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The House of the Spirits | Study Guide

Isabel Allende

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The House of the Spirits | Chapter 2 : The Three Marías | Summary



As the chapter opens, Esteban Trueba is at the Trueba family home with his sister, Férula, and their invalid mother. The time is shortly after Rosa's death, and Esteban is announcing that he is not returning to the mine. Férula is the caregiver for their mother, just as she was the one who cared for her brother when he was a child. She resents the fact that she is stuck at home all day whereas he can lightly dismiss any such obligations to do what he wants. She reminds him that he must work to pay the bills, even though he has provided for all of them since he first started working as a teenager.

Esteban's decision is to leave the city and go to the ruins of an old family manor in the country: Tres Marías. His announcement angers Férula, and they exchange cruel words. Two days later, Esteban is on his way. When he arrives at the train depot in the town of San Lucas, he remembers that he had fun times in the country as a child, but he recognizes very little and sees no one in the village. Finally, a woodcutter gives him a ride for the five-mile trip to the manor. Esteban finds the house in terrible condition and some squalid huts inhabited by peasants. Although he experiences sadness and feelings of loss as he tours the property, he quickly establishes himself as the person in charge and indicates just how hard everyone will work to get the estate back in shape.

The narrative switches to Esteban Trueba's voice as he describes the work of restoring Tres Marías and brags about how great he was from the beginning as patron of the estate. The house is repaired and furnished. The fields are plowed and planted. Animals are raised. However, Esteban admits that his bad character becomes worse, especially his temper.

When the narrator switches back to third-person omniscient, readers learn that Esteban Trueba is a sexual predator, snatching young girls up, raping them, and often impregnating them. Only once does he admit to fathering a child, by the first woman he attacks and takes into his home for a while. That child is given his first name: Esteban García.

The narrator then reflects upon the impact of Esteban Trueba's hard work on the people of Tres Marías. He builds his tenants brick houses and a school, gives employees vouchers to use at the general store rather than wages, and provides them with land and seed and a share of the harvest along with daily rations of bread and milk. He distributes free soap and knitting wool and medicines, and tries to keep them informed about world events. Despite this, most workers (including the foreman, Pedro Segundo García) grow to hate and often fear their patrón because of his pride, vile temper, and lack of consideration and respect for them. Nearby villagers despise him for his treatment of women.

Nine years pass with Esteban Trueba regularly sending money and supplies and even luxury items to his mother and sister but never visiting. The political climate begins to change, but in the country Esteban does not much feel the growing resentment toward wealthy, upper class people such as himself. He and other landowners are confident they can keep their power and money. Esteban occasionally visits a brothel called the Red Lantern, where he enjoys the company of an ambitious prostitute named Tránsito Soto; he even gives her money so she can move to the city. In short, Esteban is very comfortably settling in to his life in the country. Then he gets a letter from Férula announcing that their mother is dying. He leaves for the city, leaving Pedro Segundo García to run the estate.


Allende's strong use of details to develop characters continues in this chapter. Readers have a clear picture of Férula, "a tormented soul" who lives as a martyr and enjoys her reputation as something of a saint. However, she is angry, enjoys making others feel guilty, and even spews hateful words when provoked. As Esteban Trueba evolves into his new role of patrón of Tres Marías, the negative and positive aspects of his temperament already exposed in Chapter 1 continue to be developed. He deliberately chooses to work, "breaking his back," as a way of getting over the grief and rage he feels after Rosa's death. Allende also gives excellent physical descriptions of Esteban and Férula, which helps to round out their personality profiles.

There are also many details about the settings. Readers feel how oppressive and depressing the Trueba family home is—nothing much more than a sick room. They see the ruins of Tres Marías as if they were standing in the decrepit house themselves. Then they watch its glory reemerge as the estate is restored.

The details of Esteban Trueba's sex life set the stage for more references to different types of sexuality and sexual experiences throughout the story. His particular deviancy, the need to link sex to violence and domination, reflects aspects of his personality. The novel will continue to show how sexuality mirrors the key traits of characters.

Another thread running through the novel that shows up in this chapter is the country's shifting politics. As seen in Chapter 1 with the politically motivated attempt to poison Severo del Valle that results in Rosa's death, politics is a potential source of great hatred and violence in Chile. This is apparent again in this chapter, when Allende describes the loathing that wealthy landowners have for Marxist ideas and their efforts to keep the peasants uninformed and unable to affect change.

A final recurring theme is the appearance of dreams. Readers already know that the del Valle women have meaningful dreams and believe in the power of the dreams to tell the future. As this chapter draws to a close, the night before Férula's letter arrives at Tres Marías, Esteban Trueba has a dream that troubles him. He sees Rosa, walking naked with a parcel in her arms. She throws it at his feet, shattering it, and he finds a tiny girl without eyes who calls him Papa. Does she represent all the babies he has fathered yet denied?

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