The novel The House of the Spirits, written by Isabel Allende presents the reader with a microcosm that represents the life of the people in Chile. It is a story about the Del Valle and Trueba families spanning four generations that contains magical elements in it. This paper will examine how the author’s portrayal of Esteban’s appearance reveals his relationships and class differences in society. The differences in class are evident when Esteban is described to have a “high forehead, which [is] crowned with a lion’s mane of hair” (41).
The diction of “crowned” and the metaphor comparing him to a lion portray the stark contrast between classes in economic and social terms. Allende’s comparison of Esteban to a lion could foreshadow his rise in power. This is significant because at Tres Mari??as Esteban is superior to the peasants economically and socially. As a result of Allende’s diction, the reader learns that the gap between the haves and the have-nots is quite substantial in society.
Allende portrays the conflict between civilization and barbarity in different classes through situational irony when Esteban “stop[s] shaving, cut[s] his hair only when it reache[s] his shoulders [and] grows indifferent to his clothes and manners” (55). This is ironic because you would not expect someone like Esteban, who hails from a civilized background to display manners and fits of anger that are barbaric. In spite of this, he classifies Pedro Tercero as a cannibal but in reality he is civilized in his relationship with Blanca.
Male dominance can be seen when Esteban is making love with Clara, and “his hands [feel] very heavy, his feet very big, his voice very hard, [and] his beard very scratchy” (96). The imagery of “heavy hands”, “big feet”, “hard voice” and “scratchy beard” symbolize male dominance because these are terms associated with a man in Latin America. The “hard voice” also demonstrates the freedom of speech that men have while women don’t. The repetition of “his” and “very” is parallelism and it creates an overwhelming effect to suggest that men are dominant over women in all matters.
The mention of the “hands” and “feet” being “heavy” and “big” respectively also suggest men are in control of the most “important” roles in society. However Esteban feels completely opposite to what he feels with Clara when he is making love with Transito Soto. She does not make “[his] hands feel heavy, [his] voice hard, [his] feet gigantic, or [his] beard too scratchy” (118). This is quite similar in style and structure when Allende describes Esteban with Clara, but its message is completely different.
This underlines the fact that Transito Soto is completely different from the other ladies in this novel. As a result the reader learns that Esteban’s relationship with Transito Soto is not of financial dependence, but more like that of a man who takes helps but returns it in the future. Soon after the earthquake Esteban notices that he was shrinking. His clothes do not fit him, “it [is] not only that things fit loosely; his sleeves and his pant legs [are] suddenly too long” (181). This could be an allusion to the symbol of clothes that were too big in the play Macbeth written by Shakespeare.
It brings in the feeling that society is about to revolt against him. Esteban’s shrinking might symbolize his image getting worse in the eyes of the peasant community due to his deteriorating character. Esteban’s shrinking can also be an extended metaphor comparing the loss of Clara’s love to Esteban’s shrinking body. Over time as Esteban shrinks, Clara’s love for him also “shrinks” to a point where they do not talk anymore after he hits her. Further on in the novel when a military dictatorship is in power, Esteban is not invited to join the government.
Since his clothes do not fit him it suggests that the military did not think that he would be a good “fit” for the role. As a result of his shrinking “he [buys] shoes one size smaller, shorten[s] his trousers, and [has] a tuck taken in his shirtsleeves” (244). Allende uses sibilance to show the change in his duties and responsibilities from a wealthy land owner to a senator. The imagery here brings to mind a picture of drastic changes, thus it may represent the development as a character that Esteban goes through to change from a tyrant to a kind, caring, lovable old man.
As a result of this, the reader notices the beginning of a development in Esteban’s character. After Clara dies Esteban begins to fix her up for her funeral. He notices that “he [has] shrunk four inches; and [his] shoes [are] swimming on [him]” (293). The imagery of him shrinking represents his sense of loss at Clara’s death and the fact that “his shoes were swimming on him” suggests that he had not done enough to be a good husband to Clara. The diction of “swimming” denotes that his shoes are too big for him, but it could connote the tears that Esteban sheds.
As a result of Allende’s diction, the reader realizes the strong love that he has for Clara. Esteban continues shrinking into old age. When the political police come to arrest Alba for her role in protecting Miguel, she sees Esteban “sitting fearfully on the sofa, tiny and wretched as a sick old man” (402). The diction of “tiny” is a contrast to his earlier self when he was huge. It signifies Esteban’s loss of power both politically and physically until he can no longer free Alba from the political police.
As a result of this, the reader learns that in the eyes of the political police class does not matter. They do not act differently towards the lower, middle or upper class. Esteban’s appearance is pivotal in portraying the major events in the novel such as changes in Esteban’s relationships and class differences. She also evokes sympathy for Esteban despite all his wrongdoings by showing a development in his character through his appearance. Esteban’s appearance is significant also in portraying the cyclical nature of life, since he changes physically throughout the novel.