The idea of a life journey initiates a potentially controversial discussion, particularly when concepts of control, destiny and free will are raised. Both Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen and Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate explore the reasons and motivations for embarking on a journey, and indeed the inevitability of one. The protagonists have been crafted as strong, independently minded female characters who, as representations of reality, are as in control of their lives and destinies as any individual. Consequently, it is interesting to examine the extent to which life journeys are experienced by Mikage and Tita, Yoshimoto and Esquivel”s respective protagonists. By understanding the motivations of the characters, the readers can potentially gain an insight into their own life, their own world, and be inspired to acquire the tools to start out on a new life journey for themselves.Order now
In Kitchen, Mikage is introduced as an isolated and lonely young girl. A kitchen is used to emphasise her loneliness, with Mikage telling us that “the place I like best is the kitchen, it’s just a little nicer that being alone” (Yoshimoto, 3). This loneliness is exaggerated as we are told that her family “steadily decreased as the years went by” (Yoshimoto, 4), which ultimately led her to seek refuge in the kitchen, sleeping “beside the refrigerator”, where the hum kept her from “thinking of loneliness” (Yoshimoto, 4). Yuichi’s visit to her house was, for Mikage, a new beginning with a new family. Her initial visit to his house demonstrated the warmth and instant connection she had between Yuichi and his mother Eriko as she “fell in love with at first sight”, serving as a metaphor for the relationship that she creates with Yuichi. The security she gains from the loving family environment is apparently transient, as Mikage’s isolation and loneliness is revisited after Eriko’s death: “But never had I felt so alone as I did now” (Yoshimoto, 48). Mikage embarks on a life journey to save Yuichi as he once saved her; the confidence and inner-security she has gained from her experiences serve to change and broaden the possibilities for the potential journeys she can take.
Likewise, Esquivel provides Tita with a strong personality which led her to take a journey of self discovery. Like Mikage, Tita finds her security in the kitchen – notably the room in which she was born – where she doesn’t require typical human interactions as she “established a communication that went far beyond words” (Esquivel, 31). Mama Elena imposes almost impossibly strict rules on her youngest daughter, forbidding her from marrying. The cruelty of this situation leads perhaps inevitably to Tita’s bid for freedom from such constricting moral and social codes; when Roberto dies, Tita displays a previously unseen forceful side to her character when she yells out to Mama Elena, “you killed Roberto” (Esquivel, 99). This illustrates Tita’s anger and frustration which she felt as she had lost a child whom she had treated as her own, but more importantly she was torn from Pedro; there would now be no reason for the two to interact. Tita is arguably forced to take a journey to escape the strict moral ideals Mama Elena forced her to live by.
Both protagonists take journeys prompted by loss, and both involve the emotional support of a second character. In Tita’s journey, she is given support by John Brown to help her discover herself, and Mikage offers support to Yuichi after Eriko’s death. Mikage’s metaphorical life journey leads her to discover herself, as she states “we believe we choose our path from among the many alternatives… we make the choice unconsciously” (Yoshimoto, 97). The implication of this is that everything is predetermined and that although along the path we meet obstacles, we will all ultimately reach a destination that has been set for us. Tita and Mikage have to take journeys in order to heal themselves; they reach a destination predetermined by the authors that, in both cases, allows the characters to reach a place of freedom. Mikage feels her “spirits began to lift” (Yoshimoto, 100) as Yuichi smiled, and here the reader sees that her journey is nearing completion. On the other hand, “Tita had returned to her senses” (Esquivel, 123) implying that her journey was a temporary but necessary one for her to resurrect her world.
When Mikage travels from Izu to Isehara, it is evident that Yuichi and Mikage’s relationship is far beyond friendship, highlighted by the comparison, “ordering me around like a new bride”. Furthermore, the journey began as Mikage “spied a pink telephone” (Yoshimoto, 89); the colour “pink” being typically associated with love and romance further illustrates the status of their relationship. Mikage found that “it was a relief to hear his voice” (Yoshimoto, 89) when speaking on the phone, but that “his words seemed so far away” (Yoshimoto, 91). Yuichi being both physically and mentally far from Mikage led her to make the apparently spontaneous decision to pursue her love by taking a journey. As she arrived in Isehara, the doors were “securely locked as was the emergency exit” (Yoshimoto, 95), illustrating to the reader that Mikage has travelled far and is being forced to repeatedly question her actions. Indeed, Mikage asks herself, “what am I doing all the way out here?” (Yoshimoto, 93). When she finally arrives at Yuichi’s inn she is reminded, “our dream conversation, isn’t it like this” (Yoshimoto, 98) and at this point Mikage states, “I lost all sense of reality” (Yoshimoto, 98). The worlds of dreaming and reality have been blended together, leading a reader to believe that Yuichi and Mikage are indeed fated to be with each other.
It is interesting to observe that whereas Mikage knew she had to make the literal journey, Tita needed to be guided before understanding the oppression she was experiencing under Mama Elena. The influence of Mama Elena’s beliefs was such that Tita’s bold character had been destroyed and needed to be revived. Tita had “refused to leave the dovecote”, prompting an impatient Mama Elena to “send for Dr Brown to take her to a mental asylum” (Esquivel, 100). Brown is described as having found Tita, “naked, her nose broken and her whole body covered in pigeon droppings” (Esquivel, 100) ,which is intended to repulse the reader while simultaneously illustrating Brown’s determination to help her to be free. Tita’s escape from her past reality led her arrival at Brown’s to be “like a dream” (Esquivel, 108), which can be compared to the manner in which Mikage’s journey brought her to live her dream as reality. Esquivel allows Tita to feel the power of liberty and she compares Tita’s hands to birds that exemplify her freedom as Tita discovers, “they could turn into birds and fly into the air” (Esquivel, 109) whereas before – under the control of Mama Elena – “what she has to do with her hands was strictly determined” (Esquivel, 109). After settling in with Brown, Tita made a decision “to never go back to the ranch again” (Esquivel, 118), a decision that is ultimately reversed but is nevertheless important in highlighting her development. Just as Mikage gained feelings of security from her relationship with Yuichi and Eriko, Tita does so from Brown.
However, the journeys do have some distinct differences as Mikage takes a journey unconsciously; Tita, on the other hand, is always fully aware that she is developing and changing. Mikage’s destiny is already written for her – the inevitable intervention by the author – and the reader is always aware of the final outcome. It is, however, practically impossible for the reader to predict the result of Tita’s journey, as her character develops significantly from the start of the novel. Indeed, the reader is left somewhat confused in the final chapters as to whether Tita decides to be with Brown or
Pedro. Furthermore, their life journeys can be seen as different because of the manner in which they behave toward the men who help them. In Like Water for Chocolate, the reader could assume that although Brown had helped her heal, once she had returned to her senses Tita fell back in love with Pedro. When looking at Mikage’s journey, however, Yuichi had helped her heal when she had lost her grandmother, and a more genuine relationship can be seen because Mikage takes a journey to help him when he is unable to overcome Eriko’s death. Tita makes use of Brown in order to regain her lost love; Mikage needs no intermediary to achieve her goals.
Esquivel and Yoshimoto present the concept of inevitable journeys taken within our lives – both literal and metaphorical – as well as the different motivations and prompts for these journeys. Despite their female protagonists being described as strong and motivated individuals; both Tita and Mikage are subject to outside influences. The implications of this is important: if a strong character still requires and experiences input from external forces, then the suggestion is that nobody can escape their destiny. Both authors choose to end their novels on a positive note, with the dream world of the characters becoming a reality; both authors choose to offer the reader a comforting and reassuring finale. In a world full of increasing political unrest and uncertainty, the knowledge that we are ultimately unable to influence our destiny is perhaps more reassuring than frightening; especially when we are told that dreams can indeed come true.