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

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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 material 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...
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