The conception of conformity and confinement are salient in both Yukio Mishima’s “The sailor who fell from grace with the sea” and Laura Esquivel’s “Like water for chocolate”. Through these novels, we are testament to the passive and active powers of Ryuji and Tita alike. Ryuji on the one hand succumbs to conformity whilst Tita on the other hand experiences a gradual change from compliance to renouncing conformity all together. This essay serves to elucidate the diametrically opposite approaches taken by the two authors in portraying the way in which the two characters address conformity. It also accentuates the consequences and benefits of the course of action taken by the two characters.Order now
Initially, Ryuji is tethered by stoic traditional values that convinces him to stand firm at sea. He believes that the sea shall bequeath him with the sumptuous glory that he seeks. This is exemplified through “Standing in the white pilothouse…Ryuji was more convinced than ever: There must be a special destiny in store for me” (Mishima 1999, p17). Here the lexical set “white..special” communicate how this glory is transcendent as “white” can be adjudged as an index of purity whilst “special” hints at something unique. The indented italics further highlights the prominence of this glory. However as time stretches, Ryuji commits himself to believing that sea life entails no form of solace. This is orchestrated through “he was tired, tired to death of a sailor’s life”. (p111). The anadiplosis of “tired” serves to emphasize the ‘prosaic tedium’ of life at sea. Likewise, by comparing his tiredness to “death” we witness his frustration surmounting. Furthermore, by stating that sea life is “another kind of prison” (p16) we see how Ryuji is stifled by the stagnancy of the sea life, as “prison” connotes confinement. Thus it is evident that Ryuji yearns for change from this mundane sea life to something more dynamic.
This desire for change causes him to renounce traditional culture and conform to the norms of the western culture. The quotation “Even the shade beneath the window ledge was as hot as burning asphalt” (p21) foreshadows this. Here the word “shade” insinuates life at sea and how it imparts a sense of protection. Since this shade is subject to “burning” we get a sense that Ryuji is about to neglect this life at sea and embark on a precarious journey of western influence where he shall be exposed to hostility.
We see this change transpire through the catalytic effect of Fusako. Ryuji is beguiled by her charms and succumbs to her impervious command. This is elicited through “Ryuji was anguished, unaware of time and place”. (p76) The word “unaware” serves to explicate how Ryuji is oblivious to any sense of “time and place” whilst “anguish” reiterates the excruciating pain he is undergoing in being cast under the trance of Fusako’s ensnaring beauty. His will to consent to her charms is highlighted through “The lipstick , a spot of vivid red rising out of the whiteness of her chilled drawn face, looked beautiful to Ryuji.” (p112) Clearly the ‘lipstick’, a western creation seems to appeal to him under Fusako’s presence as he describes it so precisely as “vivid”. This demonstrates how Ryuji is prepared to cherish the western ways.
Nevertheless, Ryuji is soon confounded as he begins to question whether conformity is truly compatible with glory. Noboru prompts Ryuji to reconsider through questioning his decisions. This is illustrated through “Are you really going to give it up? Are you going to give up ?” (p111) Here the repetition ‘Are you’ instills a sense of aporia in Ryuji. He confronts the crisis of identity. This sense of doubt is further corroborated through “’I won’t be sailing again for a while. As a matter of fact…Ryuji faltered, and was silent.” (p113). Here the momentary hesitation reiterates how Ryuji is in fact unsure in his heart and still feels the pull of the sea. He is even warranted the opportunity to revert back to his old ways. This is subtly envisaged through “Ryuji stared at a red bulb blooming above an emergency exit” (p110). Here the “red bulb blooming” is a metaphor for the Rising Sun Flag. The sheer fact that it’s above the ‘emergency exit’ suggests how Ryuji can make an imminent gateway and break the shackles of conformity.
Yet Ryuji’s obsession over Fusako ensures that he embraces her western ways. This decision to conform is rife with consequences and is succinctly depicted through “The vermilion plum-branch cup…seemed to wither in the grasp of the huge, calloused hand” (p114). Here,“vermillion…writhing” subtly illustrates the death of Japanese tradition under the metaphorical “hand” of western imperialism (Ryuji). The magnitude of western influence is made clear through “huge” and the death of the Japanese tradition is exemplified through the “vermilion…wither”
In “Like Water for Chocolate”, propriety is prevalent from the very beginning of the novel. Tita the protagonist is subservient to Mama Elena’s tyrannical commands. She is relegated to the domestic sphere of the kitchen and must engage in the tedious humdrum of female tradition. This tradition suppresses her sense of identity and confines her.
The extent of propriety that permeates Tita is made clear through the accretion of negative adjectives and harsh lexical set “rip it out…ordered…tremendous slap”. (Esquivel 1995, p12 & 27) These actions are all appropriated by Mama Elena and demonstrates her tyrannical dominance over Tita. This is further corroborated through ‘That’s it for today.’ (p11) This terse statement composed of monosyllabic words belches an assertive tone and amplifies her governance over Tita. In fact, the stranglehold is so overwhelming that even after Mama Elena dies, she appears as an apparition pervading Tita’s conscience. This resurfacing of traditional values further impedes Tita’s liberation.
The symbiotic relationship between the birds and Tita gives further credence to her lack of freedom. Birds usually have associational imagery with freedom. Through the constant reference of a chicken, a bird that cannot fly, we see a parallel to the situation that Tita faces. Chickens are originally birds that can fly, until humans capture and domesticate them. This is analogous to how Tita, a girl who is meant to be free, is deprived of her abilities to ‘fly’ (marry and have kids) because she is impounded in Mama Elena’s metaphorical cage. Similarly, Tita is forced work for Mama Elena with infinitesimal rewards just like how a chicken has to provide eggs everyday for their owners. Furthermore, the quotation “she was covered with pigeon droppings” (p100) lends into the idea of her deprivation as it symbolizes how Tita is in fact ‘covered’ with oppression. Thus, Esquival uses the construct of the bird to emphasize the pertinence of Tita’s sense of deprivation as a result of conforming.
In essence, Tita feels stifled by the cultural mores that she is coerced into. When Tita is taken to Dr. Brown’s house, she marvels at her hands, for she discovers “she could move them however she pleased.” At the ranch, “what she had to do with her hands was strictly determined.” (p109). This juxtaposition exhibits how Tita yearns for a sense of freedom and expanse.
In spite of her conformity to begin with, Tita eventually has a breakdown when Roberto dies. This is exemplified through the quotation “the sound of all the dishes breaking into a thousand pieces.” (p99). Since Tita’s happiness resides in the kitchen, the use of symbolic image of shattering dishes is paramount to emphasizing the decimation of both her joy and propriety. Unlike Ryuji, it is not a mundane lifestyle that causes a shift in her identity but rather a traumatic experience.
The title of the novel foreshadows this identity change. The title is a locution which translates as ‘water at the boiling point’. The ‘water’ is a symbol for Tita and ‘the boiling point’ suggests her inflaming response to Mama Elena’s tyrannical rule. Therefore, the title foreshadows how Tita’s sentiments change from submission to that of confrontation. This transition is diametrical to that of Ryuji as he succumbs to conformity eventually whilst Tita evades it.
Tita’s identity change is channelled through cooking. Through cooking she is able to induce sadness and acute physical discomfort. This is accentuated through “But the weeping was just the first symptom of a strange intoxication-an acute attack of pain…that seized the guests. . . all of them wailing over lost love.” (p39) where her tear drop infused cake is able to stir up despair amongst a myriad of guests. Cooking also becomes an extension of herself and provides her with the impetus for freedom and self-expression. This is clarified through “for Tita, the joy of living was wrapped up in the delights of food”. The semantic field “joy…delights” entail positive connotations which suggest that food provides her with a means of escapism from the monotony of her daily existence. Thus gastronomic interior spaces enable her voice to be heard. It revitalizes her identity and enables her to break the shackles of confinement and conformity.
In conclusion, both texts articulate the changing identity of the protagonists. Tita transforms from a submissive daughter to a defiant one whilst Ryuji transitions towards conformity and remains in this passive state until his death. In the end Tita is faced with positive results as she gradually gains her self-confidence and ultimately reunites with Pedro as opposed to Ryuji who is emasculated by the revelation that glory ceases to exist for him. In escaping the constraints of external anticipation and in pooling their strengths from their internal expectations, both protagonists achieve self-actualization and are able to concoct a new identity. Unfortunately their journey entails ambiguity and demise is the end result.