Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel and The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka are two novels that provide an illustration of oppressive parenting. The main characters of both novels, Tita for Like Water for Chocolate and Gregor for The Metamorphosis are oppressed by their parents for a majority of their lives. However, eventually Tita and Gregor find ways to break away from the abuse and expectations of their parents and thus gain their individuality and freedom.
Throughout their childhoods, Tita and Gregor are forced to deal with controlling and demanding parents. As they grow older they are denied independence by their overpowering parents becoming servants for their parents, only existing to fulfil their parent’s needs.
Tita’s mother, Mama Elena, dooms Tita to a life of servitude due to strict family traditions and denies Tita opportunity to be with the love of her life. This is shown when Mama Elena says “If he intends to ask for your hand, tell him not to bother. He’ll be wasting his time and mine too. You know perfectly well that being the youngest daughter means you have to take care of me until the day that I die.” Throughout Tita’s life her mother makes it clear that she expects Tita to sacrifice her future for her mother’s wellbeing. Mama Elena is extremely stern about this unreasonable tradition and denies Tita of happiness from a very young age.
Mama Elena also expresses her control over Tita by physically beating Tita. This occurs regularly. However, on one occasion, Tita receives the most brutal beating. When Rosaura, Tita’s sister, is married to Tita’s sweetheart, Pedro, the family has a grand celebration. However, everyone becomes severely ill at the reception after eating the wedding cake which Tita prepared. “The night of the wedding reception she had gotten a tremendous hiding from Mama Elena, like no beating before or since…What motivated such a monstrous punishment was Mama Elena’s conviction that Tita has deliberately ruined Rosuara’s wedding by mixing an emetic into the cake.” (Esquivel, 41) Mama Elena neither trusts nor respects Tita. She belittles Tita by beating her, and makes Tita feel like nothing more than a disobedient child.
In the novel The Metamorphosis, the main character Gregor Samsa is also forced to live a life of servitude to his family, which is placed upon him by his father. As a result, Gregor lives a miserable life as his main priority becomes fulfilling his father’s expectations and duties. He becomes obsessed with work, and so, on the morning that Gregor discovers his metamorphosis into a “monstrous vermin” he is more concerned about becoming late for work than his transformation. Later that morning, when Gregor begs for his job after his boss threatens to fire him, for being late, Gregor pleads, “I’m under so many obligations to the head of the firm, as you know very well. Besides, I also have my parents and my sister to worry about. I’m in a tight spot but I’ll also work my way out again.”(Kafka, 16) Although Gregor experiences this bizarre transformation, he is determined to keep his job because he is aware that his entire family depends on him for financial support. Gregor is denied the opportunity to enjoy his youth and his earnings because of his lazy father. Essentially, Gregor is fulfilling his father’s role as the provider, the breadwinner of the family.
Gregor’s father’s cruelty towards Gregor after his transformation also contributes to Gregor’s misery as this mistreatment makes him feel unappreciated and denies him of the one thing that he truly wants, the love and appreciation of his family. “He seized in his right hand the manager’s cane…picked up in his left hand a heavy newspaper from the table, and stamping his feet, started brandishing the cane and the newspaper to drive Gregor back into his room. No plea of Gregor’s helped.”(Kafka, 18) This reaction to Gregor’s transformation by his father dehumanizes Gregor and makes him lose any feeling of belonging to his old world which is his job and his family. He becomes isolated from the only people whom he ever had any real connection with, and thus he is deprived of any opportunity to find ever happiness in the human world.
Tita and Gregor are forced to deal with similar circumstances as they become servants to their parents and are mistreated by their parents. Tita is required to take care of her mother due to family traditions, whilst Gregor has to take care of his entire family because his father refuses to assume that responsibility. In addition, Tita and Gregor are abused by their parent. Tita is physically abused by her mother whereas Gregor is emotionally abused by his father and is neglected by his family.
Tita and Gregor eventually grow tired of the mistreatment from their parents and use it as their motivation to break free from them. Tita rebels against her mother by breaking the tradition that she has been doomed to by eventually refusing to stay with her mother. After her mother sends her away and Tita experiences a life of freedom and love from Dr. Brown, she gains the strength to oppose her mother. “The only thing she was absolutely sure about was that she did not want to return to the ranch. She never wanted to live near Mama Elena again.” (Esquivel, 118) During the time that she spends with Dr. Brown, Tita gains her own outlook on life, and the ability to make her own decision. Tita stands up for herself and claims her independence by declaring the only thing that she truly wants is to be free of Mama Elena. Later on in Tita’s life, when Mama Elena falls ill and Tita returns to the ranch to take care of her. Although Tita’s return seems like she is fulfilling the tradition that her mother doomed her to, Tita ensures that she remains in control of her life and holds no obligation to her mother. While at the ranch, “It was a relief to delegate to Chencha the painful duty of caring for her mother, so that she was free to start embroidering the bed sheets for her trousseau. She had decided to marry John as soon as her mother was better.” (Esquivel, 133) Tita stays true to her new found independence and proceeds with her plans to wed Dr. John Brown. She becomes indifferent to her mother’s protests and follows the path that leads to a future filled with happiness for her.
Gregor is also eventually liberated from his demanding and unappreciative father. In Gregor’s case however, he finds his freedom in his metamorphosis and eventually in his death. Through his metamorphosis, Gregor becomes free of his job and his father’s expectation of having to provide for the family. “Now his father was still healthy, certainly, but he was an old man who had not worked for the past five years and who in any case could not be expected to undertake too much; during these five years, which were the first vacation of his hard-working life,” (Kafka, 28) Kafka’s sarcasm shines through in this quote to show that Gregor should not have had to endure his father’s expectations and debts as his father is still capable of fulfilling them himself, even in his old age. And thus, through Gregor’s metamorphosis his father is forced to take responsibility and support his family. However, Gregor is not fully liberated. He becomes a prisoner in his own home and a burden to his family. Gregor’s death becomes his ultimate freedom from all of the expectations and demands that he faced throughout his life. “He thought back on his family with deep emotion and love. His conviction that he would have to disappear was, if possible, even firmer than his sister’s. He remained in this state of empty and peaceful reflection until the tower clock struck three in the morning.”(Kafka, 54) In the few moments before his death Gregor is liberated from everything that held him back from attaining true happiness in his life. Death frees him of all his obligations to his job and his father and leads him to new beginning, filled with happiness and freedom.
Thus Tita and Gregor eventually rebel against their oppressive parents. Tita’s rebellion is external; as she stands up to her mother by breaking the tradition that she is expected to follow. Gregor on the other hand, finds his freedom on an internal level. Gregor’s death becomes his ultimate escape from his job and his father. Consequently, they are both liberated from their parents.
In conclusion, both Tita and Gregor are pressured by their parents to fulfil the family duties that have been thrust upon them. These expectations cause them to lead miserable lives. However, they each find their own ways to rebel against the unfair conditions. As a result Tita and Gregor are liberated from their ‘duties’, and thus find happiness and freedom.
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. New York: Bantam Books, 1986.
Esquivel, Laura. Like Water for Chocolate. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.