The House of the Spirits | Study Guide

Isabel Allende

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The House of the Spirits | Chapter 3 : Clara the Clairvoyant | Summary



Chapter 3 opens with a reminder of Clara's silence, which began the night she witnessed Rosa's autopsy and lasts for nine years. Doctors can't solve the problem. Clara's parents can't force her to speak. Nana can't frighten her into uttering a word. A mystic named Rostipov says she isn't talking simply because she doesn't want to. She communicates using a small blackboard, and she reads and writes voraciously.

Despite her silence, Clara becomes well-known for her ability to interpret dreams, predict the future, and see people's intentions. Her ability to move objects without touching them grows stronger as she ages. Nivéa encourages her daughter's spiritual pursuits, although Severo does not really approve of it. Barrabás rarely leaves Clara's side. The silent girl passes through adolescence happily ensconced in the large family home, learning the family history from her mother and going with her as she crusades for women's rights and performs charitable deeds.

Clara finally speaks on her 19th birthday. She announces that she will soon be married to Rosa's fiancé, and it is about two months later that 35-year-old Esteban Trueba shows up at the del Valle house seeking a wife. He has come to the city, which he detests, to see his dying mother. Her condition is terrible; the physical decay of her body is truly disgusting. But Esteban's heart breaks for love of her as she tells him she wants him to get married and have children. He promises he will. She dies two days after he arrives, while he is at the del Valles discussing the possibility of marrying Clara.

Esteban falls for Clara immediately. Although Clara doesn't really feel much for him one way or the other, she knows her destiny is to marry him. So by the end of that first visit, their marriage is agreed upon. They wait a proper mourning period, during which Esteban courts Clara. They have a dignified party announcing their engagement. However, it is interrupted by the murder of Barrabás, who staggers in with a dagger in his back and dies in Clara's arms. Everyone fears she will fall mute again, but she does not.

A year is spent preparing for the wedding, although the disinterested Clara doesn't really participate. Esteban Trueba also builds a huge house in the city, sparing no expense. Clara never bothers to go see it. Her fiancé's sister, Férula, is happy to step in and serve as the manager of the household. Clara promises Férula she will live there and they will be "just like sisters."

Following the wedding and a three-month honeymoon, Clara and Esteban return to their "big house on the corner." Clara becomes pregnant shortly and is content to have Férula spoil her. Esteban's routine involves trips to and from Tres Marías. When the baby is born—a girl named Blanca, as foretold by Clara—Clara adores her. Esteban is just delighted that his wife still enjoys sex, and Férula is proud to help care for the baby.


This chapter develops the characters of Clara and Férula. Nothing new is really revealed about Esteban Trueba except the deep love he has for his mother and the guilt he carries for not being a better son. Some details are learned about Nívea, including her strong respect for the spiritual world, her desire to do good works, and her deep bond with Clara, whom she treats "as if she were an only child." In fact, Clara is indeed the youngest of many children in the family.

The extent to which Clara lives in her own world becomes obvious as readers watch her grow up. Her inner peace and happiness and lack of need to participate in the world are clear. Even Esteban, who desires to control her and desperately needs her love, knows that she "d[oes] not belong to him and ... probably never would." Because of her mental abilities, she needs tranquility in order to survive what are sometimes frightening pieces of knowledge about horrible things that will happen: disasters, deaths, criminal acts, and more. So she allows herself to be sheltered and pampered and led around like a child.

Férula's obsession with being a martyr for the good of others leads her to need Clara as much as her brother does following the death of Doña Ester Trueba. Caring for Clara is a much sweeter duty than caring for her very ill mother had been, however. Férula delights in the task and literally falls in love with her sister-in-law. Following the novel's thread of sexuality reflecting the key traits of characters, the repressed and pious Férula desires a type of sexual interaction that she views as forbidden. She wants to sleep with Clara and fondle her. She acts like a jealous lover, furtively watching Clara and Esteban making love and thinks of what her brother does to her beloved Clara as "a terrible sin." However, when Blanca is born and Férula has yet another person to take care of, her need for Clara's love seems to somewhat diminish.

Esteban's sexual desire for Clara reflects his need to dominate women. He does not appreciate her "nonchalant sensuality," wanting her "to love him as he needed to be loved." It's not surprising that after Blanca's birth the thing Esteban wants most is for his wife to be enthusiastic about sex, which she is. That appears enough to keep him happy even without her true love.

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