Isabel Allende's Fictional World: Roads to Freedom

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Editor: Jeffrey W. Hunter
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 8,750 words

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[(essay date 2002) In this essay, Martinez uses the idea of a rhizome to analyze issues involving the life of a nomad, globalization, the love of freedom, and rebellion against class, race, and gender divisions, all of which Allende emphasizes in the novels Daughter of Fortune and Portrait in Sepia.]

Along with Portrait in Sepia, Isabel Allende's Daughter of Fortune provides further evidence of the author's superior craft, and attests to the high degree of maturity she has attained both as an artist and a woman. In these two novels, her native Chile and the entire Latin American continent are now viewed in a wider context that suggests the world. It is one in which spatial boundaries have been challenged and temporal categories broadened, and where the past still resonates with a clear voice within the present; a world conceived of in terms of a "tightly woven design" (Portrait [Portrait in Sepia 237) traversed by forces that are often invisible but apt to be captured by those who, consciously or unconsciously, pursue freedom. Eliza Sommers, the protagonist of Daughter [Daughter of Fortune], embodies that pursuit. From a different perspective, so does Aurora del Valle, Eliza's granddaughter and protagonist of Portrait, a novel that recounts their reunion after twenty-five years of separation. True to form, Allende presents her readers with an extended family in both novels, one that she regards, however, as composed less by genealogy and shared roots than by virtue of alliances willingly established by some of its members. In other words, the author implies here not a genealogical tree but a rhizome built on the image of a root-like stem endlessly spreading out in multiple directions, a metaphor postulated by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1983). This essay explores Eliza's road to freedom and the development of her nomadic subjectivity, which relates to the rhizome. From a different, albeit complementary perspective, it also examines questions of identity, transnational exchanges, and agency in the contemporary world. In the opinion of some, this is a world in transition where the globalization process is creating new structures of command while, at the same time, developing an internal resistance to the structures.1 Freedom-seeker Eliza Sommers may be regarded as embodying this resistance.

A foundling adopted by the prosperous Sommers, an English family making their fortune in Valparaíso in the early nineteenth century, Eliza was destined to marry at some point in her life, and thus follow the conventional road pursued by other young ladies of her class. At the tender age of nineteen, however, she breaks with family and tradition by embarking on a journey in pursuit of her lover who, unaware of her pregnancy, had set off to California to join the 1849 gold rush. Unbeknownst to the young woman, the self-imposed exile would be transformed into a quest for freedom, a state of mind and soul of which she may have had intimations at an early age. A number of factors contributed to forge her love of...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100088057