* All translations are in parentheses.
** This book is also available in English.
La Casa de los Espíritus (The House of the Spirits) is a well-known book in both the Hispanic and English worlds. It holds heavy influence in different countries because it was written by a very popular author, Isabel Allende; it captures the essence of life and the essence of the human and spiritual experience; it relates with human emotions, and it provokes common feelings using powerful language and words to describe what happens in the pages perfectly and clearly. An incredible aspect in this book is that the characters and the generations replace and embody other characters throughout the book not only in their actions, but also through their reincarnations.
The characters that consume the pages of this book are extremely life like. They live, feel, fear, and experience all of the normal human occurrences, which occur in unnatural, or spiritual and otherworldly manners. However, as mentioned above, one of the most important aspects of this incredible novel is that many characters are very important, and when they have served their purpose, Allende minimizes their roles and allows the natural life occurrences, like travel, in the case of Blanca and Pedro Tercero García, or death, for example Clara and Jaime, to take place. When these natural happenings take place, Allende introduces another character that seems to replace or assume the role of the previous person. In this way, the author constantly rejuvenates the human experience by allowing the same personality traits and characteristics to imbue the book through other people. By these means, Allende successfully maintains the equilibrium of human personalities while still allowing the flow of new characters to permeate the pages of La Casa de los Espíritus.
In accordance with this, there are many exceptionally important characters in the book. The main character in the beginning of the novel is Clara Trueba, formerly Clara del Valle. She is referred to as Clara the Clairvoyant. She has many supernatural capabilities that lie beyond the boundaries of this world. She uses many instruments to communicate with spirits and souls in other realms of the universe. “Clara habitaba un universo inventado para ella, protegida de las inclemencias de la vida, donde se confundían la verdad prosaica de las cosas materiales con la verdad tumultosa de los sueños, donde no siempre funcionaban las leyes de la física o la lógica. Clara vivió ese período ocupada en sus fantasías, acompañada por los espíritus del aire, del agua y de la tierra…” (Allende 78-79). (Clara lived in a universe of her own invention, protected from life’s inclement weather, where the prosaic truth of material objects mingled with the tumultuous reality of dreams and the laws of physics and logic did not always apply. Clara spent this time wrapped in her fantasies, accompanied by the spirits of the air, the water, and the earth.) One of the many characteristics worth noting about Clara is that she is married to Esteban Trueba. Clara tolerates Esteban throughout all of his fallacies in life, and she also turns him into a better man. Clara is very lost, no, not lost, unfocused in the world before she has a child with Esteban. One of the things that she realizes she needs to do when her daughter, Blanca, is born is that she needs to maintain some sort of cleanliness and order in the house. Clara transforms herself into a conventional wife and places her paranormal abilities in the background. After giving birth, “Pareció despertar de un largo sopor y descubrir la alegría de estar viva” (Allende 95). (She seemed to have wakened from a protracted stupor and discovered the joy of being alive.) She does not abandon her mystical pursuits entirely, but she does allow them to become a little rusty in order to benefit her family; she raises her child and cares for her husband. However, one thing that proves her humanity and abilities to behave in rational and customary fashion is an earthquake that occurs at Tres Marías, the country home that belongs to Esteban Trueba. After the earthquake, Clara discovers that her husband has been buried by the debris and ruble of the home and almost every bone in his body has been broken, and she immediately runs to his aid. She is one of the women of the novel, and as most females are, both in real life and in this book, she is very strong willed, she has a powerful mentality, and she also is a very strong natured person. This event transforms her and her family: “El terremoto marcó un cambio tan importante en la vida de la familia Trueba, que a partir de entonces dividieron los acontecimientos en antes y después de esa fecha” (Allende 148). (The earthquake signaled such an important change in the life of the Trueba family that from then on they divided all events into before and after that day.) Before this experience, Clara seems distant and transient, but following the disaster, she is a solid force of life who becomes the foundation of the recovering family and home. “Clara cambió mucho en esos meses. Debió ponerse junto a Pedro Segundo García a la tarea de salvar lo que pudiera ser salvado. Por primera vez en su vida se hizo cargo, sin ninguna ayuda, de los asuntos materiales, porque ya no contaba con su marido, con Férula o con Nana. Despertó al fin de una larga infancia en la que había estado siempre protegida, rodeada de cuidados, de comodidades y sin obligaciones” (Allende 150). (Clara changed enormously during those months. She had to work closely with Pedro Segundo García at the task of saving what they could. For the first time in her life she took charge of material things, without any help, for she could no longer rely on her husband, on Férula, or on Nana. She awoke from a long childhood in which she had always been protected and surrounded by attention and comforts, with no responsibilities.)
One character who is similar to Clara is her daughter, Blanca. Blanca exemplifies Clara in a parallel fashion because they coexist during the same time period. Blanca typifies Clara in features of lifestyle and experiences: she is very simple in youth and is fleeting in her attentiveness. She earns an income by creating mythical and strange creatures out of clay and selling them. Her attention span is slight, and she tends to focus on and pursue the conquest that is forefront in her mind at the moment and the one that she feels is most important. However, like Clara, she matures after a disheartening and horrifying occurrence. She becomes pregnant with her childhood sweetheart’s and eternally beloved’s child. This man also happens to be Pedro Tercero García, the grandson of Esteban Trueba’s foreman at Tres Marías, Pedro García. Upon discovering that his daughter is with child, Trueba rages and beats her into unconsciousness and forbids her ever to see Pedro Tercero, typically referred to as simply Tercero, again. After this event, Blanca is forced to marry Jean de Satigny, a wealthy French count. However, this also ended in disaster. Satigny is discovered to have an unbelievable sexual double lifestyle, and Blanca leaves him in order to return to her family and home. This event has positive aspects though. Blanca now realizes how treacherous life can be, and she becomes a more solid person. She thinks in a more realistic way, and she becomes more like her mother in the sense of how she begins cleaning the house and taking care of her family after she escapes from a terrible ideal. She also was more self-assured than before: “En esa época, Blanca había llegado al apogeo de su belleza…Por su parte, Blanca no parecía sorprendida del acecho de los hombres. Estaba consciente de su belleza” (Allende 247). (This was the period when Blanca’s beauty was at its peak… But Blanca did not seem the least surprised that men were interested in her. She was conscious of her beauty.)
In comparison, another character in the book that is very similar to Clara is Alba Trueba. Alba is the granddaughter of Clara, and she shares many of the same qualities as her. In the book, Alba is the person who basically replaces Clara after her death. She is a willful, rambunctious, and free-spirited child. As she grows and matures, she is more connected to her surroundings and physical life that Clara was as a child, but Alba is also a very strong-willed child. She notices many things about her family, she creates sturdy relationships and bonds with relatives, and she is more than willing to risk her own life and safety to save those of others. As Alba grows, she faces a multitude of barriers and obstacles that she must overcome; one of these discouragements is her grandfather and his opposition of the Socialists. Alba falls in love with a man named Miguel, and he is one of the Socialist leaders: “Las prédicas de su abuelo se volatilizaron cuando Alba vio por primera vez a Miguel, en una memorable tarde de llovizna y frío en la cafetería de la Universidad… Era dirigente izquierdista” (Allende 283). (Her grandfather’s sermons went out the window when Alba set eyes on Miguel one unforgettable rainy afternoon in the cafeteria of the university… He was a leftist leader) Because of this, both Alba and Miguel encounter many problems and opposition from Alba’s grandfather. During the war that takes place between the Left and Right political sides, Alba becomes one of the helpers and supporters of the Left party. Just as Clara is, Alba is also very strong willed and caring. She does not back down from her grandfather, and she always stands by her beliefs and convictions; she neither falters in her love of her man, nor her family no matter how much of a grinding stone her grandfather becomes. She, like her mother and grandmother before her, also is affected by a cataclysmic event. During the war, her loyalties are tested to the extreme; she is torn between her grandfather’s wishes and the love of her family and her desire to be with Miguel. Throughout the war, she assists people escape the country and helps get them protection from the “government.” She does this by “encontrar el momento adecuado para introducirlo en una embajada asequible, saltando un muro a espaldas de los guardias.” (Allende 379). (finding the right moment to slip [the refugee] into one of the more accessible embassies, climbing a wall behind the guards’ backs.) She does all this knowing the kind of danger in which she is placing herself, and she still continues. By doing this, she proves her loyalty to both her family and her heart.
Both Blanca and her daughter Alba are alike because they both fall in love with men who are part of the Socialist party, who both dislike Esteban Trueba, and who are both loathed by Trueba. For the same reasons, these men, Tercero and Miguel, are very similar to each other. Trueba tracks Tercero in hopes of killing him, and then manages to remove three of his fingers with the swing of an axe; however, Trueba ends up assisting Tercero escape to the Americas when his life became endangered by the war. Although Trueba never attempts to murder Miguel, he despises him and the party to which he is affiliated.
Esteban Trueba is one of the “first generations” of the book, and although he is never fully replaced, he is, however, symbolized in other characters throughout his lifetime and represented by others in the story. He has many decent qualities that only Clara sees, like loving-kindness and sensitivity. There are also many instances in the book where his aggressive shell falls away, and a brighter aspect of him shines through. One instance is when Alba is born and, “La presencia de su nieta en la casa dulcificó el carácter de Esteban Trueba” (Allende 238). (The presence of his granddaughter in the house sweetened Esteban Trueba’s character.) However, there are also many malevolent qualities that Clara has witnessed first hand, such as physical and mental violence and abuse. However, no one will dispute the fact that Esteban is zealous and extremely hardworking. He shows different sides of himself throughout the entirety of the book. There are some chapters where he seems like an insensitive, hardheaded, and uncaring husband and father; this is shown when he strikes Clara across the face, which causes her never to speak to him again, and when he attacks Blanca for becoming impregnated by Tercero and then hunts Tercero like a wild animal. However, in other chapters he displays incredible sensitivity, bravery, and understanding for Clara and his family. He is also the devoted patrón of Tres Marías, and the best one Tres Marías has ever had; he inherits the home and turns it into a thriving, working farmland and residence for the original inhabitants: “…se había levantado con su propio esfuerzo, dando trabajo y buenas condiciones de vida a sus empleados, dueño del único fundo con casitas de ladrillo” (Allende 201). (he had risen by his own effors, providing jobs and good living condition for his workers, and owned the only estate with brick houses.) He also works the land and brings it back to fruition. Trueba and his grandson, Esteban, are very alike because they both are high ranking individuals in their respected fields of government. Also, Trueba has moments when he does not think; he is not very circumspect. There is not forethought of consequences in his mind when he is in a demented state. The difference between these two individuals is that Esteban is always demented and evil, whereas Trueba oscillates between being sensible and ridiculous. Trueba works hard for the positions that he fills, and he does a very good job of living up to his titles. Trueba experiences a split of personality once Clara departs. When she dies, she takes a part of Trueba with her, and he becomes a more personable human being. Some of the negative aspects of his personality fade, which allows the better parts of him to shine through the tough outer coating.
Before marrying Clara, Trueba rapes and impregnates many women at Tres Marías, but one of them, the first young girl, becomes the grandmother of a heartless, demented soldier. This man is named Esteban García; he shares his grandfather’s first name. This is one of the characters who share many of the qualities as Trueba during Trueba’s lifetime. He wants to hurt Trueba and his family because Trueba did not pay him a bounty for showing him where Tercero took refuge during the time when Trueba hunted and wanted to kill Tercero. He also despises Trueba for the reason that he did not also inherit his name; therefore, he will not be the recipient of any Trueba family land or heirlooms. He also shows many of the same characteristics as Trueba. He replaces the negative aspects of Trueba’s character – greed, lust, anger, revenge, and empowerment – when Trueba reconciles himself with his family and becomes a better man after Clara’s death. In this way, Trueba and Esteban are coexisting, but this could only be so if one opposed the other. This works because Trueba defies Esteban without knowing that he does, and Esteban incessantly attempts to bring Trueba to his knees. Esteban is part of the new regime that causes all the turmoil during the war, and he is at the head of much of the repression and horror that takes place. He rapes Alba many times after taking her from her home under suspicion that she knows where Miguel is, and he is also one of the people with the power to order Jaime’s death.
Another comparison that is worthy of making is between Amanda and Jaime. Jaime is one of the sons of Clara and Esteban, and is the uncle to Alba. Jaime inherits his father’s dedication to his beliefs and also is very hard-headed like Trueba. Trueba and Jaime constantly butt heads because of their similar personalities; they do not recognize these traits in each other, and they do not realize why they argue all the time, but it is because of their analogous behavioral traits. Alba and Jaime produce a very strong bond between them as Alba grows, but Jaime is a character that is always lost in the array of motion of the story. He is the type of character that should be a main protagonist, but is forgotten half way through the writing, and is left behind. Jaime is a doctor, and he always does good works for the community and the workers of the land. He also has a very clear focus and mindset throughout his life. “Tenía vocación para el sacrificio y la austeridad” (Allende 198). (He had a lifestyle of sacrifice and austerity.) However, Jaime is forever meant for demise. He constantly fights to perform well for the world and to bring the community into a better light and help, but his life always leads to dead ends, disappointments, and disaster. Amanda is the big sister of Miguel. Jaime was in love with her at one time, then he saves her life from the ruins of drugs and sickness, then she returns his affections too late. They are both well-crafted characters with precise individuality, but their timing in life is skewed. Both of them lead disastrous lives that do not end well. Jaime is killed in the war, and Amanda is retired from the book without much explanation. It is horribly sad what happens to both of them, but from the beginning of the story, they are both designed to expire without much thought. Jaime gives his life to make others’ better, and he fulfills his duties as a doctor time and time again, and still he is cast aside and disposed of without a second thought. Amanda is practically the same way, but she does not evoke the same feelings of dismay, nostalgia, unfairness, and sadness as Jaime.
Lastly, there are many similarities between the Nana in the story and Férula, Trueba’s sister. Nana cares for Clara when she is a child: “…la Nana volcó en Clara todas sus ternuras. …la bañaba como si fuera un crío, remojándola en la bañera esmaltada con agua perfumada de albahaca y jazmín, la frotaba con una esponja, la enjabonaba meticulosamente…, la friccionaba con agua de colonia, la empolvaba con un hisopo de plumas de cisne y le cepillaba el pelo con infinita paciencia…. La vestía, le abría la cama, le llevaba el desayuno en bandeja…” (Allende 78). (…Nana turned all her tenderness to Clara…she bathed her as if she were a baby, dousing her in the enameled tub with water scented with jasmine and basil, rubbing her with a sponge, soaping her meticulously…massaging her with cologne and powdering her with a swan’s-down puff, and brushing her hair with infinite patience… She dressed her, put her to bed, brought her breakfast on a tray…) However, Nana is another character who is disposed of quite easily. She dies of fright at the Big House on the Corner, the home Trueba built for Clara when they were first married, during the great earthquake. Nevertheless, Clara is cared for in adulthood by another elderly female figure: Férula Trueba, who is the woman who replaces Nana in the novel. Férula never marries, and she is Esteban Trueba’s elder sister. When Trueba and Clara marry, Férula comes to live with them and assist in the cooking, cleaning, and care of Clara. Férula especially enjoys giving Clara baths. This is the most noticeable similarity between Nana and Férula. Férula takes very good care of Clara in almost the same way as Nana did, and she especially helps care for her when she becomes pregnant with Blanca. “A media mañana le llevaba personalmente el desayuno a la cama, abría las cortinas de seda azul…, llenaba la bañera de porcelana francesa… Luego la sacaba de la cama acariciándola con cuidados de madre… Férula la llevaba a pasear para que tomara luz…, de compras…, a almorzar…, a visitar a tus padres…, al teatro” (Allende 92). (In midmorning, she personally served her breakfast in bed, threw open the blue silk curtains…,filled the French porcelain bathtub… Then Férula drew her out of bed with a mother’s gentle caresses… Férula took her strolling in the sun…, shopping…, for lunch…, to see her parents…, and to the theater) Although like Nana, Férula dies. She dies of natural causes after being kicked out of the Big House on the Corner by her own brother because he believes she carries on a sexual relationship with Clara. These two people resemble each others’ character and behavioral trait to an astonishing degree.
In conclusion, all of these characters have unique aspects of life, but they all follow a set pattern of one character displaying a trait, then that trait either being displayed in another character of the book, or that attribute being replaced in another character when the original possessor dies or moves on in life. All of the people in La Casa de los Espíritus are replaced by other people or are merely exemplified in their characteristics. This simple form of relating one character to another evokes immense emotions in the reader because the affection of one person in the story could be shared by another because they share qualities of life. This tactic also allows the true human emotion to be felt when reading because of the fact that the people in the novel are so human and are made to be real. This is why this book allows such freedom of feeling and is such a classic work of fiction in libraries now and for the foreseeable future.
Allende, Isabel. La Casa de los Espíritus. New York: HarperCollins, 1982. Print.