The House of the Spirits
by Isabel Allende
The House of the Spirits Theme of Family
The House of the Spirits is a family saga, so it's pretty much impossible to avoid talking about the theme of family in this novel. The text examines relationships between mothers and daughters, fathers and children, brothers and sisters – you name it. And it also looks at how families function as a whole unit – not always smoothly, it turns out, but there's something that keeps them all together. That mysterious glue might be a legal bond (like marriage), biological inheritance, physical intimacy, co-habitation, or just plain old love. Often it's some combination of those things. Our point is that it's not always easy to tell what makes two people "family," but the bond sure isn't easy to ignore.
Questions About Family
- What makes someone part of a "family" in this novel? Do you consider the character of Nana to be part of the del Valle-Trueba clan even though she's neither biologically nor legally a family member? What about Amanda or Miguel? What about Esteban García?
- How does the process of naming work in the novel? How do last and first names serve to indicate familial connections between characters? Every once in a while a character changes his or her name – why do they choose to do that? What's the significance of changing a name?
- Do you consider the family in this novel to be a patriarchy or a matriarchy? Which lineage would you say is more important to the family history, the maternal or the paternal?
- What kinds of things do people inherit from their ancestors in the novel? Are physical traits, talents and abilities, or temperaments repeated across generations?
Chew on This
The extended family portrayed in The House of the Spirits serves as a microcosm of society as a whole. We can think of the Trueba-del Valle family as a tiny society whose trials and conflicts mirror those of the greater society in which they live.
The traditional notion of patriarchy is constantly undermined in The House of the Spirits, and is replaced by a strong matriarchal connection among the women of the family.