The Significance of Blurred Gender Roles for the Key Male Characters in ‘Kitchen’ and ‘Like Water for Chocolate’

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WORLD LITERATURE ASSIGMENT ONE

The significance of blurred gender roles for the key male characters in ‘Kitchen’ and ‘Like Water For Chocolate’

Word Count: 1497

Banana Yoshimoto’s novella ‘Kitchen’ and ‘Like Water For Chocolate’ by Laura Esquivel explore the blurring of gender roles through the characterisation of the key male characters, Eriko and Pedro. The obscurity of gender roles is utilised by both authors as a literary tool in the formation of interpersonal relationships with the protagonists of each text. Furthermore both authors employ this blurring in the deconstruction of their respective audience’s societal expectations. Yoshimoto on the conventions of conservative 1980’s Japan, and Esquivel as a 3rd wave feminist writer on the patriarchal expectations of 1980’s Mexico. Finally, both texts delineate the underlying danger of the absence of clear gender roles in society, existentially in ‘Kitchen’ and from a feminist perspective in ‘Like Water For Chocolate’.

Yoshimoto’s ‘Kitchen’ utilizes Eriko’s gender shift to form an interpersonal relationship with protagonist Mikage in the form of an unconventional family. Eriko’s transsexuality provides Mikage with a mother and father figure in one, “Even though I’ve lived all these years as a woman, somewhere inside me was my male self…But I find that I’m body and soul a woman.” Eriko’s awareness of the male and female components of herself allows her to provide a parental entity to orphaned Mikage. The use of caesuras in the form of apostrophes and full stops, combined with the short syntax of the last two sentences prolongs the rhythm, heightening its sense of importance. The event of Eriko’s death leaves Mikage “utterly devoid of hope”, and she grieves intensely for Eriko: “I had never felt so alone as I did now”, the use of the superlative ‘never’ creates emphasis on Mikage’s sense of loneliness as she metaphorically looses both a mother and a father. The interpersonal relations formed by Eriko’s blurred gender role, creates an unconventional family with no limitations of blood and sex.

Similarly, Laura Esquivel’s novel utilises the reversal of Pedro’s traditional masculine role as a literary tool in the formation of a romantic relationship with the protagonist. Tita’s almost masculine characterisation in the context of Esquivel’s 3rd wave feminist notions is balanced romantically by Pedro’s female attributes. Through the literary magic realist tool of cuisine Esquivel creates an inversion of sexual roles, illustrated most effectively through Tita’s aphrodisiac meal: “It was if a strange alchemical process had dissolved her entire being in the rose petal sauce...In this way, she penetrated Pedro’s body, hot, voluptuous, aromatic, totally sensuous”. The use of phallic diction in the form of the verb ‘penetrates’ conveys the sexual nature of the process and the blurring of gender roles, which in turn generates romance. In addition, the use asyndeton and pleonasm emphasises the intensely pleasurable effect of their figurative union through gastronomy. Pedro’s blurred gender role essentially plays a vital role in the formation of strong interpersonal relationship with the protagonist, which forms the basis of Esquivel’s text.

Banana Yoshimoto’s seminal novella, ‘Kitchen’ set in 1980’s Tokyo, a context characterised by urbanism, consumerism and large-scale conformity, deconstructs the expectations of the audience through the use of Eriko’s transgenderism. Yoshimoto’s text mirrors traditional narrative structure, however Eriko’s transsexuality adds a foreign dimension that confronts conformity and melanges normality with a figure of ‘the other’. Eriko’s presence is blatantly utilized to unsettle the audience as she follows the exaggerated stereotype of a transsexual lifestyle, and dies a nightmarish death, by the stabbing of a crazed stalker. However, Yoshimoto portrays Eriko’s difference as standard in the constructs of the text, and the characters in...
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