Study Guide

The House of the Spirits Perseverance

By Isabel Allende

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.

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