Allende on Feminism: A Unique Viewpoint
Liberal feminism, the typical feminist perspective of both genders having equal opportunities, has more to it than just that. There are several other aspects and beliefs of liberal feminism that are not known to the general public. Allende offers her view of feminism through her novel The House of the Spirits. While Allende holds a general liberal feminist viewpoint, such as the concept of silence and the separation of sexes, it is not consistent throughout the novel, such as her conservative beliefs regarding women’s suffrage.
Allende portrays Clara and Alba as women with the feminist behavior of silence. For example, when Clara was pregnant with Blanca, she says “[she’s] going to levitate… rise to a level that would allow her to leave behind the discomfort and heaviness of pregnancy and… [Enter] one of her long periods of silence” (Allende 113). Allende uses silence as a metaphor for alternative space. While literally, “silence is the best way to get real attention,” “great ideas also come from a world of deep silence” (Walker 1, 2). For Clara, this silence is a “last refuge” (Allende 113). She creates a mental space of silence that Esteban cannot enter, just as illustrated by Alice Walker, a feminist fiction author. In addition to Walker’s claim that silence is the best way to get attention and generates great ideas, Meredith Hall, a feminist professor at the University of New Hampshire, says that “inciting the silent treatment… inflicts impotent shame” (Hall 1). Esteban eventually giving in to Clara’s silence demonstrate that Allende supports the claims of Walker and Hall.
In addition, Alba serves as another example of the silent treatment. During Alba’s imprisonment, “her ideas had grown so jumbled… she decided to forget everything she knew” (Allende 408). The disorganization of Alba’s ideas led her to forget everything and become silent, which generates great ideas. Furthering Hall’s claim, Allende shows that through silence, Alba temporarily defeats Esteban Garcia with her silent treatment. This demonstrates that Walker’s and Hall’s views of feminism support Allende’s view of the silence aspect of feminism. Next, Allende emphasizes her belief of the separation of sexes through the division of relationships. While Esteban originally wanted to possess Clara and “lock her up,” when he runs for Senate, the distance between him and Clara grows due to his workload. While Clara needed space for her spiritual celebrations with her eccentric friends, Esteban needed space for the operation of his political party. The house became a house divided as “an invisible border arose between the parts of the house occupied by Esteban Trueba and those occupied by his wife” (Allende 225). Furthermore, feminist authors Ann Ferguson and Rosemary Hennessy believes that “a separation between the family is needed in order… to stop the oppression brought by capitalism” (Ferguson 2). Both Allende and Ferguson believe that the husband and wife need to be separated in order for the wife to gain independence.
Allende further demonstrates this by emphasizing the changes that went through the family after the separation. For example, while the “façade of the house underwent no alterations,” the house belonged to Clara (Allende 225). Even the rear garden that was once an emulation of “a French garden” became “a tangled jungle in which every type of plant and flower had proliferated and where Clara’s birds kept up a steady din, along with many generations of cats and dogs. This demonstrates Allende’s view of the separation aspect of feminism and its support by Ferguson. Lastly, Allende demonstrates her conservative view of family gender roles. Despite Charlotte Kroløkke’s view that “if women had the vote, the argument ran, they would perform their roles as mothers and housewives even better,” Allende’s portrayal of Clara and Blanca suggests otherwise. (Kroløkke 5). While Clara became concerned with the suffrage of women, she didn’t care to concern herself with the daily up-keep of the house. On the other hand, Blanca, and later Alba, became devoted to its maintenance. This shows that the women who become concerned with their rights would abandon housework, in contrary to Kroløkke’s view that women with the right to vote could perform their household tasks better.
The course of the narrative, indeed, demonstrates that Allende holds a conservative view of family gender roles in contrast with the liberal Kroløkke. Allende’s generally liberal viewpoint does not stay consistent throughout the novel and there are times when she shows a conservative point of view. Generally speaking, Allende is a liberal feminist to a medium extent but does exhibit a number of liberal believes.
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