Till the Day I Die: How “Like Water for Chocolate” mirrors the Mexican Constitution of 1917 through the role of women
“… you have to take care of me until the day I die” (Esquivel, p.9). Mama Elena in Laura Esquivel’s “Like Water for Chocolate” is portrayed as a strict, cruel mother. She is a believer in tradition and a believer in the women’s role in the household. In her family, it is tradition that the youngest daughter spends her entire life caring for the mother. Tita is Mama Elena’s youngest daughter and does not agree with this family tradition. When Tita falls in love with a young man named Pedro, Mama Elena does not let Pedro marry Tita. By the end of the novel, both Tita and the rest of the women in Mexico have more freedom to pursue their dreams.
During this novel, Esquivel constantly reminds the reader that the Mexican Revolution is being fought and that it is affecting Tita’s family. While the story as a whole was barely affected by the Revolution, Esquivel made the war the setting for a reason. The Mexican Revolution was a time of political and social change in Mexico. Politically, Mexico experienced a shift of power from the liberal elite to the new young populist professionals. This group of doctors, lawyers, teachers, and journalists came with more modern ideas of how Mexico should be run. The result of these new ideas was the Constitution of 1917.
The Constitution of 1917, along with religious and economic reforms, brought about extreme social reform in the form of Women’s rights. Article 4 states that “All people, men and women, are equal under the law. This article also grants all people protection to their health, a right to housing, and rights for children. Everyone has a right to an appropriated ecosystem for their development & welfare.” This article is very similar to what Tita wants in her life. She wants to be equal, but she especially wants the right to an appropriate environment for her development as a woman. She wants to develop as a wife and as a mother, but Mama Elena is prohibiting her from doing so. Mama Elena represents the old Liberal Elites of Mexico while Tita represents the new populist professionals.
The Mexican Revolution began in 1910 when Francisco L. Madero was cheated out of the presidential election. The president at the time, Porfirio Díaz, had been the president all but four year starting in 1976, when he led a successful rebellion against the presidential candidate. While Mexico experienced a great period of Industrial and economic growth during his presidency, this growth came at the expense of the farmers and peasants, who made up a vast majority of the Mexican population. The majority of lower and lower middle class citizens during this time period were homeless, working on big estates or for big industries, and getting paid next to nothing.
Díaz, like Mama Elena, did not care about the well being of the people he was supposed to take care of. Mama Elena does not care whether Tita is happy as long as she has a caretaker. Esquivel writes, “Unquestionably, when it came to dividing, dismantling, dismembering, desolating, detaching, dispossessing, destroying, or dominating, Mama Elena was a pro.”(94) This passage illustrates many parallels that can be drawn between President Díaz and Mama Elena.
Workers began to strike for better wages at the beginning of the twentieth century and more support came against the re-election of Díaz. These strikes were violently struck down, for example, striking textile workers were gunned down by the Mexican Army, and then their bodies were thrown in the water to be food for the sharks. This violence represents the oppression the majority of Mexico was facing at the time.
Esquivel portrays Tita as a peasant in Mexico at the time, while Mama Elena is the oppressive government. After the wedding of Pedro and Rosaura, Mama Elena is convinced that Tita ruined the wedding on purpose and strikes Tita.
Change looked like it was coming in 1910 when Díaz stated that he was going to step down from the presidency to allow a democratic election. When he changed his mind, Francisco I. Madero began a strong campaign against his re-election. In order to insure his re-election, Díaz had Madero thrown in jail. When Díaz won in a “landslide”, the Mexican people realized that the election had been fixed and a group of Madero supporters took up arms.
Just as Mama Elena violently striking Tita lit the fire that led to change in family tradition, the government’s violent suppression of the worker strikes lit the fire that led to the constitution of 1917.
Tita is not the only woman in the novel that overcomes her suppressive household. Article 123 of the constitution of 1917 ensures that hiring and promotions within the workplace are based solely on skills, aptitudes, and seniority, making sure women get a fair chance in the workplace. Tita’s sister Gertrudis, although not bound by the family tradition like Tita, still lives under the traditional parenting of Mama Elena. She was taken away by a rebel soldier of the Mexican Revolution and is taken to work at a brothel. Later in the novel, Gertrudis has become a female general in the revolutionary army. This kind of power for a woman is not displayed in the novel beforehand, as all the women in the novel are simply caretakers and cooks. This new illustration of power for women reflects the change of the female role during the Mexican revolution.
Before the Mexican revolution, females did not fight and definitely did not lead troops. During the Mexican Revolution a few revolutionary women became commanders in the army known as “coronelas”. Women soldiers, or “soldaderas”, became a major force in the war. This is another way Esquivel represents the changes in women’s rights through her characters in this novel.
Throughout the novel, Tita and Gertrudis take control of their own destiny and demand that they are able to pursue their dreams. During the time that the novel takes place, women all over Mexico began to fight for their rights. The Mexican revolution represented a shift in the social views of Mexican leaders and ultimately led to the constitution of 1917 which gave women more freedom than they had ever had in the past. Esquivel beautifully illustrates, through a small Mexican family, the greater changes in Women’s rights that happened in Mexico at the time of the revolution.