Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel to Experience Critical Lenses

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Like Water for Chocolate

by Laura Esquivel

to Experience Critical Lenses

“La sangre sin fuego hierve - Blood boils without flame”

Bill Boly – Wilson High School

Carolyn Goodwin – Benson High School

Guy Hill – Franklin High School

Amanda-Jane Nelson - Jefferson High School

Kris Spurlock – Grant High School

Funded by Portland Public Schools

Draft 2007

Table of Contents

Getting Started

Table of Contents 2

Introduction/Rationale 3

Critical Theories – An Introduction 5

Road Map/Calendar 8

Table with Exit Criteria and Standards 9

Parent Opt-Out Letter 14

The Recipes - Lesson Plans

Day One 15

Day Two 16

Day Three 17

Day Four 22

Day Five 24

Day Six 25

Day Seven 27

Day Nine 30

Day Ten 31

Day Fourteen 33

Day Fifteen 37

Day Sixteen 39

Day Seventeen/Eighteen 40

Day Nineteen 41

Cooking Utensils - Appendix

Teacher’s Aids

Formalist 42

Psychological 53

Archetypal 61

Feminist 65

Literary Lens Definitions- Student Handout 70

Pop Quiz Questions 73

Teacher/Student Historical Background 80

Further Resources 82


Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel is a beautifully written novel that offers seniors a chance to experience literature from another culture, as well as one written in a strong female voice. It is a heady introduction to Magical Realism. The book is enjoyable and easy to read, yet offers many levels of understanding that allows the 12th grade common assignment with its critical lenses to be successfully applied.
The Enduring Understanding that guided our lesson planning was the understanding that there are different ways of seeing. We want students to see that there is no absolute truth, that versions of “the truth” are dependent on a person’s viewpoint. Critical lenses are an excellent way of coming to this understanding.
Like Water for Chocolate is a rich text for exploring some of the essential questions that all of us face in life. Essential Questions we hope the students can answer through reading this novel are:

  • What is essential for a person to live a meaningful life?

  • What affect does our family and birth order have on us and on those around us?

  • What affect do our traditions and culture have on us and on those around us?

  • As people, what universal things make us the same, even if we have different foods, family structures and social rules?

We understand that this is a very ambitious project, and we encourage all teachers to adapt the schedule and task to the students they have. Knowing your own students and their strengths is the basis of all good teaching. What we have produced is a suggested layout that we hope helps you. In our calendar we have left spaces and provided sample lessons you might wish to use or adapt, according to your needs. Our diverse range of students guided our planning.

Teacher Backgrounder: Critical Lenses
The PPS High School Language Arts 12th Grade Course Guide includes a suggested topic/theme of “examining and using critical lenses” in the interpretation of literature. The present document is an attempt to lay out what that might look like in a five-week unit organized around a specific novel, Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate.
What is a “critical lens?” In simplest terms, it is a set of questions that a reader might bring to a text in order to open it up in a fruitful way. An “enduring understanding” students should take away from this unit is the insight that the same text has within it the potential for a variety of valid, significant and interesting interpretations, depending on the critical lens used to examine it.
An immediate difficulty presents itself, however, in introducing this subject. Although humans have been discussing different approaches to the interpretation of literature since Aristotle wrote the Poetics, there is no discipline-wide consensus about which critical theories are most important to teach, or even what to call them!
Accordingly, we begin this backgrounder for the unit with a thumbnail set of definitions. Our objective here has been to demystify this somewhat intimidating subject and to provide functional definitions of the most important critical lenses that teachers and students can use as an entrée into this fascinating subject.
For teachers looking for a more fully developed discussion of the meaning of a particular literary theory/lens, we note the following readily accessible resources. First, PPS’ newly acquired 12th grade textbook, Access Literature (Thomson Wadsworth, 2006) has a section (Chapter 34, pp. 1479-1491) that offers well-developed definitions of twelve different critical lenses. The Thompson text also demonstrates the application of those critical approaches while variously analyzing a short story by Eudora Welty, “A Worn Path.” Second, a previous PPS summer literacy project (2001) curriculum guide written by Tim Harding, Pam Hooten, Anne Jackson, Kim Patterson and Doug Winn and based on the work of Deborah Appleman, “Critical Encounters in High School English: Teaching Literary Theory to Adolescents,” has a conversational and easy-to-understand explication of eight of the most common critical lenses. Be forewarned, however. Even within these two sources, there are inconsistencies and unresolved differences in nomenclature.
In this teacher’s guide, we have framed the explanation of each critical lens in three sections. The first is a clear and economical definition suitable for use by students; the second is a sampler of the kinds of questions that a reader using a particular critical perspective would tend to ask of a text. The third—for the teacher’s benefit—is a discussion of any controversies or overlaps between our working definition and that which you might encounter in other sources.
Happy trails!

Teacher’s Aid – Critical Theories Possible Definitions
FORMALIST CRITICISM (aka “New Criticism”)

Definition: “The text, the text, and nothing but the text.” The basic commitment of Formalism is to a close reading of literary texts. Formalist critics argue that in analyzing a work, the only evidence worth considering is that which is intrinsic to the text (within the work itself) and nothing extrinsic (outside the work), need be considered. Formalist critics explore questions of technique as an entrée into meaning. They seek to understand how an author or poet employs figures of speech, symbolism, narrative frames and the other literary tools at his or her disposal to achieve an artistic “unity of effect.” In sum, the Formalist says that a work of literature must stand or fall on its own merits.
Recurring Question: How do the literary elements found in a particular text work together to achieve a unified artistic effect?
FYI: There is good general agreement concerning the meaning of Formalism/New Criticism. Students will recognize that what they have been coached to do in school often amounts to seeing the work of art through the Formalist critical lens.


Definition: The biographical critic studies events in the life of the author in order to determine how they may have influenced the author’s work.
Recurring Question: What real life event or personality inspired the author to create a given plot twist or character? Where does real life leave off and the imagination take over?
FYI: Sometimes (as in the above-referenced “Critical Encounters in High School English,”) this approach has been referred to as “psychological” criticism.


Definition: Historical critics examine the social and intellectual milieu in which the author wrote. They consider the politics and social movements prevalent during the time period of the text’s creation. They do so in order to determine how the literature under examination is both the product and shaper of society.
Recurring Question: How did the text in question influence contemporary events and how did contemporary events influence the author’s creative choices?
FYI: “New Historicists” like Michael Foucault take this avenue of inquiry one step further by arguing that each historical period is rife with competing versions of the truth. They maintain that a single, oracular truth is ultimately unknowable and that readers should open themselves up to a more democratic approach to literature, embracing a broader variety of texts as worthy of study.

Definition: The primary agenda of Feminist critics is to investigate how a literary work either tends to serve or to challenge a patriarchal (male dominated) view of society. They maintain that literature should be analyzed with the goal of explaining how the text exemplifies or reveals important insights about sex roles and society’s structure. They point out that the traditional “canon” – those works long deemed to be the best that has been thought and said in human culture – tend to define females as “other,” or as an object, compared to the male’s privileged subject status. Feminist criticism focuses on social relationships, including the patterns of thought, behavior, values, enfranchisement and power between the sexes. It is “a political act whose aim is not simply to interpret the world but to change it by changing the consciousness of those who read and their relation to what they read…” (Judith Fetterly)
Recurring Question: How does the text mirror or question a male-dominated (phallocentric) view of reality?
FYI: This lens is also sometimes called “Gender Criticism.” An important implication of Feminist criticism is the pressing need to open up the “canon” to include previously ignored texts by women.


Definition: This is criticism inspired by the historical, economic and sociological theory of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Its focus is on the connections between the content or form of a literary work and the economic, class, social or ideological factors that have shaped and determined it. Marxist criticism is perpetually oriented to investigating the social realities that condition works of art. Its preoccupations are with matters of class status, economic conditions, what is published and what is repressed in the literary marketplace, the preferences of the reading public, and so forth.
Recurring Question: Who has the power/money in society? Who does not? What happens as a result?
FYI: Marxist criticism resembles Feminist criticism insofar as it is “engaged” in the world; its purpose is to ferment change, especially in the cause of addressing economic injustice, by stimulating discussion and raising “consciousness.”


Definition: Criticism that analyzes literature from the position that texts express the inner workings of the human mind; this approach often focuses on the choices of humans as moral agents. Leo Tolstoy, the accomplished Russian novelist, believed that the purpose of literature was “to make humans good by choice.” Literature through the power of story has the ability to engage the individual imaginatively in other worlds and other times. It invites the reader to put him or herself in the position of other human beings; to empathize. The Psychological critic is interested in every phase of human interaction and choice as developed in the text. Literature constantly informs us about and leads us to question what it means to be a human being. The Psychological critic closely follows these revelations and takes them as a central subject for analysis.
Recurring Question: What is the text telling us about what it means to be a human being? Would you act like the main character in the same circumstances?
FYI: This literary lens has also been known as “Humanist criticism” in an earlier era. Be careful with this one, however. It is sometimes fused with Psychoanalytic Criticism (see the Thomson text), which is criticism that analyzes literature largely based on the theories of the unconscious control of the psyche of Sigmund Freud. Students often find Psychological Criticism a natural fit since it draws on their own understandings and experiences of how people treat each other.

ARCHETYPAL CRITICISM (aka Mythological Criticism)

Definition: This approach to literature stems from the notion that texts ultimately point out the universality of human experience. Built largely on the psychology of Carl Jung, Archetypal criticism contends that there are certain shared memories that exist in the collective unconscious of the human species, a storehouse of images and patterns, vestigial traces of which inhere in all human beings and which find symbolic expression in all human art, including its literature. (Think, for example, of the spontaneous associations you have while watching a sunset. They are not unique.) Practitioners such as Northrop Frye and Joseph Campbell have discerned a complex and comprehensive correspondence between the basic story patterns of humans – comedy, romance, tragedy and irony – and the myths and archetypal patterns associated with the seasonal cycle of spring, summer, fall and winter. The death/rebirth theme is said to be the archetype of archetypes.
Recurring Question: What universal patterns of human experience are evidenced and are being explored in the text?
FYI: Students enjoy this form of criticism when they are helped to recognize its power in interpreting mega-hit entries from the popular culture such as “Star Wars” or “Groundhog Day.” However, it does take a fair amount of bolstering to acquaint students with some of the archetypal patterns as a point of entry.


Definition: This theory notes that a literary text is not separate and closed-off; rather, its meaning is completed when the individual reader comes in contact with it and in the course of reading constructs a new version of what the text is saying. Reader Response theory notes that reading is ultimately a personal and idiosyncratic activity. For this very reason, this undoubtedly true “theory” does not qualify as a “critical lens” because it preeminently champions the undoubted right of each individual to his or her own opinion about a piece of writing without the need to justify or otherwise defend one’s perceptions. In school, students are invited to respond to a text subjectively all the time. This happens, for example, when teachers ask them to “make connections” between the text and their own experience and knowledge of the world. Reader response is how most people spontaneously react to literature. It is healthy, indispensable, and inherently subjective and, for that reason, not what we are trying to coach students to accomplish when writing a literary analysis paper.
Recurring Question: How did you like the book?
FYI: Notice that we have made reference to “reader response” as a theory about how people make sense of text and not as a critical lens—a term we reserve for a set of ideas used to build an objective, provable case for the interpretation of a text. Many commentators (see both the PPS and Thomson resources) do not make this distinction.



Block Day


(1)Reading Schedule [month] shows our homework schedule.

Pre-reading prompt; what effect does your birth order have on your place in the family?

Intro to Magic Realism


Lens Intro; definitions + art activity ~ conceptual drawing of lens.


(3)Intro to Lenses using poetry, “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” by Keats (?)

Discussion of Jan/ Magic Realism

Homework; Character Conflict Map

(4)Class Discussion of [February]

Pop quiz if wanted

Homework from Block Day used

Film Clip for Magic Realism (wedding scene)

TV News Through a Lens

(5)Reader Response to Gertrudis going to brothel

Film Clip; Gertrudis/quail/rose petal meal

Historical Info on Calendario



Discussion of News Homework

Video Clips of news as necessary to get discussion going

SSR/Work Day


Forming reading groups w/lens

Handout - double entry assignment In groups go back over the first three months for double-entry



Small Group Discussion

Presentation Assignment

Film Clip Dovecote/Leaving The Ranch Scene


Small Group discussion

Preparing for Presentations



Fish Bowl Intro Activity


Fish Bowl Presentations - Formalist

Small Group discussion

Art/food assignment



Fish Bowl Presentations – Psychological



Finish art/food assignment

Small Group discussion



Presentations – Feminist



Discussion prompt – who will Tita choose and why?

Small Group discussion

Intro to Analytical Essay – timeline for next week



Discussion Prompt – when did people realize who was getting married?

Presentation – Archetypal



Essay Writing

Craft Lesson – intro/thesis


Essay Writing

Craft Lesson – embedding quotes


Essay Writing

Nov/Dec Film Clips – eating the matches. Discussion on difficulties of showing magic realism on film and differences between film/book


Essay Writing

Craft Lesson – Peer Editing

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