Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In The House on the Lagoon, the story of how Quintín and Isabel interpret their family’s past is as important as the colorful saga Isabel tells. About a third of the way into the novel, Quintín discovers his wife’s manuscript, and Ferré occasionally interrupts Isabel’s narrative with third-person accounts of Quintín’s reactions to the finding of the manuscript and, later, his harsh commentaries on it. This innovative narrative strategy is effective in reinforcing the theme of dual identity and independence, for women as well as for Puerto Rico. The themes in the novel are similar to those of Ferré’s earlier fiction: the search for personal, social, and political identity.

What is history—fact, fiction, or a combination of the two—and who gets to write it are key questions raised by the novel. Like her narrator, Isabel, Ferré seems not to believe in facts per se. Rather, she believes that there are versions of the truth and that the official version is often the least accurate. To underscore this point, she gives her story two rival narrators. Evaluating the blurred boundaries between fact and fiction, Ferré also highlights the differences between male and female perspectives on history.

In addition, Ferré examines Puerto Rico’s severe economic and racial divisions in evocative terms. In one of her stories, Isabel describes how, when Quintín’s sisters were children, they sometimes grew weary of playing with one of the servant’s babies. The two girls decided it might be more fun if the baby were white, so they painted her. The lead paint made the infant deathly ill, and she had to be rushed to the hospital. This theme of racial inequality is addressed also in the plight of the mulatto characters in the novel, notably Petra Avilés.