A key passage in Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits is the series of events that occurs when Count Jean de Satigny reveals Blanca Trueba’s affair with Pedro Tercero Garcï¿½a and consequential events. This is one of the main places that many characters’ personalities, namely the count, Esteban Trueba, and Clara, are developed and explored more in depth. An underlying element of the novel’s style, consistent point-of-view shifts, is also demonstrated here and used to great effect. We also see an illustration of the novel’s main themes of emphasis on family values and class tensions.
The passage opens with the count, who decides to follow Blanca one night and discovers her affair with Pedro Tercero. He then goes immediately to Esteban Trueba and tells him of his discovery, successfully enraging him, which he sees as “the best means for solving the problem” (Allende 198). In the ensuing chaos he seizes the opportunity “to pack his bags, yoke the horses to his carriage, and leave discreetly for the hotel in town” (200). His actions in this situation reveal his true character, often contrary to the way the “natives” had seen him (198). He is very perceptive to minor details, able to see when Blanca planned “one of her nocturnal excursions to the river” (297). He observes her mannerisms down to minute detail and is the only one to have any inkling of her affair. When he follows her to the riverbank, he sees the two lovers. Just by observing them for a few minutes, he is able to reach a few very important and keen conclusions:
It took the elegant French count nearly a minute to come out of the dreamlike state into which he had been swept by the sight of the lovers, the moon, and the silence of the surrounding fields, and to realize that the situation was far more serious than he had imagined. In the lovers’ positions he could see the abandon typical of those who have known each other for a long time. What he was looking at did not at all resemble an erotic summer idyll, as he had supposed, but rather a marriage of body and soul. Jean de Satigny could not have known that Blanca and Pedro Tercero had slept this way the first day they met, and that they had continued doing so every time they could over all these years. Still, he knew it instinctively. (198)
Although perceptive, the count does not use his discoveries for anybody’s good but his own. Because he uncovers the affair, he is able to marry Blanca and fulfill his dream of marrying an heiress. Ultimately, his motivations are always shown to be self-seeking. He knows that he must curry favor with Esteban Trueba, so he tells him of the affair right after he discovers them. He does not even consider the implications of this revelation on the livelihood of Blanca, Pedro Tercero, or even Clara, and “when he [reaches] the house, he [has] already decided to tell Blanca’s father” (198). He is also manipulative, shown to twist the story to fit his own needs and describing his discovery as a “depressing spectacle” (199).
The resulting events also reveal the character of Esteban Trueba, especially when he begins the narration on page 202. He is introduced in this passage with a bit of humor:
For just a moment, this threw Trueba off course, because he could not imagine his daughter going to bed with Father Josï¿½ Dulce Marï¿½a, but he quickly realized what had happened, and understood the joke that had been played on him during the old man’s funeral, realizing that his daughter’s seducer was none other than Pedro Tercero Garcï¿½a, that son of a bitch who would pay for this the rest of his life. (199)
This, however, contrasts very deeply with his behavior throughout the rest of the passage. He is shown as violent and vengeful, constantly verbalizing threats to the life of Pedro Tercero: “‘I’m going to kill them both,’ he muttered over and over, like a litany” (199). He is shown to be “unable to restrain his evil character” while “beating her (Blanca) mercilessly, lash upon lash, until the girl fell flat and rigid to the ground” and “shouting every insult known to man plus others he made up in the heat of the moment,” perhaps even suggesting that he is schizophrenic (199).
However, Allende is very quick to avoid illustrating him as an evil character and shows that he immediately changes heart after Blanca refuses to tell him who her perpetrator is and even realizes that she has “inherited her own stubbornness” and that “he had gotten carried away with his punishment” (199). He shows nearly the same reaction when Clara later suggests to him that Pedro is the same as Esteban, sleeping with unmarried women. He then loses control and consequently strikes her in the face. When she falls to the floor, he “[seems] to [awaken] from a trance,” (200) and kneels:
By her side, crying and begging for her forgiveness, trying to explain, calling her by all the special names he used only when they were in bed, not understanding how he could have raised his hand against her, the only human being he really cared about and for whom he had never, not even in the worst moments of their common life, lost respect.” (201)
On pg. 202, the passage changes from a third person narrator to Esteban Trueba’s first person account. Here we see a much more emotional and personal account of the events that occurred. He is lonely after Clara and Blanca’s departure, realizing that:
[His] old friends had either died or gone away… [his] contact with his sons was minimal…[his] mother…sister…dear old Nana, and old Pedro Garcï¿½a were all dead. Even Rosa returned to haunt [him] like an unforgettable grief, and [he] could no longer count on Pedro Segundo Garcï¿½a, who had stood beside [him] for thirty-five years. [He] couldn’t stop crying. The tears would run down [his] face and [he] would brush them off with [his] hand, but they were followed by others. “Why don’t you all go to hell!” [he] would roar into the far corners of the house. (202)
We still see aspects of his stubborn nature, as he refuses to take the blame for himself and still accuses Pedro Tercero Garcï¿½a of taking everything away from him. In his eyes it was “because of him Blanca had left…because of him [he] had fought with Clara; because of him Pedro Segundo had left the hacienda and the tenants looked at [him] with hatred in their eyes and whispered behind [his] back” (202) and “that the insolent trash took what [he] most loved in the whole world” (203). When he sets out to look for him and bribes the police station to do so as well, he is warned not to start trouble, but takes no heed because of his stubbornness.
Clara is another character explored in this passage. She is introduced when Esteban Trueba brings Blanca home, beaten and broken. Characteristically, Clara already knows what has happened and is prepared for them when they arrived. She is motherly and caring for Blanca, as she “[washes] her daughter, [applies] cold compresses to her bruises, and [rocks] her until she had calmed down” (200). She is also shown to be unafraid of Esteban and his anger, confronting him immediately even while he is still “pacing furiously up and down, beating the walls with a whip, cursing and kicking all the furniture” (200).
She listens as Esteban vents his rage on her, accusing her of raising Blanca “without morals, without religion, without principles, like a libertine atheist, even worse, without a sense of her own class” (200). She, calm and unruffled as ever, points out that Esteban did the same as Pedro Tercero when he was younger, sleeping with “unmarried women not of [his] own class” (200) and, infuriating him even further, asserts that Pedro Tercero did it for love, unlike Esteban had. After Esteban strikes her, she is still calm and does not speak, and she retains her dignity, “trying to walk as erect as she could” (201). Similarly stubborn as always, Clara never speaks “to her husband again” (201) and leaves Tres Marï¿½as immediately with Blanca.
This passage also illustrates two themes of the novel: the importance of family and the emphasis on class. After Clara and Blanca’s departure, Esteban realizes how empty his life is without his family, and longs for his old life, surrounded by loved ones. Consequently, he condemns Pedro Tercero for ruining his relationships with them by sleeping with his daughter, who is of higher class than he. This is the main class conflict in the passage.
Allende uses this passage to great effect, enlightening the reader to the natures of several main characters in the novel and also effectively demonstrating the cultural emphasis on families and class boundaries. We also see stylistic elements of the novel that help reveal the different facets of Esteban Trueba’s personality.
Allende, Isabel. The House of the Spirits. Trans. Magda Bogin. New York: Bantam, 1986.