Isabel Allende

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Isabel Allende World Literature Analysis

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Since her appearance on the international literary scene, Allende has been known as a writer who blends Latin American political and social issues into compelling narratives that have popular appeal. However, limiting comments about her to that narrow scope neglects Allende’s other literary talents. Not only does she have a tremendous storytelling ability; she is also adept at weaving many characters into plots that cover generations and at creating strong, memorable female characters. She is thoroughly proficient at adding the dimension of Magical Realism to her otherwise historically realistic novels. All these elements combine to illustrate her main theme: that to be human requires insight into injustice and recognition of the power of love.

Allende’s female characters are at the heart of her novels and short stories. In The House of the Spirits, Alba, granddaughter of the domineering Esteban Trueba, suffers rape and torture at the hands of the military government. Through her courage, she is able to withstand the horrors. She is also helped by other strong women who are equally brutalized. In Of Love and Shadows, Irene risks death to escape from those who would kill her for her work with underprivileged classes. Her strength comes from interacting with poor women and seeing their strength. In The Stories of Eva Luna, Belisa Crepusculario makes her living selling words, strong messages that have power. In Daughter of Fortune, Eliza—the motherless daughter who is adopted by her wealthy English immigrant relatives—risks her life as a stowaway on a Dutch ship sailing from Valparaiso, Chile, to San Francisco; she also survives the brutal chaos of northern California during the 1849 gold rush in an attempt to reclaim a love that was forbidden in Valparaiso. Inés Suarez of Inés of My Soul is also a brave woman who is in search of a lover in a chaotic “new world” and finds her own strength and independence in the process. These women come from diverse backgrounds, but they all use their strength, creativity, and courage to resist oppression. Furthermore, these women embody the traits important to Latin American women and women everywhere who keep inspiration and hope alive.

Allende sets these characters into plots with many minor characters. One of her talents lies in skillfully weaving all of their stories together. The House of the Spirits and The Infinite Plan cover three generations and include the lives of at least fifteen characters. Of Love and Shadows, Eva Luna, and Daughter of Fortune have fewer characters but also focus on storytelling. In her works, something is always happening; there is always plot. The pages are rich with characters and events.

Allende’s stories have an added dimension: Magical Realism, a literary technique in which the fantastic and the realistic are both present and described with equal equanimity. According to Allende, Magical Realism is a literary device or a way of seeing in which there is space for the invisible forces that move the world: dreams, legends, myths, emotion, passion, and history. She believes that this view of life is not unique to Latin American writers but instead belongs to the literatures of all developing countries where the sudden accelerations of change juxtapose the old and the new. According to Allende, Magical Realism is the capacity to see and to write about all dimensions of reality, not just the realistic.

In The House of the Spirits, the magic of Clara (modeled after Allende’s grandmother) adds another dimension to one’s understanding of the world. Clara has a remarkable clairvoyant ability, having known the spirit world since childhood. Spirits tap on tables or play Chopin on the piano in order to bring her messages about where to search for lost items. In The Infinite Plan, Allende includes fewer elements of Magical Realism, perhaps because it is set in a country that puts little faith in things that are not subject to analysis. In Daughter of Fortune , Magical Realism...

(The entire section is 3,476 words.)