Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Isabel Allende presents in her stories, and in three of her four novels, a world in which the corrupt and powerful—who are generally male, macho, and brutal—are defeated by the innocent and powerless—who are generally female, maternal, and virtuous. It could be argued that through her fiction Allende, the niece of Chilean Marxist president Salvador Allende, who was assassinated in 1973, seeks to correct the abuses traditionally associated with life and politics in Latin American society. Whereas justice often seems to occur only randomly in real life, it is almost always the outcome in Allende’s fiction.

Despite her own misfortunes, Clarisa remains compassionate and loving. She is affectionate with her difficult retarded children, and her kindness is transmitted to her normal sons. Her acts of charity bring her deserved popularity and renown, and she dies peacefully. Her wretched husband, however, who becomes a recluse because he cannot bear the disillusionment of having sired two retarded children, is doomed to a life of self-imposed, monkish isolation, although Clarisa does continue to feed and care for him. We are not invited to sympathize with his plight, because he is introduced as a man whom she marries simply because he was the first person to ask her and because he is associated with avarice and vulgarity. In short, the good are rewarded and the evil are punished. Clarisa’s simple and sensible view of justice is also implicit in her theory of compensation, that God balances advantages and disadvantages in life.

In “Clarisa,” as elsewhere in Allende’s fiction, the oppressed classes are superior to the ruling class, both in humanity and in spirituality. Clarisa is saintlike in her simple and active piety. What distinguishes her charitable acts is her boundless understanding of human weaknesses. This understanding, ironically, is the source of her power.