House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
It had been two years since Clara had last seen her Uncle Marcos, but she remembered him very well. His was the only perfectly clear image she retained from her whole childhood, and in order to describe him she did not need to consult the daguerreotype [*1] in the drawing room that showed him dressed as an explorer leaning on an old-fashioned double-barreled rife with his right foot on the neck of a Malaysian tiger, the same triumphant position in which she had seen the Virgin standing between plaster clouds and pallid angels at the main altar, one foot on the vanquished devil. All Clara had to do to see her uncle was close her eyes and there he was, weather-beaten and thin, with a pirate’s mustache through which his strange, shark like smile peered out at her. It seemed impossible that he could be inside that long black box that was lying in the middle of the courtyard. Each time Uncle Marcos had visited his sister Nivea’s home, he had stayed for several months, to the immense joy of his nieces and nephews, particularly Clara, causing a storm in which the sharp lines of domestic order blurred. The house became a clutter of trunks, of animals in jars of formaldehyde,[*2] of Indian lances and sailor’s bundles. In every part of the house people kept tripping over his equipment, and all sorts of unfamiliar animals appeared that had traveled from remote lands only to meet their death beneath Nana’s irate broom in the farthest corners of the house. Uncle Marcos’s manners were those of a cannibal, as Severo put it. He spent the whole night making incomprehensible movements in the drawing room; later they turned out to be exercises designed to perfect the mind’s control over the body and to improve digestion. He performed alchemy [*3] experiments in the kitchen, filling the house with fetid smoke and ruining pots and pans with solid substances that stuck to their bottoms and were impossible to remove.
While the rest of the household tried to sleep, he dragged his suitcases up and down the halls, practiced making strange, high-pitched sounds on savage instruments, and taught Spanish to a parrot whose native language was an Amazonic dialect. During the day, he slept in a hammock that he had strung between two columns in the hall, wearing only a loincloth that put Severo in a terrible mood but that Nivea forgave because Marcos had convinced her that it was the same costume in which Jesus of Nazareth had preached. Clara remembered perfectly, even though she had been only a tiny child, the frst time her Uncle Marcos came to the house after one of his voyages. He settled in as if he planned to stay forever. After a short time, bored with having to appear at ladies’ gatherings where the mistress of the house played the piano, with playing cards, and with dodging all his relatives’ pressures to pull himself together and take a job as a clerk in Severo del Valle’s law practice, he bought a barrel organ and took to the streets with the hope of seducing his Cousin Antonieta and entertaining the public in the bargain. The machine was just a rusty box with wheels, but he painted it with seafaring designs and gave it a fake ship’s smokestack. It ended up looking like a coal stove. The organ played either a military march or a waltz, and in between turns of the handle the parrot, who had managed to learn Spanish although he had not lost his foreign accent, would draw a crowd with his piercing shrieks. He also plucked slips of paper from a box with his beak, by way of selling fortunes to the curious. The little pink, green, and blue papers were so clever that they always divulged the exact secret wishes of the customers. Besides fortunes there were little balls of sawdust to amuse the children. The idea of the organ was a last desperate attempt to win the hand of Cousin Antonieta after more conventional means of courting her had failed. Marcos thought no woman in her right mind could remain impassive [*4] before a barrel organ serenade. He stood beneath her window one evening and played his military march and his waltz just as she was taking tea with a group of female friends. Antonieta did not realize the music was meant for her until the parrot called her by her full name, at which point she appeared in the window. Her reaction was not what her suitor had hoped for. Her friends offered to spread the news to every salon [*5] in the city, and the next day people thronged the downtown streets hoping to see Severo del Valle’s brother-in-law playing the organ and selling little sawdust balls with a motheaten parrot, for the sheer pleasure of proving that even in the best of families there could be good reason for embarrassment. In the face of this stain to the family reputation, Marcos was forced to give up organ grinding and resort to less conspicuous [*6] ways of winning over his Cousin Antonieta, but he did not renounce his goal. In any case, he did not succeed, because from one day to the next the young lady married a diplomat who was twenty years her senior; he took her to live in a tropical country whose name no one could recall, except that it suggested negritude,[*7] bananas, and palm trees, where she managed to recover from the memory of that suitor who had ruined her seventeenth year with his military march and his waltz. Marcos sank into a deep depression that lasted two or three days, at the end of which he announced that he would never marry and that he was embarking on a trip around the world. He sold his organ to a blind man and left the parrot to Clara, but Nana secretly poisoned it with an overdose of cod-liver oil, because no one could stand its lusty glance, its feas, and its harsh, tuneless hawking of paper fortunes and sawdust balls.
That was Uncle Marcos’s longest trip. He returned with a shipment of enormous boxes that were piled in the far courtyard, between the chicken coop and the woodshed, until the winter was over. At the frst signs of spring he had them transferred to the parade grounds, a huge park where people would gather to watch the soldiers file by on Independence Day, with the goosestep they had learned from the Prussians. When the crates were opened, they were found to contain loose bits of wood, metal, and painted cloth. Marcos spent two weeks assembling the contents according to an instruction manual written in English, which he was able to decipher thanks to his invincible imagination and a small dictionary. When the job was fnished, it turned out to be a bird of prehistoric dimensions, with the face of a furious eagle, wings that moved, and a propeller on its back. It caused an uproar. The families of the oligarchy [*8] forgot all about the barrel organ, and Marcos became the star attraction of the season. People took Sunday outings to see the bird; souvenir vendors and strolling photographers made a fortune. Nonetheless, the public’s interest quickly waned. But then Marcos announced that as soon as the weather cleared he planned to take off in his bird and cross the mountain range. The news spread, making this the most talked-about event of the year. The contraption lay with its stomach on terra frma [*9], heavy and sluggish and looking more like a wounded duck than like one of those new fangled airplanes they were starting to produce in the United States. There was nothing in its appearance to suggest that it could move, much less take fight across the snowy peaks. Journalists and the curious flocked to see it. Marcos smiled his immutable [*10] smile before the avalanche of questions and posed for photographers without offering the least technical or scientifc explanation of how he hoped to carry out his plan. People came from the provinces to see the sight. Forty years later his great-nephew Nicolás, whom Marcos did not live to see, unearthed the desire to fly that had always existed in the men of his lineage. Nicolás was interested in doing it for commercial reasons, in a gigantic hot-air sausage on which would be printed an advertisement for carbonated drinks. But when Marcos announced his plane trip, no one believed that his contraption could be put to any practical use. The appointed day dawned full of clouds, but so many people had turned out that Marcos did not want to disappoint them. He showed up punctually at the appointed spot and did not once look up at the sky, which was growing darker and darker with thick gray clouds. The astonished crowd flled all the nearby streets, perching on rooftops and the balconies of the nearest houses and squeezing into the park.
No political gathering managed to attract so many people until half a century later, when the frst Marxist candidate attempted, through strictly democratic channels, to become President. Clara would remember this holiday as long as she lived. People dressed in their spring best, thereby getting a step ahead of the offcial opening of the season, the men in white linen suits and the ladies in the Italian straw hats that were all the rage that year. Groups of elementary-school children paraded with their teachers, clutching fowers for the hero. Marcos accepted their bouquets and joked that they might as well hold on to them and wait for him to crash, so they could take them directly to his funeral. The bishop himself, accompanied by two incense bearers, appeared to bless the bird without having been asked, and the police band played happy, unpretentious music that pleased everyone. The police, on horseback and carrying lances, had trouble keeping the crowds far enough away from the center of the park, where Marcos waited dressed in mechanic’s overalls, with huge racer’s goggles and an explorer’s helmet. He was also equipped with a compass, a telescope, and several strange maps that he had traced himself based on various theories of Leonardo da Vinci [*11] and on the polar knowledge of the Incas [*12].
Against all logic, on the second try the bird lifted off without mishap and with a certain elegance, accompanied by the creaking of its skeleton and the roar of its motor. It rose fapping its wings and disappeared into the clouds, to a send-off of applause, whistlings, handkerchiefs, drumrolls, and the sprinkling of holy water. All that remained on earth were the comments of the amazed crowd below and a multitude of experts, who attempted to provide a reasonable explanation of the miracle. Clara continued to stare at the sky long after her uncle had become invisible. She thought she saw him ten minutes later, but it was only a migrating sparrow. After three days the initial euphoria that had accompanied the frst airplane fight in the country died down and no one gave the episode another thought, except for Clara, who continued to peer at the horizon.
After a week with no word from the flying uncle, people began to speculate that he had gone so high that he had disappeared into outer space, and the ignorant suggested he would reach the moon. With a mixture of sadness and relief, Severo decided that his brother-in-law and his machine must have fallen into some hidden crevice of the cordillera,[*13] where they would never be found. Nivea wept disconsolately [*14] and lit candles to San Antonio, patron of lost objects. Severo opposed the idea of having masses said, because he did not believe in them as a way of getting into heaven, much less of returning to earth, and he maintained that masses and religious vows, like the selling of indulgences [*15], images [*16], and scapulars,[*17] were a dishonest business. Because of his attitude, Nivea and Nana had the children say the rosary,[*18] behind their father’s back for nine days. Meanwhile, groups of volunteer explorers and mountain climbers tirelessly searched peaks and passes, combing every accessible stretch of land until they finally returned in triumph to hand the family the mortal remains of the deceased in a sealed black coffin. The intrepid traveler was laid to rest in a grandiose funeral. His death made him a hero and his name was on the front page of all the papers for several days. The same multitude that had gathered to see him off the day he flew away in his bird paraded past his coffin. The entire family wept as called for the occasion, except for Clara, who continued to watch the sky with the patience of an astronomer.
One week after he had been buried, Uncle Marcos, a bright smile playing behind his pirate’s mustache, appeared in person in the doorway of Nivea and Severo del Valle’s house. Thanks to the surreptitious [*19] prayers of the women and children, as he himself admitted, he was alive and well and in full possession of his faculties, including his sense of humor. Despite the noble lineage of his aerial maps, the flight had been a failure. He had lost his airplane and had to return on foot, but he had not broken any bones and his adventurous spirit was intact. This confrmed the family’s eternal devotion to San Antonio, but was not taken as a warning by future generations, who also tried to fly, although by different means. Legally, however, Marcos was a corpse. Severo del Valle was obliged to use all his legal ingenuity to bring his brother-in-law back to life and the full rights of citizenship. When the coffin was pried open in the presence of the appropriate authorities, it was found to contain a bag of sand. This discovery ruined Uncle Marcos’s reputation, up till then untarnished, of the volunteer explorers and mountain climbers, who from that day on were considered little better than a pack of bandits.
Marcos’s heroic resurrection made everyone forget about his barrel-organ phase. Once again he was a sought after guest in all the city’s salons and, at least for a while, his name was cleared. Marcos stayed in his sister’s house for several months. One night he left without saying goodbye, leaving behind his trunks, his books, his weapons, his boots, and all his belongings. Severo, and even Nivea herself, breathed a sigh of relief. His visit had gone on too long. But Clara was so upset that she spent a week walking in her sleep and sucking her thumb. The little girl, who was only seven at the time, had learned to read from her uncle’s storybooks and been closer to him than any other member of the family because of her prophesying powers. Marcos maintained that his niece’s gift could be a source of income and a good opportunity for him to cultivate his own clairvoyance.[*20] He believed that all human beings possessed this ability, particularly his own family, and that if it did not function well it was simply due to a lack of training. He bought a crystal ball in the Persian bazaar, insisting that it had magic powers and was from the East (although it was later found to be part of a buoy from a fshing boat), set it down on a background of black velvet, and announced that he could tell people’s fortunes, cure the evil eye, and improve the quality of dreams, all for the modest sum of fve centavos.[*21] His frst customers were the maids from around the neighborhood. One of them had been accused of stealing, because her employer had misplaced a valuable ring. The crystal ball revealed the exact location of the object in question: it had rolled beneath a wardrobe. The next day there was a line outside the front door of the house. There were coachmen, storekeepers, and milkmen; later a few municipal employees and distinguished ladies made a discreet appearance, slinking along the side walls of the house to keep from being recognized. The customers were received by Nana, who ushered them into the waiting room and collected their fees. This task kept her busy throughout the day and demanded so much of her time that the family began to complain that all there ever was for dinner was old string beans and jellied quince.[*22] Marcos decorated the carriage house with some frayed curtains that had once belonged in the drawing room but that neglect and age had turned to dusty rags. There he and Clara received the customers. The two divines wore tunics “color of the men of light,” as Marcos called the color yellow. Nana had dyed them with saffron powder, boiling them in pots usually reserved for rice and pasta. In addition to his tunic, Marcos wore a turban around his head and an Egyptian amulet around his neck. He had grown a beard and let his hair grow long and he was thinner than ever before. Marcos and Clara were utterly convincing, especially because the child had no need to look into the crystal ball to guess what her clients wanted to hear. She would whisper in her Uncle Marcos’s ear, and he in turn would transmit the message to the client, along with any improvisations of his own that he thought pertinent [*23]. Thus their fame spread, because all those who arrived sad and bedraggled at the consulting room left flled with hope. Unrequited [*24] lovers were told how to win over indifferent hearts, and the poor left with foolproof tips on how to place their money at the dog tracks. Business grew so prosperous that the waiting room was always packed with people, and Nana began to suffer dizzy spells from being on her feet so many hours a day. This time Severo had no need to intervene to put a stop to his brother-in-law’s venture, for both Marcos and Clara, realizing that their unerring guesses could alter the fate of their clients, who always followed their advice to the letter, became frightened and decided that this was a job for swindlers. They abandoned their carriage-house oracle and split the profits, even though the only one who had cared about the material side of things had been Nana. Of all the del Valle children, Clara was the one with the greatest interest in and stamina for her uncle’s stories. She could repeat each and every one of them. She knew by heart words from several dialects of the Indians, was acquainted with their customs, and could describe the exact way in which they pierced their lips and earlobes with wooden shafts, their initiation rites, the names of the most poisonous snakes, and the appropriate antidotes for each. Her uncle was so eloquent that the child could feel in her own skin the burning sting of snakebites, see reptiles slide across the carpet between the legs of the jacaranda [*25] room divider, and hear the shrieks of macaws behind the drawing-room drapes. She did not hesitate as she recalled Lope de Aguirre’s search for El Dorado,[*26] or the unpronounceable names of the flora and fauna her extraordinary uncle had seen; she knew about the lamas who take salt tea with yak lard and she could give detailed descriptions of the opulent women of Tahiti, the rice felds of China, or the white prairies of the North, where the eternal ice kills animals and men who lose their way, turning them to stone in seconds. Marcos had various travel journals in which he recorded his excursions and impressions, as well as a collection of maps and books of stories and fairy tales that he kept in the trunks he stored in the junk room at the far end of the third courtyard. From there they were hauled out to inhabit the dreams of his descendants, until they were mistakenly burned half a century later on an infamous pyre. Now Marcos had returned from his last journey in a coffin. He had died of a mysterious African plague that had turned him as yellow and wrinkled as a piece of parchment. When he realized he was ill, he set out for home with the hope that his sister’s ministrations and Dr. Cuevas’s knowledge would restore his health and youth, but he was unable to withstand the sixty days on ship and died at the latitude of Guayaquil,[*27] ravaged by fever and hallucinating about musky women and hidden treasure. The captain of the ship, an Englishman by the name of Longfellow, was about to throw him overboard wrapped in a fag, but Marcos, despite his savage appearance and his delirium, had made so many friends on board and seduced so many women that the passengers prevented him from doing so, and Longfellow was obliged to store the body side by side with the vegetables of the Chinese cook, to preserve it from the heat and mosquitoes of the tropics until the ship’s carpenter had time to improvise a coffin.
At El Callao they obtained a more appropriate container, and several days later the captain, furious at all the troubles this passenger had caused the shipping company and himself personally, unloaded him without a backward glance, surprised that not a soul was there to receive the body or cover the expenses he had incurred. Later he learned that the post offce in these latitudes was not as reliable as that of far-off England, and that all his telegrams had vaporized en route. Fortunately for Longfellow, a customs lawyer who was a friend of the del Valle family appeared and offered to take charge, placing Marcos and all his paraphernalia in a freight car, which he shipped to the capital to the only known address of the deceased: his sister’s house. . . .
1. daguerreotype (dß ger» ò tìp«) n. early type of photograp
2. formaldehyde (for mal» dß hìd«) n. solution used as a preservative.
3. alchemy (al» kß mè) n. early form of chemistry with philosophic and magical associations
4. impassive (im pas» iv) adj. showing no emotion
5. salon (sß län») n. regular gathering of distinguished guests that meets in a private home.
6. conspicuous (kßn spik» yØ ßs) adj. attracting attention by being unexpected, unusual or outstanding
7. negritude (neg» rß tØd«) n. blacks and their cultural heritage.
8. oligarchy (äl» i gar« kè) n. government ruled by a few.
9. terra firma (ter» a f†r» ma) n. Latin term meaning “firm earth; solid ground.”
10. immutable (im myØt» ß bßl) adj. never changing. .
11. Leonardo da Vinci (lè« ß när» dò dß vin» chè) . . . Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) was an Italian painter, sculptor, architect, and scientist.
12.The Incas were Native Americans who dominated ancient Peru until the Spanish conquest
13. cordillera (kôr« dil yer» ß) n. system or chain of mountains.
14.disconsolately (dis kän» sß lit lè) adv. very unhappily
15. indulgences are gratifications of desires
16. Images are pictures or sculptures of religious figures
17. scapulars (skap» yß lßrz) :garments worn by Roman Catholics as tokens of religious devotion.
18. say the rosary: use a set of beads to say prayers.
19. surreptitious (s†r« ßp tish» ßs) adj. secretive.
20. clairvoyance (kler voi» ßns) n. supposed ability to perceive unseen things.
21. centavos (sen tä» vòs) n. coins equal to 1/100 of a cruzeiro, the basic monetary unit of Brazil.
22. quince (kwins) hard, gold or greenish-yellow apple-shaped fruit.
23. pertinent (p†rt» ‘n ßnt) adj. relevant
24. unrequited (un ri kwìt» id) adj. not returned or repaid
25. jacaranda (jak« ß ran» dß) type of tropical American tree.
26. Lope de Aguirre’s (lò» pà dà ä gèr» ràs) . . . El Dorado Lope de Aguirre was a Spanish adventurer (1518–1561) in colonial South America who searched for a legendary country called El Dorado, which was supposedly rich in gold.
27. Guayaquil (gwì« ä kèl») seaport in western Ecuador.
The Literary Analysis of Uncle Marcos
House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Reading Skill: Author’s Purpose
(a) What happens to the order of the house when Uncle Marcos visits?
(b) What specific purpose might Isabel Allende have had for creating the character of Uncle Marcos?
(c) Identify three details from the story that support your response and explain how reflecting on them helped you determine Allende’s purpose.
(d) What does the statement “Clara would remember this holiday as long as she lived” suggest about the author’s purpose in this story?
(f) What do the narrator’s observations about Marcos suggest about the author’s purpose?(g) What power does Marcos believe Clara holds?
The literary movement known as Magical Realism is most closely associated with the wonderfilled novels and short stories of a group of twentieth-century Latin American authors. Isabel Allende is an important writer in this group. The great Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges is another. His style often combines realistic characters and events with details that seem to come out of dreams and myths. Gabriel García Márquez of Colombia is often considered the central figure of the movement. His works chronicle the lives of passionate and sympathetic characters who experience miraculous happenings and strange, unearthly events.
Connect to the Literature
What elements of “Uncle Marcos” confirm that it belongs to the literary movement known as Magical Realism? Who loves hearing Marcos’s stories the most? Cite textual evidence to support your responses.
Respond: Which of Uncle Marcos’s adventures would you most like to share with him? Why?
 What does Uncle Marcos do to try to win the hand of Cousin Antonieta?
 Connect: Is her reaction what Uncle Marcos expects? Use details from the text to explain. use detial from the text to explain.
 Compare & Conttrast: Compare and Contrast Clara’s reaction to her uncle’s disaapearance with those of the others.
 Interpret; What does Clare’s reaction show about personality & her relationship to Uncle Marcos? Explain
 Draw Conclusions: What life lessons can people learn from the character of the Uncle Marcos?
 Discuss: Share your responses with a group and discuss similarrities and differences among them.
 Reflect: how has the discussion affected your response?
 Infer: What do you think motivates Uncle Marcos to undertake this project?
Which details in this passage indicate that Marcos has changed since the beginning of the story?
Can truth change?
How is Uncle Marcos’s reality different from that of the narrator & other characters?
Which reality do you think is true? Defend your answers.
Literary Analysis: Character
Which details in this paragraph indicate that Clara, like Marcos, is a complex character?
 Using a chart like the one shown, list at least three of Uncle Marco’s projects or adventures. Then, identify a quality that each project or adventure reveals.
Projects or adventure character trait courage
1. shoots tiger
 Based on his projects & adventures, summarize the character of Uncle Marcos in a few sentences.
 Review the characters of Clara & Uncle Marcos
 Determine whether each character is round or flat. Explain your responses.
 Explain whether each character is static or dynamic
5. Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
(a) How is Uncle Marcos’s reality different from that of the narrator and other characters? (b) Which reality do you think is truer? Defend your answers.
(c) Uncle Marcos cannot believe that any woman could remain impassive when listening to a barrel organ. He thinks the organ must surely evoke the quality of passion. Discuss
Review the vocabulary list. Then, decide whether each of the following statements is true or false.Explain your answers.
1. Something that looks pallid is full of color.
2. Sighing disconsolately is a good way to express enthusiasm.
3. Unrequited love is symbolized by a wedding.
4. Standing on your head in public would be considered conspicuous.
5. A pertinent detail has absolutely nothing to do with the topic.
6. You can easily read the mood of an impassive person.
Use the context of the sentences and what you know about the Latin suffix -ive to explain your answer to each question.
1. Do permissive parents allow their children their freedom?
2. If people are cooperative, will they refuse to work together?
The Latin suffix -ive means “of, belonging to, or quality of.”
In this story, a man builds a flying machine. Which character traits might you find in someone who would try to do this? [Speculate]
Spiral Review: Theme
What insights into human nature are suggested by the various reactions to Uncle Marcos and his giant bird? Explain
In what way does Uncle Marcos’s behavior suggest that he is a multidimensional character?
What does Uncle Marcos do with the barrel organ?
Where does Uncle Marcos plan to fly in his flying machine?
PART ONE: Which of the following terms can you apply to the story?
- protagonist • flat character • dynamic character
• antagonist • round character • static character
- antihero • foil • stock character
PART TWO: Find significant examples of the five types of characterization in the story and complete the charts for both characters.
- physical description b. dialogue (character’s words) c. physical actions d. thoughts e. judgment by others
Characterization of Uncle Marcos
|Type of Characterization||Example (Quote)||What it Reveals about Uncle Marcos|
Characterization of Clara
|Type of Characterization||Example (Quote from Story):||What it Reveals about Clara|
PART THREE: Use your knowledge of the two characters to answer the following questions:
- Explain why Clara feels connected to Uncle Marcos.
- How and why do Clara’s feelings toward Uncle Marcos contrast with those of other characters?
- How does Clara’s connection with Uncle Marcos contribute to the meaning or theme of the story? Identify the theme in your response.
PART FOUR: Develop questions for a fishbowl discussion of characterization in this story using material from this assignment. Use the levels of questions chart to develop meaningful questions – try writing questions for all three levels.
Levels of Questions
Author: Isabel Allende
The daughter of diplomats, Isabel Allende grew up in the South American country of Chile. Her uncle was the Chilean president Salvador Allende. When his government was overthrown in 1973, Allende fled to Venezuela. She lived there in exile until 1988, when she moved to California. Family and Fiction “Uncle Marcos” is excerpted from Allende’s first novel, The House of the Spirits, which was inspired by her own remarkable family. Allende’s family stories, however, are usually told with large helpings of imagination. She delights in blending the real and the imaginary. Allende once summed up her profession by quoting her granddaughter. Asked what it means to have a great imagination, the child replied, “You can remember what never happened.”
BACKGROUND FOR THE STORY
Magical Realism Imagine a world in which people float in the air and rain falls continuously for years. Such fantastic details fill stories and novels by a group of writers, including Isabel Allende, who are called magical realists. Works of magical realism blend fantastic details with realistic ones to stretch the boundaries of readers’ imaginations.
Allende’s first novel, The House of the Spirits, began as a letter to her 100-year-old grandfather. Did You Know?