Study Guide

The House of the Spirits Quotes

By Isabel Allende

  • Family

    Clara was extremely precocious and had inherited the runaway imagination of all the women in her family on her mother's side. (1.4)

    Inheritance is a motif in the novel – Clara, her sister Rosa, and all of Clara's female descendents share a vivid imagination and an aptitude for expressing themselves creatively. Even Blanca's general practicality doesn't keep her from developing an artistic streak.

    All her life she would remember the afternoons spent in the company of her mother in the sewing room, where Nívea sewed clothing for the poor on her machine and told stories and anecdotes about the family. (3.11)

    Mothers and daughters bond over storytelling – this is something else that gets passed down through the women of the family from generation to generation. Nívea and Clara, Clara and Blanca, and Blanca and Alba all repeat the ritual of sharing family anecdotes. We can only suppose that Alba will do the same with her own daughter.

    They buried her in a special plot in the tiny graveyard alongside the abandoned church, at the foot of the volcano, because she had been the patrón's wife, in a manner of speaking, since she had given him the only son who bore his name, though not his surname, and a grandson, the strange Esteban García, who was destined to play a terrible role in the history of the family. (4.104)

    Legal marriage and paternity are not the only ways we can understand "family" in this novel – whether he likes it or not, Esteban's relationship with Pancha García produces another branch of his family.

    In the lovers' postures he could see the abandon typical of those who have known each other for a long time. What he was looking at did not at all resemble an erotic summer idyll, as he had supposed, but rather a marriage of body and soul. (6.50)

    Though, as far as we can tell, Blanca and Pedro Tercero are never legally wed, they're far more intimate with one another than Esteban and Clara, or than Blanca will ever be with Jean de Satigny.

    Clara never spoke to her husband again. She stopped using her married name and removed the fine gold wedding ring that he had placed on her finger twenty years before… (6.64)

    Even though Clara and Esteban Trueba remain legally married, for all practical purposes they're divorced. The legal status of relationships in this novel doesn't seem to matter as much as emotional connectedness and communication.

    Clara was very happy to be living with her sons and was determined to establish a friendly relationship with them. She had had very little contact with them when they were small, and in her haste to see them "become men," she had lost the best hours with her sons and been forced to keep all her tender feelings to herself. (7.7)

    Mothers and daughters tend to have stronger relationships in this novel than mothers and sons (or fathers and sons, for that matter). In fact, the social injunction to raise young boys to "become men" might be the reason we see so many male characters that have trouble expressing their emotions and forming intimate relationships with other people.

    "Be quiet!" he roared. "You're getting married. I don't want any bastards in the family, do you hear me?"

    "I thought we already had several," Blanca replied. (7.28)

    Blanca finally talks back to her dad and points out his hypocrisy in condemning her for having sex outside of marriage. Aside from being monumentally sexist and unfair, Esteban's attitude is also dangerous. His limited conception of "family" is what causes him to ignore the offspring he's sired outside of wedlock as well as the resentment that they feel towards him and his "legitimate" family.

    Esteban Trueba […] ended up shouting and slamming doors because, as he put it, he was up to here with living among a bunch of lunatics and all he wanted was a little normality, but he had had the misfortune of marrying an eccentric and siring three good-for-nothing crazies who were ruining his life. (7.55)

    Esteban has rigid ideas about what a family and a society should look like, and he's constantly trying to get his own family and his own society to fit that mold. His perpetual rage can be attributed to the fact that things never go exactly according to his plan. His dreams of "normality" elude him.

    Once a week, on Saturday, they all dined around the great oak table that had always been in the family and had first belonged to the del Valles. […] The child watched the adults in fascination. There was her radiant grandmother, her teeth in place for the occasion, sending messages to her husband through her children or the servants; Jaime flaunting his bad manners by burping after each course and picking his teeth with his little finger to annoy his father; Nicolás with his eyes half closed chewing every bite fifty times; and Blanca chattering about anything she could think of just to create the illusion of a normal meal. (9.28)

    The weekly meal, with all family members in attendance, provides a snapshot of familial relations in the Trueba household. They may seem dysfunctional, but each person has his or her role. Notice that the two family members who get along with everyone are Clara and Alba – they're the glue that keeps the family together.

    Only his grandmother had paid him any attention, and she never let him forget that he was different from the others because the patrón's blood ran in his veins. (9.64)

    While Esteban Trueba may forget about Pancha García, she clearly never forgets about him, his cruel treatment towards her, or the way he neglects their son. The hatred she feels for the patrón is one thing that she passes down to their grandson.

    My mission is […] simply to fill these pages while I wait for Miguel, while I bury my grandfather, whose body lies beside me in this room, while I wait for better times to come, while I carry this child in my womb, the daughter of so many rapes or perhaps of Miguel, but above all, my own daughter. (Epilogue.45)

    Unlike Pancha, who raises her descendents on stories about the injustice she suffered and stokes their desire for vengeance, Alba decides to forgive the men who tortured and raped her. When we realize that she, too, bears a child who may be the product of rape, it becomes clear why such forgiveness is necessary – to break the "terrible chain" of vengeance and liberate her descendents from an endless cycle of violence.

  • Memory and The Past

    These words of Father Restrepo were etched in the family memory with all the gravity of a diagnosis, and in the years to come they had more than one occasion to recall them. The only one who never thought of them again was Clara herself, who simply wrote them in her diary and forgot them. (1.11)

    The narrator has referred to Clara's notebooks (which seem to function as a sort of external hard drive for Clara's brain – she writes things down and then forgets them) as a source of information, but the family's collective memory also informs the narrative.

    Had it not been for the letters Clara and Blanca exchanged, that entire period would have remained submerged in a jumble of faded, timeworn memories. Their abundant correspondence salvaged events from the mists of improbable facts. (8.1)

    The narrator constantly emphasizes writing as a means of solidifying memory – human brains alone are faulty. Journals, letters, and other records provide lasting evidence that events actually happened.

    She had decided to forget the man she had married and act as if he had never existed...Clara, who had spent nine years without speaking, knew the advantages of silence and asked her daughter nothing, joining in her efforts to erase all memory of Jean de Satigny. (9.8)

    Speech is another way the characters hold on to memory in the novel – by repeating stories, the memories remain real, and may even take on new shades of significance. So not repeating stories is a way of willfully erasing the event from memory.

    At the end of his life, when his ninety years had turned him into a twisted, fragile tree, Esteban Trueba would recall those moments with his granddaughter as the happiest of his whole existence. (9.27)

    Memory does a lot of things in the novel, such as help the narrator see connections between family members and understand present events. But perhaps one of its simplest and most satisfying functions is to provide a measure of happiness to Esteban Trueba in his old age.

    When Alba asked to hear these bizarre stories again, Blanca could not repeat them, for she had forgotten them. This led the little girl to write the stories down. (10.30)

    Alba takes up her Grandmother Clara's practice of writing down things she wants to remember – another connection the two women share.

    She recalled the past as a series of violent acts, abandonment, and sorrows, and she was not certain things had been the way she remembered. The episode of the mummies, the photographs, and the hairless Indian in Louis XV shoes that had prompted her flight from her husband's house had grown hazy with time. She had told and retold the story of the count's death of fever in the desert so often that she had come to believe it. (10.59)

    Silence, for Blanca, helps erase the memory of unpleasant events in her past. Likewise, the repetition of stories that are pure fiction only serves to solidify them until even the storyteller begins to confuse these tales with the facts.

    He remembered her as she had been in her youth, when she had dazzled him with the flutter of her hair, the rattle of her trinkets, her bell-like laughter, and her eagerness to embrace outlandish ideas and pursue her dreams. He cursed himself for having let her go and for all the time they both had lost. (11.92)

    Jaime's memory, after twenty years of separation from Amanda, no longer corresponds to reality. When he's forced to confront a timeworn, sickly version of the woman he once loved, he has to revise the memory of her as a young, carefree girl who he'd cherished.

    I write, she wrote, that memory is fragile and the space of a single life is brief, passing so quickly that we never get a chance to see the relationship between events; we cannot gauge the consequences of our acts, and we believe in the fiction of past, present, and future, but it may also be true that everything happens simultaneously – as the three Mora sisters said, who could see the spirits of all eras mingled in space. (Epilogue.45)

    If memory is fragile – it can fade or be manipulated – and the life of an individual is too short to provide much historical perspective, then writing (and reading!) become necessary in order for anyone to be able to understand life.

    Here, on my grandmother's table, is the stack of photographs […] everyone, in short, except the noble Jean de Satigny, of whom no scientific trace remains and whose very existence I have begun to doubt. (Epilogue.43)

    The lack of documentation of Jean de Satigny's involvement in the family history makes it harder for Alba to believe in him. Here, as elsewhere, we're reminded of the importance of tangible evidence to lend credence to memory.

    Clara wrote them so they would help me now to reclaim the past and overcome terrors of my own. (Epilogue.46)

    The whole point of remembering the past is, for Alba, to "reclaim" it. She makes it her own (even those events that occurred long before her birth) and uses it to inform her life in the present.

  • Literature and Writing

    She was already in the habit of writing down important matters, and afterward, when she was mute, she also recorded trivialities, never suspecting that fifty years later I would use her notebooks to reclaim the past and overcome terrors of my own. (1.1)

    Right off the bat, Clara is established as a writer – and so is the narrator, who uses Clara's notebooks in the construction of her own story. These two writers lend a certain symmetry to the novel as a whole. Notice where reference to Clara's and the narrator's writing appears again – check out the very last paragraph of the book.

    She put her papers in order, and salvaged her notebooks that bore witness to life from the hidden corners of the house. She tied them up with colored ribbons, arranging them according to events and not in chronological order, for the one thing she had forgotten to record was the dates, and in her final haste she decided that she could not waste time looking them up. (9.92)

    Clara's notebooks provide a record of life organized according to events, not chronology. This bears a certain similarity to how the story of the del Valle and Trueba families is told – the narrator jumps around in time a lot in order to present events to us according to a certain theme or character, not the order in which they occurred.

    Clara also brought the saving idea of writing in her mind, without paper or pencil, to keep her thoughts occupied and to escape from the doghouse and live. (14.59)

    During Alba's imprisonment, writing becomes not just a way of remembering the past, but a technique for survival.

    As soon as she began to take notes with her mind, the doghouse filled with all the characters of her story, who rushed in, shoved each other out of the way to wrap her in their anecdotes, their vices, and their virtues, trampled on her intention to compose a documentary, and threw her testimony to the floor, pressing, insisting, and egging her on. (14.60)

    The characters that occupy Alba's mind seem to have a life of their own. They sound a lot like the spirits that run around Clara's house.

    Ana Díaz obtained a notebook and gave it to me. "For you to write in, to see if you can get out whatever's worrying you inside, so you'll get better once and for all and join our singing and help us sew," she said. (Epilogue.21)

    Here, writing takes on another role – a therapeutic one. By writing down her worries, Ana hopes that Alba will be able to exorcise the memories that plague her and start living in the present.

    I showed her my hand and shook my head, but she put the pencil in my left hand and told me to write with it. (Epilogue.22)

    The link here between Alba and Pedro Tercero suggests a connection between Alba's writing and Pedro Tercero's composition of revolutionary songs.

    It was my grandfather who had the idea that we should write this story.

    "That way you'll be able to take your roots with you if you ever have to leave, my dear," he said. (Epilogue.41)

    Alba's project to create a testimony, as suggested to her by her grandmother's ghost, takes on a new, personal dimension here. When her grandfather suggests that her writing will help take her "roots" with her if she goes into exile, he implies that this saga might also be a way for her to understand her ancestry.

    I began to write with the help of my grandfather, whose memory remained intact down to the last second of his ninety years. In his own hand he wrote a number of pages, and when he felt that he had written everything he had to say, he lay down on Clara's bed. (Epilogue.44)

    Ah ha! Everything clicks into place when we read this sentence. Now we understand why so many of the passages in the novel were written from Esteban Trueba's perspective – he and Alba share the task of composing the story.

    At times I feel as if I had lived all this before and that I have already written these very words, but I know it was not I: it was another woman, who kept her notebooks so that one day I could use them. (Epilogue.45)

    The similarity between Clara and Alba, the two record-keepers of the family, is emphasized here – the emotional connection that Alba feels to her grandmother in reading her notebooks is so strong she sometimes feels they are the same person.

    That's why my Grandmother Clara wrote in her notebooks, in order to see things in their true dimension and to defy her own poor memory. (Epilogue.45)

    The idea that, to see things in their "true dimension" we must understand the past, present and future all at once gives us a better understanding of why it's not important for Clara's notebooks or this story to be written in chronological order.

  • Perseverance

    I vowed to extract the last gram of precious metal even if it meant I had to crush the hills with my own hands and grind the rocks with my feet. For Rosa's sake, I was prepared to do that and much more. (1.34)

    Esteban Trueba's extraordinary ambition is clear from the moment he first appears in the novel. Two of the driving forces in his life are also apparent here – his desire to overcome his humble origins and become rich, and his passion for women.

    He decided that from that day on, no matter how tight his circumstances, he would always pay for the small comforts that made him feel rich.

    "I don't plan to be poor ever again!" he decided, dreaming of the seam of gold. (2.27)

    Just as important as having money to Esteban is the appearance of having money – he doesn't just want to be rich, he wants everyone to know it. This makes sense based on the anxiety he experiences as a child, when he thinks the other kids can hear the crinkle of the newspaper that he uses as padding inside his worn-out coat. Appearing poor in front of others causes Esteban great humiliation.

    He knew that an immense task lay ahead of him. […] For a second he was tempted to pile his two bags back on the cart and return whence he had come, but he rejected that plan in a flash and resolved that if there was anything that could alleviate the grief and rage of Rosa's loss it would be breaking his back working in this ruined land. (2.43)

    When Esteban puts his mind to something, he gets it done. The strength of Esteban's resolve is one of his defining characteristics.

    "I'm not going to spend my life in the Red Lantern," she had said. "I'm going to the capital, because I want to be rich and famous." (2.81)

    Tránsito Soto possesses the same determined resolve and unbridled ambition as Esteban Trueba. And she doesn't let the fact that she's a woman get in the way of her becoming rich.

    "Can't you see how far I've come? I'm the best now. If I put my mind to it, I could have the best house in the country. I guarantee you." (4.45)

    Just like Esteban Trueba, when Tránsito Soto puts her mind to something, she succeeds.

    At the age of ten he already knew as much as his teacher in the school of Tres Marías, and at twelve he insisted on making the trip into town to attend the high school there. Rain or shine, he would leave his small brick house at five o'clock in the morning, by horse or on foot. (5.44)

    Pedro Tercero is the first of the peasant farmers on Esteban Trueba's land to resolve to get an education. His education marks him as different from the rest of his social peers.

    Esteban Trueba kept his eye on him and did not trust him. He tried to prevent him from continuing his schooling, inventing all sorts of tasks for him to do, men's work, but the boy simply rose earlier and went to sleep later in order to finish the work. (5.51)

    Considering the hardships Esteban Trueba experiences as a youth and the amount he has to work to overcome his poverty, it's ironic that he attempts to sabotage Pedro Tercero's attempts to rise above his own humble origins. From Esteban Trueba's perspective, there's a difference in class between the two men, and Pedro Tercero will never be equal to the patrón, no matter how hard he works, or how much education or money he acquires.

    Then he put him on a cart and took him to the Indian reservation, where he introduced him to a century-old blind woman whose hands were clawed from rheumatism but who was still strong-willed enough to make baskets with her feet. "If she can make baskets with her toes, you can play the guitar without your fingers," he told him. (7.73)

    The example of the elderly woman who overcomes her disability serves as inspiration to Pedro Tercero, just as his story will inspire Alba to overcome her own mutilation.

    Ana Díaz helped her to resist while they were together. She was an indomitable woman. She had withstood every form of cruelty. They had raped her in the presence of her lover and tortured them together, but she had not lost her capacity to smile or her hope. (14.54)

    Companionship helps Alba endure the torture inflicted upon her while she's in prison. The prisoners draw strength from one another, and it's the withdrawal of this support that makes the doghouse, where Alba must suffer in isolation, so intolerable.

    Each time they passed, Ana and Alba sang with the strength of their despair, and female voices rose from the other cells. Then the prisoners would stand up tall, straighten their backs, and turn their heads in the direction of the women's cells, and Andrés would smile. His shirt was torn and covered with dried blood. (14.56)

    The prisoners are often blindfolded in the final chapter of the novel. As a result, Alba pays more attention to other sensory experiences. When the male prisoners pass by, blindfolded, the women use song as a method of resistance.

    When she had nearly achieved her goal, her Grandmother Clara, whom she had invoked so many times to help her die, appeared with the novel idea that the point was not to die, since death came anyway, but to survive, which would be a miracle. (14.60)

    Without communication and companionship, Alba quickly loses her capacity for resistance. In her greatest moment of need, Alba's support comes from the spirit of her Grandmother Clara – the only source of companionship capable of penetrating the walls of Alba's cramped prison cell.

    But she invented a code for recalling things in order, and then she was able to bury herself so deeply in her story that she stopped eating, scratching herself, smelling herself, and complaining, and overcame all her varied agonies. (14.61)

    Writing becomes, for Alba, the most reliable form of resistance – it's the only thing Esteban García and her other torturers can't take away from her.

    I tried to organize the story I had started in the doghouse. My companions helped me whenever my patience flagged and the pencil began to shake in my hand. There were times when I threw it all away, but I would quickly retrieve the notebook and lovingly smooth its pages, filled with regret, because I did not know when I could get another one. (Epilogue.22)

    Alba's ability to persevere is not always constant – her resolve falters at times, and sometimes she's overcome by despair. But the other women in the prison and her own regret never allow her to give up completely.

  • Violence

    Neither the zeal of the police nor Severo's own investigation, which was carried out with the help of a private detective he engaged, shed any light on the identity of the assassin, and the shadow of suspended vengeance has continued to hang over succeeding generations. It was the first of many acts of violence that marked the fate of the del Valle family. (1.61)

    The author establishes here the idea that violence can provoke a chain reaction of vengeance that passes from generation to generation.

    He realized too late, from the blood spattered on her dress, that the young girl was a virgin, but neither Pancha's humble origin nor the pressing demands of his desire allowed him to reconsider. […] Before her, her mother – and before her, her grandmother – had suffered the same animal fate. (2.63)

    This small glimpse into Pancha's family history starts to hint at the revelation that Alba will have at the end of the novel – the rape that Pancha experiences at the hands of the patrón is part of a chain of violence that spans generations, and is not easily broken.

    When there were no more available women in Tres Marías, he began to chase after those from the neighboring haciendas, taking them in the wink of an eye, anywhere he could find a place in the fields, usually at dusk. He did not bother to hide, because he was afraid of no one. On a few occasions, a brother, father, husband, or employer showed up at Tres Marías to call him to account, but faced with his uncontrolled violence, these visits in the name of justice or revenge became less frequent. (2.74)

    Esteban's impunity in committing acts of violence – both in raping the young women in the countryside and in standing up to the men who try to stop him – has a lot to do with his class. As a member of the wealthy elite, he can get away with anything.

    Twice the bullet-riddled bodies of peasants from other haciendas were discovered. There was not the shadow of a doubt in anybody's mind that the guilty one was from Tres Marías, but the rural police simply recorded that bit of information in their record book with the tortured hand of the semi-literate, adding that the victims had been caught committing a theft. The matter never went any further. (2.74)

    Here we find one of the discrepancies between Alba's narrative and Esteban Trueba's. While the third-person narrator leads us to believe that Esteban is, without a doubt, the murderer of the two peasants, Esteban swears in his own testimony that he's never killed anyone.

    The day Esteban Trueba discovered that the son of his administrator was slipping subversive pamphlets to his tenants, he summoned him to his office and, in the presence of his father, gave him a lashing with his snakeskin whip. (4.99)

    Esteban Trueba's decision to whip Pedro Tercero in the presence of Pedro Segundo is perhaps based on the patriarchal notion that the son's shame is a source of shame for the father as well. In punishing Pedro Tercero, Esteban is also punishing his faithful foreman.

    Blanca reminded Pedro Tercero of the Socialist leader who a few years earlier had bicycled across the province, distributing pamphlets on the haciendas and organizing the tenants until the Sánchez brothers caught him, beat him to death, and hanged him from a telephone pole at the intersection of two roads, where everyone could see him. (5.110)

    Like Esteban Trueba, other members of his class can get away with murder. In this society, more value is attached to the lives of upper-class citizens than those of the poor working class.

    When he saw his daughter, Esteban Trueba was unable to restrain his evil character and he charged her with his horse, whip in the air, beating her mercilessly, lash upon lash, until the girl fell flat and rigid to the ground […]

    "Who is it? Tell me who it is or I'll kill you!" (6.54)

    Esteban's "evil character" is constantly getting the better of him and causing him to inflict punishments that he regrets later, in moments of greater sanity.

    He lost control and struck her in the face, knocking her against the wall. Clara fell to the floor without a sound. […] Two days later, Clara and Blanca left Tres Marías and returned to the capital. Esteban, humiliated and furious, remained with the sensation that something in his life had been destroyed forever. (6.62)

    This is a turning point for Esteban Trueba – while his relationships with his family have already been deteriorating, the violence he inflicts upon his daughter and wife completely severs his relationship with them.

    It took me several minutes to calm down and realize that I hadn't killed him. My first reaction was one of relief, because the feel of his warm blood on my face had quickly taken the edge off my hatred, and I had to make a real effort to remember how badly I had wanted to kill him to explain the violence that was suffocating me, making my chest nearly burst, my ears buzz, and my eyes cloud over. (6.87)

    For once, the punishment that Esteban inflicts is less violent than he intends. Instead of guilt and remorse for having let his temper get the best of him, as is usually the case, Esteban's reaction is one of relief that he failed to kill Pedro Tercero.

    He wanted to do it, feel her writhing and kicking at his knees, squirming as she fought for air. He wanted to hear her moan and die in his arms. He wanted to pull off her clothes. He felt violently aroused. […] In a corner of his brain he had just enough sanity left to realize that he was poised on the edge of a bottomless pit. (9.69)

    Esteban García's violent impulse is cast as insanity – it's quite evident that the narrator, while trying to make Esteban's motivation clear to us, condemns his actions and the dark impulses that nearly cause him to rape and murder a child.

    Alba tried to turn her face away, but he held it firmly in both hands, forcing her to look at him. It was her first kiss. She felt a warm, brutal sensation as his rough, badly shaven skin scraped her face. She smelled his scent of stale tobacco and onion, and his violence. […] Alba thought she was choking, and pushed him with such force that she managed to get away from him. (10.45)

    This scene reminds us of the passage in which Esteban Trueba rapes fifteen-year-old Pancha García. While Pancha's "humble origin" doesn't stop Trueba from forcing himself on her, Alba's social status may be the only thing that prevents García from doing the same to her.

    Miguel […] said that the violence of the system needed to be answered with the violence of revolution. (11.4).

    For the first time in the novel, we are presented with a sympathetic character who advocates the use of violence in order to achieve a more just society. Other characters, like Jaime, disagree with him. What do you think? Is violence ever justified?

    In an empty lot they were shot on the ground, because they could no longer stand, and then their bodies were dynamited. The shock of the explosion and the stench of the remains floated in the air for a long time. (13.25)

    The tone of the passage that presents Jaime's murder is distanced and fairly unemotional, though it narrates what is possibly the most violent scene in the novel so far. Perhaps the impassive, matter-of-fact telling of this event makes it even more horrific to the reader.

    He had never imagined that he would see a dozen plainclothesmen break into his house under cover of curfew, armed to the teeth, to drag him from his bed and push him into the sitting room, without even allowing him to put on his slippers or throw a shawl over his shoulders. He saw them kick open Alba's bedroom door and storm in with machine guns in their hands, and he saw his granddaughter waiting for them; she was already dressed, and though her face was pale, she looked serene. He saw them push her out and take her at gunpoint to the drawing room, where they ordered her to stand beside him and not move. (13.139)

    The big house on the corner, the central gathering point for the characters in the novel and the setting of so many important family events, has always seemed an inviolable fortress. The fact that the secret police are able to breach this bastion of safety is indicative of the complete lack of rights, privacy, and security of the citizens under the military regime.

    The man spun around and slapped Alba in the face, a blow that knocked her to the floor. Senator Trueba was paralyzed with terror and surprise. He realized that his hour of truth was finally upon him, after living almost ninety years as his own boss. (13.146)

    In his "hour of truth," Esteban Trueba is at his most vulnerable. The phrase is also the title of the next chapter, in which Alba is entirely at the mercy of Esteban García and his men. What "truth" do the characters learn at their moments of greatest vulnerability?

    She heard Miguel's name but did not know what they were asking her, and kept repeating a monumental no while they beat her, manhandled her, pulled off her blouse, and she could no longer think, could only say no, no, and no and calculate how much longer she could resist before her strength gave out, not knowing this was only the beginning, until she felt herself begin to faint and the men left her alone, lying on the floor, for what seemed to her a very short time. (14.8)

    We can feel Alba's disorientation and exhaustion when we read this sentence. Just like the torture she's experiencing, it seems to go on, and on, and on… The sentence finally stops, just when Alba gets a bit of a break, but it won't be for long.

  • Women and Femininity

    The ladies moved into the living room. […] There they could weep at leisure, unburdening themselves of their own troubles as they wept for someone else's death. […] The maids moved back and forth through the sitting rooms and halls, distributing […] cold compresses soaked in ammonia for those ladies who felt faint from the lack of air, the scent of candles, and the weight of their emotion. (1.59)

    More than an actual grieving, which might take place in private, the act of weeping at Rosa's funeral is a performance taken up by the women in attendance. (Check out the performance of grief at Old Pedro García's funeral in Chapter 6 – in that case a different group of people is assembled to weep for the dead [6.29].) The men, by way of contrast, stand, stroll through the halls, and talk business in low voices.

    It was the custom then for women and children not to attend funerals, which were considered a male province, but at the last minute Clara managed to slip into the cortège to accompany her sister Rosa… (1.66)

    Clara doesn't ever pay too much attention to social norms and customs – she follows her own rules.

    "I would like to have been born a man, so I could leave too," she said, full of hatred.

    "And I would not have liked to be a woman," he said. (2.19)

    Férula provides a foil for Esteban – they're similar in temperament and grew up with the same tough family life, but Férula takes on the role of her mother's nurse and feels trapped at home, while Esteban is free to go off and seek his fortune. Both she and Esteban chalk that up to the fact that, in their society, women are expected to stick around the house and take care of the sick and elderly, and men are expected to go out into the world and earn a living.

    "If women don't know that two and two are four, how are they going to be able to handle a scalpel? Their duty is motherhood and the home. At the rate they're going, the next thing you know they'll be asking to be deputies, judges – even President of the Republic!" (2.77)

    For Esteban, the divisions of society are clearly delineated – women belong in the domestic realm, taking care of the children and the elderly; and men belong in the public sphere, doing cool things like performing surgery and being President and stuff. (Side note: today, in real life, the President of Chile is Michelle Bachelet – yup, a woman. Take that, Esteban Trueba! Oh, wait…we're fighting with a fictional character again.)

    "Since when has a man not beaten his wife? If he doesn't beat her, it's either because he doesn't love her or because he isn't a real man. Since when is a man's paycheck or the fruit of the earth or what the chickens lay shared between them, when everybody knows he is the one in charge? Since when has a woman ever done the same things as a man? Besides, she was born with a wound between her legs and without balls, right, Señora Clara?" they would say. Clara was beside herself. (4.3)

    It's not just the patriarch who thinks women and men have their separate and unequal roles in society – this attitude is shared by the poorest and most oppressed members of their society, the women among the peasants on Esteban Trueba's hacienda.

    "In that respect women are really thick. They're the daughters of rigidity. They need a man to feel secure but they don't realize that the one thing they should be afraid of is men. They don't know how to run their lives. They have to sacrifice themselves for the sake of someone else. Whores are the worst, patrón, believe me. They throw their lives away working for some pimp, smile when he beats them, feel proud when he's well dressed, with his gold teeth and rings on his fingers, and when he goes off and takes up with a woman half their age they forgive him everything because 'he's a man.' No, sir, I'm not like that. No one's ever supported me and that's why you'll never find me supporting someone else." (4.41)

    Tránsito Soto isn't willing to put up with the socially accepted idea that a woman needs to be ruled by a man. Even though she works as a prostitute – a position that some feminists argue exploits women – Tránsito doesn't let herself be exploited. She's her own boss.

    But he was determined that at least his sons would be kept at a safe distance from her magic, so Jaime and Nicolás were sent to a Victorian English boarding school. […] Blanca's case was a different matter, because her father […] believed that her destiny was marriage and a brilliant life in society, where the ability to converse with the dead, if kept on a frivolous level, could be an asset. (4.94)

    Esteban's limited notion of the roles of men and women in society lead him to envision very different futures for his daughter and his sons.

    He maintained that magic, like cooking and religion, was a particularly feminine affair; for this reason, perhaps, he was able to feel a certain sympathy for the three Mora sisters, while he despised male spiritualists almost as much as he did priests. (4.95)

    Magic, to Esteban, is appropriate for women but not for men, which is why he's so offended by his son Nicolás's attempts to become involved in his mother's clairvoyant activities. The author's position on whether or not magic is "feminine" is ambiguous – while women are the most talented practitioners of magic in this novel, we certainly see a number of male characters that are interested in magical and spiritual affairs.

    She walked over to the mirror on the wardrobe and stared at herself for a long time. She took off her nightgown and, for the first time in her life looked at her body in detail, and as she did so she realized that it was because of all these changes that her friend had run away. She smiled a new, delicate smile, the smile of a woman. She put on her old clothes from the preceding summer, which were almost too small, wrapped herself in a shawl, and tiptoed out so as not to wake the rest of the family. (5.12)

    Here the question of gender is attached to both the physical changes happening in Alba's body and the grown-up clothes she wears to indicate those changes.

    He had finally come to accept – beaten into it by the tide of new ideas – that not all women were complete idiots, and he believed that Alba, who was too plain to attract a well-to-do husband, could enter one of the professions and make her living like a man. (10.25)

    Thankfully, popular conceptions of the role of women in society change, and Esteban is forced to update his ideas about gender roles. That's not to say he's ever completely liberated from his antiquated patriarchal notion that men work in the public sphere and women work in the home – even while he pushes Alba to pursue a professional career, he thinks she'll be imitating a masculine lifestyle.

    He said it was good for men to have a wife, but that women like Alba could only lose by marrying. (11.2)

    Esteban's observation that women "lose" something by marrying is perceptive – by accepting a lesser role and permitting a man to have authority over her, a married woman certainly loses a measure of freedom and power in a patriarchal society. The marriages portrayed in this novel don't tend to reflect that kind of unbalanced relationship, however, suggesting that the idea of patriarchal authority is more of a performance than anything else.

  • Society and Class

    Férula […] reminded him that on their mother's side they were heir to the noblest and most highborn surname of the viceroyalty of Lima. Trueba had simply been a regrettable accident in the life of Doña Ester, who was destined to marry someone of her own class, but she had fallen hopelessly in love with that good-for-nothing immigrant, a first-generation settler who within a few short years had squandered first her dowry and then her inheritance. (2.21)

    In Férula and Esteban's pride in their mother's surname, we get the sense that "class" is a category separate from wealth – nobility can't be lost just because a family loses its money. Class is a more enduring label, which suggests that, in this society, members of the lower class couldn't easily shed the stigma of their low birth by making a fortune.

    The upper class, however, in whose hands were concentrated all the power and wealth, was unaware of the danger that threatened the fragile equilibrium of their position. (2.72)

    Though class is regarded by many characters in the novel as a stable and immutable category, the author hints that the category is more "fragile" than they suppose.

    Word of his cruelty spread throughout the region, provoking jealous admiration among the men of his class. They peasants hid their daughters and clenched their fists helplessly because they could not confront him. Esteban Trueba was stronger, and he had impunity. (2.74)

    Upper-class status comes with a get-out-of-jail-free card. Esteban Trueba can do whatever he wants with impunity.

    "What they don't realize is that poor people are completely ignorant and uneducated. They're like children, they can't handle responsibility. How could they know what's best for them? Without me they'd be lost – if you don't believe me, just look what happens every time I turn my back. Everything goes to pieces and they start acting like a bunch of donkeys." (2.75)

    Esteban justifies his behavior and the patriarchal structure of his society by comparing the peasants to children and to animals – creatures that don't know how to take care of themselves. He argues that he acts like a father towards his childish tenant-farmers, providing them with a source of authority without which they'd flounder and starve.

    At times Clara would accompany her mother and two or three of her suffragette friends on their visits to factories, where they would stand on soapboxes and make speeches to the women who worked there while the foremen and bosses, snickering and hostile, observed them from a prudent distance. […] Clara grasped the absurdity of the situation and wrote in her notebook about the contrast of her mother and her friends, in their fur coasts and suede boots, speaking of oppression, equality, and rights to a sad, resigned group of hard-working women in denim aprons, their hands red with chilblains." (4.17)

    The feminism of Clara's mother and her suffragette friends falls flat on the ears of the working-class women at the factories. Clara sees that it's easy to concern yourself with political ideas when you're wealthy and don't have to worry about working for a living – the factory workers have more pressing concerns.

    "There's no point in trading one capitalist for another. The thing to do is form a cooperative and tell the madam to go to hell. Haven't you ever heard of that? You better be careful. If your tenants set up a cooperative, you'd really be finished. What I want is a whores' cooperative. Or whores and fags, to make it more encompassing. We'll lay out everything, the money and the work. What do we need a patrón for?" (4.48)

    Tránsito Soto's political ideas are born of her ambition and a sense of practicality – she's not interested in high-minded theoretical ideas. She's interested in what works.

    Hungry tribes of unemployed workers and their families […] wandered the streets begging for a chance to work, but there were no jobs and slowly but surely the rugged workers, thin with hunger, shrunken with cold, ragged and desolate, stopped asking for work and asked for alms instead. The city filled with beggars, and then with thieves. […] There was not enough charity for so many poor, defenseless people. (4.90)

    The portrayal of the impoverished workers indicates that the problem of unemployment is systemic – there are no jobs for the people to work, and charity is insufficient to meet their needs, too. The author suggests that something about the political system needs to change.

    Just as she had gone with her mother in the days when she was mute, she now took Blanca with her on her visits to the poor, weighed down with gifts and comfort.

    "This is to assuage our conscience, darling," she would explain to Blanca. "But it doesn't help the poor. They don't need charity, they need justice." (4.95)

    Charity is a tradition among the women of the del Valle and Trueba families – Nívea, Clara, Alba, and even Blanca (at her mother and daughter's prodding) help the poor with their labor and with gifts of money and food. All of these characters, with the sole except of Blanca, recognize that charity isn't going to cut it – the political structure that perpetuates poverty in the first place needs to change as well.

    "When I grow up, I'm going to marry you and we're going to live here in Tres Marías," she whispered.

    Pedro stared at her with his sad old man's look and shook his head. He was still much more of a child than she, but he already knew his place in the world. (5.16)

    Pedro Tercero can see that Blanca is being naïve. She has yet to learn the social rules that disallow the marriage of two people from different social classes, and sees herself and Pedro Tercero as equals.

    "Charity, like Socialism, is an invention of the weak to exploit the strong and bring them to their knees."

    "I don't believe in your theory of the weak and the strong," Jaime replied.

    "That's the way it is in nature. We live in a jungle."

    "Yes, because the people who make up the rules think like you! But it won't always be that way."

    "Oh, yes, it will. Because we always win. We know how to move around in the world and how to use power." (10.15)

    Jaime's conversation with his dad reveals that they're both aware that things are the way they are because the powerful make the rules.

    They lit torches, and the jumble of voices and dancing in the streets became a disciplined, jubilant procession that advanced toward the well-tended avenues of the bourgeoisie, creating the unaccustomed spectacle of ordinary citizens – factory workers in their heavy work shoes, women with babies in their arms, students in shirt-sleeves – calmly marching through the private, expensive neighborhood where they had rarely ventured before, and in which they were complete foreigners. (12.4)

    The Socialist victory is illustrated through an inversion – and some fear an invasion – of space. When the party of the working class achieves victory, the wealthy suddenly have to make room in their ritzy neighborhood for the poor, just as they'll have to make room in the political arena for a class that had previously been shut out.

  • The Supernatural

    It was true there had been times, just as they were about to sit down to dinner and everyone was in the large dining room, seating according to dignity and position, when the saltcellar would suddenly begin to shake and move among the plates and goblets without any visible source of energy or sign of illusionist's trick. Nívea would pull Clara's braids and that would be enough to wake her daughter from her mad distraction and return the saltcellar to immobility. (1.11)

    Clara's supernatural abilities are always portrayed as something benign, lighthearted, and even humorous. This reinforces our understanding of Clara, who holds the opinion that life shouldn't be taken too seriously.

    They had also grown accustomed to the youngest daughter's prophecies. She would announce earthquakes in advance, which was quite useful in the country of catastrophes, for it gave them a chance to lock up the good dishes and place their slippers within reach in case they had to run out in the middle of the night. (1.11)

    The extent to which we are supposed to understand Clara's supernatural abilities as real is made clear when we understand that her prophecies are a practical and everyday part of the del Valle family's life. This is an example of Allende's use of "magical realism" – the characters don't blink an eye at the youngest child's magical gift of prophecy; they just run to put up the good china.

    Marcos maintained that his niece's gift could be a source of income and a good opportunity for him to cultivate his own clairvoyance. He believed that all human beings possessed this ability, particularly his own family, and that if it did not function well it was simply due to a lack of training. (1.22)

    Marcos, like his nephew Nicolás really wants to be clairvoyant like Clara. Neither uncle nor nephew is ever very good at the whole psychic thing, though, and this makes us wonder – is magic portrayed as a particularly feminine ability in this novel?

    By way of a series of discreet inquiries, they managed to obtain her earthly address and arrived at her door with decks of cards impregnated with beneficent liquids, several sets of geometrical figures and mysterious tools of their own invention for unmasking fake parapsychologists, and a tray of ordinary pastries as a gift for Clara. They became intimate friends, and from that day on they met every Friday to summon spirits and exchange recipes and premonitions. (4.72)

    The extraordinary comes in with the ordinary when the Mora sisters appear – they bring both mystical tools and ordinary pastries, and exchange both premonitions and recipes. It's kind of great how the magical and the real are portrayed side by side in this novel, huh?

    As for Clara, she went everywhere with her daughter hanging from her skirts. She included her in the Friday sessions and raised her in the greatest intimacy with spirits… (4.95)

    Here's an example of how the theme of spirituality is wrapped up in the idea of domesticity and family life in the novel – the most spiritually active setting of the book is Clara's domain in the big house on the corner. (There's a reason why this book is called The House of the Spirits, after all. Check out "What's Up with the Title?")

    Everyone who witnessed the moment agrees that it was almost eight o'clock at night when Férula appeared without the slightest warning. They all saw her in her starched blouse, with her ring of keys at her waist and her old maid's bun, exactly as they had always seen her in the house […] it had been six years since they last saw her and she looked very pale and a great deal older. (5.20)

    The narrator emphasizes that everyone sees Férula's ghost, even the twins, who have been isolated from their mother's spiritual exercises. She wants us to take this ghostly apparition seriously – we can't just chalk it up to Clara's overactive imagination.

    It was then that she began her first serious attempts to communicate with extraterrestrial beings and that, as she herself noted, she began to have her first doubts regarding the spiritual messages she received from the pendulum and the three-legged table. She often said that perhaps it was not the souls of the dead, wandering in another dimension, but rather beings from other planets who were trying to establish a relationship with earthlings but who, because they were made of an intangible matter, could easily be confused with souls. (7.4)

    Clara expresses doubt as to the source of the spiritual messages she receives, but their authenticity is accepted as a matter of fact. This is just another example of the way supernatural or magical elements are taken to be realistic in the novel.

    [Nicolás] tried in vain to imitate her… Clara tried to console him for his failures.
    "You can't learn these things or inherit them," she would tell him when she saw him going cross-eyed with concentration in his strenuous efforts to move the saltshaker without touching it. (7.49)

    Nicolás's inability to learn or inherit his mother's psychic gifts raises questions about gender and spirituality in the novel – women tend to be more spiritually perceptive than men. Is supernatural ability a female trait, as Esteban Trueba asserts?

    Her mother replied that there was no reason to fear the dead, only the living, because, despite their bad reputation, there was no evidence that mummies had ever attacked anyone; if anything, they were naturally timid. (8.27)

    The tone here is both humorous and ominous – the idea of timid little mummies skittering around is cute, but Clara's point about fearing the living is foreboding in light of the violent events that take place towards the end of the novel.

    An exalted state of mind could easily put her into a trance in which she would move around the room while sitting in a chair, as if there were a hidden motor underneath the cushions. (9.11)

    This is one of the most memorable examples of Allende's use of magical realism in the novel. To lend authenticity to the outlandish idea of an old lady floating around in an armchair, the narrator reports that Clara's levitation is even documented by an artist whose painting winds up in a British museum. It's not a trick of the imagination or an artist's fanciful defiance of the laws of physics, the narrator claims, but reality.

    Perhaps he was dreaming that it was his wife who held his hand and kissed his forehead, because in his final days she did not leave him for a second. […] At first she was just a mysterious glow, but as my grandfather slowly lost the rage that had tormented him throughout his life, she appeared as she had been at her best, laughing with all her teeth and stirring up the other spirits as she sailed through the house. She also helped us to write, and thanks to her presence Esteban Trueba was able to die happy, murmuring her name: Clara, clearest, clairvoyant. (Epilogue.44)

    The supernatural is a source of comfort and inspiration in the novel. Clara's ghost provides the impetus for Alba's exercise in writing, as well as assistance in the completion of the testimony. Esteban seems to be more in touch with Clara as he loses his anger, suggesting that rage and desire for vengeance may prevent people from communing with the spirits.

  • Freedom and Confinement

    Barrabás arrived on a Holy Thursday. He was in a despicable cage, caked with his own excrement and urine, and had the lost look of a hapless, utterly defenseless prisoner; but the regal carriage of his head and the size of his frame bespoke the legendary giant he would become. (1.1)

    Though Barrabás is in pitiful shape, the fact that he's still in possession of his some irrevocable source of dignity leads us to draw a comparison between his captivity here and Alba's at the end of the novel. Perhaps the author wants to make the point that imprisonment and physical hardship can't necessarily rob a creature of its integrity.

    It bothered her to have to stay locked up within these walls that stank of medicine and age, to be kept awake at night by the moans of her sick mother, always attentive to the clock so as to administer each dose at the proper time, bored, tired, and unhappy while her brother had no taste of such obligations. Before him lay a destiny that was bright, free, and full of promise. He could marry, have children, know what love was. (2.8)

    Here, the theme of captivity is linked to gender – the only difference between Férula's situation and that of her brother is that she's a woman and he's a man. Férula's captivity may be her own doing (not all women are held back by their gender in the novel – just look at Tránsito Soto), but she's certainly conforming to social roles imposed upon her by society.

    These visits to the zoo holding on to the hand of some conceited spendthrift suitor gave her a lifelong horror of enclosures, walls, cages, and isolation. (9.29)

    Alba's fear of enclosures and isolation is foreboding. In this novel, if someone has a "lifelong horror" of something, it's likely going to come up later.

    He struggled and shouted so much that they loosened his bonds and helped him to his feet, but when he attempted to leave he saw that the windows had been bricked in from outside and that the door was locked. They tried to explain to him that things had changed and that he was no longer the patrón, but he refused to listen. (12.54)

    Esteban's not used to being the one with his hands tied. His physical constraints lead us to think of the invisible constraints that have held back his tenants – constraints like poverty, ignorance, lack of education, and no power to change their situation.

    The curfew lasted for two days, which to Alba seemed an eternity. On the radio they played martial music, and on television they showed only landscapes from around the country and cartoons. (13.35)

    One of the first acts of the new military government is to establish a two-day curfew, confining the citizens to their homes. The curfew might be considered both a demonstration of the military's power as well as a means of control.

    Despite the order to shoot anyone who ventured outside, Senator Trueba crossed the street to attend a celebration in his neighbor's house. The hubbub of the party did not concern the soldiers patrolling the streets because it was a neighborhood where they expected no opposition. (13.35)

    The fact that Esteban Trueba can violate the curfew with impunity is indicative of his status, and of the fact that the true purpose of the curfew is to neutralize any opposition the military might encounter.

    Soon all the embassies were ringed with barbed wire and machine guns and it was impossible to continue taking them by storm… (13.61)

    The barbed wire and machine guns surrounding the embassies suggest that the country itself has been turned into a prison. Ironically, the conservatives, under the rule of the Socialist government, had fled the country in fear of state oppression. Now it's the leftist opponents to the military regime who cannot leave.

    He cursed his voluntary imprisonment, and raged impatiently for news of his friends, […] He began to be obsessed by the idea that he was a coward and a traitor for not having shared the fate of so many others, and felt that it would be more honorable to surrender and meet his fate. (13.93)

    Pedro Tercero seems to feel that forced imprisonment would be "more honorable," and therefore preferable to voluntary imprisonment.

    After a few months Blanca realized that she could not hold him prisoner indefinitely and gave up her plans to reduce his spirit in order to make him her permanent lover. She understood that he was being eaten up alive because for him freedom was even more important than love, and that there were no magic pills that would make him change his mind. (13.93)

    Blanca's decision is a commentary on the inutility of imprisonment. She realizes she can't get what she wants by forcefully keeping Pedro Tercero in her home. Other jailers in the novel also fail to accomplish their objectives through imprisoning people – the novel doesn't give a single example of torturers extracting a confession from their prisoners.

    She tried to count the days since she was first arrested, but her loneliness, the darkness, and her fear distorted her sense of time and space. (14.18).

    One of the effects of imprisonment in the novel, and indeed probably one of its objectives, is to disorient the prisoner. Because it helps Alba to reorient herself in time, it makes sense that writing would serve as an effective countermeasure against this distortion.

    The doghouse was a small, sealed cell like a dark, frozen, airless tomb. There were six of them altogether, constructed in an empty water tank especially for punishment. They were used for relatively short stretches of time, because no on could withstand them very long, at most a few days, before beginning to ramble – to lose the sense of things, the meaning of words, and the anxiety of passing time – or simply, beginning to die. (14.59)

    Alba's imprisonment in the doghouse recalls the arrival of Barrabás at the del Valle home in the beginning of the novel. In this quote, the author's message is clear: imprisonment and isolation, which is separation from all communication and from time, equal death.

  • Politics

    He knew that Nívea went out at night to hang suffragette posters on walls across the city and that she was capable of walking through the heart of the city in the plain light of day with a broom in her hand and a tricornered hat on her head, calling for women to have equal rights with men, to be allowed to vote and attend the university, and for all children, even bastards, to be granted the full protection of the law. (2.76)

    From Esteban's perspective, Nívea's status as a suffragette is a cause of embarrassment. However, her participation in the movement to earn the right to vote for women establishes a tradition of feminist activism that several of her female descendents will follow.

    The peasants were still living exactly as they had in colonial times, and had not heard of unions, or Sundays off, or the minimum wage; but now delegates from the new-formed parties of the left, disguised as evangelicals, were beginning to infiltrate the haciendas, with a Bible tucked under one armpit and Marxist pamphlets under the other, simultaneously preaching the abstemious life and revolution or death. (2.80)

    The fact that proponents of Marxist ideas have to go "disguised" indicates that their ideas are very unwelcome in the countryside, and suggests that opposing those with political power is a dangerous enterprise.

    The patrones threw them a big party with empanadas and lots of wine, barbecued a few cows specially slaughtered for the occasion, serenaded them with songs accompanied on the guitar, beat them over the head with a few political harangues, and promised them that if the conservative candidate won the election they would all receive a bonus, but that if he lost they would lose their jobs. In addition they rigged the ballot boxes and bribed the police. (2.90)

    The electoral process leading to yet another conservative victory isn't portrayed as being fair and open, nor does it seem the voters have the freedom to act in their best interests.

    "In union there is strength […] If the hens can overcome the fox, what about human beings?" (5.50)

    Pedro Tercero makes no secret of the allegorical significance of his song about hens and foxes. As usual, he's willing to get up in the face of the patrón and speak (or sing) his mind.

    Therefore, when a train came through carrying the new candidate of the Socialist Party, a charismatic, nearsighted doctor who could move huge crowds with his passionate speeches, they watched him from the station, observed in turn by the owners, who formed a fence around them, armed with shotguns and clubs. They listened respectfully to what the candidate had to say, but they were afraid to make the least gesture of greeting… (6.38)

    The reference to the "new candidate of the Socialist Party" is almost dismissive – there's little to suggest that he'll be of any importance in the novel, given the forcefulness with which the landowners clamp down on any possibility of opposition to the conservatives. The "charismatic, nearsighted doctor" has yet to take on the pivotal role that he will occupy in the novel when the author starts referring to him as "the Candidate."

    "The Socialists are going to win," Jaime had said. After spending so much time living with the proletariat in the hospital where he worked, he had lost his reason.

    "No, Jaime, the ones who always win are going to win again," Clara had replied, for she had seen it in the cards and her common sense had confirmed it. (7.37)

    There's a sense of inevitability to the conservative victory – for most of the novel, the notion that anyone could oppose the ruling party is totally unreasonable. "The ones who always win are going to win again" becomes a sort of catchphrase for Esteban Trueba, and something that the conservatives rely upon. They become complacent that they will always be in power.

    "He was astute enough to be the first to call the left "the enemy of democracy," never suspecting that years later that would be the slogan of the dictatorship. (10.50)

    Esteban Trueba's astuteness lies not so much in the veracity of his claim, but in the usefulness of his statement as political slander. It's ironic that the phrase will later be adopted by the dictatorship – clearly not a democratic institution. (By the way, notice how Allende uses the technique of prolepsis here by talking about something that hasn't happened yet? Check out "Writing Style" for more.)

    "This is a democracy. It's not a dictatorship and it never will be."

    "We always think things like that only happen elsewhere," said Miguel, "until they happen to us too." (11.16)

    Miguel is a pretty perceptive guy. His observations about how politics work in his country tend to be right on the money. Turns out, he's right in this case, too.

    "I told you we'd win, Miguel!" Alba said, laughing.

    "We've won, but now we'll have to defend our victory," he replied. (11.6)

    As usual, Miguel doesn't let himself get carried away in the celebration of the Socialist win. It's a bit of a downer to remind Alba that their victory isn't necessarily secure, but Miguel is right…as usual.

    Word spread that the President had died, and no one believed the official version that he had committed suicide. (13.38)

    It's interesting that Allende never explicitly tells us how the President dies, but only suggests that the "official version" of events is suspect.

    Thus the months went by, and it became clear to everyone, even Senator Trueba, that the military had seized power to keep it for themselves and not to hand the country over to the politicians of the right who had made the coup possible. (13.87)

    This is the first indication we get that Esteban Trueba and other conservatives are beginning to realize that their party made a big mistake by agreeing to suspend democracy in order to depose the Socialists. Politics are now totally out of the picture – the military is in control, and they don't seem to intend to relinquish the power they've acquired.