“The question of whether ‘humanity’ still exists or has faded as a result of mankind’s narcissism” as explored in the novels ‘The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende’ and ‘Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel’.
The word ‘humanity’ is unique in its capacity to be understood and defined by each person in his or her own way. A general definition is
“the quality of being humane; the kind feelings, dispositions, and sympathies of man; especially, a disposition to relieve persons or animals in distress, and to treat all creature with kindness and tenderness.”
The authors Laura Esquivel and Isabel Allende have weaved into their works captivating examples of human behaviour in the face of challenging circumstances. The books center on the tumultuous journey of strong and passionate men and women, in their fight for love, happiness, dreams and ideals. The protagonists, mainly women, create prominent ripples in the sagas, they bring with them a sense mystery and intrigue.
In the engaging novel ‘The House of the Spirits’ by Isabelle Allende, instances of human compassion are plenty. Beginning with the youngest of the Del Valle family Clara the clairvoyant, who on the surface appeared to be an innocent and demure girl, but inside was a determined, supernatural soul. The strongest evidence of the immeasurable positive change she brought into people’s lives was seen at her funeral, it brought people from the far reaches of where her love and care had reached. Clara’s husband wrote
“poor people, students, labor unionists, nuns, mongoloid children, bohemians, and spiritualists – came to pay their respects.”
During her lifetime she acted not only as the thread keeping her family as one entity but also aided people all around her, in whatever little way she could. Though her true being belonged to the spiritual world, she placed aside time for the people who were truly deprived.
Determination and strong-will were attributes that were associated with both Clara and her mother Nivea, these distinct features that they displayed carved a niche in this world. Nivea was a driven feminist unrelenting in her battle for securing “the vote for women” in elections. For more than ten long years she fought to the uplift of women in the suffragette movement. She was a force to be reckoned with, permitting not even her numerous pregnancies to come in the way of her ultimate goal. She takes an unprecedented decision of keeping Rosa away from the vulgar traffic of the world. Clara, the precocious and clairvoyant, was her favorite daughter. Clara too was filled with the milk of human kindness. She put her heart and soul into teaching the peasant women at Tres Marias. Transito soto was delineated by Allende as a character unparallel in history. She made a cooperative for the most trodden section of the society-the prostitutes. And it was only she who made escape of Alba feasible putting her life her money at stake.
Other kind and strong hearted individuals included Ferula, the sister of Clara’s husband (Esteban Trueba). Ferula devoted her life to the care of her mother whose arthritic condition had transformed her into a “monolithic being”, she gave up her whole life and slaved till the day her mother passed away. Despite every dark and bitter feeling that crossed her mind, she remained loyal. An extraordinary man who deserved to be seen in a worthy light was Pedro Tercero, the lover of Clara’s daughter Blanca. He fought fearlessly for ‘justice’, equality of all classes of people. A statement of his explained all of what he had learned from the revolutionaries,
“in union there is strength”
it signified the fact that all should become one. In the battle against brutality and mercilessness of certain sadistic men, it is only through togetherness that we can come out victorious. All these and more exemplary human beings were the picture of all good that was and still exists in this world.
Similarly the brilliantly delicious novel “Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel” consists of twists and plots that bring forward situations which illustrate several characters’ ability to empathize and care for others. Dr. John Brown too is portrayed as epitome of humanity: he is the most affectionate and caring individual in the novel. He acted as Tita’s, the protagonist’s helping hand during her breakdown which ironically was a result of dealing with her overbearing and stone hearted mother, Mama Elena. He gave hope, life, inspiration and wisdom to the hurting Tita. Full of sympathy, love and warmth he showed her a life where misery and pain were not lurking at every corner, though in the end he did not receive the same romantic attention and admiration he never lost his ability to appreciate and heal anyone.
Tita was never shown love but she definitely did impart it, as can be seen through her love and affection towards her nephew, the magnanimous Dr. John, his son and her sister Gertrudis. She was suppressed and abused by her mother Mama Elena, the narrator even described the widowed matriarch of the De La Garza family, as
“the castrating mother who had repressed Tita her entire life”
After all this, Tita somehow still found it within her to be by her mother’s side through the days of her deathly illness. The ranch cook, Nacha played the role of Tita’s mother during her love deprived years. She nurtured, taught and guided her in a way her mother never attempted or cared to, she even passed on the secrets of cooking and was the source of the many recipes which entwined the whole story and created mythical events. The recipes, the dishes and what they stood for helped keep create an enchanting novel that is a class apart from traditional ones.
As I read the description of how Alba’s experience in the prison, I immediately compared Esteban Garcia’s character to that of Hitler’s. His merciless treatment of innocent people transported me to a place where concentration camps felt for an instant, existent and real. After brutally torturing Alba in ways which would reduce any human to bring an end to his/her, he threw her in a dog house which was used for a relatively short period as
“no one could withstand them very long, at most a few days, before beginning to ramble- lose the sense of things, the meaning of words, and anxiety of passing time- or simply begin to die”
Esteban Garcia was perhaps not equally demonic but definitely committed cruel acts that encroached upon several human rights. Inhumane in his treatment of the workers in his estate, he saw them in a light equal to and sometimes even less than animals. He violated several women without remorse and sometimes without even bothering to hide, “he was afraid of no one”, this thought of his shows how he had lost all touch of the civilized world. He had become a man without a heart and a conscience. To condemn a person to such agony and humiliation is unjustifiable, in these dark flashes described hope is lost, justice non-existent and humanity a myth.
“Mama Elena was merciless, killing with a single blow. But then again, not always. For Tita she had made an exception; she had been killing her a little at a time since she was a child, and she still hadn’t finished her off”.
This particular line I believe captures the true depth of her vindictiveness. To be able to create such misery and grief in her own daughter’s life, making her suffer bit by bit all the pain of losing a soul mate, and making her entire childhood a literal nightmare. She brought fear and terror into the heart of every person she knew; she was unhappy and was set on making everyone experience the sting.at some time in her life, she too was happy, but as of the time when the story was narrated, there were no signs of her flinching from her new found temperament. What was the most appalling and incomprehensible part of all the acts by the three individuals was that they performed every single foul act without even a pinch of guilt, remorse or sympathy. Humanity seemed a lost cause for such disturbed souls.
Spanning over generations, the books and its characters have highlighted several issues which were present in the past and still remain today, though perhaps to a lesser degree. The question of ‘humanity’ and its existence have been brought up indirectly by both authors, but without concrete evidence of its full demise or complete presence, though there is a mixture of the two. Self-absorption and importance have shadowed love for the human race for a number of people, but there are always glimpses of benevolence. With skill and precision the subject was presented and delivered by the authors, keeping us as the true and ultimate judge of our thoughts and perception on ‘humanity’.
In the darkest, vainest moment we think,
“The tragedy, the true catastrophe, is that humanity continues.- Louis Wolfson”
In the brightest, most inspiring moment we think,
“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty- Mahatma Gandhi”
Evil and good coexists in any society. We cannot despair of humanity, since we ourselves are human beings. All humanity is one undivided and indivisible family, and each one of us is responsible for the misdeeds of all the others (mahatma Gandhi). Humanity can never fade. It is the guiding light that is eternal, and is there in our hearts to enlighten this mortal world.