ENGL 485: Modern and Contemporary Literature in the United States
January 20, 2017
Conference Presentation Outline
Daughter of Fortune
A little information about the Author
Isabel Allende was born in Peru, daughter of Chilean diplomat. However, her parents divorced shortly after. Around 1953 her mother remarried another diplomat and moved to Lebanon. Due to politic upset in 1957 she was sent back to Chile to graduate high school where she met her future husband, an engineering student. She became a Journalist. Salvador Allende, Isabel’s godfather was president of Chile after three failed presidential campaigns in 1970. He was the first freely elected head of state. Isabel became regular interviewer. However, in 1973 army troops stormed the house of President Salvador Allende supposedly committed suicide instead of relinquish power to the military. Due to the concern and endangering her own family in 1975, they left Chile to go to Caracas, Venezula leading to diverse. When she receives word of the grandfather dying she began writing a letter to him leading to her first novel The House of the Spirit. During a visit to California in 1988 she meets her husband and currently lives there. (Rodden, 3)
The novel is broken up into three parts, focusing on bildungsroman of the protagonist Eliza. In this presentation I will be focusing on her character development.
During the Gold Rush time in California, Eliza set out on a journey to chase her love, only to discover not just herself but true love along the way.
“Everyone is born with some special talent, and Eliza Sommers discovered early on that she had two: a good sense of smell and a good memory.” (Allende 3) Both talents helped her survive her journey in the wild California Gold Rush. During that time Patriarchy ruled, where men control all the rules and have authority over women and children. As Miss Rose states, “All husbands are boring, John. No woman with an ounce of sense gets married to be entertained, she marries to be maintained” (Allende 74). In the Sommers’ home, Jeremy controls decisions in the house. Eliza was taught to read books, play the piano, cook and sew. Everything required to be a good wife; however, the women in the book would pursue their own interests, getting their way.
By sculpting the perfect wife in Eliza, Miss Rose unknowingly introduced her to what love could be but with the wrong person. “Eliza gave herself to the task of idealizing her lover until he became an obsession. All she wanted was to serve him wholeheartedly for the rest of her life, to sacrifice herself and suffer to prove her selflessness, to die for him if necessary.” (Allende 115) Miss Rose, by instilling the patriarchy in the growth of Eliza, makes her fall in love with the first man she sees. Eliza mistakenly believes that this is the true meaning of love when it is not. Eliza’s obsession and belief of what love is fuels her drive to do anything for Joaquin.
The allure of gold and riches being found in California reached Chile. Eliza’s lover, Joaquin was one of many seduced by the promise of great wealth and a better life. Eliza was upset “if you go, Joaquin, I will die.” (Allende 124) After Joaquin leaves, Eliza discovers that she is pregnant. From this point onward, she sheds the ideal woman persona she has been molded into and begins to fight against the oppressive patriarchal society and finding her identity and independence along the way. Eliza makes the decision to travel to California to be with the man she loves, and she is helped by a Tao Chi’en who smuggles her on board a ship that will take her to California. “Curled in her burrow in the storeroom, Eliza began to die. To the darkness and sensation of being walled up in life was added the odor, a foul blended of the contents of bales and boxes, barrels of salted fish, and deposits of ocean extracts crusted on the old planks of the ship. Her acute sense of smell, so useful for getting through the world was closed eyes, had become an instrument of torture.” (Allende 199) Despite Tao bringing her food and making her do exercises, living in confined quarters for two months and less than ideal conditions caused Eliza to suffer a miscarriage.
At this time San Francisco was a dangerous place for women, in dyer cases the women’s only hope for survival was prostitution. This was the land controlled of miners, merchants, gamblers, saloons and prostitutes (Holliday, xi). Upon arrival of San Fransisco Tao Chi’en knew what Eliza’s faith would be if she came off the ship as a female as well as his consequences would be for sneaking on a passenger. Azucena, one of the prostitutes on the ship had said “No sweetheart is going to do you any good. If in order to eat you have to hustle your ass, you’ll hustle your ass. You can’t be choosy at this point, girl.” (Allende 220) To avoid detection Tao Chi’en dress Eliza in his clothing. To complete the discise he instructed Azucena to braid Eliza’s long hair to resemble him. At this moment, Eliza embraced the male role and in essence competed with them. From feeling naked in pants to feeling most comfortable in pants and thankful for not wearing a corset. Her corset reminded her of the constraint life of patriarchy she lived. In California she was free to do as she pleased. She was known as the Doctor’s deaf-mute brother as she spoke or wrote no Chinese. She accompanies Tao Chi’en as they search for places to stay.
“She fell in love with freedom” (Allende 275) In the Sommer’s house, she was closed in four walls, motionless atmosphere where the time moved in circles. Eliza was raised in good manners and conventions. She was trained to please and serve. Her life was bound like a corset, filled with routines and social norms.
Eliza regains strength thanks to the care of Tao Chi’en, and starts her search of her lover Joaquin, leaving Tao Chi’en to broaden her search area. She never traveled alone but always in a large group as the amount of outlaw gangs increased and if they saw an unprotected rider, they would take the horse, weapons and boots. She was with a group of merchants, miners, farmers, and hunters. California started being run by “gamblers, gunmen, lawyers, and other scoundrels who tend to be the most entertaining and generous travel companions”. (Allende 273)
“Each of them was self-absorbed and didn’t notice that she went off from them to relieve herself or that when they came to a pool of water where they could take a dip, while they were taking off their clothes Eliza jumped in with hers on, even her hat, claiming that that way she could do her laundry at the same time” (Allende 260). Through her travels Eliza’s courage and independence comes more freely while realizing how much she misses Tao Chi’en. She was able to be invisible as “Men never really look at other men, and the women think I’m a effeminate boy.” (Allende 317)
She takes in all the lesson to make her a good wife she was able to give herself a good life then if she were a prostitute. Not only is she able to survive by the skills she learned a long the way but also the people around her are able to survive. Eliza uses her scent of smell to prepare meals to feed the miners and her friends, a skill taught by Mama Fresia. She would use her literacy taught by Miss Rose to write and read letters for the miners, as well as play the piano to earn a living as an entertainer. And from Tao Chi’en she would provided services in medicinal arts, able to care for the dying miner who would show up at the door of the traveling entertainers.
Allende, portrays different types of love in Eliza’s life. Miss Rose treated her love towards Eliza as a doll: loved dressing her up and showing her off at the gathering they would have every Wednesday. She also used her as a canvas where she could correct the mistakes she had made in her life, only to dismiss Eliza falling in love with Joaquin. Mama Fresia, loved Eliza as if she were her own child, teaching her to cook, speak native, and read dreams.
Then there is the love between men and woman. The moment Eliza sees Joaquin Andieta it is love at first sight dispersing her to following him to California. He was a young boy who worked for Jeremy Sommers. While Eliza is searching for Joaquin in California she pretends to be his brother sent by their mother. As she continues in her journey to find Joaquin she realizes she barely knew him. News began of a Joaquin Murrieta was known as the Mexican Robin Hood. She is almost certain that they are the same person. As time goes by, she realizes her true feelings to Tao Chi’en, and that she was never in love with Joaquin discovering the difference between love and lust.
Tao Chi’en was married but lost his wife Lin due to the old Chinese practice of bound feet not allowing them to grow in adulthood, compromising her health. (Foreman) However, Tao enjoyed the maturity of Eliza and was impressed with how she was able to take care of herself. Lin relied a lot on Tao Chi’en as she was unable to do much with her small feet. He fought his attraction to her as he “rebutted that there was no place in China or in Chile for a couple like them” (Allende 363).
Eliza’s last type of love was with her freedom. The transition from her dresses with corsets, living a proper repetitive life to removing the corset and putting on pants. When she wears the corset she feels bound by the rules of the patriarch of society. When she put on pants she felt free and invisible. People loved her talents of cooking, reading, writing, story telling, medicinal arts and playing a piano. They saw her for her talents not as a female. Once modernism became fashionable in San Francisco Eliza was able go back to being a female wearing her dresses. Leaving the corset behind was a symbol of her leaving her old self.
It was her upbringing from Mama Fresia and Miss Rose that helped her survive and stay true to herself while finding independence. The love that both Eliza and Tao Chi’en experienced for one another was able to conquer the difference in race. ““You look like a pretty Chinese girl,” Tao said. “You have the face of a handsome Chilean” Eliza answered” (Allende 363) Allende brings modernism in time of racism. The “unusual pair” of half Chilean and American female in love with a Chinese man is very well interpreted. I believe the journey for Joaquin lasted for Eliza as long as it did since she could not imagine the friendship between the two races blossoming to love. However, the love that they both displayed to each other was able to remove the differences between them and see each other as equals. This is demonstrated by the quote where Tao Chi’en compares her to a pretty Chinese girl and Eliza compares him to a handsome Chileans man.
Finally, she returns to her feminine self with one of her old dresses and the pearl necklace she had given Tao Chi’en as a bribe to smuggle her on the ship. Once she placed the dress without the corset she felt confident and independent in her own skin. The death of Joaquin was able to free her to start a new journey with Tao Chi’en. Therefore, her journey to chase love, allowed her to discover not just herself but true love along the way.
With the newly elected President of America, do you believe that he is attempting to reinstate patriarchy as is portrayed in the book?
Allende, Isabel. Daughter of Fortune. HarperCollins Publishing. 1999
Foreman, Amanda. Why Footbinding Persisted in China for a Millennium.2015, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/
Holliday, JS. The World Rushed in the California Gold Rush Experience. U of Oklahoma Press. 2002
Kamiya, Gary. Prostitutes from France charmed S.F. during Gold Rush. 2014, http://www.sfgate.com/
Rodden, John, editor. Isabel Allende Revised Edition. U of Texas Press, 1999
-Make sure to watch the short animation clip in my presentation!