Janice O’Brien House of Spirits and Handsomest

English Comparative Paper January 25, 2007

Isabel Allende wrote her novel The House of Spirits in response to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s A Hundred Years of Solitude to create a more feminine story that embodies the same magical realism that Garcia Marquez uses. He applies the same magical realism to his short story “Handsomest Drowned Man in the World.” Both authors used their works as commentaries of the inherent nature of humanity and life. Allende’s cyclical story about the struggles of a family of strong women demonstrates life’s tragedies, but from these tragedies they start again, and the cycle of life continues. Garcia Marquez’s short story about a dead man is a strangely inspirational commentary on the continuity of life. Both stories comment on the basic human need for people to record important events and people. In The House of Spirits Clara keeps journals her entire life just so Alba may one day use them to understand herself and to formally record the history of the family in a book. Alba writes “Clara wrote them so they would help me now to reclaim the past and overcome terrors of my own” (Allende 433). Because of her clairvoyance, Clara knows from the beginning that Alba will one day use these journals to overcome her horrible memories of torture and continue to live her life. Alba is deeply affected by the terrors she has lived through, but because of Clara’s books she becomes aware that the only way to progress past these memories is to continue to live life. Garcia Marquez chose to use a main character that is in fact a representation of the continuity of life because he is dead. Esteban is such an influence on the villagers that they promise to alter their houses for him. Garcia Marquez writes “they also knew that everything would be different from then on, that their homes would have wider doors, higher ceilings, and stronger floors so that Esteban’s memory could go everywhere without bumping into beams” (Garcia Marquez 211). Esteban, despite the fact that he is dead, has such a profound effect on the villagers that they record and honor his existence, or lack thereof, by changing their houses and recording his memory forever in oral history. So even though Esteban is dead, he continues to live on forever because of the villagers’ story. The fact that a dead body can change a town so much is Garcia

Marquez’s way of poking fun at humans for being so petty while simultaneously praising mankind for its ability to record historical events with such a simple thing as a story. Clara and the villagers both immortalize remarkable events that will help future generations to come because life carries on. Life carries on in The House of Spirits as well. With the death of the central character, Clara, the house decays and the family breaks apart because life moves on without her. The other characters revolve around Clara, so when she dies the family and the house crumble away. Allende illustrates “Over the course of the next few years the house changed into a ruin…The whole garden became a thick underbrush like an abandoned town” (Allende 296). The simile that compares the garden to an abandoned town conveys the depressing tone of the time after Clara dies. The vivid imagery emphasizes the decay of the house. Allende also comments “Everybody in the family sensed that without Clara all reason for staying together had been lost” (296). This foreshadows the dissipation of the family. Jaime later dies in the military coup, Nicolas moves to another country to avoid embarrassing his father, Blanca and Pedro Tercero flee the country, and Esteban dies. The only one left to continue the family is pregnant Alba, who does not abort the baby because she has learned that life continues. She must give birth to the baby and save the family without Clara because the world will continue. Without Clara’s death, Alba could never realize that life continues. Without Esteban’s death, there could be no story. He is not only the central character of “Handsomest,” he is also the only character with a name, which is ironic as he is the only dead character. He inspires the villagers to build better homes in the name of his memory and to join together to give him a proper funeral. Garcia Marquez explains “they came to hold the most splendid funeral they could conceive of for an abandoned dead man” (Garcia Marquez 211). The women collect flowers and the men fight for the right to carry him to the sea. He is now a member of the village and his ocean funeral is also a signal to the villagers, but unlike Clara’s death it is an optimistic one. Garcia Marquez pictures that when he is released to the waves “They did not need to look at one another to realize that they were no longer all present, that they would never be” (211). Esteban evolves from a body that washed up on shore into a pivotal member of the community that the villagers cannot say goodbye to easily. Without him, the village is no longer complete, but there is

a hint of hope because Esteban encouraged the villagers to better themselves and their small town. In his absence, the villagers move on because life continues indefinitely. Although Clara’s death is the point at which the novel turns downhill, the end of the book is very hopeful with Alba’s pregnancy and the promise of new generations of this remarkable family. Esteban’s leaving the town is both sad for the villagers and inspirational. The bittersweet endings of both stories are key to the authors’ meaning. Both Garcia Marquez and Allende preach the idea that life is tragic but the fact that it goes on is motivational. Both use their stories as commentaries about life that inspire readers to change.