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Although Paula arises from an emotionally difficult time in the author’s life and is permeated with her pain at losing her child to a long and excruciating illness, the writing is more often than not colored with Allende’s wry sense of humor. For example, in describing the painful separation and social disgrace of losing her father after Tomas abandons his family, Allende recalls that her mother gladly returned to him his coat of arms, which featured three starving dogs—an ironic reference to the blue blood that Tomas brought to the family, then took away. As she writes of the sad days of her exile, the narrator also infuses her recollections with humorous remarks: she points out the loudness and vivacity of the Venezuelans, stating that, compared to them, ‘‘discreet Chileans with their high-pitched voices and delicate Spanish seemed like dolls on the wedding cake.’’

A crucial element of much of Allende’s fiction, humor serves a double role in Paula. It emphasizes the magnitude of the narrator’s pain through contrast: after entertaining anecdotes, Allende switches back into the reality of waiting, silence, and suffering in her daughter’s inanimate presence. It also testifies to Allende’s ability to find beauty, life, and strength in the face of tragedy, thus becoming a document of survival. Even while she writes about Paula’s days in the hospital, the narrator notices the humor in the patients around her—like in the woman awaiting brain surgery who blames her condition on her husband’s impotence. Allende’s use of humor speaks of her personal ways of coping with pain and serves to balance out the emotional impact of the book, offering hope amid times of sadness.

In works that fall within the genre of autobiography, such as Paula, the author’s memories are the essential component of the text. However, Allende arranges hers within the framework of the present, always reverting to her time with her daughter—the intended audience and the reason for telling the story of her life. The narrator’s memories involve the recollections of others, as when she writes about the events that took place before her birth or in her early childhood; also, Allende acknowledges the changing nature of memory with aging and time, saying that people often make up in imagination for what they lack in memory of important participants in their lives. In describing her grandmother Meme, Allende says: ‘‘I heard people talk about her, and I hoard her few remaining relics in a tin box. All the rest I have invented, because we all need a grandmother.’’ However, because she is telling the story to her daughter, Allende writes that she is trying to be as faithful as possible to what really happened.

The author further explains the personal significance of memory in her life as she recalls that her family members who passed away were preserved as alive in survivors’ memories of them. Allende’s grandfather, Tata, maintains his relationship with his wife through memories: ‘‘‘She lives on,’ he said, ‘because I have never forgotten her, not for a single minute.’’’ Faced with Paula’s slow death, the narrator examines the importance of memory for the connection with one’s loved ones when they pass on to spiritual existence; she writes that, once gone from the material world, they remain present only as spirits and memories, living intangible lives within those left behind.

Amidst the narrator’s recollections of personal growth, historical events, and cultural changes witnessed in her past are the detailed descriptions of the members of her family tree, with special emphasis on those who shaped her life and personality. Allende emphasizes...

(This entire section contains 851 words.)

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the importance of family in her life over and over again, examining her own genetic and social heritage through the portraits of those that preceded her. When she describes the way her mother and grandmother ‘‘kidnapped’’ her from the hospital after she was born, Allende writes: ‘‘It is possible that in their haste they traded me for another baby, and that somewhere there is a woman with spinach-colored eyes and a gift for clairvoyance who is taking my place.’’ However, the family relations created after her birth prove to be more important to Allende; based on the relationships she forms with various family members, she develops not only a large part of her personality but also her identity as a storyteller. Family also forms a basis for her sense of cultural identity, as she recalls the views and actions of those who have influenced her in determining her world views.

The situation of Paula’s illness is also crucial for the author’s sense of family, as she loses a part of her own. Allende writes: ‘‘Since the day [my children] were born, I have never thought of myself as an individual but as part of an inseparable trio.’’ Given the sad occasion of Paula’s dying, the family becomes closer and more significant for everybody involved, as is illustrated in the book’s final pages when the family members gather to bid Paula goodbye.