Explorting Masculine And Feminie Roles EXPLORING THE MASCULINE AND FEMININE IN ISABEL ALLENDE’S THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS By Jodi Denny Old Dominion University Copyright (c) 1997 Jodi Denny This document may not be reprinted without the permission of the author. For permission, contact: Isabel Allende’s novel The House of the Spirits is woven with dichotomy. Opposing forces are juxtaposed: rich and poor, good and evil, political left and right, birth and death, and the forces that will be explored in this paper, the masculine and feminine. The masculine and feminine are equal in importance to the world of the novel, indeed, the existence of one depends on the existence of the other. The danger lies in the fact that the masculine overshadows the feminine so much that the existence of the feminine is threatened.
If women are a nation’s primary, fundamental root from which all else grows and blossoms (Ba 61), this threat to the feminine is a threat to the world of the novel itself. The novel illustrates the dangers of an imbalance of the masculine and feminine within the individual, the family, and nation. This paper will explore the concepts of the masculine and the feminine within the novel in the context of Carl Jung’s theory of the anima and animus. Jung recognized distinctive features in the psyche of men and women. He analyzed these differences in his study of the anima and animus.
The anima is the personification of the feminine nature of man’s unconscious; the animus the masculine nature of a woman’s unconscious. In her book Women in Twentieth Century Literature: A Jungian View, Bettina L. Knapp explains that Jung believes the woman’s psyche to be the adverse and reverse of the man’s — complementary to his. He has remarked time and time again that Eros, or the principle of relatedness and feeling, is dominant in the female; that Logos, the analytical way, the power to discriminate and judge is supreme in the male (6). Jung’s theory says that logic and objectivity are usually the predominate features of a man’s outer attitude, or at least regarded as ideals, and in a woman it is feeling (Walz). Marian L. Pauson elaborates on Jung’s concept of the anima and animus in Jung the Philosopher: Essays in Jungian Thought.
She asserts that the animus pole is often projected in different media as directed, didactic, forceful, functional, rational, and serious while the anima pole is projected as fanciful, imaginative, colorful, lyrical, light, intuitive, decorative, and amusing (97). On a deeper level, she discusses the emotional tension of the polarities within the masculine and feminine, their shadow and transcendence. The shadow of the anima is manifested as irrationality and chaos; the transcendence as inspiration and intuitive vision. The shadow of the animus is manifested as cruelness, cunning and brute force, the transcendence as practical wisdom (98). Jung asserts that these opposing natures can come together in an individual’s search for selfhood, which represents a balance between the opposing forces within the personality.
This results in what Jung calls androgyny: individuals who have fully developed both the masculine and feminine aspects of their personality. The manner by which these opposite natures can be reconciled into wholeness is called paradoxical unity (Walz). Jung claims that life is founded on the harmonious interplay of masculine and feminine forces, within the individual human as well as without (Bennet 128). Jung seems to suggest that a reconciliation of these opposites within the self, and within the larger realm of society, is necessary in order to obtain peace and enlightenment within both, is necessary as a foundation for life itself. Whether Jung’s cited differences in the male and female psyche are psychologically innate or whether they have been inscribed on the collective conscious by patriarchal dominance is debatable.
It would be sexist, indeed, to define certain traits as purely masculine or feminine. Obviously men don’t have the exclusive right to logic and thought nor women to emotion and intuition. Many feminists have criticized Jung’s definitions of the masculine and feminine. In Jung and Feminism Demaris S. Wehr says that Jung defined the feminine largely in terms of receptivity and remarks that some people reject Jung’s notion of the feminine and its corresponding receptivity.
They argue that Jung is stereotyping women once again, depriving them of being agents in their own right (6). Others believe the opposite, that feminine receptivity is a quality much needed in the world, and that it is a form of empowerment (6). The point of this paper is not to argue the etiology of these differences or to place a moral judgment on either gender, but to demonstrate how the Jungian concepts of the masculine and feminine apply to the world of The House of The Spirits: how the masculine and feminine elements manifest within individual characters and the effects of these individuals on the society in which they live. The novel suggests that an integration of these elements is necessary in order to obtain harmony. By weaving fiction and fact within the novel so delicately, Allende explores the implication of this integration of masculine and feminine forces in the real, tangible world, particularly in Latin America.
The House of the Spirits revolves around the Trueba and del Valle families and spans almost a century, starting at the beginning of the 20th century. It chronicles several generations of family and national history and takes place in South America, but a specific country is never mentioned in the novel. Allende reports that her ambition was to paint in broad strokes a fresco of all Latin America (Meyer 239), although there are obvious inferences to the ousting of Chilean President Salvador Allende (Isabel Allende’s uncle) and the subsequent military takeover and dictatorship of Pinochet in Chile during the 1970s. The novel focuses on the lives of Clara del Valle and Esteban Trueba, wife and husband, and illuminates the effects of their actions on individuals, family and nation. The family saga is told through the journals of Clara and presented by her granddaughter, Alba.
It is sprinkled with commentary from Esteban Trueba, the reactionary patriarch of the family. The point of view of the story itself represents a unification of masculine and feminine elements. The narration is a complementary combination of the perspectives of Clara and Esteban, the primary representations of the feminine and masculine within the novel, and brought together by Alba, who, at the end of the novel, demonstrates a strong and healthy integration of the masculine and feminine within the individual. The point of view also balances the masculine and feminine in that it prominently offers a woman’s perspective on reality. The majority of the narration comes from Clara’s journal and is presented by Alba.
Alba has control of the narration. This offsets the ultimate patriarchal control of the social and political worlds of the novel. Allende employs the genre of magical realism to present fabulous and fantastic events in a narrative that maintains an objective, realistic report. Ruth Jenkins, in her article Authorizing Female Voice and Experience: Ghosts and Spirits in Kingston’s The Woman Warrior and Allende’s The House of the Spirits contends that Allende uses the genre of magical realism to reveal alternative experiences that formal realism can neither portray nor contain sufficiently, and while present in both male- and female- authored texts, the use of the supernatural by women may also serve as a specific rhetorical strategy both to expose and counter the androcentric social and literary scripts that circumscribe acceptable behavior. (61) The alternative experience to which she refers is the feminine.
Like the prominent female point of view, the use of magical realism serves to compensate for the overabundance of the masculine in the social and political worlds of the novel. Allende also uses the genre of magical realism to demonstrate the integration of the anima and animus in one entity. The real and the magical are juxtaposed in the novel, corresponding to the rational and the irrational, the masculine and the feminine, respectively. The magical becomes an integral link to the survival of the real. This is demonstrated when the spirit of the deceased Clara comes to Alba in the doghouse, the solitary confinement cell of the concentration camp, and saves Alba’s life by inspiring her to transcend her situation, the suffocating quarters, her hunger and pain, and construct a safer reality within her mind.
The spirit of her Grandmother Clara appeared with the novel idea that the point was not to die, since death came anyway, but to survive, which would be a miracle. . . [she] brought the saving idea of writing in her [Alba’s] mind, without paper or pencil, to keep her thoughts occupied and to escape from the doghouse and live. (414) Esteban Trueba is the masculine archetype in the story and represents an individual with an overabundance of the animus.
He is the principal male character in the story. In the course of the novel, Trueba increases his power in the world as he progresses in status from conservative landowner to powerful senator. He is tyrannical, treating his family members and the tenants on his family hacienda, Las Tres Marias, like subjects rather than intimate community. The basis for most of Trueba’s actions is a desire for power, control, and wealth, and he pursues these things at any cost, disregarding the effects of his actions upon the people in his life. Trueba is successful politically and financially, but he suffers emotionally.
In his book Landmarks in Latin American Literature, Philips Swanson confirms that Trueba’s commercial and political climbing is matched at every state by a decline in his emotional fortunes (240). As we see Trueba’s wealth and power grow, we see his relationships with his family members and tenants crumble. Trueba disregards the feelings and the dignity of his tenants. In his need to control, he censors the tenant’s education for fear they would fill their minds with ideas unsuited to their station and condition (59). He controls the way they spend their money by introducing a voucher system which at first functioned as a form of credit, but gradually became a substitute for legal tender (60). The most brutal display of his power and control are the many rapes he executes on Las Tres Marias: .
. . not a girl passed from puberty to adulthood that he did not subject to the woods, the riverbank, or the wrought-iron bed. . .
he [Trueba] began to chase after those from the neighboring haciendas, take them in the wink of an eye, anywhere he could find a place in the fields. (63) Trueba rationalizes away his guilt, absolves his sins by harden[ing] his soul and silenc[ing] his conscience with the excuse of progress (63). His actions, however, come back to haunt him later in the novel, when the product of one of his rapes, his illegitimate grandson, Esteban Garcia, becomes a leader in the military regime and captures his beloved Alba, who is tortured and raped by Garcia’s men. The act of rape becomes a motif in the novel, symbolizing the dominance of the masculine, its role in the oppression of the feminine, on an individual level and a larger societal level. We see a collaboration of the masculine in the pursuit of this oppression in Esteban Trueba, wealthy landowner, member of the oligarchy, and Esteban Garcia, a tenant, member of the military regime. We also see that Trueba’s conquests provoke jealous admiration among the men of his class (63). Trueba also desires control over wife and granddaughter.
This creates tension between the intellectual and the emotional, the masculine and the feminine, primarily in Trueba’s relationships with Clara and Alba, the most important women in his life. He wants control over that undefined and luminous material that lay with her [Clara] and that escaped him (96). His unconscious need to experience the anima within his psyche is projected as a need to control Clara, who embodies the feminine. Trueba tries to rationalize Alba’s actions when she participates in political activities: she took it into her head to help fugitives get asylum in foreign embassies, something she did without thinking, I’m sure (418). Trueba can’t understand thinking from the heart, until he must rescue Alba from the militants and he experiences thinking from the heart himself.
The tension within his psyche erupts at that point, and only then is change possible. Trueba succeeds in his terms of wealth and power, becomes the most successful patron in the region (62). There are many positive aspects to his success. He improves the standard of living of his tenants, provides food and shelter, built brick houses for his workers, hired a teacher for the school, and offers medical care. Objectively, intellectually, these things are wonderful for the tenants, but Trueba denies the tenants their dignity and humanity while he raises their standard of living.
His rationale is as follows: . . . these poor people are completely ignorant and uneducated. They’re like children, they can’t handle responsibility. How could they know what’s best for them? Without me they’d be lost — if you don’t believe me, just look what happens every time I turn my back.
Everything goes to pieces and they start acting like a bunch of donkeys. They’re very ignorant. My people have it fine now, what more do they need? They are everything they want. If they complain, it’s out of sheer ingratitude. They have brick houses, I blow their kids’ noses and cure their parasites, give them vaccinations and teach them how to read. (64) He meets the rational, physical needs of the tenants, but disregards their emotional needs and their dignity, their equality as fellow human beings. We see the positive aspects of Trueba’s successful business ventures and politics in that they allow his family and tenants to live comfortably; he meets their basic physiological needs quite nicely, but fails miserably when it comes to their emotional needs, and this eventually has an effect on his own emotional health.
We see evidence of Trueba’s emotional decline in that as his power increases his bad temper becomes legend, and grows so exaggerated that it even makes him uncomfortable (63). It is interesting to note how Trueba fits into Jung’s analysis of a man with an overdeveloped ani …