Ursula & Mama Elena Essay, Research Paper

Verbal and visual representation of the matriarchal rule.

Ursula Buendia in One Hundred Years of Solitude and Mama Elena in Like Water for Chocolate are two of the prominent and powerful female characters in the novels. No less important than men, these women assume the leading roles in the families; through their verbal and visual representation they exhibit their leadership qualities in some similarities and contrasted way .

Though the settings of two novels situate in different places and different times One Hundred Years of Solitude depicts the Buendia family in a mythical and Eden-like town where exists the patriarchal domination, and Like Water for Chocolate set in modern life where matriarchal rule of mother Elena control the family Ursula and Mama Elena are bound to have some similarities. Behind the simple episodic plots, there was history of life as it was lived, with all its multiple restrictions for women of social class. Their characterizations followed the forms of life of these women rather than their unique individuality. They live out a full life in institution of marriage, which was a form of indentured slavery for life in which a woman serve father, then to husband as they re married, and to the sons as father and husband has passed. Encased in this foundation, these women, Ursula and Mama Elena, for the most part, are firmly anchored in daily reality, obsessively, with the routines of daily living. Therefore cooking, sewing, decorations were the creative outlets for them.

Although Buendias family is under patriarchal dominance, the power behind it locates in hand of Ursula, who often engages in duty of operating the house, even taking care of the man of the house. In like manner, Elena as well as Ursula overwhelms themselves into a role model of matriarchal ruling. Mama Elena emerges in an image of a strong, middle-class woman and far more clever than the men who supposedly protect her. She s pious, observing all the religious requirement of a virtuous daughter, wife, and mother. She exercises a great care to keep her sentimental relation as private as possible from her family. Effectively Mama Elena keeps her adulterous affair covert to sustain straight to others her image and ideal of a model. Most important of all, she s in control of life in the house, which means essentially the kitchen and bedroom or food and sex.

Much of the same has Ursula control over, but not with absolute power as of Elena, for in this society patriarchal rule is still in domination. Only when Jose Arcadio Buendia loses his mind, Ursula has to tie him to a chestnut tree and keeps the family going. With the common sense energy and determination of matriarchal will, she plays off against the enduring erotic figures outside the family: Pilar Ternera and Petra Cotes. All her life she fights against the incest taboo which revolves in her family. Ursula is very much a part of Macondo s history, she s always in thick of actions. She prevents an execution of mayor Moscote whom she thinks to be a good mayor, and unsuccessfully tries to arrange the marriage between Armaranta and Italian pianola expert, Pietro Crespi. Meanwhile, Ursula insists to banish the unnatural wedding of Jose Arcadio II and Rebecca; later she renews her house again and wishing to finance Jose Arcadio V s study in Italy to be a Pope. Briefly, Ursula, in no imaginative venture, has her center of life with home attachments.

As positive as the actions of both Ursula and Elena mean for their families, the inevitability of situations they encounter and the attitude they take on turn the positive direction, which they try to maintain, to the negative which consequently set them far into contrast. By Ursula s power of sympathetic insight, she s able to have her keen look into character and recognize the family s problem: the Colonel is driven to his reckless adventures by fear, and the seriousness of the incestuous nature of the family s relationship. Men, in a erotic and outgoing imaginative adventure, seem to lack of the reality principle; whereas, the women are encased in it. What seem to miss or what Ursula fails to recognize is the middle ground between delusion of weak and unstable men and the homebound order and stability of women. This inability points to the inability to orient themselves with wider world which they live in and take control of their own destiny. Therefore, they become victims of themselves, and the personal constructions Ursula as well as others erect in the course of living all fail and plunge them into a cruel and lasting solitude.

Condemnation to destruction in consistence to the progress of the town prevent Ursula or any characters to alter its direction by any means.

However the inevitability makes Ursula differed from Mama Elena who insists to take up the role with a harsh attitude. The ways of living within the limits of the model are demonstrated by the mother Elena, who thinks of herself as its very embodiment. She interprets the model in terms of control and domination of her entire household. She s represented through a filter of fear and awe. The verbal images that characterize Mama Elena must be understood as those of her youngest daughter, whom has been made into a personal servant from the time the little girl was able to work. Mama Elena is depicted as strong, self-reliant, and absolute tyrannical with her daughters and servants, but especially so with Tita, who from birth has been designated as the one who will not marry because she must care for her mother until she dies. Elena believes in order, her order. The tyranny imposed on the family is therefore rigid, self-designed model of a woman s life, pitilessly enforced by Mama Elena.

Instead of having recognition to the problem like Ursula does, Mama Elena obstinately tries to run the house with her dictatorship, attempted to keep her family together by enforcing the tradition which to her is right, the family break off as the result of it by her. Rosaura, oldest daughter, never questions her mother s authority and follows her commands submissively; after her marriage, she becomes an insignificant imitation of her mother. Lacking of strength, skill, and determination of Elena, she tries to compensate by appealing to the mother s model as absolute. She therefore tries to live the model. invoking her mother s authority because she has none of her own. Gertrudis, offspring of her adulterous affair, does not challenge her mother but instead responds to her emotions and passions in a direct manner, unbecoming a lady, a challenge to religious requirement which Mama Elena considers of a virtuous girl. This physical directness leads her to adopt a different life style: she leaves home and her mother s authority, escapes from the brothel where she often lands, and becomes a general of the revolutionary army. When returning home, she dresses like a man, gives orders like a man, and is the dominant sexual partner. Additionally Tita, youngest one, speaks out against her mother s arbitrary rule, but cannot escape until she temporarily loses her mind. She s able to survive her mother s harsh rule by transferring her love, joy, sadness, and anger into her cooking. Tita s emotions and passions are the stimulus for expression and action, not through normal mean of communication but through the food she prepares. The family Mama tries to keep together, her ideals, images, and model, all those she in all her life tries to uphold are all falling apart due to her dictatorship and firmness.

The actions of Ursula and Mama Elena in running the house and keeping it together convey some similarities and contrasts in their ways of handling it. Even though the ending of both novels are similar: destruction and fall-apart of the family, the readers must take into accounts the conditions that influence the events. The condemnation of Buendia family and the tyrannical inflexibility of Mama Elena make the consequences of two families inevitably into degradation.

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