Overview of "The House of the Spirits"

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Editors: Elizabeth Bellalouna , Michael L. LaBlanc , and Ira Mark Milne
Date: 2000
Document Type: Work overview; Critical essay
Length: 1,614 words

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Metzger is a Ph.D. specializing in literature and drama at The University of New Mexico, where she is a lecturer in the English department and an adjunct professor in the university honors program. In this essay, she discusses how the women in Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits use the supernatural as a mechanism for escape from the patriarchy of Latin-American family structure.

During the more than seventy years that The House of the Spirits spans, each of the women in Esteban Trueba's life finds a way to escape his obsessive control. Although externally, Clara, Blanca, and Alba continue to exist within Esteban's world and in his house, each one is able to escape, to create an internal place where she can go. With the use of the supernatural, the Trueba women can escape to a spiritual world, a magical world from which Esteban is excluded. This is one place where Esteban cannot follow, since it is a world without defining structure, without rules. In the spiritual world, there is no patriarchy, and there are no social constructs that define women as subordinate to men. The supernatural is an ethereal world of shifting boundaries; and as such, it is a world that offers Clara, Blanca, and Alba an identity separate from that of wife, daughter, granddaughter.Clara's ability to find a voice, to create an interior life that offers escape from a patriarchal husband, provides her with something that she can leave to her daughter, and by extension, her granddaughter. In a patrilineal world, Clara has little that she owns and which is hers to bequeath to her daughter, but she does have her magic, which she can offer to Blanca and Alba.

In the patriarchal world of Chile, women are little more than chattel, property which men possess, exploit, and even reject, as a facet of male privilege. Women have few rights, and so they must find their own means to control their lives. Isabel Allende provides the Trueba women with a tool--magic--that will simplify their escape from a patriarchal world. In a way the women's ability to escape into magic is a defeat for Esteban. In a critical study of Allende's work, Ronie-Richelle Garcia-Johnson suggests that Esteban exists within traditional codes of honor, which direct him to "possess and confine these women." But rather than succumb to Esteban's control of the home, his women move onto a spiritual plane within the...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420031277