Heart of the House. The Street of the Cañón Essay Example



Being chained to one aspect of life leaves little to do for the one being imprisoned. Often times, women stuck in their own houses only had falling in love to look forward to. However, when other responsibilities can become obstacles in the way of love. The novel Like Water for Chocolate, written by Laura Esquivel, and the short story “The Street of the Cañón”, written by Josephina Niggli, displays the desires of the heart conflicting with the responsibilities of being a daughter in 20th century Mexico. 

Cultural Background

Prisoners in their own homes, women of 20th century Mexico had a hard time escaping the responsibilities of domestic life. Problems with the government lead women to stay confined in their house and only deal with the issues of household. What mothers, daughters, and children wanted was often not what they could have, and were instead expected to stick to solely domestic responsibilities. The Mexican revolution had a huge impact on both the short story and the novel. Despite the fact that neither of these stories were actually written during the times of revolution they were meant to represent and demonstrate what life was like during those hard times. 

The revolution began with the election between Francisco Madero and Porfirio Diaz. Madero returned advocating for revolution and was successful in replacing Diaz (Short Stories for Students 275). After this there were many more changes in rulers which happened due to multiple assassinations, revolutions, and riots.(Novels for Students 217). Then, there were more revolutions lead against him. All these changes in power and authority left the country in a constant battle for stability and leadership. 

During these times of revolutions women’s roles were that of domestic responsibilities. This is especially prominent in the novel. A woman’s place was seen to be in the home where she could selflessly serve those around her (Novels for Students 217). This left girls with little time to do activities for themselves. Even if they could, there were very few options. Examples of what they could turn to would be cooking, sewing, or decoration. These are all still just domestic arts. Women could do very little about what they wanted to do beyond the limits of their houses. What they did was not left up to them and they often had little say or freedom over their own lives.

Author Background

The feeling of the house in which Laura Esquivel grew up in was similar to that of which she wrote in her book. Being the third out of four children, she grew up in what she considered to be a modern home. Her home was in stark contrast to her grandmother’s which was right across the street (Novels for Students 209). There in the kitchen of her grandma’s old home was where she got the inspiration for her book. Like Water for Chocolate actually started out as a screenplay (Novels for Students 209).The play was a hit with critics and was published in both Mexico and America and eventually came to be the novel version which went on to become a bestseller. Before she came to be writing screenplays and stories, she was a teacher (Novels for Students 209). The works she did throughout her life touched the hearts of people everywhere.

Josephine Niggli was born in Monterey, Nuevo León, Mexico. She grew up during all the turmoil of the Mexican revolution. However, she did not live in Mexico for the entirety of the revolution (Short Stories for Students 268). She attended the University of Incarnate Word and went on to get a degree in drama from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She won many awards for her writing and became known for her works of poetry and plays (Short Stories for Students 269). Her works mainly focused on Mexican life and what it was like to live in some of the villages. She did not stick simply to writings; she also did some projects in radio, film, and television. Critics believed her work to bring attention to the Chicano movement. Along with all these achievements, she also taught at the University of North Carolina and at Western Carolina University (Short Stories for Students 269). Her works and writings which she created during her lifetime had a great impact and were considered to have paved the way for the Chicano movement. 

Comparison

Both the short story and the novel contain the theme of staying loyal to one’s family or town which creates problems with the theme of love overcoming obstacles. In “The Street of the Cañón” a young girl had a lover from a rival town and in Like Water for Chocolate Tita struggles with her responsibilities to the family and her true love. Even with the problems with the ties of loyalty and family, love does everything possible to prevail.

In the novel Like Water for Chocolate, written by Laura Esquivel, true love is faced with challenges and obstacles of expectations but always finds a way to overcome these problems. In this novel, the main character Tita resented her responsibilities and longed to be free. Ever since the beginning of the story “she intended to protest her mother’s ruling” (Esquivel 11). She understood her duties to her mother and family but she was not content with them, which is why she wanted to “protest.” Tita wants to make her disapproval about her role known, but is quickly shot down every time by her mother. However, her desire for love eventually outweighs her responsibilities as she tells her mom’s spirit when Tita tells her how she is “a person who has a perfect right to live her life as she pleases” (Esquivel 199). 

Even though her mother is no longer physically around to stop her, the tradition acts as a looming presence until she confronts her mom’s ghost. Tita does what is necessary in order to ensure she will be able to live her life happily and achieve the love she desires. In “The Street of the Cañón”, a short story written by Josephina Niggli, what love had to overcome was duties and ties to a town. The people of Hidalgo and the people of San Juan Iglesias consider themselves to be enemies. Sarita, the prettiest lady in San Juan is surprised to find herself in love with a man from the town of her enemies because she believes “those people from Hidalgo … are wicked monsters” (Niggli). 

She knows her people despise the residents of Hidalgo and she is aware of the fact of her people expecting her to as well. Nevertheless, the love she feels towards Pepe Gonzalez overcomes the idea of his kind being “wicked monsters.” She is hesitant at first, not wanting to give in, and accept someone from the other side. But she cannot help herself, and the idea of marrying him causes a “grin [to] crinkle the corners of her eyes” (Niggli). She loves him regardless of what is expected of her. The traditions which have preceded her in hating the town of Hidalgo are not enough to stop her from falling in love with Pepe.

Love will find a way, regardless of what is expected to happen. Both the novel Like Water for Chocolate and the short story “The Street of the Cañón” have the idea of love overcoming obstacles in common. In the novel Tita obtains her heart’s desire of true love despite the role she has in the family. In the short story Sarita loves someone from an enemy town despite the traditions of hating them. In both stories love is not easy to obtain, but manages to always find a way and to stay true. 

Novel Analysis

Love is considered to be one of the most important aspects of human life and what many people look forward to finding for themselves. Most people believe that love makes life worth living. When responsibilities get in the way of obtaining love which is so special, life can become hard to handle and difficult to deal with. Tough choices need to be made between what the heart wants and what the person making the decision is expected to do. The idea in question is whether or not to be loyal to one’s duties or to be loyal to one’s heart. In Laura Esquivel’s novel, Like Water for Chocolate, the theme of staying true to the responsibilities of the house is met with the theme of true love always overcoming obstacles and are revealed through characterization and symbolism. 

Staying true to the responsibilities of the house was challenged through the characterization of Tita. During the time of the Mexican revolution women were expected to stay in the house and tend to all the domestic needs of the family. The role of caretaker of her mother unfortunately landed on Tita who is the main character of the novel. While Tita is not a fan of not being able to do what she wanted her mother exclaimed that she did not “have an opinion...not a single person in [the] family has ever questioned this tradition” (Esquivel 11). Women’s roles in the house was especially true in the De La Garza family where there was a tradition of the youngest daughter devoting her life to tending and waiting on her mother. People have a right to their own opinion, so by claiming Tita does not have one demonstrates how she is perceived as only there to take care of the household and her mom. 

Her not talking back reveals she values or respects her position in the house and does not want to cause an upset. In this case, her responsibilities are more important than what she wants. However, the fact she even tried to have a say in what happens to her shows just how much she truly wants her freedom. Though she respects her role in the family, she still attempts to go her own way which leads to the characterization of her being stubborn. Her not giving up on having love connects to and creates the theme of true love always finding a way. Even though Tita was in love, she “had no right to have a boyfriend” (Esquivel 213). By taking away Tita’s “right” to have a boyfriend, her mother makes her less of a person because everyone ideally has rights to their own life. Having less rights than the typical person of this time period demonstrates how seriously her role to her mother and the household really was. 

Tita constantly had to stay loyal to her family, even though she does not care for her job in the slightest. The love of her life was right in front of her, but due to the tradition, she was not allowed to date or marry. She was denied of having a life of her own. The only activities she could do were her domestic chores or hobbies and her heart longed for more. Wanting more in life left her with a feeling of resentment towards her job in the household, which is what created the challenge of her responsibilities in the home.

Even with all the difficulties of Tita’s life of dedication to her mother, love had overcome those obstacles and provided an escape for Tita. After she had learned for herself what true love was like she believed that “a soul that hasn’t been warmed by the fire of love is lifeless” (Esquivel 67). Her love for her childhood sweetheart, Pedro, was so strong it was often symbolized by fire. For Tita, the fire for her life was at arm’s length, but unattainable because of the tradition, which caused her great distress. She craved the warmth that Pedro provided for her. In this analogy, fire creates the warmth that is necessary for life. In order to continue living, she needs and desperately wants to have the love in which she is being denied, due to the tradition of caring for her mother. Needing and wanting something this passionately means she will take every possible opportunity to ensure that she receives her love. 

Tita’s love will triumph overcome the hardships and challenges which the love she shares with Pedro has to face. Adding on to the symbolization of fire, the novel proposed a theory where every person has a box of matches inside them but needs other people to light them. Lighting the matches are necessary to survive because “the combustion that occurs when one of them is ignites is what nourishes the soul” (Esquivel 115). Those who light the matches do not have to have romantically involved, they just have to have strong positives feelings and love towards the person whose match the lit. 

The lighting of the matches further reinforces the idea that love is necessary to live life. Without the matches being lit, the soul dampens and shrinks until the person becomes too weak to continue on. Love is needed and will do whatever is necessary in order to stay true and fulfilled. Tita’s love has always been so close yet unreachable. Her life depended on the love she was denied. However, she made do and did everything she could in order to keep her matches and the fire within her from going out. The effort she put into establishing her love proves how important being loved and having the fire in her life was for Tita. 

Both the forces of responsibility and love provided conflicting presences in Tita’s life. She constantly struggled with the two. Both sides pulled and tugged at her conscience, creating a guilt inside her not knowing which to choose. Finding a balance with what she wanted to do and what she was expected to do was difficult for her. She fought until she got what her heart wanted and stood up for herself, claiming her rights as a person that she was denied from her mother. The ideas of love and responsibility along with the struggle which comes with finding a balance between the both of them can still be seen in the modern world today. Many people in society are considered to be ‘work-a-holics’ in which they focus either too much or solely on their responsibilities, and not enough on themselves and their relationships. People often find peace when they manage to achieve a balance between work and love.   

Works Cited

Esquivel, Laura. Like Water for Chocolate. New York, Anchor Books, 1992.

Niggli, Josephina. The Street of Cañón. PDF.

Novels for Students. edited by Marie Rose Napierkowski, vol. 5, Gale, 1999, pp. 207-227.

Short Stories for Students. Constantakis, Sara, editor. Vol. 35, Gale, 2012, pp. 268-292.