Essays and Criticism
The Gold of Tomás Vargas
Both of Isabel Allende’s stories, ‘‘Clarisa’’ and ‘‘The Gold of Tomás Vargas,’’ are found in Allende’s collection The Stories of Eva Luna and are connected not only by having been published together but by a having a unifying theme. The fictional character of Eva Luna was first created by Allende in her novel whose title bears Eva Luna’s name. The name itself reflects the theme of motherhood in that Eva in Spanish refers to life; and Luna, of course, refers to the moon. As life is incubated in a mother’s body and the moon is a symbol of a mother’s procreative cycle, these words, when brought together, represent the power of the matriarchy.
In both ‘‘Clarisa’’ and ‘‘The Gold of Tomás Vargas,’’ Allende creates women dedicated to their children. Those women are also portrayed as being unselfish, long-suffering, and patient. Both women are married to abusive and arrogant men who give their wives nothing except babies, to whom the men give no time or love. The women, in comparison to their husbands, are saints, at least in reference to most of their actions. However, in both stories, Allende throws in an unexpected twist. The twists, both in the stories as well as in the maternal characters of the women themselves, do not appear until the very end of each story. It is not until the finale that readers gain a full picture of the female characters, who, up until the end of the stories, appear to have submitted to a totally oppressive situation. What might appear as slight flaws in the characters of Allende’s mother figures are actually celebrated by the reader at the end of each tale, for it is through the small defects that these women exhibit their full power.
The underlying themes of both stories are very similar but each is told through a different focus. ‘‘The Gold of Tomás Vargas’’ centers, for the most part, on Tomás, with his wife, Antonia Sierra, remaining in the background throughout most of the story. Whereas in ‘‘Clarisa,’’ the main character’s husband remains literally behind a locked door during the telling, and the narration centers on Clarisa while she wends her way through the years of her life, trying to make up for the lack of support of her husband. These different approaches to the stories is one reason why it is so interesting to read them together, as if the two stories complete each other, giving the reader a full account of Allende’s theme, despite the different characters and slightly dissimilar circumstances.
Both Clarisa and Antonia Sierra are impoverished. They both struggle to keep their children fed. Although Clarisa’s husband is a judge and could earn a decent salary, he has gone somewhat mad due to his inability to accept his children, who were ‘‘abnormal.’’ Since the birth of his children, the judge has locked himself in a room where he copies stories from the newspaper and only opens his door to ‘‘hand out his chamber pot and to collect the food his wife left for him every day.’’ Tomás Vargas, on the other hand, is almost never home. He is a boastful man and a drunk. After a drinking binge, he roams the streets of the small town where he and his family live, shouting out the names of every woman he has gone to bed with and all the children he has sired outside of his marriage. He is no more attached to his children than Clarisa’s husband, for Tomás’s pride of creating children does not lie in the children themselves but rather in his self-inflated skills as a stud. How Tomás accumulated his gold pieces is not revealed. What is told is that he has buried the gold because he does not trust banks, and he borrows money from other people and never repays them. He is so stingy that he never gives Antonia any money for food or for the children’s education.
Despite their varying circumstances, Clarisa and Antonia are left with no money in their pockets, no food on their tables, and no clothes for their children except through their own efforts of working menial jobs. With this rendition of hardships, it is not difficult for readers to conclude that the patience and understanding that both women are forced to practice are suitable qualifications to classify them in the realm of saints. Allende, in the story ‘‘The Gold of Tomás Vargas,’’ leaves this declaration of saintliness solely in the hands of the readers. She lists the hardships that Antonia suffers, including the fact that she has aged prematurely, has lost her teeth, has experienced several miscarriages, works three jobs, and is often physically beaten by her husband. The narrator never even hints at the fact that Antonia is in any way holy.
This theme of saintliness, however, is fully exposed in the story ‘‘Clarisa.’’ Allende does not hesitate to inform the reader of her belief. As a matter of fact, she comes right out and states it in the opening paragraphs: ‘‘Over the course of a long lifetime she [Clarisa] had come to be considered a saint.’’ Clarisa is not a ‘‘cathedral’’ saint, one sanctioned by the church for her great miracles, but rather she is a more humble saint. She is the kind of saint who performs practical miracles, like curing hangovers, ‘‘or problems with the draft, or a siege of loneliness,’’ acts that the reader can imagine any good mother performing. Antonia too shows signs of saintliness, if not for the community in general, at least for those who live under her roof. For although Antonia is disgusted at first and tries to dismiss the presence of the new intruder in her household, she comes to embrace and care for Concha Díaz, Tomás Vargas’s pregnant concubine.
As Concha intrudes into Antonia’s life and figuratively holds Antonia hostage, so too does a thief break into Clarisa’s house and hold her at knifepoint, demanding all her money. Clarisa, unlike Antonia, immediately laughs at the intruder and tells him that she will give him all the money that she has. She tells him to put away his knife so that he does not hurt any one; then she sends him home, after serving him tea. Although Antonia is a little slower in inviting Concha into her home and life, when she does open up to her, she gives herself fully over to the young woman. At first, Antonia throws a fit at the girl’s arrival, but it is to no avail. Then she tries to ignore the pregnant mistress of her...
(The entire section is 2608 words.)