The House of the Spirits
by Isabel Allende
Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Playful, Sympathetic, Forgiving
The author's tone is often playful and sympathetic, especially during the beginning parts of the novel. The follies and failures of the characters are told with lightheartedness and a certain unwavering affection, the kind of tone you'd probably use to describe your own family members. Yeah, they're crazy…but lovable.
Even the most detestable characters are portrayed in a sympathetic light. Esteban García's cruelty towards Alba is explained as being a natural reaction to the years of oppression that he and his ancestors suffered at the hands of the Trueba family. Thanks to the passages told from Esteban Trueba's perspective, we understand that his violent temper and unsympathetic nature are primarily due to his experience of childhood humiliation and his wounded pride. His propensity for rape, one of the most condemnable actions of the novel, is understood in part to be a product of his cultural context. The author does not absolve either García or Trueba of responsibility for their crimes, nor does she pretend that his character was formed in a vacuum. Ultimately, the author's tone is forgiving, and this goes along with Alba's decision at the end of the novel to forgive her tormenters and break the cycle of vengeance.