Violence plays a critical role in the plot of The House of the Spirits, as it weaves together each action and reaction of the characters. Violent actions connect the past with the present lives of the des Valle and Trueba family tree, linking them all together by their struggles. Sometimes we see that their hate is surprisingly synonymous with their love, and how violence becomes simply another part of their fate.
The novel is saturated in violence that is crucial to the makeup of the novel, as it would not be the same without a bloody, sorrowful storyline somehow tinged with the delicacy of melancholy love pervading and linking the lives of each character. The violence of the novel begins with the death of Rosa the Beautiful, a symbol of perfection and innocence. Her accidental death is caused by a poisoned brandy intended for her father. She becomes a blameless victim and takes Severo’s place in death, a gesture so unjust it symbolizes the beginning of the family’s violent timeline.
After her autopsy, her dead body is molested by Dr. Cuevas’ assistant, who paradoxically violates her with such an eerie tenderness, that it sends a shocked Clara, who witnesses the incident, into a nine year silence. “She stayed until the young man she had never seen before kissed Rosa on the lips, the neck, the breasts, and between her legs… she stayed until the assistant took her in his arms with the same tenderness with which he would have picked her up and carried her across the threshold of the house if she had been his eyes… Silence filled her utterly” (39. Allende takes something as graphic as molestation and portrays it in a delicate way that questions ethics and the right or wrongness of human nature. Allende also does this when writing about Esteban Trueba, who is an unusual protagonist—a rapist. Although Clara went silent, no one was affected more violently than Esteban Garcia, her fiance. After he feels like he has lost the world when he loses Rosa, he moves to Tres Marias to distract himself and focus on reforming the estate.
However, after putting his body through such toil day in and out on the land, it still does not suppress his sexual urges which builds up to a destructive tension that Esteban eventually succumbs to. His thoughts become deranged as his mind turns “melons into enormous breasts” and his horse into “a formidable female, a hard wild mountain of flesh, on which he rode until his bones ached… He would wake up tense, with his penis like an iron rod between his legs, angrier than ever” (55. ) His intense sexual urges thrusts him into violence as he rapes peasant girls to be relieved, the most notable being Pancha. He attacked her savagely, thrusting himself into her without preamble, with unnecessarily brutality” (57). Through this violence, Esteban Garcia is born a bastard child he neglects, which later comes back to haunt him. Rosa’s violent death and Esteban’s violent rapes shows the cause and effect that violence has on humans and how we absorb the nature of the pain we go through. Esteban Trueba’s rage flows through him for the rest of his life and becomes his inevitable downfall. He loses his family when he violently beats Blanca for sleeping with Pedro Tercero and then turns around and knocks Clara’s teeth out as she tries to defend her.
Often before, “he would lose his patience and furiously shake her awake, shouting the worst accusations he could think of, but then he would end up weeping in her lap and begging her forgiveness for his cruelty” (130. ) Although he does the same when Clara spits out her teeth, she decides to finally leave. Afterwards, he tracks down Pedro Tercero and cuts off his finger, although regrettably. Through Trueba we see how sometimes violence and love can be the same thing because he thought he was doing what was best for his family.
In his regret for hurting them all, we also see the tender conscious and remorse that all humans have, no matter how violent they may be. But Esteban’s violence comes back to haunt him most during the nation’s time of political terror. After the Communist downfall that Esteban wanted, his son Jaime is tortured and killed by those sharing his father’s political ideologies. His granddaughter Alba is raped and tortured by Esteban Garcia who has become an officer in the prison she is thrown into after supporting her father’s political opponents.
When Alba was a child, he had molested her twice before. “She embodied everything he would never have, never be. He wanted to hurt her, destroy her…” (286. ) But during her time in prison, he randomly treats her with care and tenderness, only to realize this and treat her even more harshly. Because Esteban Garcia grew up impoverished and jealous of the rich family that abandoned him, it makes him vengeful and evil. Yet, we still see small moments of softness that makes us wonder if had his life been different, maybe he himself would have been different.
Like his grandfather, Garcia absorbed the violent nature of the pain he went through. The reader is still curiously compelled to empathize with both Estebans and their losses, despite the fact that they brought it upon themselves through their own actions. At the end of the novel, Blanca addresses the cycle of hate, violence, and rage that runs through the novel. She concludes that when her grandfather raped Pancha, “he added another link to the chain of events that had to complete itself… the grandson of the woman who was raped repeats the gesture with the granddaughter of the rapist” (431. Alba then reflects on the possibility that one day her own grandson may rape Esteban Garcia’s granddaughter because “it all corresponds to a fate laid down before” (431. ) She also questions her own hatred and wonders if she should seek retribution against Garcia’s actions, despite being pregnant and not knowing if the father is her rapist’s or her lover’s. The House of the Spirits weaves together the characters in “blood, semen, tears” and shows us that violent actions will lead to a direct or indirect reaction.