Both stories under consideration – Chocolat by Joanne Harris and The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood – disclose the primary importance of food as measurement of character’s thoughts, emotions, and feelings. Hence, food is the main amplifier and triggering point in family relations, specifically in relations between a man and a woman.
In both novels, food serves as means for breaking conventional norms in society and for distorting the main underpinnings of stereotypical thinking. However, there are some substantial discrepancies in perceiving the role food and its relation to human relations and society.
Particularly, the novel Chocolat by Joanne Harris presents food as a symbol of temptation and desire which brings a splash of color and luxury to the town. Food serves to provoke feelings and helps villagers to evade from routine. In contrast, Atwood presents food as the purpose for analyzing human’s negative qualities and emphasizes consumerist tendencies in the novel. The main heroine, hence, is more absorbed with existential problems when identifying herself with edible commodity.
Both novels present food as an indicator of gender roles and sexuality. However, these considerations are presented in various connotations. Hence, in Chocolat, confectionary symbolizes the revival of sexuality and gender considerations.
The main heroine, Vianne Rocher, a chocolate maker, is presented in apposition to Francis Reynaud, a priest who is trying to suppress human fleshly desires and who impels the villagers to keep Lent (Harris 10). However, Vianne’s mysterious appearance in the village revives the celebration of taste and imbues people with sense of life. In this regard, food is associated as a gift of love and understanding. It helps people re-evaluate their positions in society.
In Atwood’s novel The Edible Woman, food serves to reject gender roles. In particular, Marian refuses to eat because she is afraid of the responsibilities of being a woman. Marians perceives everything through the prism of consumption. So, when she describes Peter’s apartment she assimilates all details of the rooms through food and related notions such as “assimilation” and “digestion” (Atwood 36).
In the same way, she refers to society that similarly processes women and converts them into more “digestible” forms. In this regard, Marian’s refusal is viewed as a protest to be assimilated and digested by domesticity. Nevertheless, despite the discrepancies presented in both works, they still present gender and identity crisis.
In both novels, food personified character’s thoughts, judgments, and needs, but differently. Hence, Harris’s protagonists, Vianne Rocher perceives life as being full of colors, bright impressions where chocolate is one of means for imbuing mere existence with unforgettable moments (Harris 78).
For the heroine, food allows to fill the life with taste, smell, and sense and revive desire to live and love. In this regard, symbolizes temptation, desire, and love. It is not surprising that the writer describes the events during the Lent when people should reconcile their human desires. Unlike Chocolat, Atwood introduces food to emphasize that everything in out world is subjected to reason and people look at each other as a “perfect” or “irrelevant” match (Atwood 39).
Therefore, the cake woman baked in the end of the novel discloses rationalist and consumerist tendencies in relations within a community and between people. In the same way, Marians associates her body with food and divides society into predators and preys. Through rejecting her social and gender roles, Marian refuses to become a member of the society because the fear of being eaten and assimilated. She, thus, alienates from her female nature and places herself apart form the process of maturation and becoming a woman.
Chocolat and The Edible Woman present various philosophical interpretations of food. In particular, Joanne Harris puts forward a solely idealistic view on food that serve as means of inspirations and enrichment of social life. Being a good example of magic realism, the novel provides unconventional approaches to describing the role of food in society.
The food, thus, is a symbol of revived spirituality that provides motivation to resolve conflicts and establish new relationships. In this regard, the shop opened by Vianne is associated with something idealistic and even mysterious. In this shop, the villagers can find “the right” chocolate for healing their broken hearts and for solving their spiritual and amorous affairs.
The shop “opens in a such small village: there is a strict code of behavior governing such situations, and people are reserved” (Harris 18). In contrast to Harris’s vision of food, Atwood’s novel presents food in negative connotation. In particular, food personifies reason, pragmatics, and consumerism. In this regard, Marians is obsessed with her materialistic view on human relations. She denounces the established norms of relations between a man and a woman that are originally dictated by nature and morale.
In conclusion, it should be emphasized, that both literary works provide completely opposed views on the role of food in society and in family relations. The role of food can be explicitly viewed through the authors’ description of gender roles in society, characters’ needs, goals, and outlooks on life, and philosophical concepts introduced.
Hence, Chocolat is a novel, which belongs to the stream of magical realism, describes how Vianne’s confections change lives of the villagers and improve family relations. The Edible Woman, however, is fully opposed to Harris’s ideas because food is presented a means for describing and emphasizing Marian’s consumerist outlook on human relations and society in general.
Atwood, Margaret. The Edible Woman. US: McClelland & Stewart, 1999. Print.
Harris, Joanne. Chocolat. UK: Doubleday, 1999. Print.