The House of the Spirits
by Isabel Allende
Clara del Valle
If this matriarchal family saga has a mother-of-all-mother-figures, it's Clara del Valle. One might say that Clara gives birth to the novel with the inaugural words: "Barrabás came to us by sea" (1.1). The novel begins with Clara's childish scribbles, and ends the same way. Clara is the alpha and the omega of The House of the Spirits – the glue that holds the Trueba family together, and the life force of the big house on the corner and of the novel as a whole. Birds and cats, flowers and ghosts flock to Clara, and spiritualists and artists crowd her doorstep. Just imagine all of the other characters, human and animal, living and dead, floating around Clara like babes in a state of embryonic bliss.
Clara's innocence and the childlike purity that she maintains even during her wildest romps in bed with Esteban Trueba might make her sound a bit like a Virgin Mary figure. But Clara's spiritual affinities lie far outside of the strict bounds of Catholicism that permeate her society. Clara's spirituality is alternative. Really alternative. It's characterized by psychic experiments, prophecies, dream interpretations, and communication with aliens from outer space. She's forever exhausting herself in the séances she holds with the loonies who gather around her.
But there's more to Clara than the fanciful spiritual exercises that provide a bit of comic relief to a novel that is often dark. Clara is softhearted and clings tenaciously to her ideas about social justice. These qualities can often provoke her to come down to earth for a while and engage in the practical matters of feeding the hungry and comforting the poor and sick.
Clara continues to play a significant part in the story of the Trueba family even after her death. In fact, she performs two of her most important acts as a ghost, when she encourages Alba to survive her time in prison, and when she provides resolution and redemption for the dying Esteban Trueba by allowing him to die in peace.