The word house as defined by Merriam Webster Dictionary is “a building that serves as living quarters for [a family]. In the two world literature novels The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, and Broken April by Ismail Kadare, houses and similar structures are used as a microcosm to the macrocosm of higher meaning. Specifically, the two works are representative of culture, and in addition characteristics of the protagonists and antagonists.
Firstly, in Allende’s novel The House of the Spirits, the two main houses are symbolic of Chilean culture. The Tres Marias originates as an estate in the prime of Chilean history. When a main character Esteban Treuba arrives he understands the work he’ll have to put into the “nightmare, full of rubble [with] half the tiles [broken], and a tangle of vines [that] had grown through the windows and covered most of the outside wall” (Allende 49). The house’s true beauty is covered with insignificant vines that needed to be purged before it could be once again considered a fancy estate.
Likewise, “the neighborhood had declined over the years, ever since the rich had decided to move their houses further up the hill” (Allende 84). The once beautiful cities of Chile were being corrupted by the rich at the same time as the state of the houses was declining, and work was needed to reenter another epoch of fortune and prosperity.
The house that Esteban began to construct “[was to] be constructed like [a palace]”, and “was transformed into an enchanted labyrinth that was impossible to clean and that defied any number of state and city laws” (Allende 93). Proving that although the house and the people of Chile appeared to be in good condition there were several underlying problems that would soon place them both in positions of disarray.
In Kadare’s work Broken April, readers get a glimpse of a more uncivil culture from the voice of an Albanian. In a world of twisted laws based on vengeance and codes of respect, the very culture of Albania is much different from more accepted views, while in North America, houses are more often viewed as homes, and are places of comfort and family.
A prime example is the description of the kulla, which is a stone tower in which the mountaineers live. Readers can detect a slight sinister connotation when Kadare describes the street through Ggorj’s voice. “The windows of the tall stone houses looked upon the comings and goings in the village streets.” (Kadare 13) The kullas are almost god-like as it looks upon the affairs of its people, and the connotation coincides with the affair of a blood feud.
In Ggorj’s opinion the house was only happy with his promise of blood when “he decided to lie in ambush for his man [and] from that moment the whole house sprang to life. The silence that had stifled it was suddenly filled with music. And its grim walls seemed to soften” (Kadare 47). Ismail himself acknowledges the ominous kullas through his diction. The first part of each statement is written with negative nuance, and the second part with positive.
Secondly, in The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, the image of a house is used as a microcosm in relation to main characters. Clara is one of the main characters, and plays an eccentric and odd role. The joys of her life occurred most when she was young, as a result of her uncle Marcos, her puppy Barrabas, and the love she has for her family. However her clairvoyance allows her to view misfortunes before they happen and those along with the death of Barrabas on her wedding foreshadow the downfall of her happiness in the future. Clara’s eccentricities are reflected on the big house on the corner in which “every time a new guest arrived, she would have another room built in another part of the house, and if the spirits told her that there was a hidden treasure or an unburied body [she] would have a wall knocked down” (Allende 93)
Esteban Treuba the husband of Clara is another key character with a volatile personality, who is often prone to extreme outbursts of anger like when he “[shouted] things at [Ferula] he never should have said, calling her everything from a dyke to a whore and accusing her of perverting his wife” (Allende 132). As the story unfolds, Esteban eventually loses any respect he had from his family and friends, and he subsides into seclusion after a series of violent escapades.
Likewise the toll that his house takes throughout the story is disastrous, with the first hit to the Tres Marias being an earthquake in which “the tiles on the roof gave way and crashed [with] a deafening roar, [and the walls] of the house [crumpled] as if they had been chopped with an ax” (Allende 159). This enlightens the reader of the parallel connections between the house and the characters of the book.
In the same fashion the solitary kullas in the novel Broken April reflect some of the key characters. Ggorj the young protagonist of the story is overcome with feelings of doubt and regret regarding the ancient blood feuds and his involvement. In the opening scene of the novel he thinks that the “patches of snow and [the] wild pomegranates [seemed] to have been waiting [to] see what he would do [regarding the avengement of his brother]” (Kadare 8).
In the same way that his feelings overcome him, the surrounding kullas are also doubtful as they watch the streets, and the castle of Orok is ever changing. Ggorj “found that [his] changing point of view made the building change continually [and] even when he got close, he could make nothing out distinctly” (Kadare 54), which is directly proportional to his constantly varying feelings.
Diane is the only female protagonist character of the novel, and she shares a connection to Ggorj based on their similar views. Her husband Bessian is in awe of the mountaineer lifestyles, but Diane is appalled at the acceptance and visibility of death. As the plot of the story develops “she felt as if something was collapsing in her” (Kadare 78) and when she viewed the kulla for the first time she refrained from laughing at the mirth of her husband “perhaps [from the] shadow of the tower (stone casts a heavy shadow, the old man said) [putting] a weight on her heart” (Kadare 86). As a result, the reader can again see the parallel reflections of the house and the character.
In conclusion, the two world literature novels The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende and Broken April by Ismail Kadare use the imagery of a house or a similar structure as a microcosm to the culture and characters. Furthermore, the authors enlighten the reader to the possibility of a “house” being more than just a home, by either lacking a coordinated family unit and humane controlled emotions, or by adding a touch of magical realism.
Allende, Isabel. The House of the Spirits. New York: Bantam Books, 1986.
Kadare, Ismail. Broken April. Chicago: New Amsterdam Books, 1990.
Merriam-Webster. “House”. http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/house (Friday, January 04, 2008)
Sparknotes. “Themes”. http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/houseofspirits/themes.html (Friday, January 04, 2008)
Sparknotes. “Characters”. http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/houseofspirits/characters.html (Friday, January 04, 2008)