The House of the Spirits | Study Guide

Isabel Allende

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The House of the Spirits | Chapter 9 : Little Alba | Summary

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Summary

When Blanca arrives at the big house, she is having contractions. Baby Alba is born quickly, feet first, assisted into the world by Jaime and Amanda. Young Miguel secretly watches the birth, as foreshadowed in Chapter 7. Clara decrees that her granddaughter will be lucky and happy.

The topic of what happened between Blanca and Jean de Satigny is never discussed. He is summarily dismissed from the family. Alba is told a story about him as "a distinguished and intelligent aristocrat who had unfortunately succumbed to fever in the northern desert." As a young woman, she learns this is untrue when she is called to the morgue to identify his body.

Amanda also disappears from the family shortly after Alba's birth. She can feel Jaime's love for her and does not want such complications in her life. He grieves upon her departure and resumes his hermit-like life, living in a tunnel of books and providing medical care to all who need it. Jaime becomes Alba's favorite uncle.

Alba loves Nicolás as well, but at times his strangeness makes her edgy. He is on one of his wild religious adventures—this one in India—until she is around age five. When he returns he is extremely thin, barely eats, and prefers to be nearly naked at all times. He writes a book "on the ninety-nine names of God and formulas for attaining nirvana through respiratory exercise." He persuades his father and brother to publish it, but it is an abysmal failure. He does find some success as a teacher of "spiritual and respiratory exercise." He teaches Alba how to use her mind to conquer pain and fear.

Esteban Trueba finally shows signs of changing for the better. His granddaughter enchants him, and his character softens. The two of them have sweet times together in a daily early morning routine, and they go to Tres Marías together for a couple of weeks every summer. Unfortunately, his relationships with the rest of the family do not improve, and his temper remains as ferocious as ever.

Clara is again content, enjoying life in a house filled with people. Her spiritualism reaches a new level; she even learns to levitate her body. Clara teaches Alba to read at a young age, encourages her artistic side, and teaches her about nature. Clara speaks to her granddaughter as she had to Blanca when she was a child, as if she were an adult. Alba accompanies her on her charitable rounds, participates in some of the spiritual sessions, and takes over the duty of putting fresh flowers in all the vases.

After Alba's birth Blanca's beauty becomes remarkable, and she has many suitors. However, she is reunited with Pedro Tercero, the only man she will ever love, and has trysts with him every weekend. Alba is often included in their times together, but she does not know Pedro Tercero is her father. Blanca must earn her own living, and she scratches out a meager existence with her crèche business and by teaching the art of ceramics. Alba helps her, especially with a class she gives to mongoloid (native to Asia) children.

When Alba is six she has an encounter that makes a lasting impression on her. Esteban García comes to see Senator Trueba to ask him for a recommendation to the police academy. He is taken to the library to wait, and curious Alba comes to see who the visitor is. Once they are acquainted, he asks her to sit on his lap and is suddenly filled with hate for her because "[s]he embodied everything he would never have, never be." At the same time, he wants to touch her in intimate ways. He does inappropriate things to the little girl and nearly strangles her before snapping himself back to reality moments before Esteban Trueba enters the library. Alba runs out of the room. Unaware of what has transpired, Esteban Trueba agrees to help him get into the academy and be provided with a scholarship.

It is about a year after this terrible encounter that Alba loses "the strongest presence in her life," Clara. Clara knows she is going to die and makes preparations. She puts her papers and notebooks in order. She gathers all the jewels Esteban has given her and gives them to Blanca. She writes cards to every loved one. Only Alba accepts her death serenely; Clara has passed on to Alba her wisdom that dying is nothing to fear. When Clara passes to the next realm her family is with her, along with servants, the Mora sisters, and a few others.

Analysis

Alba's childhood can only be viewed as unusual, but in the context of magical realism the oddities are presented as normal. Allende lists some of them: "vegetarian diets, Japanese martial arts, Tibetan dance, yogic breathing, relaxation and concentration." Her uncles and the Mora sisters add other interesting elements. She lives amid "her grandmother's clairvoyance, her mother's intuition, and ... eccentric people who were constantly appearing, disappearing, and reappearing." Alba's unusual looks, especially the greenish hair she appears to have inherited from Rosa, are also accepted easily. After all, her own mother had looked like an armadillo at birth and has evolved into quite a beauty.

Most of the chapter describes pleasant, if quirky, scenarios and healthy relationships. Esteban Trueba even has a healthy relationship with Alba, although the rest of his family relationships are toxic. Alba is at the center of all of them, binding the family together in a new way. The one dark scene, with Esteban García, sticks out and makes readers realize that Alba is living in somewhat of a cocoon, protected from evil, while also reminding readers that the world outside of the big house grows increasingly unsettled and unsafe.

Several examples of foreshadowing appear but can be easy to miss. The first occurs in the opening paragraphs, when the origins of Alba's name are explained. The women in the family all have names that have to do with luminosity, and Alba is the last in a thesaurus entry for that. Then Allende writes "Years later, Alba tormented herself with the thought that when she had a daughter there would be no other word with the same meaning." So, it seems likely Alba will have a daughter.

The second foreshadowing occurs in the section talking about regular visitors to the house. Among them is the Poet, who often holds Alba on his lap. She doesn't suspect that the time would come for her to "walk behind his casket ... bloody carnations in her hand, between two rows of machine guns." So will Alba be involved in a peaceful protest against a violent government?

The third example occurs when Allende writes that when Clara dies the house will lose "its flowers, its nomadic friends, and its playful spirits." The mostly happy aura that has been present in this chapter seems destined to end, and the title of the next chapter offers further confirmation.

Finally, two words related to the horrible encounter Alba has with Esteban García when just six years old signal something ominous. The words "first time" suggest that she will meet this evil man, "with the cruel eyes of a rodent," again.

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