House of Incest

by Anaïs Nin

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Overwhelming Nature of Life

Life is a veritable whirlwind of images and impressions, and this can be quite overwhelming at times. The narrator's descriptions of people and places seem to include opposites. For example, Sabina is both soft and sharp: her black cape hangs softly, like hair, around her shoulders, and at the same time, her steel necklace makes terrible clashing sounds like swords striking one another. She is a liar, and this brings the narrator pain, but she lies in service of creating a better reality, something more fantastic, and so the narrator eventually commits to lying for this reason as well. Sex with Sabina is so physically overwhelming that it almost seems to become painful in its pleasure. For this reason, life seems to be very destructive, destroying us as we live it.

The Denial of Instincts and Emotions

Jeanne admits to the narrator that she loves her own brother, though she knows that this is not a socially acceptable feeling to have. At the same time, however, it seems that Jeanne cannot help herself. There are contradictory impulses at play here, and Jeanne recognizes that incest is seen as wrong—she even feels repelled at times by her own feelings—but she also continues to pursue her brother in the house of incest described by the narrator. She argues that these feelings exist between fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, and brothers and sisters, though we know to hide them or deny them completely for the sake of society. This causes us great pain.

The Allure of Oblivion

The idea of the absence of pain seems attractive to all of the characters in the text. Sabina lies to create a less painful reality. Jeanne also eventually declares that she loves no one at all, only "this absence of pain" that she feels, its coldness and bareness and neutrality. Even the modern Jesus described by the narrator wishes that he could help us to love others for themselves and not just because they remind us of some aspect of ourselves, as this brings us pain, too. Death would provide a place where we no longer have to contend with the pain of life.

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