Study Guide

The House of the Spirits Genre

By Isabel Allende

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Magical Realism, Family Drama, Historical Fiction

While The House of the Spirits definitely qualifies as a family drama and a work of historical fiction (see the section of "Setting" for more about the history that informs the book), it's also one of the most well known examples of South American magical realism. That means that magical or supernatural elements appear in the text alongside perfectly ordinary ones. So when the entire Trueba family is sitting around eating dinner, normal as can be (well, normal as they can be), and suddenly Férula's ghost walks into the room, that's an example of magical realism. Want some more? How about Clara's habit of moving the furniture with her mind, the Mora sisters' psychic prophecies, and Old Pedro García's talking cure for ridding Tres Marías of the plague of ants?

OK, you're going to hate us for this. But now that we've told you that The House of the Spirits is a preeminent example of the genre of magical realism, we should say that Isabel Allende herself doesn't necessarily see it that way. In fact, Allende has come out and said that she finds it "strange" that her work has been classified as magical realism, because she sees her own novels "as just being realistic literature." Hm. So maybe she's saying that what seems magical to us might not seem strange to her at all, and that whether we classify her writing as magical realism or not depends on our cultural background. What do you think?

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