Naming the Spirits: Feminist Nomenclature
and Mythic Characterization
in the First Three Novels of Isabel Allende
by Ralph Semino Galán
“What’s in a name?” Juliet asks Romeo in their iconic balcony scene in Shakespeare’s famous romantic tragedy. Does it really matter? Is it really true that the flower “which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet?” The answer of course is no, since a name by itself determines a person’s identity and attributes, and oftentimes even his or her destiny, though sometimes in ironic or pastiche-like manner.
This paper is a semiotic-cum-socialist feminist analysis of Allende’s first three novels, namely The House of the Spirits, Of Love and Shadows and Eva Luna. The close reading undertaken by this researcher reveals that the nomenclature in the three long narratives functions as a rhetorical strategy to provide nominal signs to discerning readers regarding the scope of her egalitarian and humanitarian concerns. There are at least four levels of naming in the aforementioned Latin American tales that point out to female (and eventual male) liberation from the binary opposites that bind them together but paradoxically at the same time keep them apart: the title of the novel as the first semantic sign the reader encounters, storytelling itself as a form of naming, the subversion of the surname as a patriarchal tool of domination, and the use of first names to create feminist characters with mythic proportions as bearers of light, life and love.
Furthermore, this paper argues for the necessity to reassess and rename the members of South America’s literary canon in the light of Allende’s fictional achievements as a novelist who asserts that “It’s not a question of changing male chauvinism for militant feminism, but of giving both women and men a chance to become better people and to share the heavy burden of this planet.”