The House of the Spirits

Magical Realism

  1. What is the role of magical realism in The House of the Spirits? Does it have significance to all the characters, or only to those who can communicate with it and who believe in its power? Could the family's story survive if all instances of the supernatural were removed? If so, how would it be different?
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From early childhood, spirituality and mysticism play a vital role in the lives of the del Valle sisters, Clara and Rosa. From a very young age, Clara can tap into the spiritual world. She can read dreams and the future, and can even move objects with her mind. Although Rosa is not particularly spiritually inclined, she is born with the exquisite looks of a mermaid. The fact that she is born this way suggests that an otherworldly nature is ingrained in Rosa and therefore in the rest of her family. Even though the Trueba household is known as "the big house on the corner," we know from the title of the novel that it is really "The House of the Spirits." Spiritual creatures dominate the household despite Esteban Trueba's relentless materialism, and even seep into his own life after Clara's death, when visions of her comfort him. During her lifetime, Clara's disregard of the material world in favor of the spiritual world maddens Esteban. Even though Esteban thinks spirits to be a phony business, a part of him is jealous of Clara's connection to them: "He wanted far more than her body; he wanted control over that undefined and luminous material that lay within her and that escaped him even in those moments when she appeared to be dying of pleasure." Esteban realizes that Clara's spiritual connections are completely separate from him, meaning that he cannot control or be a part of them. He does, however, tolerate them. It is during Clara's heyday that "the big house on the corner" transforms into "The House of the Spirits," when guests of all kinds circulate through its doors. "Spirit" suggests otherworldliness, but also worldly pleasures (as in "good spirits"). Clara brings both spirituality and good cheer to the house, and both largely disappear in her absence. The spirits who appear in the most discrete form are the ghosts of Férula, and later Clara. Both ghosts come to reconcile with loved ones whom they did not have a chance or did not want to forgive in life. When Esteban banishes Férula from the house, Clara uses all her powers to find her, but to no avail: Férula does not want to be found. As a ghost, she feels free to march back into the house and kiss Clara goodbye. In the same vein, Clara's ghost returns to Esteban when his own grief finally overcomes his pride and he allows himself to see her. It is also Clara's spirit that gives Alba the will to live through the horror of the "doghouse." Later, when Alba records the family history, she finds her grandmother's notebooks to be a repository of her spirit, which she revives and preserves by writing herself.