Study Guide

The House of the Spirits Politics

By Isabel Allende

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.

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