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The House of the Spirits

Isabel Allende

Chapter 3, Clara the Clairvoyant

Chapter 2, The Three Marias

Chapter 4, The Time of the Spirits

Summary

Severo and Nivea call in all sorts of doctors to find out why Clara has stopped talking. Doctor Cuevas is unsuccessful. The Rumanian Rostipov, who peddles all sort of magical cures, is called in to examine her. Rostipov determines that Clara's only problem is that she does not want to speak. Nana then decides that the best cure would be to frighten Clara so much that she is forced to cry out for help. Over the ensuing nine years, Nana invents a countless number of disguises and traps to try to scare Clara into talking. Nana only succeeds in turning Barrabas into a nervous wreck.

Clara's muteness forces her to be removed from school and taught at home. She is an avid reader and begins a lifelong practice of filling "innumerable notebooks with her private observations". She also carries a chalkboard with her through which she communicates. Once Honorio the gardener tells Clara a dream he has had, which she interprets successfully, helping him to win eighty pesos gambling. The news circulates and soon everyone is asking Clara to interpret their dreams. Instead of losing her abilities as she gets older, as Nana had predicted, Clara becomes more clairvoyant. She predicts deaths and natural disasters, reads cards, and plays the piano with the cover down. Severo dislikes his daughter's eccentricities and forbids her to use her powers, but this only increases her activities until Nivea steps in and gives her free reign. Clara accompanies Nivea in all of her daily activities, from sewing to suffragette protests. In Clara's silence, Nivea tells her countless stories about the family. On her nineteenth birthday, Clara announces that she will soon be married to Rosa's fiancé. Everyone is so amazed that she has begun speaking again that they pay little attention to her prediction.

Esteban arrives home to find the house falling apart and Ferula greatly aged and embittered, but he is still in time to say goodbye to his mother Dona Ester. Dona Ester tells Esteban that she will die in peace if she knows he is going to settle down and get married. Esteban promises his mother that he will do as she wishes. While he is at the del Valle house looking for a bride, Dona Ester dies.

When Esteban asks Severo and Nivea if they have any daughters "of marriageable age and condition," they have only Clara to offer him. They warn him of all of Clara's eccentricities. Esteban concludes "that none of these things posed any obstacle to bringing healthy, legitimate children into the world" and asks to meet Clara. Esteban likes Clara but is awkward and shy around her. At the end of that first meeting, Clara asks Esteban if he wants to marry her. He does, overjoyed that such a young, beautiful girl would fall in love with him on first sight. Esteban does not know that Clara does not agree to marry him out of love, but in accordance with what she has seen of her own destiny. Esteban and Clara court for a few months and become officially engaged. During the engagement party, someone stabs Barrabas in the back. He staggers to Clara and dies in her lap, precipitating a quick end to the festivities.

In the following year, Clara's family prepares her trousseau, and Esteban builds what everyone calls "the big house on the corner," as their home in the city. Ferula learns to her great joy that Clara is incompetent in the domestic sphere, and informs Esteban that she ought to live with them. Esteban neither objects nor agrees, prompting Ferula to go straight to Clara. Before Ferula even raises the subject, Clara assures her that not only will Ferula live with the newlyweds, but the two women will live like sisters. Ferula is incredibly moved, and a deep friendship is established between the two women.

As soon as the big house on the corner is completed, Esteban and Clara are married. During their three month honeymoon in Italy, Esteban falls ever more desperately in love with Clara. At the same time, he realizes that she does not really belong to him. Shortly after they settle down in the city, everyone knows that Clara is pregnant. Ferula cares for Clara much as Nana had when she lived at home.

A few months later, Esteban must tend to Tres Marias. Clara and Ferula live happily together in the big house on the corner. Ferula's devotion to Clara deepens. After nearly ten months, Doctor Cuevas delivers Clara and Esteban's daughter Blanca by cesarean section.

Analysis

Clara does not need to make any radical breaks with tradition to be an exceedingly independent woman. Her refusal to speak, although at first motivated by fear of the power of her words, is her first great gesture of self-assertion. Since traditionally women are meant to submit their opinions and their voices to those of men, this could be seen as a subservient gesture. However, as the Rumanian Rostipov explains, Clara does not talk because she does not want to. When Clara does speak, it is to announce her marriage to Esteban. Once again, her marriage is in many respects quite traditional. However, Clara is the first to announce the marriage, and Clara asks Esteban if he wants to marry her. When Clara speaks, she uses simple, assertive sentences. The verb "will" appears in many of her utterances. Clara never mistrusts her intuition, nor does she allow any room for anyone to question her. In addition, Clara marries Esteban without any romantic notions either of the love between them, or of anything good that might come from the marriage. Clara makes no secret of her attitude. She does not tell Esteban outright that she does not love him, but she never dissimulates her feelings. She never learns any of the domestic skills that would allow her to perform the role of the traditional wife. Clara carries out all of this with the greatest apparent passivity. Through supposedly traditional feminine passivity, Clara resists traditional feminine roles. Ferula's presence in the household tips the gender balance. In the traditional and acceptable space of female friendship, Ferula and Clara develop a bond deeper than that of either woman to Esteban. Ferula in particular devotes herself entirely to Clara. Ferula's passion for Clara is so strong that it borders on romantic and sexual desire.

The structure of the big house on the corner is a metaphor for the structure of the entire novel. Esteban builds a house that on the surface is straightforward, if somewhat ostentatious. Similarly, The House of the Spirits can be read as a traditional romance novel, following a single family over several generations. However, the narrator informs us as Esteban builds the house that it will end up full of complicated, twisted, and impractical additions. Despite its apparently traditional structure, The House of the Spirits contains an enormous number of complicated twists of plot. The title of the novel underlines the association: The House of the Spirits refers both to the book as a whole and also to the big house on the corner, which, thanks to Clara, is always full of ghosts and spirits.

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