Isabel Allende’s The House of The Spirits explores the themes of feminism and sexism and how each ideology influences the characters. These themes go hand in hand to develop the story and the characters while also giving the novel itself a mind of its own. The women are very central to this novel because they portray some of Allende’s characteristics and they also show the perception of women during the timeline of the novel. That perception is emphasised by the role of sexism in the novel.
The theme of feminism is very central to Allende’s author’s voice. It highlights her ideologies and beliefs. The unapologetic use of sex as a theme adds to that. Nivea for instance was an activist and could be considered as one of the very first women to openly fight for women rights. She utilised her wealth and social power as a tool to bring awareness to issues that she was passionate about. This is a huge contrast to some of the things that the men in Macondo with power and wealth did. Nivea’s actions and her passions influenced her daughter Clara and later her granddaughter Blanca. These women are women who had quiet power. Their powers were not tangible; they were supernatural and attached to their personalities because of this their power were used for good deeds because they were good people.
The feminism wasn’t just portrayed through activism. It was also portrayed through the way the women held themselves and pulled through challenging times. Ferula would not be considered as a feminist based on her character and her actions but one must acknowledge the strength that she possessed. Even though she appeared meek at times and had a crazy and harmful martyr complex, she could pull through a lot of things on her own when Esteban basically abandoned her. That is the quite power I mention. These women didn’t need a man to take charge and take control of things for them because they were highly intelligent and able to do things on their own and be successful at what they did too. Transito for instance, despite coming from a very hard life managed to become a very successful woman in her own right. These women who were to some extent treated as beneath the men turned out to be extraordinary women and far better than the men and they redefined what a woman was in their society.
This is where the sexism comes in. Considering women activist and feminism were appearing and fighting for rights, of course sexism was taking place and having a huge influence on the way society operated. Characters like Esteban represented that. He was perhaps the most influential male character in the novel, he had a lot of power, wealth and he was well respected for the most par and he was also the perfect and most poisonous balance for the femininity presented in the novel. His role, no matter how unagreeable, was very vital. The negative was the fact that he notoriously abused his power and wealth. He was famous for abusing and raping some of the females in Tres Marias.
Although that was so, the focus is on the sexism that he portrayed as a character. Esteban, in simple terms, viewed women as a source of his pleasure and thus subjected and treated them per that belief. His acts of violence against women and his family came from his deep sense of loneliness and from how miserable he was. He abused his power and was very forceful because of that to fill up that emptiness. The presence of Alba later in the novel brought a calm to his life but prior to all that, he imposed a lot of gender roles in the lives of the women around in. The most notable one being the instance where he leaves Ferula no choice but to look after their sick and dying mother. His view of women is underlined when he states that he was basically glad he wasn’t born a woman. He acknowledges that women are in a sort of captivity based on the roles that are pushed on them by society. Ferula’s freedom was limited because she was a woman and had to stay home and take care of her mother.
Some of the roles parallel people in the world Allende lived in. Characters like Clara and Nivea and Esteban were not just figments of her imagination because we as readers could see within them people we could identify as being quite like them in terms of their way of thinking and their behaviours. This further enhances the novel and makes it quite an engaging read.