Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 436
The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende’s first novel, established the Chilean writer’s international reputation and remains her best-known work. Drawing on the Latin American literary style known as Magical Realism, the book tells the story of the Trueba family over several generations. Set in an unidentified South American country that resembles Allende’s homeland, the novel chronicles the social and political forces that affect the family’s fate.
The story begins with Esteban Trueba and his marriage to Clara del Valle, a young woman who possesses clairvoyant gifts and communicates easily with the spirit world. Their marriage produces a daughter, Blanca, and twin sons. Esteban also fathers a son by one of the peasant women on his family estate; years later his illegitimate grandson, a member of the secret police, will torture his legitimate granddaughter, Alba, a political prisoner. Esteban’s political ambitions take him to the country’s senate, where he opposes left-wing reform efforts, while Blanca’s affair with an idealistic peasant boy results in Alba’s birth. The boy becomes a populist songwriter and a leading figure in the Socialist movement. A subsequent leftist victory is short-lived, however, and the elected government is deposed in a military coup. Alba, who has married one of the leftist leaders, is arrested and tortured before her grandfather can secure her release. In an effort to come to terms with all that has happened to her and to her family, she sets about writing the book that will become The House of the Spirits.
Allende’s novel has been compared to Gabriel García Márquez’s masterpiece Cien años de soledad (1967; One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1970) in style and structure and in the use of Magical Realism, a technique that combines ordinary events with the fantastic and miraculous, giving rise to startling and vivid imagery. Allende herself maintains that much that seems incredible in the book is drawn from memories of her childhood. The characters of Esteban and Clara Trueba are based on her own maternal grandparents, and she began the book not as a novel but as a letter to her aging grandfather meant to reassure him that the family stories would live on through her. The book’s political themes are also taken in part from Allende’s family history; her uncle was Salvador Allende, the Socialist president slain in Chile’s 1973 military coup.
The House of the Spirits brings a strong female voice to the forefront of Latin American literature and offers a collection of vital female characters who embody the book’s spirit of endurance, resilience, and courage.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 914
The eccentric family of a feminist named Nívea and an ambitious politician named Severo del Valle have a prominent place in society. The beauty of their green-haired daughter Rosa and the supernatural powers of her clairvoyant younger sister Clara are legendary. Their Uncle Marcos is a carefree explorer. Rosa the Beautiful is engaged to Esteban Trueba, who goes to work in the mines hoping to strike gold; she dies after accidentally sipping poisoned brandy.
After Rosa’s death, Esteban moves to his family’s ruined country estate, Tres Marías; he rebuilds it with the money he saved to marry Rosa and becomes a rich man. Esteban abuses young peasant girls in the area. He refuses to acknowledge Esteban García, his first child, born to his servant Pancha García, and he fathers many other illegitimate children. He returns to the city when his mother, Ester Trueba, is dying; her inheritance was squandered by her husband, and she lives in poverty, overwhelming her children with her fears and her illnesses.
Clara remained silent for nine years after Rosa’s death. When she speaks again, it is to predict that she will marry Esteban at the age of nineteen. When he marries her, his efforts to please her prove to be disastrous when he gives her a rug made out of the hide of her beloved dead dog, Barrabas. Esteban builds an extravagant house for Clara, which is soon populated by her spiritualist friends. His unmarried sister, the tormented Férula, comes to live with them at Clara’s request.
The Truebas name their first-born Blanca. When the family moves to Tres Marías, the girl meets the peasant Pedro Tercero García, the foreman’s grandson, and starts a romantic liaison with him. The rebellious Blanca shows no inclination for her mother’s spiritualism or her father’s fits of rage. Esteban establishes a lifelong friendship with Tránsito Soto at a brothel called Red Lantern, and he gives her money to set up her own business in the city.
Férula, who pampers Clara because she shows her affection, causes Esteban to become jealous of her relationship with his wife and is told to leave. Nana, the old nanny, is happy at her departure. When Férula dies, her ghost appears to the family. Clara’s parents die in an automobile accident before the birth of her twin sons, Jaime and Nicolás; Clara places her mother’s head, decapitated in the accident, in a hat box. While Blanca attends a convent school, the boys go to a British institution. Jaime later becomes a generous doctor to the poor; he performs an abortion when Nicolás, a playboy interested in mystical experiences, is responsible for his girlfriend Amanda becoming pregnant.
Clara predicts the earthquake that destroys Tres Marías. Esteban spends four months recuperating from his broken bones while Clara and Pedro Segundo García, the father of Blanca’s lover, rebuild the estate. The French count Jean de Satigny tells Esteban about the young lovers’ secret meetings. Esteban, enraged, hits his daughter and also Clara, who will not speak to him after that. Pancha García’s grandson, Esteban García, helps him to find and to punish Pedro Tercero, who lost three fingers.
Esteban tells Blanca that he killed her lover, and when he finds out about her pregnancy, he forces Jean de Satigny to marry her and gives them money to go away. Clara tells her daughter that the baby’s father, Pedro Tercero, is alive. Blanca leaves her husband when she discovers his illicit affairs. When Blanca’s green-haired daughter Alba is born in “the big house on the corner,” it brings happiness to Esteban. Clara dies on Alba’s seventh birthday, changing Esteban’s life; with his love gone forever, he concentrates on Alba’s upbringing and his political endeavors as senator. Blanca is in charge of the house, but she cannot stop its decline.
The strong-willed Blanca resumes meeting Pedro Tercero, who has become a Socialist revolutionary and a political singer. At the age of eighteen, Alba meets Miguel, Amanda’s brother, and becomes involved in student demonstrations. Esteban, taken hostage by the peasants, is saved by Pedro Tercero, and Alba finds out that he is her father. The conspiracy to eliminate the Socialist government leads to political turmoil and the president’s death. Jaime, who refuses to accept the demands of the military leading the coup, is tortured and killed.
Esteban, a witness to the horrors of the new political repression, decides to help Blanca and Pedro Tercero leave the country. Clara’s spirit protects Alba when she is arrested and tortured by Esteban García, who became a policeman and a colonel. Clara tells her granddaughter to create stories in her mind to forget the pain and suffering inflicted upon her and the others. At Esteban’s request, Tránsito Soto, who represents the chance of social mobility, is able to free Alba from jail through her political contacts.
Alba, pregnant with a child whose father is either Miguel or Esteban García, does not stop hoping for a better future. She thinks of Miguel, who is still in hiding. She and her grandfather, inspired by Clara’s and Blanca’s writings and their own memories, decides to write down the family’s story. Esteban dies in Alba’s arms, murmuring Clara’s name, the rage of his earlier years changed into tenderness.
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