House of the Spirits Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1649 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature

House of the Spirits

Book Critique:

Introduction and Thesis of the Novel

As Isabelle Allende's 1982 book the House of the Spirits is a novel, one cannot speak of a thesis the book overtly presents, like a nonfiction text along the lines of Politics of Latin America, the Power Game. However, the heavily symbolic nature of Allende's prose renders the book almost like a philosophical, as opposed to an analytical critique of Chilean politics and society, although the book is set in a nameless magical reality of the author's imagination rather than a specific place and time.

In the face of personal and political horrors one cannot control, Allende suggests, even if one can foresee them, one must live on, according to one's heart, yet refuse to forget the dead and never cease in searching for ways of appropriate methods of morning and making sense of the past. Only by mourning and making proper atonement for the evils suffered by loved ones, recording them through effective rituals and writings, can one truly move on. Otherwise, a cyclical and horrific cycle of rape and retribution will endlessly repeat itself in the lived political and personal realities of people's lives.

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Term Paper on House of the Spirits Assignment

The book tells the story of the coming of age, of the boyhood and manhood of the patriarch of the Trueba family during the political upheaval that cumulates in the rise of a dictatorial era. It also stresses the struggles of the patriarch's wife to come to terms with her own gifts of prognostication and the impact of the sins and hopes of the fathers and mothers of the Trueba family upon their offspring's lives in a larger political context. Ultimately, Estaban Trueba lives in frustration at his inability to control the women in his life or the politics of the world in which he dwells -- logic and masculine power are futile in the arbitrary world of the novel. The man's first love, his fiancee, dies. He cannot fully possess his wife Clara on an emotional level, as she becomes involved with a relationship with another woman. His daughter becomes pregnant by a lower class man. His granddaughter is raped.

Also, Clara's constant sense of foreshadowing and doom symbolizes the inability of human beings to control their individual lives in a volatile political reality. When Blanca engages in a romance with her father's foreman, Clara cannot prevent this. But such uncontrollable acts, however horrific their repercussions in the interim can yield great beauty as well as yield troubles for the family. Blanca's relationship, however disastrous to the young woman personally and to her relationship with her father Esteban produces the lovely fruit of her love in the person of her daughter, Esteban's granddaughter Alba. Alba is lovely and ultimately exists as a symbolic statement of the novel's hope for the future, as her personage broaches caste, economics, and familial alliances.

But Alba is also impinged upon, at the novel's end, disastrously, as the land sinks into chaos and ruin during a repressive political regime.

Sudden, willful actions of the moment can liberate -- knowing what will come in the future provides no protection. Clara is able to foresee the deaths of her mother and sister, as well as her daughter's ruin but cannot prevent them either. Instead, Allende's characters and plot structure as developed over the course of the novel the House of the Spirits suggests that, only through the act of writing about the past is some liberation possible -- not by attempting to predict and prevent the horrors that may come in the future. "I would use her letters to overcome my past and explore the terrors of my own," states Alba. (Allende, 1982, p.1) the dangers of political repression ultimately are that the still the voice of the persons who would speak about their pasts and make sense of those pasts.

Allende's own biography makes clear she knows, through her own personal experience, of the power of political repression and liberations. Her uncle Salvador Allende was the first socialist ever elected president of Chile but was assassinated in a military coup led by Pinochet. The political events in the unnamed country of the House of the Spirits may have the stylistic, surface resonance of lacking a secure location of time and place, yet as Allende stated her memoir Paula the characters have real life parallels in her family and her nation's politics. (Allende, 1996)

This is why the House of the Spirits has a fantastical tone, of mythical resonance, such as Clara's prognostications about the future, yet also have a horrible resonance with the real, such as Clara's mother's decapitation. Themes of bodily detachment and willful destruction of the female body in particular run throughout the novel, as Clara is greeted with her uncle's body and a young dog on the day she is accused of being possessed by the devil during a religious period of fasting in the land, and she loses her tongue, growing mute after the death of her sister. Clara also supplants her sister's place as Estaban's fiancee in body. Finally, Alba is uncertain if the child she is pregnant with at the end of the novel is the result of a rape or a loving alliance.

But the need for reconciliation and proper burial, regardless of the tormented nature of the living body, is highlighted when Clara can only give birth after she is reunited with her mother's head, driving to find it in her car after her mother dies in a car accident. Although this may sound fantastic, it has resonance with how victims of widespread political brutality must seek to mourn those who do not survive, and that events must be atoned for, lest they come back to haunt us and hurt our children.


The strengths of the book are the strengths of myths -- how does one speak the unspoken, other than symbolically? Allende grapples within herself and with the lived plot of her created characters with unspeakable horrors -- the death of relatives and the inability to prevent the death and despair of loved ones even in the face of knowing what will transpire. 'I don't know what to say' is a common reaction to personal horror, but the political space of what happened in Chile magnifies this cry a thousand fold. Allende gives these events, through the internal and external turmoil of a fictional family, a dignity and importance beyond the individual.


However, in seeking the universal, an author can also drain her characters of personal and internal life that makes them specific and interesting -- the reader does not 'care' about Allende's characters in a way that one does with more realistic characters in fiction. Consciously or unconsciously, Allende may do this because, as the events grow more politically specific, they would be almost unbearable for the reader, if they were as emotionally 'real' and felt as a story from a newspaper.

For instance, in the second to last chapter of the House of the Spirits Esteban Garcia takes his revenge out upon the innocent Alba because of what her grandfather did to his grandmother long ago. This highlights an ineffective way to give birth and regenerate new life, unlike Clara's seeking out the head of her mother before giving birth to Blanca. But the rape and brutality endured by this young woman, even if it has a fitting symbolic and cyclical quality in terms of narrative, also took place for countless unnamed women in Chile, and for no larger and resonate reasons of mythical story and magical narrative.

Analysis and Evaluation with Prevost and Vanden

In Gary Prevost and Harry E. Vanden, Politics of Latin America -- the Power Game, is a nonfiction, as opposed to a fictional text. However,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "House of the Spirits" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

House of the Spirits.  (2004, November 20).  Retrieved May 30, 2020, from

MLA Format

"House of the Spirits."  20 November 2004.  Web.  30 May 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"House of the Spirits."  November 20, 2004.  Accessed May 30, 2020.