“Magic empowers women in La casa de los espíritus” Discuss.
In Isabel Allende’s first novel, La casa de los espíritus the reader is introduced to her use of magic as a means which enables women to feel “sustained in times of difficulty” and which “provides them with a power base” (Bennett, C. 2003:174). Interestingly, the women’s connection with the spiritual and magical stands in contrast to the men’s rejection of anything that doesn’t adhere to their strict perception of morbid reality. Therefore, Allende quite clearly outlines “magical properties as essentially feminine” (Shaw, D. 1997:116) and spirituality in all its forms as a “province of the female of the species” (Hart, S. 2005:275) only. It can be argued that women and magic are inconsequential in a society dominated by masculinity, the military and an overall patriarchal culture. Nonetheless this essay will aim to address the question whether or not women are empowered by magic in Isabel Allende’s La casa de los espíritus and evaluate the other means with which women escape and fight the difficulties of living in a society which repeatedly undermines their importance of existence and takes advantage of them. Initially, it seems that despite their connection to the spirit world and magic, the women’s and especially Clara’s clairvoyant abilities are rarely seen to be very beneficial to them. Stephen Hart comments that “women are unable to stop the ravage and carnage that men and politics wreak” (Hart, S. 2005:276), introducing the idea that women’s intuition, spiritualism and magic aren’t very valuable assets. According to Caroline Bennett, however it is important to note that “neither are they harmful” (Bennett, C. 2003:173). This is emphasised in various instances when the reader is informed that ‘Clara the Clairvoyant’s abilities “se manifestaban casi siempre en asuntos de poca importancia” (La casa de los espíritus, 17) and the reader also becomes aware that even if they were matters of importance, she would usually be ignored by the males, “Clara predijo que el caballo iba a voltear a Luis, pero éste se negó a escucharla y desde entonces tenía una cadera desviada” (La casa de los espíritus, 18). Instances of magic and spiritualism are also often juxtaposed with the mundane. One example being when Clara invites the Mora sisters to her house “para invocar a los espíritus e intercambiar cábalas y recetas de cocina” (La casa de los espíritus, 137), the effect is almost comical and seems to emphasise the women’s triviality in the eyes of society. The author may therefore be commenting on the difference between men and women, criticizing the patriarchal society in which men represent a mainly destructive force. The women on the other hand are often victims of this but unable to stop them- despite having magic on their side. The above all points to the conclusion that the women don’t have much use for magic- let alone are empowered by it. It is necessary to note, however that there may be other, less obvious uses for magic which don’t eminently effect people’s lives but much more serve as a way for a woman to “free herself […] by the only path possible” (Allende,I. 1984: 41) from the patriarchal society of 20th century Chile. Below I will outline some of the empowering aspects that magic has on women in La casa de los espíritus. In Allende’s novel it is their spirituality and connection to the mystical that allows the women to escape the controlling tyranny of men. According to Deborah A. Shaw, spirituality is seen “as a form of feminine resistance” which “can be used to ward off the evil spirits of patriarchy” (Shaw, D. 1997:116). This resistance is most clear in Clara who “conocía el significado de los sueños” (La casa de los espíritus, 87), “veía el futuro” (La casa de los espíritus, 88) and is able to “mover objetos sin tocarlos” (La casa de los espíritus, 89). It is through this clairvoyance and her long spells of silence -“decidió que no vale la pena...
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