Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The House of the Spirits is the story of a South American country much like the author’s own Chile, shown by tracing a family through four generations and covering eight decades. Although in this society men control the church, the state, and the family, the major characters in Isabel Allende’s work are the strong-willed women who refuse to be dominated or destroyed.

Appropriately, the story begins with a public confrontation between ten-year-old Clara del Valle and the fanatical priest Father Restrepo. After Clara makes a loud skeptical comment in church, the priest proclaims that she is possessed by the devil. Although Clara shows no signs of being evil, she does commune with spirits. Therefore, when after nine years of silence Clara announces that she is going to marry her dead sister’s former fiancé, Esteban Trueba, it is understood that Clara is not merely mentioning a possibility, but foretelling the future.

Clara’s spirits evidently have not told her how stormy the marriage will be. At first, everything goes well. Esteban stops appropriating peasant girls for his sexual needs and concentrates on pleasing his beautiful and willing bride, and before long, he is the father of a daughter and twin sons. Clara, however, not only is given to retreating in to the spirit world but also makes it evident that she cannot agree with her husband’s political views. As a landowner, Esteban sees socialism and land reform as threats to his way of life. Clara, on the other hand, is an idealist who believes that Esteban’s Conservative Party stands for oppression and injustice.

As his children become older, Esteban finds that he cannot govern them any more than he can his wife. In part because...

(The entire section is 710 words.)