The House of the Spirits

The House of the Spirits Summary and Analysis of Chapters 3-4

Chapter 3 - Clara the Clairvoyant

Clara's parents desperately want her to speak, but she is resolved to silence. Dr. Cuevas confirms that she is silent by choice, not because she cannot speak. Nana dresses up in scary costumes to try to frighten Clara into speaking, but succeeds in scaring only Barrabas. Instead of going to the convent school like her sisters, Clara is tutored privately at home. Although she has no friends save for Barrabas, she amuses herself by reading dreams, predicting the future, and moving objects with her mind. She also accompanies her mother and her suffragette friends on their missions to enlighten poor female workers. Although Clara is an adolescent, Nana dotes on her as though she is still a child. On her nineteenth birthday, Clara speaks for the first time since Rosa's death; she announces that she will soon be married to Rosa's fiancé. Sure enough, soon after, Esteban Trueba arrives to ask for Clara's hand.

When Esteban Trueba returns to his native town, he can barely believe what a "shithole" it is. Férula has lost her splendor and become an old woman from the strain of caring for Doña Ester. Esteban is struck by his mother's abominable condition; she is almost completely paralyzed by arthritis, and her flesh is rotting alive. Esteban promises to give her legitimate grandchildren. For this reason, soon after his mother's death, he goes to ask Nívea and Severo del Valle if they have a daughter he can marry. Clara accepts readily, having predicted the proposal. Their engagement party is splendid until Clara notices that Barrabas is missing. To her horror, he appears with a butcher knife stuck in his back, and dies in her arms. Despite this tragedy in Clara's life, preparations for the wedding continue. Esteban builds their stately, extravagant home, which becomes known as "the big house on the corner." During this time, Férula and Clara take tea together for the first time. Férula wants to come live with Esteban and Clara, because she has no purpose after her mother's death. Clara reads her mind and assures Férula that her wish will come true. This meeting seals a strong pact of friendship between the two women. After their wedding and honeymoon, Clara and Esteban settle into their house. Clara deems it "very lovely," but is horrified to find that Esteban has, in a misfired attempt at pleasing his wife, had Barrabas made into a rug.

Clara announces that she is pregnant, and that the child will be a little girl named Blanca. Blanca is born late, by caesarean section. She is very ugly and hairy from having spent so long in her mother's body. Clara becomes enraptured with her child, not letting anyone interfere with their special relationship. Blanca's arrival gives Férula something on which to focus her seemingly bottomless good will. Before, she was obsessed with thoughts of crawling into bed with Clara.

Chapter 4 - The Time of the Spirits

This chapter focuses on Blanca's childhood. Clara treats Blanca as though she is an adult from the time she is born. When she becomes a precocious toddler, the family takes a vacation to Tres Marías. As soon as they arrive, Blanca meets Pedro Tercero García, a young boy her age and the son of Pedro Segundo García. The two are instantly drawn to one another and form a strong bond of friendship. Clara takes charge of the hacienda, improving the inhabitants' living conditions and teaching them various skills. Férula hates the countryside, but there she is able to express her deep love for Clara by helping her run the household and doting on her. A plague of ants descends on the hacienda, which no one can remedy until Old Pedro García uses some native wisdom. He simply picks up a handful of ants and shows them the way out of the grounds of Tres Marías. Even though the others ridicule him, the method works and even Esteban Trueba develops a newfound respect for the old man. After Clara becomes pregnant again, the family returns to "the big house on the corner."

Clara sinks into one of her long silences, detaching herself from Esteban and everyone else. Then one day, she begins speaking again and permits Dr. Cuevas to examine her. Even though he longs to name an heir after himself, Clara announces that she is having twin boys named Jaime and Nícolas. Distraught, Esteban retreats to the Christopher Columbus brothel, where he sleeps with Transito Soto.

Just before Clara is due, her parents die in a car accident. Although Esteban tries to hide the news from Clara, she sees their death in a dream and knows it is true. She knows that her mother has been decapitated and enlists Férula's help to find the missing head. Because the bodies have already been buried, Nívea del Valle's head ends up temporarily in Clara and Esteban's room, unbeknownst to the latter. Because of these circumstances, Nívea "watches on" as Jaime and Nícolas are born. After the birth, Clara joyously resigns herself to living in the spiritual world. Others similarly inclined begin to arrive at her house, including the three Mora sisters, with whom Clara forms a particularly close bond. In the absence of their mother's attention, Jaime and Nícolas begin to become very practical, "manly" boys. Clara's distraction drives Esteban mad, and he becomes jealous of Férula, who is close to Clara in a way he cannot be. Finally, when Esteban finds Férula curled up in bed with Clara, he banishes his sister from the household. In turn, she sets a curse on him. Although he intends never to see Férula again, Esteban makes sure that she is materially comfortable by sending her money through the local priest. Clara tries to communicate with Férula spiritually, but soon realizes that her friend does not want to be contacted.

Now we focus our attention on the growing love between Blanca and Pedro Tercero García. The two see one another whenever the family vacations at Tres Marías, and spend the time between visits thinking about one another. Esteban Trueba does not know about their love, but hates Pedro Tercero García because he is insolent and circulates revolutionary ideas amongst the other peasants.


Chapters 3 and 4 focus on the theme of motherhood, which is connected to a dichotomy between "male" practicality and "female" mysticism. Esteban Trueba exemplifies the former half of this dichotomy. Except for when he speaks directly to us as an old, dying man, he seems to be an emotionless and calculating character. He is interested in practical, material things like the estate of Tres Marías, money, and worldly luxuries. For the most part, Esteban shows his love through money, buying gifts for Clara and ignoring the fact that they do not interest her. Even when he renounces Férula emotionally, he still insists on taking care of her materially (he does this later on with Nícolas, as well). Esteban considers women's emotional and spiritual investments ridiculous, saying in Chapter 4: "I didn't dare leave my house, where there was clearly a need for a man among so many hysterical women."

Esteban's approach to sex is also material; when he does not get it from his wife, he uses his money to buy it from Transito Soto as though this is an everyday transaction. The fate of Barrabas encapsulates Esteban's materialism. Completely misunderstanding Clara's deep, human love for the dog, he thinks that having Barrabas turned into a rug will please her. Esteban is thinking practically: in his mind, Barrabas is a belonging that Clara is sad to lose; therefore, she will be happy to have him in the form of another possession, a rug. To Clara, his gesture is tantamount to making a rug out of her best friend. This is because, in sharp contrast to her husband, Clara has a mystical nature and is all but completely oblivious to the material state of things. Throughout their marriage, Clara dismisses the finery Esteban provides her as "lovely" because her interest lies in human and spiritual relationships and communication.

Clara's spiritual nature is integral to her strong identity as a mother. Being pregnant sends her into the private pleasures of her spiritual realm, and she ignores most everything and everyone around her. Even though not all of her children are spiritually inclined, they all respect the spiritual world. She is also able to reassure them with her predictions. Yet Clara's attitude as a mother is different with respect to her male and female children. She is so wrapped up in her spiritual endeavors that she misses much of Jaime and Nícolas's childhoods, resulting in their becoming "manly," practical, and more or less conventional young men. Still they retain enough of their mother's influence to become sensitive individuals, and follow abstinent paths quite opposite to their father's proud materialism. Unlike her relationship to her sons, Clara is involved in Blanca's life from the very moment she discovers she is pregnant. In doing so, she continues her family's tradition of extremely close bonds between mothers and daughters.

Allende is constantly reminding us of the inviolability of connections between the generations by using symbolic naming. The names Nívea ("snow"), Clara ("clear"), Blanca ("white"), and Alba ("dawn") all connect to the idea of brightness and purity - a luminous spiritual quality. The male characters' names are also connected, but in a way that refers to generic heredity rather than spirituality. Esteban García is named after his true grandfather, Esteban Trueba. It is no doubt his name that makes him so conscious of his ancestor's wrongdoings and so eager to claim what is rightfully his by name. Meanwhile, Trueba is furious that his legitimate sons are not named after him. He considers it an insult to tradition; after all, were he to share his full name with them, he would receive automatic recognition for their triumphs. Ironically, Jaime and Nícolas's achievements end up embarrassing Esteban Trueba rather than making him proud. At Tres Marías, Old Pedro García, Pedro Segundo García, and Pedro Tercero García are all connected to one another by their first and last names. In their society, individualism is balanced by a strong commitment to honoring the past.

Violent deaths provide foreshadowing in these chapters, specifically the deaths of Barrabas, Doña Ester, and Nívea del Valle. Barrabas's murder interrupts Clara and Esteban's wedding festivities when the dying dog stumbles in to die in his mistress's arms. Beyond Esteban's insensitivity to Barrabas's death, the event foreshadows the couple's, and the family's, troubles. By bringing violence and loss into what should be their happiest day, Barrabas's death suggests that Clara and Esteban's joys will always be tinged with fear and the pain of loss. Doña Ester's death foreshadows the symbolic death of spirit that Esteban suffers throughout his life, though he redeems himself spiritually somewhat as he dies. Doña Ester is rotting, literally, from the inside out, and she is paralyzed. Esteban is rotting too, but on a moral level; he goes on from his mother's deathbed to rape many women at Tres Marías and terrorize his family whenever he sees fit. At the same time, Esteban is paralyzed emotionally like his mother is physically. Even his great love for his granddaughter is stifled by an unrelenting unwillingness to feel. This is what allows Esteban to "rot" morally. Lastly, Nívea's accidental beheading and the events proceeding symbolizes the ongoing connection between the generations throughout the story. Clara intuits her mother's death and finds her severed head by sheer instinct. Even in death, she and her mother share an unbreakable connection. Then, Nívea's severed head looks on as Jaime and Nícolas are born. Even in death, the grandmother is there to "witness" her grandchildren's birth. Nívea's death, though tragic, carries an inspirational message: families' connections not only span generations, but traverse dimensions.