The Supernatural as a Means of Protagonist Empowerment in Like Water

The Supernatural as a Means of Protagonist Empowerment in Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel and The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende IB A1 English HL World Literature Comparative Essay Word Count: 1496 Keri-Anne Murray Candidate #: 003072-058 World Literature Comparative Essay 1 In Like Water for Chocolate and The House of the Spirits, respective authors Laura Esquivel and Isabel Allende use a connection with the supernatural to empower the protagonists in three ways. Firstly, the central characters in each story possess unique otherworldly abilities, which enable them to distance themselves from their oppressors.
Secondly, the supernatural is active in providing spiritual healing of those in dire situations. Finally, supernatural events are responsible for the eventual suppression of the main antagonist of each novel, and the subsequent liberation of the protagonists. Supernatural empowerment is also used to convey the authors’ perspectives on Latin American culture, which will be explored in relation to each form of supernatural empowerment discussed. In both novels, the oppressors of the central characters desire to control them completely, however, the protagonists have unique abilities which come to their aid.
In The House of the Spirits, author Allende uses Esteban Trueba’s desire and expectation to possess his wife Clara entirely, to portray the view that in Latin American culture, there is an implication of female inferiority and submissiveness in relationships. Allende, however, expresses a negative view of this societal expectation, by giving Clara supernatural abilities which sustain her, allowing her to detach herself from him and be independent. The reader learns that Esteban desires “far more than her body; he wanted control over that undefined and luminous aterial that lay within her…” (Allende 111). The use of magical realism in this description of Clara’s “undefined and luminous” aspect emphasises her otherworldly character, creating an image of a bright light which Esteban cannot grasp with his hands, for his fingers simply pass through. It is precisely this supernatural aspect of Clara’s character which gives her strength, independence and the power to resist domination by Esteban. “He realised that Clara did not belong to him and that if she continued living in a world of apparitions … she probably never would” (Allende 118).

Clara’s clairvoyance and preoccupation with spirits prevent Esteban from controlling her. Whilst he becomes increasingly enraged at the unbridgeable distance between them, Clara is content, strong and empowered, thus defying the Latin American culture of female inferiority which is implied in the novel. In Like Water for Chocolate, Mama Elena has a similar obsession to Esteban’s, in desiring to control her daughter Tita’s every move. Through her description of the de la Garza family tradition, the author portrays Latin American culture as giving family values great importance.
In compliance with her family values, Tita, as the youngest daughter, is required to devote her Keri-Anne Murray Candidate #: 003072-058 World Literature Comparative Essay 2 life to the care of her mother, who strictly denies her the opportunities of love and marriage. By empowering Tita through her supernatural culinary abilities, an attribute of Tita’s character which Mama Elena cannot control, the author protests against this focus on honouring family tradition at the expense of individual rights. “In the kitchen … flavours, smells, textures and the effect they could have were beyond Mama Elena’s iron command” (Esquivel 45).
Tita’s domain is the kitchen, and she transfers her inner-most feelings to her cooking. The results are dishes which recreate Tita’s mood and infuse her deepest desires into those who consume the food. When Mama Elena bans all communication between Tita and her love Pedro, Tita channels her emotions into her cooking to create “a new system of communication” (Esquivel 49) with Pedro. The author uses the oppressiveness of Mama Elena and the de la Garza family tradition to portray a negative image of extreme emphasis on family duties in Latin American culture.
The attribution of supernatural culinary abilities to Tita allows her to escape Mama Elena’s control and bring herself closer to Pedro, and this illustrates the author’s desire for respect for individual rights in family relationships. In both novels, the supernatural plays an active part in healing those in troublesome situations. The authors describe positively an intimate Latin American culture in which a suffering individual can depend upon assistance from trusted friends, even in the most dire circumstances.
Such a phenomenon occurs in The House of the Spirits, when the imprisoned Alba has resigned herself to death in a “dark, frozen airless tomb” (Allende 469). Into this atmosphere of oppressive coldness, Clara materialises as a radiant apparition, “with the novel idea that the point was not to die … but to survive, which would be a miracle” (Allende 469). Clara’s radiance contrasts with the darkness of the “doghouse” (Allende 469) which holds Alba, inspiring her with hope.
Clara urges Alba to write a journal in her mind so that others may one day learn of “the terrible secret she was living through” (Allende 470), evoking in Alba a purpose and will to live. The author gives Clara the ability to empower others even after her death, emphasising her positive opinion of a culture of trust, selfless giving and unconditional love among friends. A similar healing phenomenon occurs in Like Water for Chocolate when Nacha’s appearance to Tita, as she eats the oxtail soup at Dr Brown’s house, restores Tita’s spiritual health and her speech after her breakdown caused by Mama Elena. With the first sip, Nacha appeared there at Tita’s side, stroking her hair … kissing her forehead” (Esquivel 114). Tita cries for the first Keri-Anne Murray Candidate #: 003072-058 World Literature Comparative Essay 3 time in six months, resulting in a “stream that was running down the stairs” (Esquivel 114). The author’s use of magical realism is effective in emphasising the emotion and miracle of the situation. Tita makes the decision to speak again; she is “fully recovered, ready to start a new life” (Esquivel 117-118).
Like Clara in The House of the Spirits, Nacha possesses the ability to empower those she loves even after her death, and this element of magical realism is employed by the author to illustrate a positive perception of Latin American culture, where connections based on love and friendship can overcome even the most hopeless of circumstances. The final use of the supernatural allows the author to describe a culture in which disaster befalls those who bring control and malevolence to relationships which should be filled with love and friendship.
In both novels, supernatural events result in the suppression of the antagonist to empower the protagonists. In The House of the Spirits, Esteban’s jealous suspicion causes him to banish his sister, Ferula, from his house, and ban her from contact with her family. In response to his cruelty, Ferula curses him: “You will always be alone! Your body and soul will shrivel up…” (Allende 158). Esteban soon observes his body “shrivelling”: “he could tell from his clothes … his sleeves and his pant legs were suddenly too long” (Allende 212).
There is also evidence of his soul “shrivelling”: as he drives others away from him, he is indeed cursed with the fate of being alone. His violence against his daughter and his physical abuse of Clara who stands up for Blanca, sever the few weak bonds he had remaining with these members of his family. Esteban’s experience of his physical shrinking and his alienation from family, result in personal insecurities, a deflation of his ego and a sense of loneliness, and those he has mistreated are no longer oppressed by him. In Like Water for Chocolate, Tita’s wholesome cooking has adverse effects on oth Mama Elena, and Tita’s callous sister, Rosaura, indirectly resulting in their deaths. On her return to the ranch after Mama Elena is left temporarily paralysed by a group of bandits, Tita carefully prepares oxtail soup for her mother “so that she would recover completely” (Esquivel 119). Mama Elena, however, immediately detects a bitter taste, and accuses her daughter of poisoning her. Ironically, as a result of emetic overdose taken secretly to combat the imagined poison, Mama Elena eventually dies. Tita’s sister, Rosaura, suffers a similar fate. She becomes overweight and flatulent from eating Tita’s food.
While in San Antonio, Rosaura loses weight, but “all she had to do was come back to the ranch and she got fat again! ” Keri-Anne Murray Candidate #: 003072-058 World Literature Comparative Essay 4 (Esquivel 192). Following her selfish proclamation of her intention to subject her daughter, Esperanza, to the oppressive family tradition of forced self-sacrifice, Rosaura dies from an extended attack of flatulence attributed to Tita’s cooking. Through the supernaturally caused deaths of Mama Elena and Rosaura, the author describes a culture of retribution for those who bring control and malevolence to relationships which should be sources of love.
Their deaths liberate Tita and Esperanza, enabling them to love freely. In Like Water for Chocolate and The House of the Spirits, the supernatural is used as a positive force to empower the leading characters. Characters possess supernatural gifts which provide them with an untouchable inner strength; the supernatural gives them the power to heal others in dire need; and ultimately, it is the supernatural which is responsible for the downfall of the oppressors, and the liberation of the gifted characters.
Furthermore, the authors use supernatural empowerment to integrate their perceptions of positive and negative aspects of Latin American culture into the novels. 5 Keri-Anne Murray Candidate #: 003072-058 World Literature Comparative Essay Works Cited Allende, Isabel. The House of the Spirits. Trans. Magda Bogin. London: Black Swan Books, 1986. Esquivel, Laura. Like Water for Chocolate. Trans. Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen. London: Black Swan Books, 1993.

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