“Spectacular…An absorbing and distinguished work…A novel of peace and
reconciliation…The House of the Spirits with its all-informing, generous, and humane
sensibility, is a unique achievement, both personal witness and possible allegory of the past,
present, and future of Latin America. It is also a moving and compelling first novel,
translated with grace and accuracy by Magda Bogin,” was said by Alexander Coleman in the
New York Times Book Review and shows what a magnificent piece of work the book is. It
was written by Isabel Allende in 1982 and covered the history of Chile, where the writer is
originally from. It is claimed that the book is written based on the writer’s own personal life.
The writer even claims that many of the characters in the book were created based on
members of her family.
The book mainly revolves around various characters that represent the theme and plot
of the story and is accompanied by the difficult times of an unnamed country, assumed to be
Chile by many. It starts off with Clara, a young girl who was the psychic powers; power to
see the future. Her beautiful sister Rosa was engaged to Esteban Trueba but unfortunately
died before they could wed; she was accidentally poisoned with poison meant for her father.
Esteban later marries Clara after making a name for himself illegally and exploiting peasants
to build his riches. He also exploits women sexually at the time he is away and does not stop
once he is together with Clara. After a year, Clara gives birth to their first child, Blanco, who
later falls in love with Pedro, the son of Pedro Segundo (much later, Clara gives birth once
again, this time to twins; Jaime and Nicolas). When Blanco and Pedro’s relationship is
eventually found out by Esteban, he separates them and threatens to kill Pedro. And in his
anger, hits Clara resulting in her never speaking to him again.
Although Esteban tried to stop Blanco’s relationship with Pedro, they still keep at it
secretly and soon enough, Blanco became pregnant. When her father finds this out, he forces
her to marry Jean de Satigny, but the relationship did not last because Blanco found that he
had unusual practises. Blanco gives birth to a daughter named Alba and raises her with the
help of her family. Clara dies shortly before Alba joined college and meets Miguel who she
falls in love with. Alba joins one of the revolutionary groups that Miguel was involved in for
she was blinded by love and ends up being abducted once military coups occur. In the end,
months after Alba is rescued, she is found to be pregnant and does not know if the child
belongs to Miguel or one of the many rapists that tortured her during her incarceration.
There is a huge chunk of the book that focuses on the political environment in the
country which was especially emphasized once Esteban gets involved with the Conservative
Party, runs for a position in the senate and later wins it. A while later, anti-conservative
protests arise around the country. But the socialists win the elections and chaos breaks.
Esteban and the conservatives do all they can to tarnish the socialists including organising a
military coup resulting in Jaime’s death and Miguel joining the guerrillas. Esteban was
originally happy with the coup but later regrets it when he realised it does not result in
bringing the conservatives to power but instead military dictatorship and thus helps Blanco
and Pedro escape to Canada where they finally establish their happiness. This is the point
where Alba is captured, imprisoned and tortured.
The book expressed a number of themes that clearly stood out; the struggle between
classes, the importance of genealogy, civilization vs barbarity and the power of women. The
struggle between classes clearly shown in the book is that there are two classes, the
aristocrats and the peasants. This is plainly outlined even in the early stages of the book
whereby Esteban, Clara’s husband to be, extorts the ‘poor’ peasants in order to build his own
riches. Inequality is shown in the book even by descriptions of various areas for example Tres
Marias, where mostly the upper class controls schools, banks, transport, medical clinics and
so many more types of infrastructure. Another theme focused on is the importance of
genealogy whereby the association with a particular family name determines how renowned
one is to be. This theme was expressed mostly by Esteban, Clara’s husband whereby he
emphasized on the names of children born in his family. Civilization vs barbarity is
emphasized to show the struggle between the classes. Generally, the rich lived in the civilized
areas, where as the poor lived in more of the countryside. But the novel worked towards
showing how it is the civilized that barbaric in the end.
All the themes can be considered part of the Chilean mainstream except one; the
Power of the women. In the book, it is quite evident that the women are strong characters and
do not just sit and take mistreatment. For example, When Esteban slaps Clara, she packs up
her things, leaves and vows never to him again, and even though she later moved back, she
still did not utter a single word to him. But this did not take precedent with the main
characters only, even smaller secondary characters took part in this, for example Ferula and
Transito Soto who not only showed this theme, but also showed another side other than just
the Chilean mainstream.
Ferula is Esteban Trueba’s older sister and joins the novel once Clara and Esteban
move to the house on the corner whereby she moves in with them. Ferula and Clara form an
everlasting friendship and a great bond. But Esteban and Ferula soon start to fight for Clara’s
attention and both get very jealous and possessive of her. Then again, Ferula starts to form
genuine feelings for Clara and secretly desires her. Once Esteban discovers Ferula in bed
with Clara, he throws her out and she curses him to eternal loneliness. In a book that is
characterised mostly by family sagas, feuds and the political environment, the minor
character enables the readers to see a different side from the main themes. Here, we are able
to see friendship and love between two women. The two shared a deep bond and were so
close such that they could and did share anything and everything between them. Also, when
Esteban threw her out and she cursed him, she showed her power as a woman in that she
walked out of the house with her dignity and did not feel disgraced at all by her actions,
furthermore, she cursed him. This curse, to eternal loneliness, later became true when
Esteban had nearly lost his family and only had Alba left (who was subsequently captured).
And just to emphasize the point of friendship in this book, Clara even cleaned the body of
A stronger minor character that stood out in this book was Transito Soto. Esteban
meets this character when he starts going to a brothel, back when he was exploiting the
peasant minors at the beginning of the book. He assists Transito by giving her 50pesos to
leave town. Transito appears severally throughout the book and enables us to see Esteban’s
softer side. Esteban shows his much kinder side with this woman and cannot resist going
back to her every time. This is quite crucial to us as the readers for Esteban had already
gotten a reputation in the book to be a man that treats women like property, for him to have
and do as we wished. He had raped several women that were peasants extorted in his mines’
scheme, but Esteban acted differently with Transito Soto. She was the only women that he
did not treat with disrespect. In the end, when Alba is captured and Esteban’s means to search
for her prove frugal, he turns to Transito for help, and she managed to do this task in days
when it took Esteban much longer and yielded no results. Esteban even says, “I wouldn’t
have mentioned this episode if Tránsito Soto hadn’t played such an important role in my life
a long time later, because, as I said earlier, I’m not a man for whores” (Allende 119).
The 50pesos that Esteban helps Transito with enables her to move out of the city and
establish her own brothel there. She ends up being one of the most prestigious women in the
field and a rich businesswoman. This character in general enables us to see that even minor
secondary women characters had power. Transito was able to make the decision that she
wanted to change her life and would actively do so, thus she borrowed money and worked
towards making her new brothel prosper, which it did. And even though she wanted to and
had tried on several occasions to repay the initial money she borrowed from Esteban, he
refused, once again showing his much softer side. It is important to note that Transito was the
one woman that Esteban felt he could turn to, show his softer side and could rely on. When
he was at the end of his rope when looking for Alba, Transito was the one he turned to, a
woman who according to his ways should have been treated like trash, in order to help him.
She was the only woman he could lower his ego for.
Ferula and Transito Soto are completely different characters yet both showed the
absolute theme of power of women in the piece of work. Ferula was more of a traditionally
raised woman that had values she was brought up with and stuck to. She showed that she
stuck to her deepest believes when she cursed Esteban the day he kicked her out. The fact that
she cursed him means that she truly believed in the power of a curse, something that could
only be instilled in you if your background or roots believe in the same and you truly believe
in such deep down inside. Even the way Ferula conducted herself, the way she dressed and
what she did in her time showed that she was quite the traditional person. She moved in with
Clara and Esteban so as to help the newlyweds, something that is done by many siblings
traditionally. Transito Soto on the other hand is not quite like Ferula. She is vivacious and out
there. She is already breaking the traditional rule of how women should conduct themselves
by indulging in the prostitution business and even starting her own brothel. It is clear that she
is a go-getter that works towards what she wants in any way she can; this is easily proven
when she manages to find Alba in just a few days when Esteban had been at it longer and had
not managed to find her.
The book concentrates on the main characters, as any other book would, but by
analysing the minor characters like Transito Soto and Ferula, we were able to note more.
Through these characters, the audience is able to see other emotions, opinions and themes.
Although the supporting characters are mainly put there to support the main themes the
author may be trying to portray, they are also used to emphasize points and alternative
situations. It becomes quite evident when you analyse the minor characters, Transito Soto and
Ferula. These two showed that even in turmoil or struggle between various classes, there
were still individuals that stood out in the society, or even supported other minor themes like
power of friendship and of women.
Allende, Isabel. House of the Spirits. New York: Bantam Books, 1986