of the feature film that same year, the novel has thrust this Mexican woman writer into the world of international critical acclaim as well as best-seller popularity. Since Esquivel also wrote the screenplay for director Alfonso Arau, the novel and the film together offer us an excellent opportunity to examine the interplay between the verbal and visual representation of women. Esquivel`s previous work had all been as a screenwriter. Her script for Chido Guan, el Tacos de Oro (1985) was nominated for the Ariel in Mexico, an award she won eight years later for Como agua para chocolate.

The study of verbal and visual imagery must begin with the understanding that both the novel and, to a lesser extent, the film work as a parody of a genre. The genre in question is the Mexican version of women`s fiction published in monthly installments together with recipes, home remedies, dressmaking patterns, short poems, moral exhortations, ideas on home decoration, and the calendar of church observances. In brief, this genre is the nineteenth-century forerunner of what is known throughout Europe and America as a woman`s magazine. Around 1850 these publications in Mexico were called "calendars for young ladies." Since home and church were the private and public sites of all educated young ladies, these publications represented the written counterpart to women`s socialization, and as such, they are documents that conserve and transmit a Mexican female culture in which the social context and cultural space are particularly for women by women.

It was in the 1850s that fiction began to take a prominent role. At first the writings were descriptions of places for family excursions, moralizing tales, or detailed narratives on cooking. By 1860 the installment novel grew out of the monthly recipe or recommended excursion. More elaborate love stories by women began to appear regularly by the 1880s. The genre was never considered literature by the literary establishment because of its episodic plots, overt sentimentality, and highly stylized characterization. Nevertheless, by the turn of the century every literate woman in Mexico was or had been an avid reader of the genre. But what has been completely overlooked by the male-dominated literary culture of Mexico is that these novels were highly coded in an authentic women`s language of inference and reference to the commonplaces of the kitchen and the home which were completely unknown by any man.

Behind the purportedly simple episodic plots there was an infrahistory of life as it was lived, with all its multiple restrictions for women of this social class. The characterization followed the forms of life of these women rather than their unique individuality; thus the heroines were the survivors, those who were able to live out a full life in spite of the institution of marriage, which in theory, if not in practice, was a form of indentured slavery for life in which a woman served father and brothers then moved on to serve husband and sons together with her daughters and, of course, the women from the servant class. The women`s fiction of this woman`s world concentrated on one overwhelming fact of life: how to transcend the conditions of existence and express oneself in love and in creativity.

Cooking, sewing, embroidery, and decoration were the usual creative outlets for these women, and of course conversation, storytelling, gossip, and advice, which engulfed every waking day of the Mexican lady of the home. Writing for other women was quite naturally an extension of this infrahistorical conversation and gossip. Therefore, if one has the social codes of these women, one can read these novels as a way of life in nineteenth-century Mexico. Laura Esquivel`s recognition of this world and its language comes from her Mexican heritage of fiercely independent women, who created a woman`s culture within the social prison of marriage.

Como agua para chocolate is a parody of nineteenth-century women`s periodical fiction in the same way that Don Quijote is a parody of the novel of chivalry. Both genres were expressions of popular culture that created a unique space for a segment of the population....

Obviously, for the parody to work at its highest level of dual representation, both the parody and the parodic model must be present in the reading experience. Esquivel creates the duality in several ways. First, she begins with the title of the novel, Like Water for Chocolate, a locution which translates as "water at the boiling point" and is used as a simile in Mexico to describe any event or relationship that is so tense, hot, and extraordinary that it can only be compared to scalding water on the verge of boiling, as called for in the preparation of that most Mexican of all beverages, dating from at least the thirteenth century: hot chocolate. Second, the subtitle is taken directly from the model: "A Novel in Monthly Installments, with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies." Together the title and subtitle therefore cover both the parody and the model. Third, the reader finds upon opening the book, in place of an epigraph, a traditional Mexican proverb: "A la mesa y a la cama / Una sola vez se llama" (To the table or to bed / You must come when you are bid). The woodcut that decorates the page is the typical nineteenth-century cooking stove. The fourth and most explicit dualistic technique is Esquivel`s reproduction of the format of her model.

Each chapter is prefaced by the title, the subtitle, the month, and the recipe for that month. The narration that follows is a combination of direct address on how to prepare the recipe of the month and interspersed stories about the loves and times of the narrator`s great-aunt Tita. The narration moves effortlessly from the first person to the third-person omniscient narrative voice of all storytellers. Each chapter ends with the information that the story will be continued and an announcement of what the next month`s--that is, the next chapter`s--recipe will be. These elements, taken from the model, are never mere embellishments. The recipes and their preparation, as well as the home remedies and their application, are an intrinsic part of the story. There is therefore an intricate symbiotic relationship between the novel and its model in the reading experience. Each is feeding on the other.

In this study I am concerned with the model of the human subject, specifically the female subject, as it is developed in and through language and visual signification in a situated context of time and place. The verbal imaging of the novel makes use of the elaborate signifying system of language as a dwelling place. The visual imagery that at first expands the narrative in the film soon exacts its own place as a nonlinguistic signifying system drawing upon its own repertoire of referentiality and establishing a different model of the human subject than that elucidated by the verbal imagery alone. I intend to examine the novelistic signifying system and the model thus established and then follow with the cinematic signifying system and its model.

The speaking subject or narrative voice in the novel is characterized, as Emile Benveniste has shown, as a living presence by speaking. That voice begins in the first person, speaking the conversational Mexican Spanish of a woman from Mexico`s north, near the U.S. border. Like all Mexican speech, it is clearly marked with register and socio-cultural indicators, in this case of the land-owning middle class, mixing colloquial local usage with standard Spanish. The entry point is always the same: the direct address of one woman telling another how to prepare the recipe she is recommending. As one does the cooking, it is quite natural for the cook to liven the session with some storytelling, prompted by the previous preparation of the food. As she effortlessly moves from first-person culinary instructor to storyteller, she shifts to the third person and gradually appropriates a time and place and refigures a social world.

A verbal image emerges of the model Mexican rural, middle-class woman. She must be strong and far more clever than the men who supposedly protect her. She must be pious, observing all the religious requirements of a virtuous daughter, wife, and mother. She must exercise great care to keep her sentimental relations as private as possible, and, most important of all, she must be in control of life in her house, which means essentially the kitchen and bedroom or food and sex. In Esquivel`s novel there are four women who must respond to the model: the mother Elena and the three daughters Rosaura, Gertrudis, and Josefita, known as Tita.

The ways of living within the limits of the model are demonstrated first by the mother, who thinks of herself as its very incarnation. She interprets the model in terms of control and domination of her entire household. She is represented through a filter of awe and fear, for the ostensible source is Tita`s diary-cookbook, written beginning in 1910, when she was fifteen years old, and now transmitted by her grandniece. Therefore the verbal images that characterize Mamá Elena must be understood as those of her youngest daughter, who has been made into a personal servant from the time the little girl was able to work.

Mamá Elena is depicted as strong, self-reliant, absolutely tyrannical with her daughters and servants, but especially so with Tita, who from birth has been designated as the one who will not marry because she must care for her mother until she dies. Mamá Elena believes in order, her order. Although she observes the strictures of church and society, she has secretly had an adulterous love affair with an African American, and her second daughter, Gertrudis, is the offspring of that relationship. This transgression of the norms of proper behavior remains hidden from public view, although there is gossip, but only after her mother`s death does Tita discover that Gertrudis is her half-sister. The tyranny imposed on the three sisters is therefore the rigid, self-designed model of a woman`s life pitilessly enforced by Mamá Elena, and each of the three responds in her own way to the model.

Rosaura never questions her mother`s authority and follows her dictates submissively; after she is married she becomes an insignificant imitation of her mother. She lacks the strength, skill, and determination of Mamá Elena and tries to compensate by appealing to the mother`s model as absolute. 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: she leaves home and her mother`s authority, escapes from the brothel where she subsequently landed, and becomes a general of the revolutionary army, taking a subordinate as her lover and, later, husband. When she returns to the family hacienda, she dresses like a man, gives orders like a man, and is the dominant sexual partner.

Tita, the youngest of the three daughters, speaks out against her mother`s arbitrary rule but cannot escape until she temporarily loses her mind. She is able to survive her mother`s harsh rule by transferring her love, joy, sadness, and anger into her cooking. Tita`s emotions and passions are the impetus for expression and action, not through the normal means of communication but through the food she prepares. She is therefore able to consummate her love with Pedro through the food she serves....

It was as if a strange alchemical process had dissolved her entire being in the rose petal sauce, in the tender flesh of the quails, in the wine, in every one of the meal`s aromas. That was the way she entered Pedro`s body, hot, voluptuous, perfumed, totally sensuous.

This clearly is much more than communication through food or a mere aphrodisiac; this is a form of sexual transubstantiation whereby the rose petal sauce and the quail have been turned into the body of Tita.

Thus it is that the reader gets to know these women as persons but, above all, becomes involved with the embodied speaking subject from the past, Tita, represented by her grandniece (who transmits her story) and her cooking. The reader receives verbal food for the imaginative refiguration of one woman`s response to the model that was imposed on her by accident of birth. The body of these women is the place of living. It is the dwelling place of the human subject. The essential questions of health, illness, pregnancy, childbirth, and sexuality are tied very directly in this novel to the physical and emotional needs of the body. The preparation and eating of food is thus a symbolic representation of living, and Tita`s cookbook bequeaths to Esperanza and to Esperanza`s daughter, her grandniece, a woman`s creation of space that is hers in a hostile world.

Source Citation   (MLA 7th Edition)
de Valdés, María Elena. "Verbal and Visual Representation of Women: Como agua para chocolate / Like Water for Chocolate." World Literature Today 69.1 (Winter 1995): 78-82. Rpt. in Literature of Developing Nations for StudentsPresenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Literature of Developing Nations. Ed. Elizabeth Bellalouna, Michael L. LaBlanc, and Ira Mark Milne. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale Group, 2000. Literature Resource Center. Web. 19 July 2013.
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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420031346

Name:Instructor:Course:Date of submission:Verbal and Visual Representation of WomenLike water for chocolate is a novel that went by the Spanish title Como Agua Para Chocolate, that was first published in the year 1989 in the Spanish language and later on translated into English in the year 1992 (Tyrer 1). Immediately after the translation the novel was produced into a movie within the same year. Written by one of the world renowned writers, Laura Esquivel, the novel relates to the way the women in the Mexican society at the turn of the 20th century, expressed themselves to the world through their cooking skills. During this time the women in the society were seen as inferior to the men (Warren). As such the women were slaves to the men in their lives. Mother and daughters would serve their brothers (sons) and father, before the girls would then move onto marriage where they would further be put under more slavery serving their husbands to their death. One of the main aspects of this novel is the way it uses verbal and visual representation to illustrate how the women in the society expressed themselves. This thus calls for the reader to be more vigil while reading the piece so as to be in a position to understand the under statements within the text. For most of the women that are familiar with the Mexican culture, they will easily identify with the way that Laura builds on the story. Otherwise the novel is a version of the monthly issues of recipes, dressmaking patterns, home remedies, poems, home décor, moral observations and basic ideas of romance that would be spread around among the women at the time. These monthly issues started off with moral observations that women at the time were required to adhere to as part of the society, this was back in the 1850s. by the 1860s the issues had expanded int...

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