In The House of the Spirits, how has the character Esteban Trueba been received critically?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Esteban Trueba is a character who changes dramatically during the course of this excellent novel, and the reader's perceptions of him change too. The juxtaposition of Esteban to his wife, Clara, and the two very different ways they represent of perceiving the world, firstly present Esteban as a character who is obsessed with stamping his authority on the world, no matter who gets hurt in the process. Although this aspect of his character clearly stems from his own troubled childhood, his singleminded goal of gaining power and becoming a lord of a hacienda leads him to demonstrate his own capacity for ruthlessness, selfishness and lust. Although he is successful in his goal, he ends up alienating almost everyone in the process. He is ignorant of the humanity of those around him, as demonstrated by the peasant women on his hacienda whom he rapes as a matter of course. In addition, he is shown to have an uncontrollable temper that expresses itself every time he realises that he is unable to control the world around him.

Allende is clearly using Esteban Trueba as a kind of caricature of the machista Latino male. However, what is so fascinating about his character is that he is not depicted as a static character, and by the end of novel, even becomes the most dynamic character. Allende deliberately tries to engineer a change in the reader's sympathy towards him through the inclusion of first person monologues where Esteban considers the past where he continues to display rage but also understands he is old and lonely principally because this is a state he has created himself. Esteban, in his old age, has been given the double-edged sword of self-understanding, and the grief with which he greets his awareness of how he has helped to promote a dictatorship that is now threatening to erase the few remaining remnants of his family is tragic in the extreme. Note how this is expressed in the novel:

Thus the months went by, and it became clear to everyone, even Senator Trueba, that the military had seized power to keep it for themselves and not to hand the country over to the politicians of the right who had made the coup possible.

The sympathy readers feel towards him is secured when he acknowledges that he has failed Clara. His efforts to redeem this situation both secures her forgiveness and the reader's sympathy towards him.