This curriculum unit offers teachers tested and proven materials for teaching Like Water for Chocolate to mature high school students. Written by Laura Esquivel, the book was originally published in Mexico in 1989; a film version was released in 1993. The novel tells about the generations of the De la Garza family as it follows the life of Tita, the youngest daughter. One critic calls it “a mixture of recipe book, how-to household book, socio-political and historical document of the Mexican Revolution, psychology study of male-female as well as mother/daughter relations, [and] an exploration into gothic realms.” Another writes that it is a “tall tale, fairy-tale, soap opera romance, Mexican cookbook and home-remedy handbook all rolled into one.”
In many ways it typifies the romance in its emphasis on excitement, passion, mystery, and action. In addition, it is a parody of the serialized fiction written for women in the late 1800s and 1900s. Such magazines commonly included recipes, home remedies, and monthly installments of love stories.
The title comes from the Spanish como agua para chocolate, an expression that describes water at the boiling point. The phrase 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.” Another defines the term as “a Mexican colloquialism meaning, roughly, agitated, or excited.” Esquivel herself describes it as the point “when someone is about to explode.”
We chose this book for several reasons. First, we wanted our students to read a living author. Second, we wanted a work from Mexico, Latin America, or South America to enlarge the scope of our reading list. Third, we wanted to introduce the concept of magical realism (also called magic realism) to expose students to the idea of the fantastic in literature, reflecting the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges. After extensive reading in American and British literature, our students needed a different focus, a look into a culture familiar to some, unfamiliar to others. Fourth, we wanted a contemporary work that focused on the place of women to use in comparison with other novels. Esquivel’s novel has helped accomplish all these goals.
We would like to comment on the treatment of sexual relationships and the presence of the supernatural in the novel. Esquivel includes scenes that deal with sex, rape, the world of the spirits, and other controversial subjects. We teach this novel only to mature students who feel they can handle the material. Although some may object to these scenes, our students accept them as appropriate in the context of the story. We agree with that assessment and hope you and your students will view the book in the same way.
This unit offers a sample four-week lesson plan. This is the format we recommend the first time the novel is taught, but we have done it in a variety of other sequences. This brings us to one final comment: this unit is very flexible. We offer approaches based on first-hand experience, but we know that there are many other combinations that will work as well. We believe that all teachers adapt ideas to fit their own teaching styles, and this format, like those in all of our curriculum packets, is easily and successfully modified.