The House of the Spirits
Chapter 14, The Hour of Truth
Alba is held along with a great number of other prisoners. She is physically, sexually, and emotionally tortured by guards as well as by Esteban Garcia. Alba is always blindfolded when she meets Esteban Garcia, but after a few days, Esteban Garcia realizes that she has recognized him. Esteban Garcia and the guards demand that Alba tell them where Miguel is. She steadfastly refuses. The tortures increase to electric shocks. Ana Diaz, who had been at the first occupation of the university with Alba years before, is also in the women's section of the prison. Ana cares for Alba when she is at her worst, and the two women establish a friendship. Esteban Garcia pays special attention to Alba, and she realizes that he is torturing her not only to find out where Miguel is, but also to "avenge himself for injuries that had been inflicted on him from birth." Esteban Garcia's strange desire for Alba takes him over during one of the torture sessions, and so he sends her off to solitary confinement. Alba tries to kill herself, but Clara appears to her and explains to her that she must try to survive. Clara suggests that Alba write her testimony in her mind, in order to keep herself sane and to testify to her experiences. Alba follows Clara's advice and becomes so involved in her mental writing that she stops eating and drinking. When the guards realize that she is on the brink of death, they remove her from solitary confinement and return her to Esteban Garcia, whom she no longer recognizes.
Meanwhile, Esteban Trueba uses every connection he has to try to locate Alba. After a month of fruitless searching, he goes to the Hotel Christopher Columbus in search of Transito Soto. Transito is still there, although the Christopher Columbus has changed with the times. With the advent of sexual liberation and birth control, demand for prostitutes diminished, and Transito transformed her cooperative into a hotel that rents out rooms for lovers to use. The business has prospered under the military regime as under all of the others, because a good number of her clients are high-ranking officials in the regime. Transito realizes that Esteban has come to ask her to repay the debt she owes him from over fifty years before when he gave her the money she needed to leave Tres Marias and move to the city. Esteban asks Transito to help him locate Alba, who is the only person left in his family who he loves. Transito agrees, and two days later she calls Esteban to tell him she has found Alba.
In keeping with the attention to the particulars of women's experiences found throughout the novel, special consideration is given to Alba's experience not only as an individual but also as a woman. Alba suffers tortures particular to her gender, most notably rape, which may very well leave her pregnant. She is also supported by a community of women prisoners. The women employ techniques that are traditionally viewed as feminine to withstand the torture, such as singing together. When she is transferred to a concentration camp, Alba again finds a community of women who bond together to help raise each other's children and to mend each other's broken bodies and spirits.
In prison, Clara teaches Alba to write. Of course Alba was already quite able to write, but Clara teaches her to use writing. Clara took up writing in journals when she stopped speaking, in order to keep track of and to record the events of her life. Clara's writing served a personal interest. As she teaches it to Alba, however, Clara demonstrates that this personal practice can also fulfill a political end. Alba will write to resist torture and save her own life and also to create a testimony to her experience. Testimony bears witness to events for the purpose of broadcasting them to a wider audience that may be able to learn from, or even remedy, the events. While Clara wrote in notebooks, Alba can only write in her head, as she is in solitary confinement. Her writing is therefore metaphorical rather than literal. However, as Alba is also revealed to be the narrator of The House of the Spirits, she is shown employing literal writing to describe her metaphorical writing. Alba's writing of her testimony is also a metaphor for Isabel Allende's writing of The House of the Spirits as a testimony to events that took place in her native Chile during her lifetime.
As part of the cyclical nature of events in The House of the Spirits, in this penultimate—second to last—chapter Transito Soto returns the favor Esteban did for her in the second chapter. Also in this chapter, Esteban Garcia exacts revenge on Alba for what her grandfather did to his grandmother in the second chapter. The place of each event in the structure of the story shows that cycles and symmetry are part of the form as well as the content of The House of the Spirits. Each debt is repaid, each revenge is exacted, and each character comes full circle. Since everything is cyclical, it all balances out; there is as much bad as there is good. The balance of good and evil takes form in this chapter in the crossing of the results of two sides of Esteban's character: his generosity towards Transito Soto and his cruelty towards Pancha, which result in Alba's abduction and in her recovery. The cycles are completed not randomly, but at precisely situated moments in the novel that demonstrate the text's own cyclical structure.
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