Study Guide

The House of the Spirits Society and Class

By Isabel Allende

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Society and Class

You could say that The House of the Spirits is a story of class struggle. Yes, it's a family saga, a love story, and a history lesson, too. But all of these aspects are affected by the class structure that divides society into two basic groups – the white, educated elite of European descent who control politics and business, and the poor workers and peasants of indigenous ancestry who have little access to education or political enfranchisement. The resentment that builds as the characters struggle against this oppressive class structure propels much of the action of the climactic final chapters.

Questions About Society and Class

  1. Are any of the characters in The House of the Spirits able to overcome the challenges posed to them by their class? With their success, do these characters succeed in shedding their class identity?
  2. Do any of the characters act in opposition to their social peers? Do members of the wealthy class empathize with and act in solidarity with the poor? Do members of the poor and working class perpetuate the power of the upper class?
  3. Are there any characters in the novel that don't fit into the schema of "wealthy, upper class" or "poor, working class"?
  4. What social customs are challenged by various characters in the course of the novel? Do these social customs change over time?

Chew on This

Class operates in The House of the Spirits as an oppressive matrix that promotes inequality and injustice – its inflexibility makes it impossible for any of the characters to rise above their class, no matter how hard they work or how much they accomplish.

In the House of the spirits, upper-class individuals who try to improve the lives of peasants and workers fail to achieve any real social change. The fact that they can't relate to the reality of the impoverished class, who must struggle to survive and to meet their basic needs, makes them an ineffectual force for social change, and confirms Ana Díaz's idea that the bourgeoisie shouldn't be allowed to meddle in the affairs of "the people."

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