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The House of the Spirits | Study Guide

Isabel Allende

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The House of the Spirits | Chapter 10 : The Epoch of Decline | Summary



Esteban Trueba begins the narration 20 years after Clara's death. He recalls the night she died, when he locked himself in her room with her and lay beside her, talking to her, caressing her, and then preparing her body for visitation. He recalls her funeral and burial (with Nívea's head in her coffin), and his decision the next morning to build the finest mausoleum possible for Clara, Rosa, and himself. Esteban says he feels Clara is "closer ... than she ever was before."

The omniscient narrator then takes over and describes the slow, steady decline of the house after Clara's death. Gradually it turns into a ruin, inside and out. The inhabitants become estranged from one another, everyone going his or her own way. Esteban Trueba disapproves of both of his sons' ideas. He constantly berates Jaime for his Socialist views. He becomes so enraged by Nicolás's wacky Institute for Union with Nothingness and the negative way the press links Nicolás to Esteban's grand senator's status that one day he erupts and has a heart attack. When he has recovered, he pushes his son onto a plane and sends him abroad, with plenty of money and the warning "not to return for the rest of his life."

Esteban insists that Alba finally go to school, and Blanca gives in to his wish that she attend a British school for young ladies. Alba does not fit in there, but she is forced to go there for 10 years.

Blanca does her best to keep the household functioning, but it is difficult. She and Alba live in poverty in the mansion because Esteban seems oblivious to their needs and she refuses to ask him for help. She is a steady, calm presence in her daughter's life.

The narration returns again to Esteban Trueba who tells about the mausoleum he constructs for two years. With Jaime's help, he ends up stealing Rosa's body because the del Valles won't give it to him.

The third-person narrator then takes over, focusing on the political times. Senator Trueba remains powerful and dedicated to the cause of Conservative Party politics. However, he sees the Socialists steadily growing in power and support base and tries to warn people of impending crisis. Everyone ignores him, and many make fun of him. He rarely visits Tres Marías and grumbles about how expensive it is to maintain, but he refuses to sell it, wanting to pass the property on to Alba.

Meanwhile, Pedro Tercero García keeps growing in popularity. He is an anarchist. He and Blanca continue their love affair, even though she will not marry him, and he grows weary of bachelorhood. Periodically, he breaks away from her to have other affairs, but he always comes back. He and Blanca continue to keep his identity as Alba's father a secret from their daughter.

The final section of the chapter is narrated by Esteban Trueba. He says that he only has two friends left as he approaches old age and that they try to get him to relax and enjoy himself. One day they take him to the brothel called Christopher Columbus. There he is reunited with Tránsito Soto, who is the successful head of the "cooperative of homosexuals and prostitutes" that she had envisioned years before. He enjoys his evening with her, but he dissolves in tears as his grief, loneliness, and despair overcome him. She comforts him and wonders who the Clara he mourns is.


Esteban Trueba's vulnerability when it comes to Clara is obvious in this chapter. To read of his love, devotion, and grief—stated in his own words—offsets the negative responses to his violent, destructive patterns of behavior. Since he is nearly 90 years old when he writes these words, readers might believe that he has become a better, kinder man. However, in the other parts of this chapter there is little evidence of that.

In one striking instance of magical realism—when Esteban and Jaime steal Rosa's body to move it to the mausoleum—Esteban wants to see Rosa, so they open her coffin. She is under glass and it is hermetically sealed. Her beauty has been perfectly preserved. When Esteban leans over to kiss the glass, a crack develops in the coffin and the body dissolves into nothing but bones and powder. Esteban remembers Férula's curse; "I've been left all alone" he thinks, "All that's left for me is to die like a dog."

The explanation for why Blanca never marries Pedro Tercero coincides with Blanca's statement in an earlier chapter that she must simply not have loved him enough. What she loves is the idea of love, but not the day-to-day reality of it. She is true to him and never takes another lover, but she does not want to ruin their passionate trysts by making their relationship part of her practical, difficult, daily life.

Once again during a part of the chapter narrated by the omniscient narrator, that person refers to himself/herself as "I." It occurs in the paragraph describing how Clara's room is the only one saved from the devastation of neglect the rest of the house suffers. In this room, the narrator says, are the notebooks which "I put in order and read, completely mesmerized, so I could construct this story." The affirmation of the importance of these written records is strong. Clearly the narrator has constant access to this room. Readers should begin to narrow the list of people from the story who might be the narrator.

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