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Mother Figures and Their Relationships with Daughters in Like Water for Chocolate and Therese Raquin

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Throughout Like Water for Chocolate and Therese Raquin, mothers reinforce limitations that repress their daughters’ emotions. Striving for their goals, Tita and Therese face barricades that alter their personalities and morph their desires. The aspirations of the protagonists develop through repression, accentuating their struggle to achieve their passions.

The protagonist’s desires are smothered by their mothers. In Like Water for Chocolate, Mama Elena disregards Tita’s longing for marriage and a family of her own. Mama Elena forces Tita, her youngest daughter, to adhere to the family tradition, dictating Tita “can’t marry or have children because (she has) to take care of (her) mother until she dies” (Esquivel, 1993, p. 72). This shatters Tita’s prospects for the future. Her mother blockades Tita’s happiness in life, wounding her. In order to uphold the family tradition, Mama Elena refuses Pedro’s request to marry Tita, but concocts another idea, “allow me to suggest my daughter Rosaura” (16). Tita’s heart is crushed as she is forced to assist with the wedding ceremony and watch her sister marry her love. Mama Elena does not let Tita “have an opinion” (14) in anything. Tita is in an ancillary position and serves her family as her voice is stolen and all that she yearns for is suppressed. The way in which Tita is treated by Mama Elena leaves deep emotional scars: “she had been killing her a little at a time since she was a child” (47). This treatment strengthens Tita’s longing for Pedro, who only married Rosaura to be near Tita. She hopes that Pedro will “take her away with him…where there were no rules” (54). The constant brutal treatment Tita undergoes leaves her devastated and without the few desires her benevolent heart has.

The eponymous protagonist in Therese Raquin has a passionate disposition that she is forced to conceal in her life with her aunt, Madame Raquin, and Camille. In the absence of her parents, Madame Raquin is the mother figure in Therese’s life. Therese was raised alongside Camille, “sharing her cousin’s medicines, kept in the hothouse atmosphere of the little invalid’s room” (Zola, 1962, p. 38). The confines of Therese’s childhood environment stifled her ardor for life. Madame Raquin raised her to be a companion to Camille, attempting to shape Therese into a “watchful nurse” (40). As Therese’s emotions are continuously suppressed, they become magnified: “for fifteen years she had lied, repressing her burning desires” (72). Therese is forced to be grateful to Madame Raquin for raising her; however, she reaches a climax where she cannot bear to bury her passionate nature to suit the needs of the Raquins. Camille is dull, listless and possesses no knowledge “of the fierce desires of adolescence”( 41). Zola presents Therese as the lone passionate soul in the Raquin household. In her dreary atmosphere she is devoid of an outlet to release her personality. Similarly to Tita, Therese’s dull habitat confines her from releasing her inner self. Therese cannot acclimate to the darkness and gloom of her precinct, and aches to “run away…into the sunshine” (66). She desires to be free from the life and environment that Madame Raquin controls, and release her passion for life.

In Life Water for Chocolate, Mama Elena controls Tita with so much force that only through her struggle to break free and through time away from her mother can Tita find freedom and gain control over her life. The final act that causes Tita to rebel is Mama Elena’s refusal to allow Tita to mourn the death of her nephew: “we can’t give in to sorrow, there’s work to do” (Esquivel, p. 89). Roberto was more of her son “without the official title,” (76) whom she lost when Mama Elena sent his family to Texas. Tita’s learnt submissive attitude explodes in outrage as her mother attempts to muffle her emotions. A combination of shock at the atrocity of her nephew’s death and hatred towards Mama Elena causes Tita to erupt claiming, “I’m sick of obeying your orders” (89). As an effect of the emotional and physical abuse, Tita takes her first steps towards freedom in her withdrawal to the dove coop. After being banished to an insane asylum, Tita’s physical and emotional needs are nourished in the home of the doctor where she recovers from her mistreatment. Through her recovery, Tita learns to be more stalwart. For the first time, she refuses to do something with the explanation, “because I don’t want to” (106). Tita discovers who her true character is as she is free to be something other than what her mother dictated. After discovering her inner characteristics through the support of the doctor John Brown, Tita returns to Mama Elena’s household to confront her fears and assist her mother in her paraplegic condition. Though Tita is verbally abused when she returns home, she manages to stay strong through the fact that it was her personal choice to return to the ranch through feelings of duty. Upon the death of her mother Tita believes she will finally be free from her mother’s dominant presence, but is haunted by her ghost. To achieve eternal freedom from her mother Tita confronts the ghost and rebels, claiming she is “a person who has a perfect right to live her life as she pleases…leave me alone” (180) and eternally freeing Tita from her mother’s control. Tita is then able to release all of her repressed emotions. At long last Tita and Pedro “can make love freely” (p. 248). The change that Tita undergoes due to her repressed emotion strengthens her character for the better.

In Therese Raquin, Zola highlights the way the protagonist’s character changes as her desires dominate her life and give her the ability to rebel against her repressors. The author awakens Therese’s dormant concupiscence’s to a climactic level by Laurent, who unlocks her true nature through his animal power and sexual potency. Therese quenches her passion and passes “from the weakly arms of Camille into the vigorous embrace of Laurent” (Zola, p. 64). She “was taking her revenge” (66) on the Raquins by having an affair with Camille’s friend. Therese takes few precautions to hide the adultery, “let her come up if she wants to. You can hide. To hell with her! I love you.” (68) This act of rebellion reaches a pinnacle with Camille’s murder, but Therese believes she is compensated through Laurent. With Laurent, Therese has the ability to be an entirely different person, and she is unashamed to release this character with him. Laurent impacts Therese’s character as he shapes her into a new person. Before meeting her lover she maintained “perfect control” (42), and concealed her inner feelings even though she detested her life. Laurent manumits her from the spell and allows her to come alive. Towards the end of the text, Therese no longer suppresses her emotions and reveals “shattering bursts of rage” (215). This change in Therese occurs not through her initial salvation, but rather ultimate moral and physical destruction. Therese’s personality would not have initially murdered such a naïve man, but the constraints her mother enforces cause Therese to rebel and remove the obstacle in her path for the taste of freedom. The ability to do as she personally chooses releases Therese from the constraints of her diminutive atmosphere and she finally finds a reason for which to live. The opportunity Therese is given to rebel from her repressors is what assists her in being capable of achieving happiness.

The concept of empathy, or lack thereof, is significant in the way Tita and Therese find a resolution to their predicament. Laura Esquivel uses this technique to allow Tita to understand Mama Elena and forge a resolution. At her mother’s funeral “Tita really wept for her mother. Not for the castrating mother who had repressed Tita her entire life, but for the person who had lived a frustrated love” (Esquivel, p. 126). In contrast to her mother, Tita chooses to stop the family tradition that represses the youngest daughter. She succeeds in freeing her niece from the cycle of destruction which gives birth to the novel that is narrated by Tita’s great niece. In Therese Raquin a resolution is never achieved. Therese exerts herself in attempts of achieving what she believes will satisfy her desires and release her from her life devoid of passion, but she crosses the moral boundary that leads to her downfall. By finally understanding her mother Tita’s emotional wounds begin to heal, and she is able to live free from Mama Elena’s shadow, but Therese is never able to connect with Madame Raquin and is tortured by the invalid’s eyes that portray hatred towards her son’s murderers. Laurent and Therese are driven to commit suicide in attempts of achieving resolution.

The authors in Like Water for Chocolate and Therese Raquin use the mother figures to allow the audience to identify with the daughters through the repression they face. These women are portrayed as the true source of unhappiness in the lives of their daughters, but the authors present hopes for escaping the maternal influence. The constant theme of hope encourages the reader, and the texts highlight that rebellion to a certain degree can assist in attaining one’s desires. The texts also show, however, that if one becomes overly zealous for the taste of freedom and sheds all moral codes then it will ultimately lead to one’s downfall.

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Mother Figures and Their Relationships with Daughters in Like Water for Chocolate and Therese Raquin. (2018, April 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 25, 2022, from
“Mother Figures and Their Relationships with Daughters in Like Water for Chocolate and Therese Raquin.” GradesFixer, 11 Apr. 2018,
Mother Figures and Their Relationships with Daughters in Like Water for Chocolate and Therese Raquin. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 25 Jun. 2022].
Mother Figures and Their Relationships with Daughters in Like Water for Chocolate and Therese Raquin [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Apr 11 [cited 2022 Jun 25]. Available from:
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