Top 5 uses of food in literature

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Answered by: Michelle, An Expert in the A-Z Lit and Authors Category
Food makes everything better. Its use as a motif, or repetitive symbol, in literature makes reading all the more delectable. Who does not wish to take a bite out of Madame Bovary’s chav wedding’s Savoy cake, or know for sure how bad was that gruel in Oliver Twist. Check these ten famous literature munchies and see why they make great food…for thought! Here is a list of top 5 uses of food in literature

5. Cucumber Sandwiches- The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde's 1895 play The Importance of Being Earnest opens in a glamorous West London bachelor's pad belonging to the dandy Algernon Moncrieff. “Algy" asks his butler to prepare cucumber sandwiches for his aristocratic aunt, Lady Bracknell.

So why are cucumber sandwiches considered extravagant? Although cucumbers originated in India over 4,000 ago it was not until Queen Victoria's appointment as Empress of India in 1877 that the influence of the national products, such as the cucumber, fully entered the British culture. Once the sandwiches hit the royal table for the first time, the upper and middle classes caught wind of it and made them their signature afternoon tea snack. Following the very Victorian tradition of imitating everything that the Queen did, these once-dubbed "beautiful" people solidified the connection between the cucumber sandwich and “poshness".

4. Eggs- Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

In Frank McCourt’s 1987 Nobel prize-winning memoir Angela’s Ashes, the egg symbolizes hope, wishes, and indulgence. Number 4 out of the top 5 uses of food in literature, this guileless motif is juxtaposed to the dire living conditions of the Irish Catholic McCourt family. Young Frank tells us in chapter IX that he has plans for “that egg” that he would get the Sunday after his father gets the first paycheck from his new job. The plan: To “tap it around the top, gently crack the shell, lift with a spoon, a dab of butter down into the yolk, salt, take my time, a dip of the spoon, scoop, more salt, more butter, [and] into the mouth”. Yummo! Eggs are described with particular candor, as they represent a luxury that the McCourts, with their never-ending financial woes, could hardly afford.

3. “The” Savoy Cake- Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

A true representative of Flaubert’s style Madame Bovary is a bona fide example of Romanticism. Fast forward to chapter 4 (part 1) and witness the deeply bucolic wedding of Charles and Emme Bovary, nothing beats the towering Savoy Cake proudly displayed at table.

A monster of excess and tackiness, the cake foreshadows Emme’s future state of mind: the hunger for extravagance that will doom her life until the end. Flaubert describes it as a “dungeon” that was “surrounded by many fortifications in candied angelica, almonds, raisins, and … oranges”.

2. Macaroons- A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

Ibsen’s most controversial play, A Doll’s House unveils the deep issues of a 19th century woman who, unbeknownst to her, begrudgingly accepts to embody the epitome of the virtuous Victorian wife. As early as the first scene, it is obvious that Nora’s biggest issue is her domineering husband, Torvald, who is annoying in a passive-aggressive way. He constantly questions Nora on whether she is secretly grazing macaroons: “Hasn't Miss Sweet Tooth been breaking rules in town today?” and he scolds her for doing so. However, Nora does not control her love for macaroons. Sometimes it seems as if she eats them on purpose.

1. Gruel- Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Chapter 2 of Oliver Twist describes the shocking reaction caused by Oliver’s famous line “Please, Sir, I want some more” when asking for a second helping of the workhouse gruel. The scene personifies the extremes of poverty. Gruel, as the only lifeline of the poor, mirrors their own lifelines: weak, tasteless, ugly, gritty lifelines. A mix of hot water, salt, and sop from grains, gruel can be made of millet, rice, or flour. The thinner the gruel, the more watery it would be, hence, Dickens aimed to reach out to a well-fed and wealthy society and make them aware of the reality surrounding them.

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