99 pages 3 hours read

Isabel Allende

The House of the Spirits

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1982

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Politics and Ideology as Content and Context

Even though the setting is never explicitly mentioned, The House of the Spirits is assumed to take place against the social and political backdrop of postcolonial Chile. Certain events and characters hint at this, including the earthquake (possibly based off the Great Chilean earthquake in 1960) and the characters of the Poet and the President. The former’s verses appear in the epigraph of the book and come from a poem by Pablo Neruda, while the latter resembles Salvador Allende, the first Marxist president to be elected to power in a liberal democracy in Latin America. The President’s manner of election and the military coup that eventually topples his government likewise reflect actual events surrounding Allende’s tenure, including the coup led by General Augusto Pinochet that eventually replaced it.

Politics and ideology are thus inherently important aspects of the story; they exist in the background but also directly and personally impact the family’s story throughout the book. One of the very first things one learns about Severo del Valle, for instance, is that he has political aspirations; his wife, Nívea, is similarly inclined as a progressive suffragette. Rosa’s death inadvertently results from these very ambitions, as she accidentally consumes poisoned brandy that arrived anonymously for Severo—presumably from one of his political enemies, as it arrives just as he is invited to join the Liberal Party.