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Since food is created from recipes that have been passed down from one generation to the next, the art of cooking was taught by mothers to daughters, they reawaken the past by reminiscence. It is not a surprise that we find frequent references to the epitome of human characteristics in novels of magic realism, such as Kitchen and Like Water for Chocolate. Food in literature can be used as symbolism for many aspects of things, but it’s most likely that it represents the ideal voice of a character or the personality of themselves. This is because certain aspects of a character reveal themselves in the personal choices of consuming food and the effects afterwards on the characters. Since eating consists of numeral pre-activities to be performed; the preservation, preparation, presentation, and performance of food as well as the food product itself is what leads characters’ to behave ambiguously. More abstractly, in addition to giving insights within a character, both Yoshimoto and Esquivel use food to symbolize significant relationships amongst the characters and the association in fact or thought. Therefore, by analyzing the human attributes given to food, we can gain insights into numerous ideas that the writers are exemplifying. This paper will compare the ways in which food is used for the above purposes in both novels.
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Early in Kitchen we are shown a brief introduction to the main character Mikage and her adoration for the kitchen. Mikage is portrayed as a caring and generous character through her food preparation activities and presentation. While preparing food for others, she upholds a feeling of contentment and happiness because the warmth of food and the company of her loved ones. We see that through the death of Mikage’s grandmother whose death has left a heavy impact on her. She describes to have slept in the kitchen after her grandmother’s death, which indicates her association with warmth and food was what she needed to comfort her worried soul:
Steeped in a sadness so great I could barely cry, shuffling softly in gentle drowsiness, I pulled my futon into the deathly silent gleaming kitchen. Wrapped in a blanket, like Linus, I slept. The hum of the refrigerator kept me from thinking of my loneliness. There, the long night came on in perfect peace, and morning came.
Furthermore, being a culinary teacher’s assistant, Mikage has a particularly refined taste for food and always seems able to make eating an event that upholds optimism and hope under any circumstances. She makes it a social experience for Yuichi, an acquaintance of her grandmother’s funeral who’s family Mikage goes to live with after her grandmother’s death. He had been mournful after his own mother’s death and Mikage had prepared a magnificent feast in order to cheer him up.
And it’s true that for the whole summer I went about it with a crazed enthusiasm: cooking, cooking, and cooking. I poured all my earnings from my part-time job into it, and if something came out wrong I’d do it over till I got it right. Angry, fretful or cheery, I cooked through it all. (56)
Mikage is also shown to reveal her inner emotions through the use of preservation and presentation of food to express her sincerity and concern. As a young woman who had been taught by her grandmother to cook, she does not limit herself to only traditional recipes. She prepares food with vast quantities of materials and tries to expand on her options of cooking a good meal. She questions her love for the kitchen, “Perhaps to me a kitchen represents some distant longing engraved on my soul. As I stood there, I seemed to be making a new start; something was coming back” (56). The intensity of culinary had given her opportunities to express her inner feelings and to maintain a steady relationship with the people in her life. Mikage prefers finely detailed meals which consist of dishes with lots of color and shapes, reflecting her personality within the final product. Her preservation of food reflects her thoughts and concerns for the people in her life, such as her friendship with Yuichi. She identifies his loneliness and sets out to be a better friend by
“Finding myself standing alone in the standing alone in the street, close to midnight, belly pleasantly full, a hot takeout container of katsudon in my hands, completely bewildered as to how to proceed.” (93)
From this we can perceive the importance of friendship from Mikage’s generosity of supplying food for a friend. On contrary, Yuichi is grateful of having Mikage in his life and the food would taste so good because he feels loved and happy amongst his isolation.
It is exactly the notion that distinguishes Mikage from other characters in Kitchen. Though Mikage also has a humble taste for food that she’s accustomed to,
“The food was so delicious, and I realized how very, very hungry I was. It occurred to me I always enjoyed what I ate when I was with him. How wonderful it is, I thought” (142).
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In contrast to other characters in the book, Mikage does not care for her social environment. This is evident in which she describes her eating experiences with Yuichi, her very close friend. This shows that Yuichi has bonded with a person who cares very much about him through her expressive eating behavior.
The affectionate attitude to food is related to their genuine friendship, and more specifically, conveying their emotions. In a café, sensible Mikage drank tea with Yuichi, confessing that it was their first time sitting down in such a setting, Yuichi bluntly blurts out Mikage’s feelings about her grandmother’s death versus his feelings towards his mother’s death. The literal description of Mikage’s profoundly response was “Yuichi, the fact that you’re relaxed enough with me now to tell me how you’re really feeling is a source of comfort to me. It makes me very happy. So happy I feel like shouting it from the rooftops” (76). It can be interpreted metaphorically with tea being a symbol for relaxation but conveys acknowledgement between people. Contrariwise, Mikage’s goal in a genuine friendship is shown in her attitude towards her association with food. “When she began to sob audibly, everyone in the place turned to stare at her. Chika’s shoulders jerked spasmodically, racked with grief. Tears fell into her soup” (86). Again, the fundamental presentation of food is associated with emotions and memoirs. Mikage, who witnesses his touching scenario can identify that the human heart is unquestionably precious and genuine. The human nature of Mikage shows itself in the reply: “the experiences of the last months had changed me. In the mirror I could see only a trace of the spoiled princess I had been, the one who took Eriko for granted. I was so far from that now” (87). The death of a friend led her to realization that it was too late to say goodbye.
Experiencing a similar fate to Mikage, Tita shows her affections through her preparation and presentation of food. However, she is denied of love from her mother and she is used as a tool to compensate the happiness of the rest of family members while not being able to experience her own. While all the food she prepares does not center on her, most of it was having to do with her entity. So it seemed that Tita was destined from the very beginning to learn the traits of cooking since birth, allowing her emotional connection to the food she cooked later in her life as a form of realism. The establishment of traditional recipes being handed down from one generation to the next is relevant to Tita and her emotions. Since her mother has denied her marriage to Pedro, her lover; he has brought her roses which she used for their family dinner. A sense of alchemical process, this is ominously displayed at the dinner: “with that meal it seemed they had discovered a new system of communication , in which Tita was the transmitter, Pedro the receiver and poor Gertrudis the medium, the conducting body through which the singular sexual message was passed” (52). Her resilient behavior concerning her preparation of food and drinks shows her frustration and insatiable character; “on her knees, was bent over the grinding stone, moving in slow regular rhythm, grinding the almonds and sesame seeds” (67). Tita finds her sexual satisfaction in passionately committing adultery with Pedro and this is symbolized by the eating of rose petal quail. Without any mention of romantic love, the presentation of food reflects the intensifying emotions during the preparation. This example adds to Tita’s profile to have affectionate characteristics.
The way that food can be used as a literary effect is evidence in both novels Kitchen and Like Water for Chocolate, Yoshimoto and Esquivel seem to share a similar view on the literary use of food symbolism. The reason that something as generalized as food comes to represent the characters and their need to transform the food with their own emotions. Instead of describing directly what kind of character one is or stating how the plot will develop, both authors use the personification of food to convey the ideas. It is this sort of literary technique that makes a novel enduring.
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