The House of the Spirits
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The House of the Spirits Chapter 10 Summary Page 1
The Epoch of Decline
- This chapter starts off with Esteban Trueba narrating in the first-person.
- Esteban says that when Clara dies, he's overwhelmed by grief.
- The night Clara dies, Esteban locks himself in her room with her. He lies in bed with her and tells her all the things he's been holding back since he knocked Clara's teeth out and she stopped speaking to him. He takes off her nightgown and stares at her naked. He thinks she looks taller, but realizes it must be because he's shrinking. He finally feels reconciled with his wife.
- At daybreak, Esteban Trueba dresses up his wife. He can't find her jewels (which she has given to Blanca), so he takes off the ring he's worn since their engagement and puts it on her finger. Then he lets the family in to say good-bye to her.
- Esteban thinks he's shrunk four inches and that his hair has turned completely white overnight from grief.
- Esteban tells his family they might as well bury Nívea's head when they bury Clara. Jaime and Nicolás sneak their grandmother's head into the coffin when no one is looking, to avoid a scandal.
- Esteban is surprised by the huge number of people who attend Clara's funeral – the poor people, students, and artists who she's helped throughout the years, almost all of the tenants of Tres Marías, and her spiritualist friends are all in attendance. Pedro Segundo García comes to say good-bye to Clara, but he ignores Esteban Trueba.
- Alba goes to the funeral, and when it's over she locks herself in the basement and waits for Clara's spirit to communicate with her. Esteban finds her there, smiling in her sleep.
- Esteban can't sleep that night, thinking of the two loves of his life that he has lost – Rosa and Clara. He decides to design a huge, elaborate mausoleum so that he can be buried with both of them.
- Esteban says that he wants to die as soon as possible, because his life has lost all meaning without Clara.
- Flash forward. Narrator Esteban tells us that twenty years have gone by, and that Clara is with him again as a spirit. He says Clara is closer to him now than she ever was before.
- The narrative switches to third-person here.
- Alba is the first to notice that the big house on the corner is falling into a decline after Clara's death. The guests and the spirits depart, and the house seems more gloomy. Alba stops cutting flowers to put in all the vases.
- Esteban Trueba seems to have aged overnight and turned into an old man. He dresses in mourning every day and wears Clara's false teeth on a chain around his neck.
- Without Clara, the remaining members of the Trueba household feel like they have nothing to say to one another. Esteban realizes that Alba is the only reason he ever comes home.
- Over the next few years the house turns into a ruin. Only Clara's blue bedroom remains intact.
- Foreshadowing alert! Many years from now, the narrator says she'll sit in the empty house and "the silence of the dead and disappeared" and use Clara's notebooks to write this story.
- Jaime works tirelessly at his job in the clinic. Esteban Trueba gives him a hard time about it, arguing that, "Charity, like Socialism, is an invention of the weak to exploit the strong" (10.15). Jaime argues that he doesn't believe in Esteban's theory of the weak and the strong, and that the world won't always be this way.
- Nicolás acquires a group of disciples and leads them in spiritual exercises in the back rooms of the big house on the corner. When Esteban Trueba finds out, he kicks them out of the house. So Nicolás starts charging for his classes so that he can rent a house and start the Institute for Union with Nothingness.
- Pictures of the disciples of the I.U.N. start showing up in the newspaper. Their shaved heads and loincloths attract attention, and when Senator Trueba's opponents find out that the I.U.N. leader is the Senator's son, they use the information as a political weapon against him. When Esteban comes home to find Alba with a shaved head, he has a temper tantrum, and hires a couple of thugs to go tear up his son's institute.
- Esteban tells Nicolás that he doesn't want to see him again until after Alba's hair has grown back.
- The next day, Nicolás and his followers march to Congress, bearing signs that demand religious freedom and respect for civil rights. In front of the Congress building, Nicolás takes off all his clothes and lies down naked in the middle of the road. The senators all come out to point and laugh. Esteban Trueba runs down the steps with the intention of trying to kill his son, but he's prevented by a sudden heart attack. Nicolás is taken away in a police car and Esteban Trueba in an ambulance.
- Esteban spends three weeks in bed.
- As soon as Esteban is up and about, he sends Nicolás overseas and tells him to never come back. He gives him plenty of money to settle down.
- Nicolás winds up establishing a very successful spiritual academy in North America and living happily ever after.
- Esteban waits for Alba's hair to grow back, and then enrolls her in a British school for young ladies.
- Alba finds the British school incredibly boring, and the only useful thing she learns there is how to use a typewriter.
- The headmistress tells Esteban Trueba she doesn't think Alba is cut out for a British education, but he insists that Alba stay because he wants her to learn English. In Esteban's opinion, English is superior to Spanish because it's the language of science and technology. He considers Alba too plain-looking to catch a rich husband, and hopes she'll go into one of these fields and make her living like a man instead.
- Blanca supports Esteban in his decision to keep Alba in the British school, because she doesn't want Alba to wind up poor and without an education like she did.
- Blanca is the only one in the family who tries to keep order in the house, but she's fighting a losing battle.
- Esteban Trueba stops inviting his political cronies over, and only uses his bedroom and the library. He keeps himself busy outside of the house, because his family no longer interests him. Though he gives Blanca money to pay for household expenses, it's never enough, and she has to borrow money from Jaime or sell one of Clara's jewels to make ends meet.
- Blanca and Alba have to wear worn-out clothes and hand-me-downs.
- Alba starts to have nightmares that everyone in her family is dying and leaving her all alone. Jaime suggests she start to sleep in Blanca's room to soothe her nerves. Alba begins to look forward to bedtime every night.
- Mother and daughter develop their own nightly ritual, in which Blanca tells Alba stories from Uncle Marcos's magic trunk of books. Blanca can never remember the same story twice, so Alba starts to write them down. Alba takes up the practice of recording important events, just as Clara used to do in the notebooks that bore witness to life.
- Here the narrative switches to Esteban's perspective again.
- Work on Esteban's ostentatious mausoleum takes almost two years because he keeps changing his mind about the details. When he finally gets it right, the del Valle family refuses to let him move Rosa's body to the new tomb. He tries bribing them and using his political power to pressure them, but no dice. So Esteban tells Jaime he's going to steal the body, and he wants his son's help.
- Jaime and Esteban bribe the cemetery guard and sneak into the graveyard to dig up Rosa's body. When they have the coffin above ground, Esteban insists they open it so he can look upon Rosa one more time.
- Rosa's body remains perfectly preserved. Esteban leans down to kiss Rosa through the glass covering her face. As he does, a breeze slips through a crack in the coffin, and Rosa disintegrates into dust. When Esteban lifts his head and opens his eyes, Rosa is no more than a skull and moldy pile of skin and hair.
- Jaime and the cemetery guard close the coffin and move Rosa to the place beside Clara in the new tomb.
- Esteban sits down on a grave and thinks that his sister Férula was right – he's been left all alone, his body and soul are shriveling up, and all that's left for him is to die like a dog.
- The text switches back to the third-person narrator.
- Senator Trueba becomes obsessed with stopping the leftist political parties from gaining power. He considers all political parties but his own to be part of the "Marxist cancer" (10.38). He campaigns tirelessly and is re-elected in the parliamentary elections.
- The Senator makes dire predictions about the Marxists taking over, and warns members of his party that "the day we can't get our hands on the ballot boxes before the vote is counted we're done for" (10.41). No one believes him. They say it would take a revolution to put the Marxists in power, and that revolutions don't happen in their country. "Until it happens!" Esteban warns.
- Esteban's strong opinions and furious crusading eventually make him a widely recognized public figure and a "caricature of the picturesque, reactionary oligarch." Even though he's "fanatical, violent, and old-fashioned," he's also the politician who best represents family values and tradition (10.48). He wins elections by a landslide every time.
- Esteban Trueba is the first to call the left the "enemy of democracy," never suspecting that (foreshadowing alert!) this will become the slogan of the military dictatorship.
- Esteban's fortune starts to dwindle after Clara's death, but he's not concerned. He doesn't think his three children deserve to inherit anything from him, and he plans on leaving Tres Marías to Alba.
- Tres Marías isn't doing very well, though, and Esteban has to invest more and more money just to keep the property afloat.
- The foreman at Tres Marías warns Esteban that the peasants are growing restless and that the best thing for him to do would be to sell the property. Esteban refuses, echoing his old argument that "land is all you have left when everything else falls apart" (10.53).
- Pedro Tercero García enjoys popularity and success as a folk musician, and can be heard singing about revolution on the radio. He has become an anarchist.
- Esteban Trueba doesn't suspect that Pedro Tercero is Jaime's best friend, that he spends every weekend with Blanca, or that he takes Alba out on picnics and talks to her about poverty and oppression.
- Blanca won't let Pedro Tercero García tell Alba that he's really her dad. But he's still proud of his daughter, and admires her "free spirit and rebellious nature" (10.55).
- Pedro Tercero has affairs with lots of other women, but he always comes back to Blanca.
- Blanca never gets involved with anyone else – for her there's only Pedro Tercero. But she won't marry him because she's used to life in the big house, and because she prefers the excitement of their passionate hotel rendezvous to the tedium of living together.
- Blanca is horrified by Pedro Tercero's way of life in a working class neighborhood, so he gets an apartment downtown and unintentionally "[ascends] to the middle class to which he had never aspired" (10.58).
- Alba suspects something fishy happened between her grandfather and Pedro Tercero García, but no one will tell her what it is.
- Blanca has told Alba the lie that her father is Jean de Satigny and that he died in the desert so many times that she's come to believe it herself. When Jean really dies and they comes back from identifying him at the morgue, Blanca doesn't feel relieved or try to justify her lie. She and Alba bury him in the municipal grave. Even when Alba remarks that her father didn't have a single friend, Blanca doesn't tell her the truth about her paternity.
- The narrative switches back to Esteban's perspective one last time in this chapter.
- Esteban feels better after he transfers Rosa's body to his new mausoleum, because he knows that one day he, Clara, and Rosa will be reunited in the grave.
- Esteban keeps Clara's room locked so that everything will stay exactly as it was when she was alive.
- He begins to suffer from insomnia, and spends all night wandering the house.
- Esteban eats breakfast with his granddaughter and discusses the newspaper, and then spends the rest of the day out of the house so he can avoid his family.
- Esteban Trueba only has two friends. (Wait a second – Esteban Trueba has friends?) They drag him out to the Christopher Columbus to try to cheer him up.
- The Christopher Columbus has become well-known and popular in recent years. When the three old men enter, they are greeted by a young girl in a schoolgirl costume who offers them a glass of wine on the house. A huge black man dressed in an Arabian outfit introduces himself as Mustafa and offers them a catalogue of prostitutes who are wearing different costumes. Esteban's two friends make their selections, but Esteban is uninterested in the options presented to him in the catalogue.
- Mustafa offers to introduce Esteban to Aphrodite, and Tránsito Soto appears from behind a curtain wearing tulle and dripping with artificial grapes.
- When Tránsito Soto takes off her costume, Esteban finds her more attractive than ever. He's impressed by the changes she's made to the Christopher Columbus and by her ever-present ambition. She explains that she's started a cooperative of sex workers and that the business has become very successful. No one feels exploited, and everyone is a partner.
- Esteban feels tired and old, and doesn't think he'll be able to perform with Tránsito, if you know what we mean.
- Tránsito has quite a way about her, though, and she manages to cheer Esteban up and show him a good time.
- Afterwards, Esteban bursts into tears thinking about Clara. Tránsito consoles him and puts him to bed.