The House of the Spirits | Study Guide

Isabel Allende

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The House of the Spirits | Chapter 5 : The Lovers | Summary

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Summary

Blanca matures into an adolescent without anyone in the big house much noticing. But the summer her body has ripened into a woman's body, Pedro Tercero notices and becomes immediately shy, having not reached full physical maturity himself. But his shyness does not last long, and the two once again enjoy playing together. By the summer's end, their love has turned to passion. While separated, they write "burning letters" to each other.

When the family returns to the city, they have a ghostly visitation. It is Férula, and Clara knows that her sister-in-law has died. When she and Esteban go to claim her body and see where she has lived these years, it is shocking. It is a squalid apartment in a tenement, and it is clear that Férula's only pleasure has been to dress up in costumes and wigs. She died dressed as an Austrian queen. During these years, she lived in poverty and in service to others; they find all the money Esteban sent to her monthly still in envelopes.

The next summer, Blanca and Pedro Tercero become nightly lovers, spending all night in each other's arms. By day, they keep up a façade of no longer being interested in each other. Jaime and Nicolás enjoy doing all the things in the countryside that they cannot do at their British school. Life continues every summer in just this way at Tres Marías for three years. Then in that year a huge earthquake hits just before the family returns to the city. In fact, the twins, Nana, and most of the servants have already returned to the big house, but Esteban, Clara, and Blanca remain at the estate. Clara knows an earthquake is coming, but everyone dismisses her fears. When it hits, the quake takes down the house, burying Esteban Trueba under layers of rubble. Clara is spared because she is outside looking for Blanca where she understands in a flash of insight that her daughter jumps out of the window each night to be with Pedro Tercero. When the lovers arrive, the three of them dig Esteban out. Nearly every bone in his body is broken, but old Pedro García saves his life by setting each one with his hands. Esteban spends four months wrapped in splints and bandages, but he survives. In the city, Nana dies of fright during the earthquake. So Blanca is sent to the convent school as a boarding student since no one can be there with her while Esteban is brought back to health and the rebuilding of the estate is undertaken.

Pedro Segundo García and Clara take charge of the huge project of restoring Tres Marías. It is complicated by Esteban Trueba's increasingly awful temperament. His strong will, temper, and impatience, combined with his neediness for Clara bring her "to despise him." At the same time, she comes to depend on kind, loyal Pedro Segundo.

Blanca's convent school calls with the news that she is too sick for the nuns to care for her and she must be picked up. Clara travels to get her, and then she finds the big house on the corner in such a state of deterioration that she decides to close it and dismiss the remaining servants. She and Blanca transfer Nana's remains to the del Valle family tomb and then return to Tres Marías. At dinner that night, Blanca learns that her father has banished Pedro Tercero from the property for his communist views. But five days later her disguised lover finds her at their usual hiding place by the river, and their love affair resumes.

Readers learn that Blanca has made herself sick so she can return to Tres Marías. Old Pedro García teaches her the art of pottery making, and she begins creating crèche animals and figures. Soon she has a successful business. She and Pedro Tercero meet when they can as he grows to the status of hero among the peasants, espousing his radical beliefs. Life around Tres Marías continues in this way for several years.

Analysis

Once again Allende develops the idea that people are capable of change. Clara exemplifies the biggest change, becoming an "ordinary down-to-earth woman." She adopts a take-charge attitude, gives up any loving feelings she once had for her husband—including any sexual desire—and leaves the spiritual world behind in favor of dealing with real-world details such as cooking and figuring out what can be saved on the ruined estate. When Blanca comments "You've changed, Mama," however, Clara's response is that it's not she, but the world, that has changed. As she and her daughter listen to Esteban's rant about Pedro Tercero's views, she suggests to him: "You can't keep the world from changing, Esteban." She has awakened to the fact that, if things are to get better in the world, people need to change and to allow change to happen—which is Allende's point with this thread that runs through the novel.

The brief look at the twins in this chapter shows that they have changed, too. This could be attributed to the maturation process. This process has already been seen in Blanca's and Pedro Tercero's evolution into adults with their own points of view. They no longer accept without argument their parents' world view nor the idea that "That's the way it's always been," as Pedro Segundo says to his son. Readers will do well to be on the lookout for the bigger role the twins will play in the novel as adults.

The tenderness developing between Clara and Pedro Segundo also bears watching, especially because it becomes clear Esteban Trueba will probably never change for the positive. If anything, he falls back on his most unattractive traits, becoming almost childlike himself.

Finally the political upheaval continues to become more troublesome. It is linked to real violence, and an instance of foreshadowing should not be missed. "They could kill you," Blanca weeps to her lover. People like her rigid father will not shy away from anything that stops the world from changing: "I'd blow his brains out," he says of Pedro Tercero. Clearly, violence will be a part of change.

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