The Infinite Plan

by Isabel Allende

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 546

In Allende’s fourth novel, she exchanges the Latin American setting and memorable heroines of the previous three books for an American setting and a male protagonist. The Infinite Plan tells the story of Gregory Reeves, son of an itinerant preacher. In it, Allende relies on realistic detail rather than elements of Magical Realism. She continues to use her skillful narrative techniques to interweave the lives of many characters who represent twentieth century American lifestyles.

Gregory, his mother, sister, and a family friend travel around the country in the 1940’s with his father Charles, who tries to win converts to the infinite plan, his peculiar doctrine of destiny and salvation. When Charles becomes ill, the group settles in a Hispanic barrio of Los Angeles, where Gregory finds that life is even harder than on the road. As a white misfit, he suffers the pains of being an outsider as well as the usual pains of adolescence. These are somewhat eased by Pedro and Immaculada Morales, who become his surrogate parents, and by their daughter Carmen, who becomes a lifelong friend.

In addition to the Morales family, Gregory has other mentors. They help him cope as his family life deteriorates. His father dies, his mother withdraws into the world of the infinite plan, and his sister eats to avoid her problems. Gregory is initiated into sex by Olga and into the life of the mind by Cyrus, a communist elevator operator at the public library. These people, like others Gregory meets throughout the novel, are not developed in depth but represent an array of desires, fantasies, and stupidities.

Graduating from high school, Gregory leaves the barrio for Berkeley to begin his search for himself in earnest. There he enthusiastically encounters the 1960’s hippie scene and begins another succession of adventures that represent a generation of Americans in their own social, political, and spiritual journeys. After a few years, the Berkeley scene leaves him empty and he ends up going to Vietnam to find himself as a man. Allende’s description of the Vietnam War emphasizes its horrors and their effects on Gregory.

Gregory returns from Vietnam determined to become a rich lawyer and to embrace the yuppie ethic of success. These values also fail to bring him happiness or self-esteem. He marries twice; both marriages are disasters resulting in two neurotic children, one a daughter who becomes a drug-addicted prostitute and the other a hyperactive son. Throughout all this misfortune, Gregory continues to rely upon his childhood friend Carmen, who has since become a world-renowned jewelry designer and successful single mother, having adopted the son of her dead brother and a Vietnamese woman. At the end of the novel, Gregory begins to face the mess of his life rather than run away and, with a multicultural cast of characters, begins to pick up the pieces.

Gregory tells his story to an anonymous woman with whom, the reader assumes, he will form some relationship. The plot progresses by alternating between his and her point of view. Using this technique, Allende succeeds in exposing the reader to many of the social and political problems, and their solutions, of the late twentieth century United States. When Gregory is in his late forties, he realizes that there are no quick fixes.

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