The House of the Spirits | Study Guide

Isabel Allende

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The House of the Spirits | Plot Summary

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Summary

Premonitions of Death

The novel opens with words written in the journal of 10-year-old Clara del Valle. Clara has disgraced the family at church by loudly asking a question that included curse words. The priest declares she is possessed by the devil. The family is in an uproar, particularly since Clara has always shown clairvoyant skills and other mental powers—gifts that they had never deemed satanic but now begin questioning. In the midst of the family's angst, their servant Nana announces the arrival of a large party of men with a carriage bearing the dead body of Nívea del Valle's brother, Marcos, Clara's beloved uncle. Uncle Marcos has died "of a mysterious African plague" while traveling home for medical help. Among his possessions is a sickly dog, which Clara takes for her own and nurses back to health.

Meanwhile, Clara's older sister, Rosa, is engaged to Esteban Trueba. He has been away for two years trying to strike it rich in the mines in the North. Desperately in love, Esteban writes to Rosa nearly every day, but she writes infrequently and is in no rush to marry.

Several months after Uncle Marcos's death, Clara has a premonition that someone else will die "by mistake." That someone is Rosa, who is killed by poison intended for her politically ambitious father, Severo del Valle. The family is grief-stricken. When Esteban Trueba receives the news he rushes to the del Valle home for the funeral, even though that very day he had finally struck a rich seam of gold.

Clara secretly watches the autopsy performed on her beautiful older sister. The shock of it causes her to stop speaking for nine years.

Esteban Trueba and Tres Marías

Tired of living in poverty, surrounded by sickness, Esteban Trueba journeys to the ruins of the family estate in the country, Tres Marías. There he begins an ambitious crusade to return it to the status of a model estate, using the money he has saved and the proceeds coming from the mine. Esteban takes seriously his role as patrón for the people who live and work on his land, but his terrible temper and difficult temperament leave them feeling fearful and unhappy. When he begins raping peasant girls and fathering children that he takes no responsibility for, the people's unhappiness turns into hatred. He does admit to fathering one child with the first woman he forcefully takes as his own, Pancha García, and she names their son Esteban. Esteban Trueba also has one prostitute that he likes to visit. Her name is Tránsito Soto, and he gives her the money she needs to get out of the country and go to the capital city "to be rich and famous."

Esteban and Clara's Marriage and Children

Esteban Trueba does not visit his mother and sister for nine years, not until he learns that his mother is dying. His trip home coincides with the first words spoken by Clara in nine years, on her 19th birthday: "I'm going to be married soon ... To Rosa's fiancé." Shocked to hear her speak, the family barely notices what Clara has said—until Esteban arrives two months later to ask for her hand in marriage.

Doña Ester lives just two days after Esteban arrives, so Esteban and Clara wait several months to have an engagement party. Esteban falls in love with Clara, but she is marrying without love and is detached from the yearlong preparations for the wedding. She is equally disinterested in the huge house Esteban builds for them, "the big house on the corner" as it comes to be called.

Given Clara's disinterest and incompetence in household management, Esteban's sister Férula swoops in to handle things for her brother and Clara, whom she grows to love deeply. When Clara becomes pregnant, Férula cares for her like a child. Clara continues to live in her own world, populated by the spirits she communicates with, and Esteban Trueba returns to Tres Marías to get it back into shape after his extended absence. Clara gives birth to a daughter, whom she names Blanca, leaving the duties of caring for her in the hands of Férula.

When Blanca reaches the toddler stage, Clara decides to go to Tres Marías for the summer. Clara quickly falls in love with life in the country and sees "her mission in life" as taking proper care of the people employed on the estate. The summer visit is extended indefinitely, until Clara becomes pregnant again and must return to the city to receive proper care. Back in the big house, Clara retreats into silence and preserves her strength to carry the twins that she decides will be named Jaime and Nicolás.

When the time approaches the doctor will perform a cesarean delivery. Clara's parents are suddenly killed in a car crash. Clara dreams of their death two days before it happens, but Esteban Trueba thinks he can hide it from his wife. Nevertheless, Clara convinces Férula to take her to find her mother Nívea's head, because she has been decapitated in the accident. As soon as it is recovered, Clara goes into labor, and the twins are delivered naturally.

Clara again leaves the duties of caring for babies to Férula while she entrenches herself more and more deeply in the spiritual world. At the same time, Esteban Trueba falls more and more deeply in love with his wife, who is as oblivious to him as she is to everyone else. Férula, too, has an unnatural obsession with her sister-in-law, and jealousy festers between Esteban and Férula. When Esteban returns from Tres María unexpectedly one night, he finds Férula sleeping with Clara. His anger explodes, and he throws Férula out of the house forever.

Blanca and Pedro

Clara enjoys summers at Tres María, and Blanca thrives in the country, where she is inseparable from Pedro Tercero García, the foreman's son. As the little girl and boy grow into adolescents, they fall in love. Besides the fact that he is from a peasant family, Pedro Tercero has another strike against him—he is interested in socialism, which Esteban Trueba despises.

The lovers are having a tryst one summer night when an earthquake strikes. Tres María is left in ruins, and Esteban Trueba is buried in the rubble. Nearly every bone in his body is broken, but thanks to the ministrations of Pedro García, he survives. He gives orders to rebuild everything. For the first time in her life, Clara takes on the responsibilities of running the household. Blanca is sent away to a convent school, but Clara must go get her when she makes herself sick enough that the nuns do not want to care for her.

Blanca only wants to be with Pedro Tercero and continues to make herself sick enough to not go back to school. She patiently waits for secret visits from her lover, who has become a fervent Socialist and is therefore banished from Tres Marías by Esteban Trueba. By the time Blanca is 24 years old, Jaime and Nicolás, her twin brothers, suggest that she should think about marriage. A foreigner named Count Jean de Satigny asks for her hand, but she refuses. However, Satigny does not want to lose the opportunity to marry a wealthy Latin American, and he exposes her affair with Pedro Tercero to Esteban Trueba.

In response, Trueba beats his daughter with a horse whip, and when Clara interferes, he punches her in the face. She never speaks to him again. Clara and Blanca return to the big house in the city.

Trueba hunts Pedro Tercero down and tries to kill him. However, he succeeds only in cutting off several of Pedro Tercero's fingers. The peasant who leads Trueba to Pedro Tercero is a young boy named Esteban García. He is Trueba's bastard grandchild (unknown to Esteban Trueba), and his hatred for the patrón—who refuses to give him the promised reward for finding Pedro Tercero—will grow throughout his life.

When Blanca and Clara return to the city, Clara begins restoring the house as a spiritual center. She is happy living with all three children, but that doesn't last long. Jaime has begun studying medicine at the university, and Nicolás is trying to find himself. The twins develop irreconcilable differences and can no longer stand to be around each other. It soon becomes apparent that Blanca is pregnant.

Esteban Trueba responds to the news of Blanca's pregnancy with a fit of temper. Then he decides that he will solve what he views as a scandalous problem by forcing Blanca to marry Jean de Satigny. Trueba gives the order to keep Blanca locked up until the wedding day. Blanca tries to resist until her father tells her that he has killed Pedro Tercero. With that false news, she loses her will and cries for days, all the way through the wedding day. She only stops as she says farewell to her mother, who assures her that Pedro Tercero is still alive.

Blanca's Marriage and Clara's Death

The newly married couple travel to the far north, where they live comfortably on the money Esteban Trueba provides. Trueba remains in the city and pursues a career in politics, becoming a senator for the Conservative Party.

Jaime gets deeper into the Socialist movement and more focused on helping the poor. Nicolás continues to try one wacky endeavor after another, but then he finds out his girlfriend, Amanda, is pregnant. The only person who can help them with an abortion is Jaime. After Jaime performs the procedure, they bring Amanda and her little brother Miguel home to Clara.

Just as Amanda and Miguel are taken into the big house, Blanca returns. Her marriage has ended upon her discovery of the count's unusual sexual proclivities. He tells her on the wedding night that he does not prefer to have the usual sort of marital relationship, which pleases her. Satigny loves having money and invests in collecting and selling Incan artifacts. Blanca is only bothered by the mummies he deals with, which—given her spiritual background—she believes causes the strange noises she hears in the night. When she investigates his photography studio, she finds lewd pictures of the household servants. That is when she leaves and returns to Clara and the big house, just in time to give birth to Alba.

Esteban Trueba loves his new granddaughter, and her two uncles are also very close to her. Alba grows up in an eccentric household, but she experiences a lot of love. She doesn't go to school, but she reads voraciously. The person Alba feels closest to is Clara, so when Clara dies on Alba's seventh birthday, it is crushing.

Clara dies at the end of Chapter 9, and Chapter 10 opens with Esteban Trueba, 20 years later, recalling her death. He claims he never got past his grief. On the day she died he tenderly prepared her body, and her funeral was a huge event. But life in the big house is never the same. The family falls apart, and only Alba keeps Esteban Trueba from complete loneliness.

Jaime becomes steadily more interested in socialism and puts all of his energy into providing medical help to the indigent. Nicolás sells his services as a spiritual leader, but the attention he gets in the papers causes his senator father to lose his temper and force his son to move overseas.

Blanca allows her father to enroll Alba in a British school. It does not suit her temperament, but Alba must endure it for 10 years. Blanca and Alba, although living in the big house, are very poor, with Trueba seemingly oblivious to what is going on around him, except for his politics and his project of building a huge mausoleum for Rosa and Clara.

Pedro Tercero has become a famous singer and spends time with his daughter (Alba), although Blanca still refuses to tell her he is her true father. When Blanca and Alba must go to identify the body of Jean de Satigny upon his death, Blanca still keeps her secret.

When Alba is about 18 years old and attending university, she falls in love with Miguel, Amanda's younger brother. Miguel is a leader of the Socialist revolutionary movement, and Alba joins him in protests and other activities, despite her grandfather's hatred of it. At one event, Alba is identified by Esteban García, who is now a police officer and still hates the Trueba family.

Despite their shared beliefs, Jaime and Miguel mostly avoid each other, each jealous of the other's relationship with Alba. However, that changes when Alba intervenes and asks Jaime to do something to help Amanda, who has become a drug addict. He puts her into a detoxification program, and Jaime and Miguel become close friends.

Socialism and Revolt

When the Candidate wins the presidency for the Socialists, the old establishment is shocked. They quickly put into place measures designed to disrupt the new government. Gasoline, groceries, and other basic necessities become scarce, but Blanca finds sources and stockpiles supplies. Alba steals some of them to distribute to the poor. Esteban Trueba also stockpiles items: weapons. Jaime and Alba decide to take the weapons and bury them in the mountains so that the house will not one day be the scene of violence.

When Tres Marías is seized by the peasants, an enraged Esteban Trueba goes to take back his land. However, the people refuse to back down, and they take him prisoner. Blanca goes to Pedro Tercero's office, after not seeing him for two years, and begs him to help her get her father safely out. Alba finally learns Pedro Tercero is her real father. Pedro Tercero rescues the man who ruined his hand and tried to kill him so many years before.

Conditions in the country continue to decline, and violence seems likely. Luisa Mora, one of the last surviving spiritual friends of Clara, confirms this in her warning to Esteban Trueba that his party will soon experience victory again, but at a terrible cost. She also tells Alba of a message from Clara: "Death is at your heels ... take a trip ... cross the ocean. You'll be safe there."

In a violent raid, the military seizes control of the government, killing the President and rounding up Socialist sympathizers. Jaime is included in the sweep and is tortured and killed. Miguel goes into hiding and warns Alba that she must destroy anything that might link her to him. Meanwhile, Esteban Trueba gleefully celebrates the overthrow, unaware that his son is dead and unaccepting of the news even when a soldier delivers it to him.

Alba throws herself into finding asylum for those in danger. Even Esteban Trueba helps feed the people begging in the streets. The military dictatorship remains in firm control, supported by the wealthy who want to hold on to their money. Slowly, however, even Trueba realizes that the dictatorship is a terrible mistake.

Blanca confides in her father that Pedro Tercero is living in the house, hidden away, and is desperate to be free. Using the clout he has left, Esteban Trueba gets Pedro Tercero and Blanca safely out of the country.

One day Miguel pays a secret visit to Alba, and they retrieve the guns hidden in the mountains. Then Miguel says goodbye to his lover once again. She remains active in the cause, which leads to her capture by the police one night. She is tortured, sexually abused, and subjected to solitary confinement. Esteban García is behind the violence and participates in it.

Desperate to rescue his granddaughter, Esteban Trueba works with Miguel and they seize on the idea that Esteban should visit his once favorite prostitute, Tránsito Soto. As a successful hotel owner now who offers safe harbor for secret lovers, she has inside connections. Within two days, she has gotten Alba out of prison.

Alba arrives home and shares the story of her escape with her grandfather. Together, they begin working to restore the big house on the corner. They find Clara's notebooks, and Esteban Trueba encourages Alba to write what has become this novel. Alba looks forward to the birth of what she knows is the daughter she carries, not interested in revenge but focused on "better times to come."

The House of the Spirits Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action

Introduction

1 Esteban Trueba loses Rosa when she is accidentally poisoned.

Rising Action

2 He becomes wealthy as the owner of Tres Marías.

3 Socialism begins to take root in the country.

4 Esteban Trueba marries Clara; they have three children.

5 Blanca becomes the lover of Pedro Tercero.

6 Blanca's affair is discovered, but she is already pregnant.

7 Clara stops speaking to Esteban forever after he hits her.

8 Esteban Trueba forces Blanca to marry Count Jean de Satigny.

9 Esteban Trueba becomes a Conservative Party senator.

10 Alba is born in the big house, and family life improves.

Climax

11 Clara dies, and the house and family life fall apart.

Falling Action

12 A Socialist Party candidate becomes president.

13 A military coup overthrows the government.

14 Jaime is killed, and Alba is arrested and tortured.

Resolution

15 Esteban Trueba secures Alba's release and dies peacefully.

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