The House of the Spirits
by Isabel Allende
The House of the Spirits Theme of Violence
As dark and unpleasant as this may sound, we have to admit that violence occupies a central role in The House of Spirits – especially violence against women. Some have accused Allende of being too graphic in the passages about distasteful topics like rape and torture, but we don't think her descriptions are gratuitous. Far from glorifying violent acts, the text operates as a fictitious testimony – based on historical events – that gives a voice to victims of violence and seeks to prevent these things from happening again.
Questions About Violence
- How does the language of the novel change as the author begins to describe the acts of state violence committed in "The Terror" and "The Hour of Truth"? Do you notice any differences in sentence structure or style between these last chapters and beginning chapters such as "Clara the Clairvoyant" and "The Time of the Spirits"?
- The most spiritual characters in The House of the Spirits seem also to be the most non-violent. Do we ever see violence overlap with the spiritual elements of the novel? Are magic and violence incompatible?
- How do the aggressors of the novel feel about their violent behavior? Do they exhibit any signs of regret, remorse, or hesitancy? Are there times in which they don't feel uneasy or repentant about their misdeeds? What do their attitudes towards their own actions say about the purpose of violence in the novel?
- Do you think Esteban Trueba is responsible for the deaths of the two peasants found on his land, ridden with bullets? How much can we trust his testimony that he never killed anyone?
Chew on This
The atmosphere of violent state repression that descends upon the characters in the final two chapters "doesn't allow for the magical side of things" (10.44). The failure of the beneficent spirits to come to Alba's aid when she gets dragged off to prison suggests that magic and violence are incompatible.
Throughout the novel, women suffer violence as punishment for the sins of their fathers, indicating the extreme vulnerability of women in a patriarchal system.