Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.


The House of the Spirits begins and ends with the narrators referring explicitly to her use of Clara’s journals in order to write the story at hand. Of course, the words of this narrator were written by Isabel Allende. Allusions to Clara’s writing pervade the novel. Special attention is given to the ways in which each woman learns to write, and the moments when writing acquires meaning in her life. Both Clara and Alba first learn how to write and then learn how to use writing. Writing serves as testimony both on a personal and on a political level, bearing 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 testified to. On the personal level, Alba and other family members are able to piece together their “true” family history based on Clara’s writings; on the political level, Alba is able to testify to the abuses of power of the military regime through her writing. Alba’s writing 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.


Chance or strange twists of fate recur repeatedly in The House of the Spirits. These are thematized in Clara’s clairvoyance, which allows her to understand people’s fates and to predict the future. They also structure the plot, which revolves around the encounters and reencounters of members of the del Valle-Trueba family and the Garcia family with each other and with their natural and political environment. Each of the romantic couples in the novel meets seemingly by chance at a young age and years later realizes that things were meant to be. Just as loves return and persist through a strange combination of chance and design, so do other connections, such as friendships and debts. Although Clara must come to realize that she can predict but not change the future, fate is not an entirely arbitrary experience in The House of the Spirits. Rather, each character’s fate is the result of all of their actions, great and small, just as the country’s fate is determined by the particular combination of political influences that those characters exert.