The House of the Spirits | Study Guide

Isabel Allende

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The House of the Spirits | Chapter 13 : The Terror | Summary



The chapter opens with the announcement that there is a coup. Jaime is summoned early in the morning to the Presidential Palace because all of the President's doctors are being called there. When he arrives he learns that the Navy has revolted and "It's time to fight." Jaime calls Alba to warn her not to leave the house and to get a message to Amanda as well.

Soon, all branches of the armed forces are controlled by those leading the coup, and the police have joined it as well. The President orders the guards to leave and soon only 30 of the President's closest friends and private guards are left in the palace. The coup leaders offer the President safe escort out of the country but he declines: "The people put me here and the only way I'll leave is dead." So the military begins bombing the palace, and soldiers enter, either killing or taking prisoner each person left. The President is among the dead. Jaime is among the captured. The men now in charge want him to go on television and say that the President committed suicide, but he refuses. Then they beat him and take him to a military regiment where he is killed with many more prisoners two days later.

Meanwhile, Esteban Trueba is celebrating the takeover in his big house on the corner. Alba reacts violently, throwing his champagne glass against the wall and screaming at her grandfather, "We're not going to celebrate the death of the President or anybody else!" Miguel calls her to say he is now in extreme danger and she must not look for him nor wait for him. A curfew is enforced for two days, during which time Alba destroys all evidence of her ties to Miguel and the cause, as well as incriminating evidence against Jaime.

Esteban Trueba now takes over as narrator and describes how rudely he is treated by the new regime. They have no respect for him nor interest in his previously powerful roles in the government. He suddenly realizes "things weren't turning out the way we had planned." Yet when a soldier visits to advise him of Jaime's death he refuses to accept it. He descends into a state of loneliness, seeking comfort by calling out to Clara's spirit and begging his son Jaime to come to him.

The omniscient narration resumes with a description of Alba's life after the coup. She throws herself into "helping the victims of the persecution." Originally her main focus is finding safe shelter for those who must go into hiding. Using Jaime's car, which survived the bombing at the palace, she picks people up and takes them to embassies. Then she focuses on the starving people, especially children, and enlists her mother's help in getting food and money into the right hands.

The new regime figures out how to hide the misery and hunger found everywhere by building walls, landscaping, and making sure the streets are always clean. The regime even rewrites history to favor them. The wealthy are ecstatic at their ability to once more buy luxuries, and military service is now considered noble.

Gradually, however, people begin to recognize and call the new government what it is: a dictatorship. As more and more rights are taken away, and the money woes are only different, not erased, people begin to see that this new system is not at all in their best interests.

Esteban Trueba gleefully takes back control of Tres Marías, callously dismissing all the tenants, burning their homes and belongings, and killing their animals. Yet these actions ultimately make him feel disgusted with himself: "His soul weighed heavy."

When the Poet dies, the country mourns. Suddenly his Socialist leanings seem like a good thing. Even Esteban Trueba, who entertained the man many times in his home, participates in the wake with Alba.

When Esteban Trueba realizes that he and the other powerful people have made a terrible mistake, he weeps for his country. That is the moment when Blanca admits to him that Pedro Tercero is living in the house, hidden safely in a back room, but is losing his mind in this "voluntary imprisonment." She begs her father to help her get Pedro Tercero out of the country, and he agrees. In a scene duplicating the exchange between Esteban Trueba and Pedro Tercero when Pedro Tercero rescued him at Tres Marías—except with the two men swapping roles—Esteban goes to his daughter's lover and announces he is getting him out. Then Blanca, Alba, Esteban Trueba, and an ambassador friend travel to the Papal Nuncio with Pedro Tercero hidden in the trunk of the car. Blanca is going with Pedro Tercero, and the goodbye scene is very sad.

Alba continues her efforts, now hiding people in the house. She is overjoyed when Miguel appears one day. He has become a guerrilla leader, and Alba takes him to dig up the guns she and Jaime buried in the mountains. She begs him to let her come with him, but he refuses. He says it is much too dangerous and besides, the work she is doing is hugely important. He also refuses to say where he will be.

Esteban Trueba is once again raking in money, and so he does not mind that Alba steadily sells off all the treasures found in the house. She is, of course, using the money to fund her efforts. Esteban sends a monthly check to Blanca and Pedro Tercero, who are living happily in Canada. Pedro Tercero composes wildly successful revolutionary songs, and she sells her crèches, which are well received as examples of indigenous folk art.

One night the police come to the house, drag Esteban Trueba from bed, and storm Alba's bedroom. They ransack the house, burn all the books, and force Esteban to sign a paper saying what has happened that night at the house is perfectly fine. Then they take Alba away in a van, driving her to a jail where the man in charge is the cruel Esteban García.


Finally the promise threaded throughout the novel, that all people can change, is fulfilled with the metamorphosis of Esteban Trueba into a man who can admit that he has made a mistake and can reconcile with his enemies. By the end of this chapter, when all the people he has loved are stripped from his life in the moment his beloved granddaughter is dragged from the house, readers are able to feel empathy for this man who has caused so much grief. He must know that the very people who take her are only in power because of his own political power gone awry. He must feel the guilt of Jaime's death as well.

So many horrible things foreshadowed throughout the novel are now culminated. Have there been any hints that anything but sadness is ahead? Alba's nightmares about Esteban García are about to come true, and that is horrible to contemplate. As Luisa Mora warned, is there only suffering and loneliness in store? Is the death that is chasing Alba the only possible fate for her?

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