House of the Spirits

by Isabel Allende

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How does Allende make use of place in The House of the Spirits?

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The country, which is never actually identified, is clearly meant to represent Chile in the years following the election of Salvador Allende and the military dictatorship that brought so much suffering and sadness to the country, and to the characters in this novel. More particularly, each individual setting can be viewed as having immense importance within the novel as a whole, as the author uses her various settings to identify and develop key themes within her story. For example, the "big house on the corner" that Esteban fashions is meant to be a tangible demonstration of his own status and prestige. However, some critics argue that this setting actually functions to develop the theme of the gender war that is evident between Esteban and Clara. As much as Esteban tries to use the house to stamp his own identity, transforming the salon into a forum for political discussion, Clara authoritatively stamps her own identity on their home, carrying out her spiritualist activities and charity endeavours and also expanding the back of the house. Esteban, the narrator comments, quickly realises the futility of trying to regain control over his own house, and he is forced to allow various spirtualists and other n'er-do-wells such as the Mora sisters to have almost free reign in his house because of his wife's superiority in the domestic sphere:

Esteban allowed this invasion of grotesqueries because he had long ago realised that it was pointless to interfere in his wife's life.

The house too becomes a visible symbol of the conflict between Esteban and his wife, as his violence causes a tangible separation in the "invisble border" that arises between the two separate spheres of the house to mark their separation. Alba later on realises very clearly that the house bears the soul of her grandmother, and this is an example of how setting is used subtley by Allende to exemplify her theme of gender and power.

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