Religion in Like Water for Chocolate and a Grain of Wheat Novels

Published: 2021-09-11 18:05:10
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Concerning the spread of ideologies and theological constructs, no religion has had success that can parallel that of Christianity; over the course of its life, Christianity has spread to every corner of the globe. While this is now a peaceful process of conversion, it was not always this way. In the case of Kenya and Latin America, this was a process instigated by Western Imperialists wishing to bring “civilization” to these areas. Ironically, “civilization” was brought by using force to convert the native populations to Christianity. As a result, the pre-established spiritual religions of these peoples were being challenged by the new strains of Christianity entering these areas. These religions being in such close proximity created new challenges to the moral orders of these areas; because religion synthesizes a specific moral code, having multiple religions in an area presents a challenge to the pre-established moral code. Moreover, can one consider it morally acceptable to push another religion on another region; as each religion typically dictates the answer to this question as “yes,” it is difficult for society to answer this question. Two fantastic novels that deal with these subjective issues in Latin America and Kenya, respectively, are Like Water for Chocolate and A Grain of Wheat. These novels attempt to approach society’s answer to the questions “what constitutes a correct moral code given the clashing of native and Christian religions” and “how do we approach Christianity’s entrance into these previously non-Christian areas” by contrasting western Christianity with non-western spiritualism.
The first approach to answering these questions comes from justice: what constitutes a just action given the clashing religions, and can one religion call down justice on the other? Like Water for Chocolate approaches this question by examining how “magical realism” interacts with Christianity’s expected role of women, specifically Roman Catholicism, through defiance.In Like Water for Chocolate, the reader sees Gertrudis De LaGarza become freed from the bounds of conservative society after she eats a specially baked cake, made by her sister Titus, using crushed rose petals; she is consumed with such a strong euphoric and sensual energy that she runs outside, where she soon loses her clothes and rides off naked with a revolutionary army general. This defies the Catholic image of a perfect woman in every way possible, as a perfect Catholic woman should be a refined, graceful, pious, and subservient Saint Mary-esque woman: virtuous and faithful. Gertrudis experiences “justice” from her mother, who disowns her as a result of her newfound voyeurism, but in all reality this has no effect on her; Gertrudis sees her actions as just and she gives no credence to the judgments of others. This constitutes Like Water for Chocolate’s approach to religious justice: the truth of the matter is that this form of justice is entirely based upon the societal outlook on religion. A predominantly westernized society will look at this situation differently than a non-westernized society, so the approach to religious justice is entirely dependent on society’s perception of religion. To that end, Latin America has seen several religious trends concerning “liberation theology,” that is leaving the Catholic Church for a protestant church;Like Water for Chocolate seeks to comment on the Catholic church’s domination of theology in Latin America. The Catholic Church’s “do the right thing” brand of moral code historically found some conflicts through politically involved priests in Latin America, who endorsed socialist and anti-government views. The result was a need for the renewal of Catholicism’s roots in spirituality, and the book approached this through the freeing of the character’s spiritual selves, like Gertrudis and her sensual liberation. This complements the books’ question of justice because the Catholic sense of justice conflicted with the views of members of church hierarchy, and led to changing views of justice between church members.
For Kenya in A Grain of Wheat, the answer to this question of religious justice is the same: religious justice is based upon the predominate religion of the area in question. A Grain of Wheat answers this question by taking a look at how the Christian, imperialist, and Western British interacted with their spiritualist, native Kenyan counterparts. These spiritualists were the subject of a lot of religious persecution from the Christian British, as they attempted to convert the natives by force. This is a critique of institutionalized religion supporting a strict social hierarchy, as opposed to the spiritualism that is used in traditional African society. These elements created a lot of animosity from the Kenyans towards Christianity, and the author personifies his own personal animosity through his use of the Christ-like figure Kihika. Kihika sees himself as a “prophet,” and uses his Bible to spread the faith in the novel to the Mau Mau movement, as the Bible is the foundation of his faith and he considers it to be central to his life, despite his flawed misinterpretations of Scripture. However, Kihika is later betrayed by Mugo (a Judas like figure, and ironically the moral hero of the story despite his betrayal), and is killed by the British. Kihika is clearly not a prophet, and his interpretations of Christianity are both twisted and horribly flawed. This is a satirical jab towards Jesus Christ, as the Christ-like figured was executed and the Judas like-figure ended up doing the “right thing” at the end of the novel. This reveals that, while the Western Christian part of Kenya defined justice with Christianity, the non-Western spiritual part of Kenya defined justice based on natural law, and this is apparent in the execution of the Christ-like figure Kihika in A Grain of Wheat.
The second approach to answering the questions “what constitutes a correct moral code given the clashing of native and Christian religions” and “how do we approach Christianity’s entrance into these previously non-Christian areas” comes by addressing how moral code is dictated in these regions, and how the ideas of right and wrong shaped the experiences of the characters in these novels. In the case of Like Water for Chocolate, moral code is defined by the prevalent religion in Latin America, which is, without even a shadow of a doubt, the Roman Catholic Church. The moral code of the Catholic Church is dictated by imitation; the ideal image of a human being can be found in Jesus Christ, and the ideal Catholic should try to pursue His image. The closest person to follow this image is Dr. John Brown from Like Water for Chocolate, as he saves Tita and nurses her back to health; it is no accident that this character is actually a Westernized mestizo, or a mix of Native American and Mexican blood. While Dr. John Brown is a prime example of the “ideal” Christian in his behavior, he is not at home in either American or Mexican society, which implies that this Christ seeking Christian does not fit into Latin America. The other characters in the novel fall short of the image of Christ, and the “magical realism” throughout the novel flies right in the face of Christianity, actually giving validity to the ideas of Latin American spiritualist. For example, had Gertrudis not been partially spiritualist, she would have never experienced the “freeing of her spirit” as her newfound voyeurism would have been considered sinful by Catholic standards.Given that these partially spiritualist characters felt no qualms with delving into spiritualism, it is clear that their not being Christian allowed them to experience some very new/different sensations that would have otherwise been considered heretical.
In the case of Kenya and A Grain of Wheat, the reader also sees a Christian religion where the moral code is based upon acting in the image of Christ. However, A Grain of Wheat presents an interesting version of Christ through its satirical Christ-like figure, Kihika. A Grain of Wheat makes it very clear that the hypocrisy of the Western, Christian presence in Kenya has not gone unnoticed. While the Christian moral code should follow Christ, this particular edition of Christianity more closely followed the moral code of Kihika, who was both a murderer and a deeply flawed individual. This is contrasted to the non-Christians in Kenya, like Mugo, who actually feel some sort of guilt for betraying another person and lying about it for so long. The ideas of right and wrong in A Grain of Wheat shaped the lives of Christian characters negatively, and shaped non-Christian characters into heroes. This helps to personify the animosity the author has for Christians, and correctly portrays the emotions of many of the native peoples in Kenya.
All of the aforementioned information leads one to a paradoxical conclusion to the questions “what constitutes a correct moral code given the clashing of native and Christian religions” and “how do we approach Christianity’s entrance into these previously non-Christian areas.” The answer to these questions is different in the eyes of each individual. For Christians, Christian moral code is correct, and bringing Christianity into these regions, sometimes by force, is a justifiable action because of the Christian need to “save” these people from their primitive and morally derelict spirituality. For non-Christians, the individual can and should identify his or her own moral code, and forcefully bringing religion into these areas is not okay under any circumstances. Personally, I think I can offer the best answer to these questions, based upon my conclusions from the two novels: bring Catholicism to these areas, but not forcefully; instead provide the means by which the indigenous peoples may see the glorious and wonderful nature of the Roman Catholic Church. Forcing our religion down someone else’s throat produces both poor Catholics, as evidenced in Like Water for Chocolate’s flawed characters, and only breeds animosity for Jesus Christ, as opposed to love for Him, which is evidenced in A Grain of Wheat. While Kihika from A Grain of Wheat has a bible and uses it to bring tranquility to those around him, the author purposefully twists scriptural passages in order to fit his tirade against Christianity. Clearly the huge level of animosity from the author ofA Grain of Wheat towards Christianity could have been entirely avoided had Christianity come into the area peacefully, and had avoided persecuting the local spiritualists.
As to my point that the answer to these two initial questions is paradoxical, one must remember that my “perfect” response is most certainly not perfect in the eyes of every individual, and some may have entirely different responses. In any event, these two questions have no universal answer, because it is impossible to universally dictate to each individual on a subjective level that one religion’s existence and moral code is more correct than another’s. I may believe Catholicism to be “correct,” but I cannot expect each individual I meet to share the same opinion (though that would be nice).

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