Study Guide

The House of the Spirits Chapter 4

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Chapter 4

The Time of the Spirits

  • Clara, Blanca, and Férula travel to Tres Marías with Esteban for the first time, and they manage to bring an impressive amount of luggage. When they arrive, Blanca the toddler toddles off to play with Pedro Tercero García, the son of Pedro Segundo García. They play all day and fall asleep naked in each other's arms under the dining room table, where Clara finds them.
  • Clara's intuition helps her pick up on the tenants' resentment and fear of her husband, and makes her suspect some of the shadier activities of his past.
  • Esteban is no longer in the habit of visiting the Red Lantern or assaulting peasant girls, and the tenants attribute this to Clara.
  • Clara feels called to help the residents of her husband's plantation, and puts aside her clairvoyant activities in order to work in the sewing workshop, the general store, and the school. The pious Férula organizes nightly prayer meetings for the women, after which Clara shares her mother's feminist ideas. To Clara's dismay, the peasant women merely laugh at her radical notions.
  • When Esteban finds out about Clara's speeches at the prayer meetings, he throws a furious temper tantrum. Clara seems unperturbed by her husband's rant.
  • Férula tries to convince Clara to go back to the city. Férula hates the country, where life seems barbaric to her, and wants to go back to "civilization." She has a couple of freak-outs when a mouse gets stuck in her corset and when the mayor of the town walks in on her as she's using the bathroom. Still, Clara is happy in the countryside and doesn't want to return to the capital. Férula doesn't want to leave Clara. So they stay.
  • A plague of ants of Biblical proportions hits Tres Marías. Esteban Trueba and Pedro Segundo García use every trick in the book, but they fail to get rid of the little buggers. So Esteban hires a gringo named Mr. Brown, who promises to get rid of the ants with special products. When Pedro Segundo García hears that Mr. Brown's method will take a month, he asks the patrón if he can call in his father, who claims to have a remedy for plagues. Mr. Brown scoffs at the old man's methods, but old Pedro García succeeds in ridding Tres Marías of the plague by simply talking to the ants and showing them the way off the property.
  • Clara loses interest in her schoolhouse activities and the women's meetings. Turns out she's pregnant again.
  • Esteban takes his wife and daughter back to the city, to Férula's relief.
  • Esteban takes up the narrative again at this point.
  • On the way home from Tres Marías, Clara sinks into a silence that will last several months, and which Esteban understands to be part of her pregnancy.
  • Esteban is bored and frustrated at home in the city, but doesn't want to leave his wife.
  • Shortly before her delivery date, Clara begins speaking again to announce that she'll be delivering twin boys, and that their names will be Jaime and Nicolás. Esteban is furious and argues that at least one of the boys should be named Esteban, but Clara insists that repeating names only causes confusion in her "notebooks that bear witness to life" (4.31).
  • Esteban Trueba gets drunk and goes to the Christopher Columbus, a brothel in the city. To his surprise, he finds Tránsito Soto there. She has grown more beautiful and offers to pay Esteban Trueba back the 50 pesos he once lent her, but he prefers to have her owe him a favor. Tránsito Soto says she has a million ideas to improve business at the Christopher Columbus, and Esteban offers her money to help her start her own brothel. Tránsito turns him down, explaining that she wants to start a cooperative of sex workers.
  • Esteban and Tránsito Soto have sex, and it's not the delicate kind that he's used to with Clara. He likes it.
  • Esteban the Narrator mentions that this episode is significant because Tránsito will play an important role in his life later on. In fact, without Tránsito, Esteban says that this story could not have been written.
  • The narrative switches back to third-person here.
  • Nívea and Severo del Valle are killed in a car accident a few days before Clara is due to have her babies. Despite her husband's efforts to shelter her from the bad news, Clara sees in a dream that Nívea was beheaded in the accident.
  • Here we get some back-story on Severo and Nívea's adventures with the car, which they call Covadonga, and which has very unreliable brakes. One day, the brakes give out completely and Covadonga crashes into the back of a cart that's loaded with construction iron. Nívea is decapitated. The police are unable to find the head, so Severo and Nívea are buried without it.
  • Many people attend the funeral to pay tribute to Nívea, who is considered the first feminist in the country.
  • Esteban and Férula prevent Clara from attending the funeral, fearing it would upset her too much.
  • A few days after her parents are buried, Clara convinces Férula to help her look for her mother's head. Clara's intuition leads them to where the head is hidden. They wrap it in a shawl and hurry home, arriving just in time to get Clara into bed before she gives birth to the twins.
  • By the time the doctor and midwife arrive at the house, Jaime and Nicolas have been born and Clara is resting comfortably.
  • To avoid a scandal, Nívea's head is kept in a hatbox in the basement. They want to wait for a time when it can be given a Christian burial without attracting attention.
  • After the death of her employers, Nana comes to live in the big house on the corner. She and Férula become rivals.
  • One afternoon three women appear at the house. They turn out to be the three Mora sisters. The women strike up an intimate friendship with Clara, who they feel is their "astral sister" (4.72). Clara begins to host weekly meetings in which she, the Mora sisters, and their friends summon spirits, exchange premonitions, and experiment with other supernatural phenomena.
  • Esteban, Férula, and Nana fight amongst themselves for Clara's attention, but Clara and Blanca develop a close mother-daughter bond based on storytelling, similar to the one Nívea had with Clara.
  • The twins Jaime and Nicolás grow apart from their mother and sister, asserting their masculinity in violent and active games.
  • Esteban grows frustrated that Clara doesn't seem to need or love him as much as he needs and loves her.
  • Every once in a while he grows angry and reverts to his former habit of raping peasant women, but he knows that if he were to tell Clara about it she'd be upset by his mistreatment of the other women, and not by his infidelity to her.
  • Esteban grows increasingly jealous of Férula and her loving ministrations towards his wife. He stops going to the country so that he can keep an eye on his sister, and the atmosphere in the house on the corner becomes tense.
  • The hatred between Esteban and Férula finally comes to a head when, after a forced visit to Tres Marías, Esteban returns without telling anyone. He dines at a club and, during his dinner, an earthquake occurs. At the big house on the corner, the earthquake frightens Férula, and she crawls into bed with Clara for comfort. Esteban returns home and finds the two women sleeping in bed together. He drags Férula from the room in a rage, accuses her of seducing Clara with her "arsenal of lesbian arts," and throws her out of the house.
  • He promises to provide Férula with enough money to live decently, but vows that if she ever comes near his wife or children again, he'll kill her.
  • Before leaving, Férula curses her brother, saying: "You will always be alone! Your body and soul will shrivel up and you'll die like a dog!"
  • Esteban arranges with the local priest, Father Antonio, to deliver an envelope of money once a month to his sister.
  • Clara tries to divine Férula's location, but is unsuccessful. Father Antonio tells her that Férula doesn't want to be found.
  • The country experiences an economic crisis, but Esteban Trueba only grows richer.
  • A plague of exanthemic typhus spreads through the city. Esteban wants to take his family to the countryside to protect them from infection, but Clara insists on staying in the capital so she can tend to the poor and sick.
  • Esteban sends Jaime and Nicolás away to a British boarding school to shield them from his wife's psychic activities, which he doesn't consider to be appropriate for young men.
  • Clara and Esteban argue over the idea of justice for the poor. Esteban is OK with Clara doing charitable work in the slums, but he argues that the poor live in poverty because they don't make the effort to become rich. Clara's ideas about justice sound crazy to Esteban, and remind him of the ideas that Pedro Tercero García is spreading around Tres Marías.
  • Here the text transitions to tell the story of the time that Esteban Trueba discovers Pedro Tercero García passing out subversive pamphlets to the other tenants. As punishment, Esteban whips Pedro Tercero in front of his father.
  • Blanca and Pedro Tercero love each other. The two play together, and Blanca encourages Pedro Tercero to learn to read by tempting him with the books from her Uncle Marcos's trunk.
  • Blanca and Pedro Tercero sometimes visit old Pedro García, who is now blind. The children tell Pedro García stories from Uncle Marcos's magic books and, in turn, Pedro García teaches them useful things, like how to find water in the desert, and the curative properties of plants.
  • Pedro García's knowledge of traditional medicine cannot prevent the death of his daughter, Pancha García. Pancha dies of illness, and is buried in a special plot in recognition of the fact that she bore a son to the patrón who bears his name. She also gave Esteban a grandson, named Esteban García, who is "destined to play a terrible role in the history of the family" (4.104).
  • Parable alert! One day old Pedro García tells Blanca and Pedro Tercero a story about a group of hens that join forces to confront a fox that break into their coop every night to steal their eggs and to eat their baby chicks. The hens in the story join together to peck at the fox until he runs away. Blanca laughs at the story, but Pedro Tercero considers it carefully. The narrator speculates that "that was the night the boy began to become a man" (4.107).

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