The House of the Spirits
Chapter 9, Little Alba
As soon as Blanca arrives at the big house on the corner, her water breaks. Jaime, as well as Clara and Amanda, assist at the quick birth. Miguel watches from the closet. Alba is born lucky. Her stars are just right, and she enters the world feet first. She has her father, Pedro Tercero Garcia's eyes. Officially, Alba bears Jean de Satigny's last name, but she goes by Trueba. Blanca tells her that Jean de Satigny is her real father and that he died in the desert. Less than two weeks later, Amanda leaves the house. Jaime does not go after her out of regard for Nicolas, but after that the two have nothing to do with each other. Everyone in the family, most notably Esteban, loves Alba dearly. They raise her under their eclectic tutelage. Nicolas teaches her alternative religion and medicine. Clara teaches her to read and commune with the spirits. Jaime allows her into his private library. Everyone allows her plenty of time alone to play in the basement. When Alba is four, Nicolas goes off to India for a year, searching for enlightenment. He returns a vegetarian, writes a book about God and nirvana, and opens a spiritual institute. Alba is the only member of the family to which Esteban is able to express his love. They spend weeks at a time together at Tres Marias. Even at a young age, Alba questions the justice of the way Esteban treats the workers at Tres Marias. She is the only person he tolerates such criticism form, although it does not cause him to change anything. While Esteban's relationship with Alba thrives, he comes into ever more conflict with the rest of the family.
Blanca lives in her parents' house, taking care of the books. Refusing to ask her father for anything, she supports herself teaching ceramics to the wealthy girls of the city and to a group of mongoloids and by selling the croches she continues to make. She entertains a string of suitors. The only one of note is the King of the Pressure Cookers, whom Esteban hates because he appears to be Jewish. Alba is afraid her mother will one day run off with one of her suitors until she meets Pedro Tercero. One afternoon Blanca takes Alba to the park and introduces her to Pedro Tercero as the man whose revolutionary songs they hear on the radio. Alba does not know Pedro Tercero is her real father, but she instantly understands how much Blanca and he love each other. She becomes an avid fan of Pedro Tercero's music, to Esteban's great distaste. Pedro Tercero wants Blanca to leave her family for him, but Blanca is unable to do so. She tells Alba that it is because she is not ready to give up the material comforts she is used to, but this explanation is suspect, as Alba later realizes that her mother enjoyed few material comforts in her parents' house.
One day, Esteban Garcia arrives at the house in the city and requests an audience with Esteban Trueba. While they are waiting for Esteban Trueba to come home, Alba enters the room. Esteban Garcia is fascinated with her. Overcome with jealously and desire, he simultaneously attempts to strangle and to molest her. He is abruptly drawn out of his mad trance when, while making Alba touch his erection, he asks her if she knows what it is and she matter of factly answers: a penis. A moment later, Esteban Trueba enters the room. Without saying anything, Alba runs out. Esteban Garcia asks Esteban Trueba to write him a recommendation for entrance into the police academy with a full scholarship. Esteban Trueba does not realize that Esteban Garcia is his grandson, but he does remember that he is the young boy who led him to Pedro Tercero Garcia. Esteban Trueba writes the recommendation.
Just before Alba's seventh birthday, Clara realizes that she is about to die. She makes all of the necessary preparations. Slowly, her family realizes what is happening. Jaime want to cure her, but soon he realizes that her principal ailment is that she is ready to die. Clara has time to explain to Alba and the rest of the family that dying is simply another part of life and that in her death she will not really leave them. Alba does not leave her grandmother's side for days. Clara finally dies on Alba's birthday, with her entire family gathered around her.
After four chapters covering a relatively small amount of time each, chapter nine spans seven years. It captures much of the symmetry of the entire novel, beginning with Alba's birth and ending with Clara's death, exactly seven years later. In their names, Clara, Blanca and Alba represent three different facets of a same element: light or clarity. This becomes explicit when the narrator informs us that Blanca wanted to name Alba after Clara but that Clara did not believe the girl should be named after a living person and suggested a synonym instead. Although each woman's name is a common proper name in Latin America, they also have other obvious meanings: Clara means clear, Blanca means white, and Alba means dawn. Alba's name also reinforces the cyclical nature of the story. Dawn symbolizes a beginning. With Alba as the third in the line, and the last woman whose story we read, she represents both an end and a beginning.
The particular numbers at play in this chapter are significant. Clara speaks of the importance of stars and other signs at Alba's birth, pointing toward this line of analysis. Alba is the third generation of daughters in the story. Her father is Pedro Tercero—Pedro the third. She is almost born at exactly three o'clock in the afternoon. Alba is born at the beginning of the ninth—three times three—chapter of the book. Clara dies on Alba's seventh birthday. The numbers three and seven are both full of meaning outside of the story as well. Both are considered lucky numbers. The number three often represents a cycle and is related to witchcraft—like the three Mora sisters.
In Alba, all of the disparate characters in the novel come together. She embodies the intricate family ties that knit the story together. Alba is, either biologically or symbolically, Severo, Nivea, and Pedro Garcia's great-grand-daughter; Clara, Esteban, and Pedro Segundo's grand-daughter; Blanca, Pedro Tercero, and Jean de Satigny's daughter; Jaime, Nicolas, and Amanda's niece; Esteban Garcia's cousin; and Miguel's partner. Alba learns from and shares a loving relationship with all of her living relatives, with the possible exception of Esteban Garcia.
Alba's birth causes an imperceptible sweetening of Esteban Trueba's character, which Clara notices. While Clara's clairvoyance may allow her to perceive many thing others do not, the direct opposition of the words imperceptible and perceive move the situation a step further. In several instances in The House of the Spirits, similar contradictions are sustained. These play into the concept of magical realism: only by magic could Clara perceive the imperceptible and yet her perception is real and correct. As Clara is able to do many magic things, it will never be clear whether her noticing the change that Alba brings about in Esteban is the result of magical or of real"perception.
Esteban Garcia's reaction to Alba is symbolic both of her incredible effect on all those who meet her and of his voilent nature. While Alba does inspire some love in Esteban Garcia, it takes the form of lust, so that he repeatedly molests her. At the same time, his own enormous hatred is not completely removed, and he also tries to murder her each time they meet. It is only Alba's enormous luck that repeatedly removes her from Esteban Garcia's clutches just before he kills her.
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