The House of the Spirits
by Isabel Allende
The House of the Spirits Theme of Memory and The Past
We get two whole sentences into The House of Spirits before we're hit with the theme of reclaiming the past. And, in a sort of beautiful symmetry that we literature nerds get super excited about, the second-to-last sentence hits us with it again. The idea of using the past to better understand the present and to prepare for a future is a theme of this novel, and it's bound up in the idea of storytelling and writing, since those are methods that the characters use to preserve memory. Check out the section on "Literature and Writing" to see how the two themes connect.
Questions About Memory and The Past
- What kinds of documents and records are used in The House of the Spirits as a way of recovering memory? Are some of these sources more reliable than others?
- What role does silence play in the novel? When do the characters keep silent, and why? How does this affect their memory of certain events?
- Throughout the novel, certain events are portrayed from more than one perspective – we're presented with sometimes contradictory "versions" of history. Do you see discrepancies in the way the past is narrated? Why do you think the characters choose to remember the past in different ways?
- How does the epigraph reflect the author's attitude about memory and its role in the novel? (Check out "What's Up with the Epigraph?" to help get you started on answering this question.)
Chew on This
Clara and Alba are arguably the two most central characters in the novel, thanks to their role as family scribe – they are the recorders and keepers of memory for the Trueba family.
In The House of the Spirits, people have different recollections of the same events, and those recollections may change over time. Memory therefore isn't presented as something solid and unchangeable – Truth with a capital "T" – but rather as a product of the desires and imaginations of the characters.