Repression is often reflected upon in realist literature, whether in works of social realism, like Madame Bovary, or magical realism, such as Like Water for Chocolate. Both of the novels, written respectively by Gustave Flaubert and Laura Esquivel, illustrate repression trough dark imagery. The protagonists, Emma Bovary and Tita De La Garza, repress their true feelings due to their conscience. Although Tita manages to get rid of these repressed feelings by the end of the novel, Emma is never really true to her self, which leads to her inevitable self-destruction and death, without a clear conscience. In this paper, the manner in which dark imagery contributes to illustrate repression of the main characters – trough conversation, sexual relations OR observation and emotion – will be examined.
One way in which both Flaubert and Esquivel illustrate the repression of their protagonists’ feelings is through the dark imagery used in conversation. When a literary device is used in such an important form of communication – conversation – it is clearly important to the author. On Three Kings Day, Tita finally stands up to her, deceased, mom trough loudly expressing her feelings towards her:
“Once and for all, leave me alone; I won’t put up with you! I hate you, I’ve always hated you!” Tita had said the magic words that would make Mama Elena disappear forever. […] As the ghost faded away, a sense of relief grew inside Tita’s body. The inflammation in her belly and the pain in her breasts began to subside.1
The (metaphor) “inflammation” in her stomach is her feelings, and when it begins to subside, it would be the end of Tita’s repressed feelings. She does not feel guilty about loving Pedro anymore, nor does she have any concerns about Mama Elena punishing her.
She heard, as she passed, the whispers in the church, and she felt each comment like a stab in her back.2
Trough sexual relations
The sound of her approaching footsteps blended with the violent beating of his heart.3
Tita and Pedro have sex together for the first time in “the dark room”, and some sort of spiritual explosion occurs outside, as Rosaura observes from a distance:
“What else can it be, can’t you see it’s a ghost of the dead! Dead and still walking, paying for some unsettled score! I don’t think it’s no joke, I’m never going anywhere near it!”4
Tita’s feelings for Pedro are synonymous with the room described in this quote: they must remain in the dark forever. When Esquivel is talking about the “ghost of the dead”, she is really referring to Tita’s repressed feelings. The citation “dead and still walking” illustrates the fact that Tita’s feelings for Pedro are “dead” – from her repressing them – but “still walking” – from still being in her consciousness. This dark imagery also illustrates how Tita repressing her feelings are “deadly”: in magic realism – as we see further into the novel – this is very likely to be absolutely true.
As the youngest daughter in the De La Garza family, Tita is destined to a fate of loneliness: she must, until her mother dies, take care of her and remain unwed. When Pedro, Tita’s sweetheart, decides to marry her sister Rosaura – Tita suddenly feels cold and empty:
She realized that the hollow sensation was not hunger but an icy feeling of grief. She had to get rid of that terrible sensation of cold. […] Not that night, nor many others, for as long as she lived, could she free herself from that cold.5
The deliberate juxtaposition of “hollow sensation” and “icy feeling of grief” emphasize the seriousness of Tita’s emotions. The metaphor “a terrible sensation of cold” is used to describe Tita’s crushed feeling of despair: she can never be with Pedro, now that he is marrying her sister. The accumulative and somewhat hyperbolic expressions “not that night”, “nor many others” and “for as long as she lived” truly stress the fact that by repressing her broken hearted-sentiments towards Pedro, she can never “free herself from that cold”.
Emma on the other hand releases her – until that time – repressed feelings. When Lï¿½on leaves for Paris, and Emma is left with nothing but boring old Charles in Yonville.
The next day, for Emma, was a day of mourning. Everything seemed to be wrapped in a confusion of shadows drifting over their surfaces, and sorrow plunged into her soul with a muffled howling, like the sound of the winter wind in some abandoned chï¿½teau.6
The simplicity of the first sentence gives no room for misinterpretation of Emma’s feelings. The sudden contrast between this minimalist sentence and the richly illustrative second sentence further intensifies the latter’s impact on the reader. The hyperbolic statement “everything seemed to be wrapped in a confusion of shadows drifting over their surfaces” can be interpreted as Emma’s previously repressed feelings rising to the surface.
As Dr John Brown comes back to the ranch, to marry Tita, Pedro is being rude and unpleasant.
Perhaps the accident he had suffered had affected his mind. Perhaps his head was full of the smoke his body had given off when it burned and just as burnt toast changes the way the whole house smells, making it unpleasant, so his smoky brain was producing these black thoughts, turning his usually pleasant words into awful ones.7
Charles decides to move to Yonville to improve Emma’s poor health, and before they leave; Emma burns her wedding bouquet.
She watched it burning. The little imitations berries crackled, the wires twisted, the braid melted; and the paper petals, withering away, hovering in the fireplace like black butterflies, finally vanished up the chimney. 8
1 Esquivel, Laura. Like Water for Chocolate, First Anchor Books Edition, 1995 [page 199-200]
2 Esquivel, Laura. Like Water for Chocolate, First Anchor Books Edition, 1995 [page 36]
3 Esquivel, Laura. Like Water for Chocolate, First Anchor Books Edition, 1995 [page 97]
4 Esquivel, Laura. Like Water for Chocolate, First Anchor Books Edition, 1995 [page 159]
5 Esquivel, Laura. Like Water for Chocolate, First Anchor Books Edition, 1995 [page 19]
6 Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. Penguin Books, 2003 [page 114]
7 Esquivel, Laura. Like Water for Chocolate, First Anchor Books Edition, 1995 [page 211-212]
8 Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. Penguin Books, 2003 [page 63]