The House of the Spirits | Study Guide

Isabel Allende

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The House of the Spirits | Symbols


Big House on the Corner

From the moment Esteban Trueba first envisions the big house he builds on a corner in the city, it is a grand place. Yet the structure of the house keeps changing, and the purposes of its many rooms are often surprising—just as so many things in the story are constantly changing and what happens is so often surprising. No matter how solid and imposing something appears, it can suddenly shift and reveal the unexpected.

The big house on the corner is ultimately the place people go for safe harbor. Whether the family is getting along or not, people have their own spaces within the house. And outsiders who need help and support are always welcome. The home Esteban Trueba builds for his family becomes a safe harbor for several generations.

The big house also is the place where much of the magical realism in the story occurs. So besides being a solid structure and a place of refuge, it is also a magical place where enchanting things seem not just possible but real and normal.


For most of her life wherever Clara goes spirits surround her, but they are especially abundant in the big house on the corner. Everyone becomes comfortable seeing spirits, even Esteban Trueba, who longs for Clara's spirit to always be with him after she dies. One of the main reasons he dies peacefully is because her spirit has come to be with him in the final phase of his life, and he finds that reassuring.

In the novel spirits might come to offer advice, or they might just hang around to see how things are going. Spirits are always nearby when someone is in dire trouble, such as when Alba is being tortured. They might appear when summoned, or they might choose their time for themselves.

Allende includes spirits because she is reminding readers that those who move on to the next world are never really gone. Even if people don't literally believe in ghostly visitations, they will remember that their loved ones are kept alive in their memories, in the records they leave behind, and in the legacy left to their offspring.

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