Mask and Mirror: Isabel Allende's Mechanism for Justice in The House of the Spirits

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Editor: Deborah A. Stanley
Date: 1997
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 6,989 words

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[(essay date 1994) Kovach is an American educator and critic who has written works on such subjects as ethnic American literature and literary theory. In the following essay, she examines the ways in which Allende propagates a "prophetic vision of female integrity and justice" in The House of the Spirits, focusing on the role of memories in the book and Allende 's narrative strategies.]

No one brings suit justly,   no one goes to law honestly; They rely on empty pleas, they speak lies,   conceiving mischief and begetting iniquity.

                                   (Isa. 59:4)

The prophet Isaiah thus envisions how the lack of truth, righteousness, and integrity in relationships brings the divisiveness of sin into the world. Injustice splinters the wholeness of creation, causing a disintegration of personal and interpersonal integrity. Novelist Isabel Allende echoes this cry when she tells an interviewer: "I feel terribly angry at the world. I think that the world is a crazy place, very unjust and unfair and violent, and I'm angry at that. I want to change the rules, change the world." Such a changing of the world requires, in religious terminology, a conversion, a method of promoting reconciliation. But reconciliation must begin with oneself, and Allende seems to realize this requirement. Suffering isolation from family and country after going into exile as a result of a military takeover, Allende felt the need to recapture her inner being. She turned to writing, that very significant social practice embraced by those seeking to express both the spiritual and social requirements of integrity and justice. Her own spiritual goals upon writing her first novel, The House of the Spirits (which began as a personal letter to her dying grandfather still back in Chile), centered on a recovery of identity, a reconstruction of self, a fostering of emotional, psychological, and spiritual integrity. By recovering and recounting her memories Allende gained the kind of wholeness that ontological liberationists cite as a first step toward the attainment of economic and social justice.

Although usually associated more readily with the current Latin American aesthetic of magic realism and with secular political fiction rather than with theological perspectives, Allende says that The House of the Spirits achieved a spiritual goal: "I felt that my roots had been recovered and that during that patient exercise of daily writing I had also recovered my own soul." Allende's statement implies her sensitivity to that insight found in Isaiah that connects social justice with personal integrity. An inner sense of worth and wholeness that comes from connection to and recognition of family and culture remains a basic prerequisite for achieving social justice. What Allende achieved in her own life by writing the novel is reflected in the novel as well, for it illuminates how reconciliation and mediation, particularly within the self, work together as necessary precursors to achieving biblical justice. Moreover, Allende 's novel highlights through the women characters a particularly feminist focus that reflects biblical feminists' concern for recovering human integrity within the female person and by means...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100000026