Historical Context

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The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect on January 1, 1994. This trilateral agreement between Canada, the United States, and Mexico created an economic zone free from tariff barriers. During the period of negotiations, the countries of the American Hemisphere left out of the agreement began to create their own trading blocks or to improve existing ones. In December 1994, the Summit of the Americas was held in Miami, Florida. All the nations of the hemisphere were present, and trade was high on the agenda. The dream of a hemisphere trading block was resuscitated, but nothing was immediately agreed upon due to the myriad of existing blocks that would need to be aligned.

For example, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay had, in 1990, formed Mercosur (a Spanish acronym that, in English, translates as the Common Market but is sometimes referred to as the Andean Group). However, the economies involved in this trading block did not begin to boom until 1992 when nearly every regional tariff between the member nations was removed. The 1992 agreement was in response to the NAFTA negotiations as well as the desire by individual countries, especially Chile, to eventually win inclusion into NAFTA. By 1997, Chile was approaching fast-track inclusion in NAFTA.

Chile’s return to democracy began in 1987 when Pope John Paul II visited Chile and accused General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte’s regime of human rights violations. In the political fracas that ensued, Pinochet agreed to a confidence plebiscite, a vote in which the people would decide whether to allow Pinochet to reign as president for another eight years. Sixteen of the opposition parties banded together to form a ‘‘No’’ coalition, and in the fall of 1988 Pinochet lost the plebiscite. Consequently, new elections were held the following year. In 1990, the Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin, who represented the seventeen-party coalition Concert of Parties for Democracy, became president. Pinochet became ‘‘Senator for Life.’’

Aylwin succeeded in maintaining civilian rule by continuing to decrease the power of the military. His ability to avoid an overthrow of the government was successful. During the Aylwin administration, the Rettig Commission began to collect information on the human rights violations committed by the Pinochet regime. In the 1993 elections, democracy was assured with the election of Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle.

America’s Republican Revolution
Responding to a potential ideological vacuum, left by the Cold War’s end, to President Clinton, and to the demographic shift in America, which had made the suburbs an electoral power in their own right, the Republicans took a commanding control of Congress in 1994 under the leadership of Newt Gingrich. This takeover has been called the Suburban Congress, the Republican Revolution, or the Newtonian Revolution. The extreme rhetoric of the revolutionary Gingrich eventually led to his political demise but not before seriously heightening the drama of the culture wars by reducing the National Endowment for the Arts and changing the structure of the welfare system.

Assisted Suicide
The ‘‘right to die’’ became a serious debate in the United States in response to a Michigan pathologist who became known as Dr. Death. By 1996, Jack Kevorkian had enabled thirty people to use his ‘‘suicide machines’’ to end their lives. Several states pursued murder charges against Kevorkian but three such cases failed. Several states put the issue to referendum votes.

Literary Style

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Autobiography The genre of Paula is apparent in several elements of the book’s construction. First of all, it is written in first person narrative, which the author specifies is her own voice; she names herself clearly in the text as Isabel Allende, not a character with the same name. Then, the foreword situates...

(This entire section contains 624 words.)

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the work in relation to actual events in the author’s life: Allende opens the book by stating, ‘‘These pages were written during the interminable hours spent in the corridors of a Madrid hospital. . . as well as beside [Paula’s] bed in our home in California.’’ Throughout the rest of the book, specific references are made within this time frame: the first part is written during the stay in the Madrid hospital; the second part continues in the author’s house and ends with Paula’s death. Allende further specifies the nature of her writing inPaula when she states that she will try to tell the truth about her life without embellishing the facts.

Style Many critics have noted that Paula resembles Allende’s fictional works because the real characters, situations, and events from her life are described in the same style as her fictional ones. Style, defined as a specific way of using elements of writing composition to convey ideas and to give the text a stamp of the author’s personality, is an indication of Allende’s presence in all of her works. In Paula, when the narrator speaks of her identity as a writer, she admits to creating her novels and short stories on the basis of real-life encounters. For example, Allende focuses on family and culture as important topics covered in Paula, and there are detailed descriptions of individual characters as well as historical events. Also, the realistic presentation of facts is diluted by the author’s references to ethereal, mystical visions and events; this is a technique that classifies Allende as a writer in the tradition of magic realism—a genre of modern Latin American novels that addresses social issues but keeps them veiled in ‘‘magical’’ symbolism.

Flashback Allende creates a parallel plot in Paula by switching between two story lines: one in the present, in which she takes care of her daughter in her illness, and the other in the past, presented more or less in a linear fashion, in which the narrator tells the story of her life. The second story line is a flashback, a device used in literature to showcase events that took place before the story’s beginning. Allende goes back and forth in her memory although she mostly maintains chronological order in the flashback, starting with a broad and unspecified description of her ancestry and going through the various stages of her life until the present time.

The benefit of using a flashback to tell a story is that the narrator knows what eventually happens; therefore, and especially since Paula is an autobiographical work, the author often comments on the future events in her story line while contextualizing a character or discussing an event. This way, Allende reorganizes the book to accommodate the development of certain themes: she groups them together by shifting the chronological order of her memories somewhat. For example, when talking about her estranged father at the book’s beginning, Allende points out the irony of being called in to identify his body years later because she never knew what he looked like; she tells Paula all of his photographs were burned decades ago. This reference makes a link between the narrator’s present, in which she tells Paula about a family photo from her childhood, and her past, in which the flashback continues with a description of the problematic marriage of Allende’s parents.

Media Adaptations

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Channel BBC1 in the United Kingdom did a production of Listen Paula in September of 1995. The special, focusing on Allende, Paula, and the family’s history, received much public attention.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources Caruth, Cathy, ed., Trauma: Explorations in Memory, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.

Dockrell, Cynthia, ‘‘The Spirits of Isabel Allende,’’ in Boston Globe, city edition, May 24, 1995, p. 75.

Holt, Patricia, ‘‘Love Letter to a Dying Daughter,’’ in San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday edition, April 9, 1995, p. 1.

Iftekharuddin, Farhat, ‘‘Writing to Exorcise the Demons,’’ in Conversations with Isabel Allende, edited by John Rodden, University of Texas Press, 1999, pp. 351–363.

Rodden, John, ‘‘After Paula’’ in Conversations with Isabel Allende, edited by John Rodden, University of Texas Press, 1999, pp. 409–420.

———, ‘‘Introduction’’ in Conversations with Isabel Allende, edited by John Rodden, University of Texas Press, 1999, pp. 1–31.

Warwick, Liz, ‘‘A Daughter’s Death: ‘The fact that Paula was born is more important than the fact that she died,’ writes Isabel Allende,’’ in Gazette (Montreal), final edition, June 5, 1995, p. C3.

Further Reading Allende, Isabel, Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses, HarperFlamingo, 1998. Continuing in the vein of (at least somewhat) autobiographical writing, Allende composes a playful examination of the history of aphrodisiacs—including an appropriate cookbook.

———, The House of the Spirits, Bantam Books, 1982. Allende’s first book and an international bestseller, The House of the Spirits is a vaguely autobiographical story of several generations of one family as it weathers the changes in Latin America during the twentieth century. Often compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude, Allende’s debut novel offers a magical depiction of her society through the female point of view.

———, Of Love and Shadows, Bantam Books, 1988. Allende’s novel describes a military dictatorship in a Latin American country and the protagonists’ pursuit of truth which puts their lives at risk. Although veiled in the author’s imagination and her characteristically mystical style, the novel is a documentary of Allende’s experience in post-1973 Chile.


Critical Essays


Teaching Guide