The House of the Spirits
Chapter 13, The Terror
The mounting political tension culminates in a military coup. Aware of what is about to happen, The president calls his closest friends around him, including Jaime. The military forces attack. They kill the president and arrest Jaime. Because of his family position and his profession, Jaime is offered the possibility of renouncing his political views in return for his freedom, but Jaime refuses. He is killed. Esteban, unaware of Jaime's fate, celebrates the coup. Despite a few concerns he has at not being immediately reinstated in the Senate, Esteban tries to believe that there will be only a brief period of dictatorship after which power will be returned to his conservative cronies. Miguel takes leave of Alba and joins the guerrillas.
On the day of the coup, Pedro Tercero comes to the house in secret and asks for Blanca's help. She hides him in one of the back rooms of the house, telling no one. For several months, she keeps him hidden there. They renew their love with great intensity, but Pedro Tercero begins to go stir crazy.
The stores are flooded with all of the merchandise that was missing during the Socialist rule, but prices have risen enormously. The poor and even the middle classes are offered no relief. Walls are built around the poor areas of the city, and the wealthy areas are kept bright and beautiful so that the rich residents and tourists don't have to know about the rest of the population. The military regime only becomes more openly fascist. They shut down schools and censor all forms of expression. Detractors from the regime are killed or disappeared. Alba does what she can clandestinely to help feed the poor and to sneak political dissidents into foreign embassies so that they can escape the country. Amanda puts Alba in contact with priests who conduct similar work.
Esteban goes to reclaim Tres Marias. He dismisses all of the peasants and burns their buildings to the ground. At a point too late to effect any difference, he realizes that he has hurt himself the most. He invites the peasants back, but they refuse. Esteban returns to the city.
The Poet dies. There is a momentary popular surge of mourning at his death, but the military regime soon quells it.
Blanca tells Esteban and Alba that she has been hiding Pedro Tercero in the house since the coup and asks for their help. Esteban calls on an old friend of his who works for one of the embassies. Esteban himself leads Pedro Tercero out of his hiding, and the two men reconcile. Blanca finally decides to live with Pedro Tercero. The two of them enter the embassy of the Vatican together, and flee to Canada.
Miguel is able to occasionally visit Alba. Alba shows Miguel where she and Jaime stashed the weapons they pilfered from Esteban. Miguel unearths the weapons for the guerrillas. Alba also sells whatever she can of the family possessions, in order to help Miguel. When she sells the portrait of Clara, Esteban tells her she must stop, but he sets her up with a bank account which he keeps full and which she can spend as she pleases. Under the new regime, Esteban's business enterprises are doing extremely well, and he has money to spare.
Unbeknownst to Esteban, the political police have Alba under surveillance. One night, they break in, ransack the house, and take Alba away. Esteban protests, but is unable to stop them. The political police deliver Alba to the colonel who now heads the military dictatorship, Esteban Garcia.
Political commentary and analysis takes precedence over plot development, although the plot continues to unravel. Military dictatorship is described in all of its shocking detail. It is shown to effect not only the poor and middle classes, but also the former conservative upper classes. Although conservative practices were criticized in earlier chapters, they are here distinguished form the ruthless and overtly brutal practices of a military dictatorship. Esteban's initial belief in the effectiveness of a military coup and his preliminary support for it, however, blur the dividing line between a conservative regime and a military dictatorship.
Converse to its deadly effects on most of the population, the military dictatorship creates enormous financial benefits for the upper classes. The presentation of this dynamic indicts capitalism as a tool of dictatorship. Capitalism can be recuperated or redeemed if it can be diverted into socialist practices. Esteban succeeds in this diversion as he pours his earnings into the account he sets up for Alba, who in turn distributes the money to those in need.
Although no particular country has been clearly named as the setting for the novel, the description of the military regime resembles perfectly those of the South America's Southern Cone (Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Peru). Similarly, no exact date has been given for the setting of the novel, but again based on references to the appearance of automobiles and other technological inventions, as well as the characters' precise ages, it can be assumed that this chapter takes place in the 1970s, precisely the time when the Southern Cone was racked by military dictatorships. The chapter's title, "The Terror" recalls names given to various periods in Southern Cone dictatorships, such as "The Process" and "The Dirty War" in Argentina.
In old age and in the face of great suffering, Esteban completes his transformation from a patriarchal tyrant to a lovable old man. He realizes the mistakes he has made, both politically and personally and is able to redeem himself to a certain extent by helping his former enemies. Just as Pedro Tercero extracted Esteban from the hand of the peasants years before, Esteban ferrets Pedro Tercero and Blanca out of the country. A repetition, with the roles reversed, of the exact conversation the two men had during the first intervention underlines the parallel between the two men's actions. Still, much of Esteban's realization comes too late. He has lost so much of his political and physical power that, although he would like to, he is incapable of predicting, influencing, or fighting off the soldiers who burst into his house and take Alba away.
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!