Home » The paradox of confinement and freedom in A Doll’s House and Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

The paradox of confinement and freedom in A Doll’s House and Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

In the texts, A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen and Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, Nora Helmer and Tita (Josefita) are subject to the paradox of confinement and freedom. Tita is restricted to the ranch and kitchen, and Nora to the house. Concurrently, in the seclusion of the kitchen, Tita is liberated from Mama Elena’s control, has freedom of self-expression through cooking, and can openly express her feelings. Josefita is a skilled cook with mystical abilities, and also has some freedom and control in the household. Both characters are victims of role-play.

Tita has the role of housewife and Nora is a mother, wife, and dependent. Nora finds freedom in her debt, which gives her a sense of authority and control. The importance of role-play to Torvald (Helmer) challenges the strength of his marriage to Nora. Torvald’s facade of a relationship with Nora disguises the lack of depth of his love for her and Nora’s recognition of this liberates her. She leaves him and discovers that it is the kind of freedom that she really wants. A Doll’s House narrates how role-play and the competition for control co-exist.

Consequently, one cannot be discussed without the other. This is also true of Like Water for Chocolate. In A Doll’s House, Ibsen uses debt as a symbol to expose the superficiality of Nora and Torvald’s marriage. Ibsen uses Nora’s secret debt as a tool for making social comment. It is significant for Nora’s realisation of the shallowness of their marriage and it also gives her a sense of pride and control in her daily life. Ultimately, the debt gives her freedom for self-discovery but simultaneously restrains her because she must deprive herself and lie to Helmer in order to repay it.

When Helmer discovers Nora’s secret debt and forgery, he is so caught up in her crime and his appearances’ that he overlooks her ignorance and good intentions. When confronted with the fact that Torvald will discover her secret debt, she believes that if he is the man she thinks he is, his finding will only strengthen their relationship. Act Three reveals that Helmer clearly does not intend to sacrifice himself for her and accuses her of having no religion, no morality, no sense of duty’ (Ibsen p221).

Then the facade is unmistakable and ‘at that moment [she] realised that for eight years [she] had been living here with a strange man’ (Ibsen p230). Consequently, Nora realises that, before she can become a wife, she must first discover herself by living outside the confines of her doll’s house’‘. She leaves and is determined to become a fuller, more independent person and believes that [she] must stand alone’ (Ibsen, p81) in order to do this. Metaphorically, Nora is a doll in a doll’s house, a victim of confinement and patriarchal role-play.

Nora merely fulfils Torvald’s and society’s expectations, neglecting her own feelings and aspirations, therefore, jeopardising her own integrity. By Act Three, Nora realises the falsity of her role and she cannot accept society’s laws that she considers wrong. For Nora, forgery would not have been necessary had there not been the barrier of social etiquette. Society dictates that Torvald be the marriage’s dominant partner. Nora and Torvald have a father-daughter type of relationship rather than husband and wife. Helmer controls all the money and patronises her.

For example; Torvald says There, here! My little singing bird mustn’t go drooping her wings, eh? Has it got the sulks, that little squirrel of mine? [Takes out his wallet] Nora, what do you thing I’ve got here? ‘ [Quickly turning around] Nora; Money! ‘ (Ibsen,p3) I suggest that this is why Torvald’s rejection of Nora was so heartless, for it undermined his authority as dictated by society. A Doll’s House was not intended to represent everyday reality, but to shock the audience into realisation of their own situation.

This play is directed towards the nineteenth century Norwegian middle classes represented by Nora and Torvald, consequently the public awakening was even more effective. Brian Johnston comments that everyday reality was a sham, to be radically re-organised into the demands of aesthetic truth. It was all the more insidious for seeming so attractive: a doll’s house that had to be exposed, even if violently, as a prison of the human spirit. ‘ (Realism and A Doll’s House’) In Like Water for Chocolate, Mama Elena confines Tita to the kitchen and the ranch and imposes the family tradition (“curse”) on her.

As a part of the family “curse”, she can never marry Pedro to whom she is sexually attracted and has known since childhood. Mama Elena is resentful of her relationship with Pedro and deliberately marries off Rosaura, her sister, to him. Pedro’s and Rosaura’s marriage had left Tita broken in both heart and mind, like the quail. ‘(Esquivel p47) According to Dr. Rose Lucas of The University of South Central Queensland [Tita] knows how to stimulate and satisfy the appetitethough she is forbidden from being part of either the appetite or its satiation. ‘ Esquivel links food very closely to love and suffering.

Forbidden to reveal her love for Pedro, Tita’s strong emotions of suffering transmit through her dishes and her finest recipes [come] from [these] [periods] of suffering(Esquivel, p64). ‘ Paradoxically, for Tita, detainment to the kitchen is a freedom because it is a Mama Elena-free zone. Here she avoids her mother who is mercilessly cruel to her, slowly, agonizingly, tearing her apart. Here she delights in freely communicating memories and emotions through her dishes. Tita’s emotions transmit subconsciously, and consequently, she continues to feel trapped even though she is in fact expressing herself.

Her seclusion due to the family “curse” and domination by Mama Elena is responsible for slowing the development of her identity. When freed from the ranch by John Brown, Josefita’s hands are symbolic of her lack of identity. Esquivel demonstrates this point very clearly using the symbolism of Tita’s hands, as shown in the following quotation, At her mother’s, what she had to do with her hands was strictly determined, no questions asked. ‘ (Esquivel p98) and … now, seeing her hands no longer at her mother’s command, she didn’t know what to ask them to do, she had never decided for herself before. Esquivel p99).

The household is a microcosm of the outside Mexican Revolution. Tita is a rebellious soladera, and Mama Elena is her upper-class’ oppressor that limits her status. Both are constantly in conflict, challenging each other’s authority. Tita controls the food, which, through smell, shape, taste and colour provokes emotions, such as lust, sickness, pregnancy and motherhood. With this position, she is linked to everyone else’s lives and has certain powers’. The recipes are more than just formulas, buried within them are memories (Mackenzie E. Dennard).

In Like Water for Chocolate, magic realism takes the shape of the power that Tita’s recipes have for magically communicating her feelings and passions (Dr Wally Woods). For instance, her dish of Quails in Rose Petal Sauce triggered the diners to become overwhelmed with desire. Tita is in the centre of the household because she prepares the food they eat that sustains their survival. In some aspects, she provides life ‘. (Dr Wally Woods). Her dishes challenge Mama Elena’s patriarchy and restrictions because only Tita knows the recipes which, when changed can cause dangerous chemical reactions’ (Esquivel p95).

This is Tita’s only authority and freedom. Mama Elena and the family tradition oppress Tita as she cannot marry and must stay on the ranch. Her only freedom of expression is through her dishes, which are a violent oratory medium. As cook, she is the centre of the household and has some power, even if Mama Elena physically dominates her. When Tita leaves the ranch, she discovers a sense of self and freedom. Nora is confined to the house where she operates as wife, mother and housewife. She becomes a victim of role-play, so much so that she is no longer a person but a doll’.

Female-male role-play heavily binds Nora and her entire relationship with Torvald is a facade rather than communication of emotions and thoughts. Nora’s debt liberates her; it gives her a sense of control that she would not otherwise achieve within the limits of the home. When Nora realises what her life has been like she rejects it and leaves Torvald to experience what she missed in the confinement of her home. Overall, A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen and Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel are narratives about patriarchy and the effects of role-play.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this essay please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.