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Depiction Of Non Conformity With Society English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1748 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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‘The House of the Spirits’ by Isabelle Allende revolves around women of the Trueba family belonging to three generations, each of whom is equally important and non-conforming with the society in their own way. They all have special characteristics, which are not only essential to the character’s individuality, but also to the progression of the plot. Their relationships with each other and with the various men of their lives are multi-faceted, complex and engage the reader’s attention completely; compelling them to ponder upon the importance of women in the novel.

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On the other hand, Sophocles’ ‘Antigone’ focuses only on Antigone which is quite unusual for that time as women were not generally centred upon. It is about how a young woman defies the human proclaimed laws in order to follow the irrefutable divine laws set by the Gods. She was one of her kind in that period and it was even more surprising as her actions brought out feminism, an idea neither widely appreciated nor popular in Greek culture.

Clara, from ‘The House of the Spirits’, is the first female character showing traces of non-conformity not with the society alone but also with her family. In the very early pages of the book itself Clara’s attitude towards things, relationships and people and her nonchalant behaviour is clearly visible. ‘If that story about hell is a lie, we’re all f****d aren’t we…’ [1] Her choice of words and the location of a church, together amaze not only those present there but the readers as well. This would not only create controversy in that time but now too.

Conversely, Antigone’s defiant character is also pictured from the first few lines as she disregards the rules. ‘I was right; that is why I brought you outside the palace gates, to hear the news in private.’ [2] The fact that Antigone has brought Ismene out of the palace itself gives the impression that she doesn’t think much about the rules of the society as in Greek culture; women were not permitted out of the palace. On hearing the news of Creon’s edict about Polyneices burial; Ismene shows passivity by accepting the proclamation, whilst Antigone is infuriated and immediately decides to give Polyneices a proper burial considering it her duty. Ismene attempts to dissuade her from committing such an offence by recounting her family’s ill fortune and also stressing that they are women; sadly all her persuasiveness leads to Antigone’s criticism about her cowardly nature. Due to Ismene’s contrasting character Antigone’s personality is brought about even strongly.

Clara’s marriage to Esteban Trueba is instrumental as it is then that her rebellious side becomes more prominent. It is deduced that she is not a typical married woman of that period due to her lack of attention towards domestic chores and disregard for her husband and his ever growing affection. Esteban ‘… realized that Clara did not belong to him and that if she continued living in a world of apparitions, three-legged tables that moved of their own volition and cards that spelled out the future, she probably never would.’ [3] Her conduct is in absolute non-accordance to the society’s expectations; as women of that period respected their husbands and their wants even if it meant to sacrifice their own. Over the course of the novel, Clara also starts growing ‘… increasingly remote, strange and inaccessible’ [4] to Esteban. She lived in a world of her own and her husband, Esteban was not a part of this world as she did things at her own pace and will being, completely oblivious to Esteban’s presence.

However Clara’s non-conformity does not end with her paranormal powers; she begins to argue with her husband because of their conflicting ideologies. The manner in which Clara expresses herself would be considered highly dishonourable as women were proscribed to be a part of social and political matters. She reluctantly took up her responsibilities as a housewife later, she thought of Esteban as a liability, didn’t support him even when he was ill besides that; gradually she also grew ignorant to his existence. This is identified when Esteban says, ‘If I ever held her down with my hands and embraced her with all my strength, I could never make her mine. Her spirit wasn’t with me.’ [5] 

‘It is not for him to keep me from my own.’ [6] This assertion of Antigone shows her determination towards her goal and that no one can resist her from doing it as she is completely adamant about it. It is completely out of the ordinary to contravene the edict of the state, for never did anyone attempt to disobey the rules laid out, moreover Antigone is a woman. A woman in Greek culture was supposed to be under male authority of her kurios at all times and had no rights of her own. ‘It is noble for me to die doing this. I will lie there with him, loved by the one I love, guilty of the crime of holy reverence. I will have to please those below longer than those here, for there I will live forever.’ [7] The oxymoron in ‘crime of holy reverence’ makes the statement more powerful as Antigone expresses her opinion that dying for such a cause is noble and not doing so would be cowardly. She does not bother about the laws laid by the humans but is determined to follow the ones laid by God instead.

Clara and Esteban’s daughter, Blanca is the next female protagonist in ‘The House of the Spirits’; who is impulsive and shows no hesitation in going against her father’s will. She displays outright non-conformity and is absolutely fearless of her father; nor does she even care about the society’s perception of her.

Her personality comes into light from the time she befriends Pedro Tercero, a little boy who is the son of the hacienda’s foreman. ‘From that night on, Blanca and Pedro Tercero met every night in the same place, at the same time.’ [8] What starts off as just friendship eventually takes the form of a very strong love so much so that she begins to meet him secretively at night and has a physical relationship with him too. She does this albeit being fully aware that her family would not approve of such an association as it was believed to be disreputable for a girl to indulge in sexual activities before marriage that to with a boy of much lower status.

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Nonetheless, Blanca’s noncompliance isn’t limited to her secretive meetings; she is ‘at the meeting sitting on the ground among the peasants’ [9] conducted by Pedro Tercero to discuss Socialist ideas. Blanca is shown to have a very down to earth attitude and does not have any qualms about sitting amongst workers though being the owner’s daughter. Unlike her father she does not believe in class difference nor does she oppose the idea of Socialism for which later on Esteban gets Pedro Tercero removed from the hacienda. Despite all, Blanca’s and Pedro’s love endures even after him being thrown out.

On the contrary, Antigone’s feminist side becomes prominent during her conversation with Creon which is moreover a fierce argument as she accepts her actions openly without any glimpse of regret or shame. Her detestation for Creon and disregard as a King is also noticeable when she says boldly, ‘Nor did I think that your human proclamation had sufficient power to override the unwritten, unassailable laws of the gods,’ [10] The idea of human ruler versus God is evidently portrayed by Antigone as she would rather defy Creon’s statute than offend the justice of Zeus and the Gods below. She is intrepid and valiant as she does not hesitate in accusing the King and making rude remarks about his rule, though people did not defy the King and especially women did not have a say in state affairs. She passes prominently impolite comments calling him a ‘fool’ thus bringing about the main theme of the play too; Power being in wrong hands. She also poses a question indirectly, whether this decision is taken by the Gods or humans, but whom is she questioning is not quite clear as no one in certain has the answers.

Women from both the novels are non-conformists but when their characters are further analysed, one can understand that there are stark differences in them too. Clara is not like any normal housewife belonging to the society of that time due to her lack of interest in household chores and her husband; whereas Blanca deviates with the society by being in love with Pedro Tercero, a poor worker. However they have both deviated from the normal expectations of the society only for themselves and not to aid or help anyone. On the other side, Antigone has rebelled against the society and the King’s rule in order to give respect to her dead brother and bring down Creon’s rule. She doesn’t want any evil to come upon the state or her family, so she revolts against the decree. Self-satisfaction or self-sacrifice, it brings out one aspect in these two books: Non-conformity.


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