Places: The House of the Spirits

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: La casa de los espíritus, 1982 (English translation, 1985)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Magical Realism

Time of work: 1920’s-1970’s

Places DiscussedTres Marías

Tres House of the Spirits, TheMarías. Hacienda of the Trueba family, which the family patriarch, Esteban Trueba, rebuilds from ruin several times. After growing up poor and working several years in a diamond mine to earn money, Esteban puts his money and energy into rebuilding the ruined country estate, making it one of the most successful in the country and enhancing his wealth considerably. He rebuilds it again after the house is destroyed by an earthquake and yet again after the land is turned over to the peasants for two years during the socialist administration and then returned to him following the military coup.

Esteban’s work on his hacienda confirms for him his political views. As the local patrón, Esteban opposes rights and freedoms for his tenants. Tenants caught passing out political tracts or discussing rights for the tenants are punished and banished from the hacienda. While Esteban takes pride in providing his tenants with the only brick houses on any hacienda in the area, he also feels justified in raping the women at will and taking no responsibility for the many children who result. Esteban’s wealth and political conviction eventually lead him to become a senator.

Ironically, it is at Tres Marías that Esteban’s daughter Blanca falls in love with one of the tenants, her childhood friend Pedro Tercero García. Pedro Tercero becomes a popular singer and political figure who helps the socialist president win his election and who fights against the military coup. Alba, Blanca and Pedro Tercero’s daughter, likewise falls in love with a left-wing activist. Esteban’s love for Alba encourages him to soften his political views after the military coup.

Big house on the corner

Big house on the corner. Home that Esteban Trueba builds in the capital city in preparation for his marriage to Clara. He erects the house in the city’s finest neighborhood, sparing no expense on either construction or furnishings. This house becomes a meeting place for Clara’s spiritualist and clairvoyant friends and thus becomes the “house of the spirits” of the novel’s title. The many spirits who visit Clara there suggest adding rooms or knocking down walls to look for treasure. While the front of the house remains unchanged, the back becomes a labyrinth of small rooms because of Clara’s constant remodeling. These rooms prove extremely useful during the nation’s coup. Esteban hides guns for the military in one of them; Alba and Blanca hide political dissidents wanted by the military police.

Capital city

Capital city. Unnamed capital of the country. As with the novel’s descriptions of the hacienda Tres Marías, its descriptions of the city accentuate its political themes. The earlier generations in the novel–Esteban Trueba, Clara, Esteban’s mother and sister, and Clara’s parents–remain in the aristocratic sections of the city. Later in the novel, younger generations visit the lower-class sections of the city.

Esteban and Clara’s son Nicolás seeks out his girlfriend Amanda in the capital after not seeing her for several weeks. He finds her in her boardinghouse, pregnant and miserable. Nicolás is shocked by her poverty. Looking around he realizes that until that moment he has known almost nothing about her. In fact, he has never visited the home of a poor person before and never considered what it would be like to live without money. Nicolás’s twin brother, Jaime, becomes a doctor devoted to helping the poor. He exhausts himself trying to cure the sick without adequate money, food, or medicine, spending most of his time in the poorest sections of the city. The powerful contrasts between the city’s wealthy neighborhoods and its slums show why many of the younger Truebas support political reform.

BibliographyAllende, Isabel. Paula. Translated by Margaret Sayers Peden. 1st ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1995. A personal memoir that provides autobiographical details about the author’s life and works. Blends real and magical worlds as in The House of the Spirits.Cunningham, Lucia Guerra, ed. Splintering Darkness: Latin American Women Writers in Search of Themselves. Pittsburgh: Latin American Literary Review Press, 1990. An essay on The House of the Spirits examines the effect of a male narrator’s being controlled, or “framed,” not only by a female writer but by a female narrator as well. In this way, it is suggested that, at least in fiction, women such as Alba can exert power over patriarchs such as Esteban Trueba.Earle, Peter G. “Literature as Survival: Allende’s The House of the Spirits.” Contemporary Literature 28 (Winter, 1987): 543-554. Earle sees the basic conflict of the novel in Hegelian terms. Esteban Trueba, representing “the blind force of history,” is opposed to Clara, Blanca, and Alba, who have “historical awareness and intuitive understanding.”Foreman, P. Gabrielle. “Past-On Stories: History and the Magically Real, Morrison and Allende on Call.” Feminist Studies 18 (Summer, 1992): 369-388. A comparison of The House of the Spirits and Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon (1977). Notes that Allende attributes magic only to women characters, suggesting that as they transmit their magical powers, so women can preserve history for others through the magic of words.Gazarian-Gautier, Marie-Lise. Interviews with Latin American Writers. Normal, Ill.: Dalkey Archive Press, 1992. Allende discusses her first three novels and the influence of women’s storytelling in her family. She explains that the loss of her roots and her longing for Chile while in exile led her to write the first book.Hart, Patricia. Narrative Magic in the Fiction of Isabel Allende. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1989. The chapter on The House of the Spirits expands the definition of “spirits” to include such elements as vision, dreams, and ideals, as well as people, both living and dead. An interesting approach.Jones, Suzanne W., ed. Writing the Woman Artist: Essays on Poetics, Politics, and Portraiture. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991. Critical essays from a feminist perspective. A discussion of The House of the Spirits considers the development of Alba Trueba as a writer.Morgan, Janice, and Colette T. Hall, eds. Redefining Autobiography in Twentieth-Century Women’s Fiction: An Essay Collection. New York: Garland, 1991. A perceptive essay compares Isabel Allende to Clarice Lispector. In The House of the Spirits, Clara’s journal-keeping shows “a woman inserting herself into history” and asserting her right to self-expression.Riquelme Rojas, Sonia, and Edna Aguirre Rehbein, eds. Critical Approaches to Isabel Allende’s Novels. New York: Peter Lang, 1991. A collection of essays that explores Allende’s three novels from several perspectives, including a study of the connection with the picaresque tradition and parodic writing in the contemporary literature of Latin America. Also includes an interview with Allende in 1989.Rojas, Sonia Riquelme, and Edna Aguirre Rehbein, eds. Critical Approaches to Isabel Allende’s Novels. New York: Peter Land, 1991. A collection including three essays in English on The House of the Spirits. One concentrates on the importance of the prostitute Tránsito Soto, another on Allende’s system of names, and a third on her theme of “Nation as Family.”Valis, Noël, and Carol Maier. In the Feminine Mode: Essays on Hispanic Women Writers. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1990. Of particular interest is an essay on androgyny in The House of the Spirits. The author argues that merging of male characters with female may imply some hope for an end to gender conflicts.
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