(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 436 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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....

(The entire section is 914 words.)