The House of the Spirits
Chapter Ten, The Epoch of Decline
The night Clara dies, Esteban sleeps in her bed beside her. Next to her, he notices that he has shrunk further. He feels that they are finally reconciled. Esteban arranges an elaborate funeral for Clara. He erects a mausoleum to hold Clara, Rosa the Beautiful, and himself, so that they can all be united in death. He and Jaime have to steal Rosa's body from the del Valle family plot in order to put it into the mausoleum.
After Clara's death, the big house on the corner deteriorates. The flowers that once filled it wilt and die, the building falls into disrepair, and the family members draw apart. Blanca stays in the house and tries desperately to maintain it, but the random amounts of money her father gives her for the upkeep are never enough. She can only barely keep the house from complete ruin and still has to borrow money from whomever she can.
Nicolas begins charging his spiritual students and makes enough money to rent a house for the group he names the Institute for Union with Nothingness. Esteban tolerates his son's activities until he finds that Alba has joined them in shaving her head and chanting "om." Esteban releases his fury on Nicolas, who in return shows up the next day, naked and chanting, in front of the gates of the Congress. The shock and anger give Esteban a heart attack. He recovers three weeks later and forces Nicolas to leave the country with instructions to never return. Esteban sends Nicolas enough money to support him and to keep him away.
Once Alba's hair grows back, Esteban enrolls her in a British school for girls, convinced that it is of utmost importance for her to learn English. Alba hates the school, but Esteban insists that she stay there for ten years. To ward off the nightmares that plague her after Clara's death, Alba is allowed to move into Blanca's room. Their relationship deepens, as Blanca reads to Alba from Uncle Marcos's books and tells her wild family stories each night, just as Clara had done with her.
In the senate, Esteban is convinced that the communists are gaining power in the country and must be stopped. No one takes him seriously. He is so often made fun of that he becomes quite well known and always wins his bids for re-election. After Pedro Segundo's departure and Clara's death, Tres Marias does not produce well. Esteban refuses to sell Tres Marias because of its symbolic value but pays it little attention.
Pedro Tercero continues to meet with Blanca regularly and often with Alba as well. Alba loves him but never realizes he is her father, Pedro Tercero continues to ask Blanca to come live with him, but she refuses, not wanting to give up the romantic image she has of their relationship for the mundane experience of everyday life together. Jaime and Pedro Tercero also maintain a deep friendship.
Esteban Trueba becomes increasingly depressed. One day, two of his friends try to cheer him up by taking him to the Christopher Columbus, the best brothel in the country. Despite the fact that it is beautifully set up and run, Esteban has great difficulty choosing a prostitute. Finally, he is offered the best in the house, who turns out to be Transito Soto. The two old friends are very glad to see each other. Transito explains to Esteban that the brothel is doing so well because she has succeeded in setting it up as the cooperative of prostitutes and homosexuals that she always wanted. Transito and Esteban make love. Esteban feels greatly relieved and in the process is finally able to mourn Clara's death.
After her death, Esteban cleans Clara's body himself and lies next to her all night, much as Clara did with Ferula. Esteban also has come to understand the cyclical nature of the world, as he sees Clara's death not as separating them further but as bringing them back together. His desire to erect a mausoleum where he, Clara, and Rosa can all be united in death symbolizes his deep love for the two women but also evidences his unrelenting attachment to material things. Esteban cannot be content just knowing that Clara's spirit has rejoined him; he must assure that their earthly remains will remain physically near one another.
The opinions and analyses of the past offered in Esteban's first person narration often openly differ with views he attributes to his granddaughter. The explicit expression of contention over the interpretation of certain events leads the reader to believe more easily those interpretations that are offered as uncontested. However, in this chapter Esteban asserts that he knows that in death Clara has forgiven him. While nothing proves the contrary, Clara's refusal to forgive Esteban suggests that there is little reason for her to forgive him in death. Esteban's claim, then, inserts an element of doubt for the reader as to the accuracy of his analysis in any of the sections he narrates. Of course the use of the first person in those sections already underlines the subjective nature of those interpretations, but we now wonder if senility, wishful thinking, or deliberate reworking also color those sections.
The effects of Clara's death emphasize how important she has been in the story even at the moments when her presence was not actively felt. The wilting of the flowers and the death of the plants represent her subtle presence as the life force of the family. On a practical level, the plants die because in Clara's absence no one remembers to water them regularly. However, the very description of Clara during her life suggests that she herself probably did not remember to water the plants on a regular basis. Clara did however talk to the plants and flowers and cared for their well being. Their wilting then reflects the absence of the love for all living things that Clara carried with her. While Alba and Blanca are very loving women, at this point in their lives they are caught up in the flow of events in the world and do not take the time to love small details such as flowers. The deterioration of the house as a whole after Clara's passing demonstrates, however, that attention to small details such as flowers either reflect or affect the state of the house as a whole.
Transito Soto and Esteban are kindred spirits. They do not share a great love, although they do enjoy satisfying sexual relations on the few times that they meet. Transito's name refers to her profession. Transito means transit, referring to the people who constantly come and go through her business. Soto is Italian for below or underneath. Transito's business, prostitution, does in fact belong to the underworld, although she conducts the most legitimate of brothels. While many of the other women in the story have a power equal to but quite different from that of the men around, Transito's power is of the same category as Esteban's. She is a shrewd businesswoman who helps others only as much as they help her, or in situations where her honor is involved, as in the debt that she owes Esteban. More traditionally masculine that even Esteban, Transito has no romantic illusions or desires. Despite their deep friendship and sexual contact, she never thinks or even wishes for a romantic relationship with Esteban. Transito is a practical realist. Through those qualities, rather than out of any sense of charity or kindness, she is able to help others.
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