"The House of the Spirits," Vocabulary from Chapters 12-Epilogue

A fictionalized multigenerational account of the Chilean political scene, Isabel Allende's "House of the Spirits" doesn't limit itself to discussions of corruption and torture- there are also scenes of prophesy and magic. Learn this word list that focuses on terrible times.

Here are links to our word lists for the novel: Chapters 1-2, Chapters 3-5, Chapters 6-8, Chapters 9-11, and Chapters 12-Epilogue.

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. irreconcilable
    impossible to bring into accord
    In a few hours the country had split into two irreconcilable groups, a division that began to spread within every family in the land.
  2. colossal
    so great in size or force or extent as to elicit awe
    “We want Marxism to be a colossal failure and for it to fall alone, so we can erase it from the people’s minds throughout the continent.
  3. sinecure
    a job that involves minimal duties
    His job was not a sinecure. He worked from seven in the morning until late at night, and by the time he left work he was so tired that he was incapable of striking a single chord on his guitar, much less making love to Blanca with his accustomed passion.
  4. emaciated
    very thin especially from disease or hunger or cold
    Women woke at dawn to stand in endless lines where they could purchase an emaciated chicken, half a dozen diapers, or a roll of toilet paper.
  5. relinquish
    part with a possession or right
    He was the first to declare in public that only a military coup could halt the advance of Marxism because people who had anxiously waited fifty years to be in power would not relinquish it because there was a chicken shortage.
  6. cache
    a secret store of valuables or money
    They found a military cache that left them openmouthed, for they had never seen such perfect instruments of death.
  7. fortitude
    strength of mind that enables one to endure adversity
    Jaime scarcely encouraged her, but he lacked the fortitude to reject her, because he felt that the illusion of love might help in her recovery although he knew that for the two of them it was too late.
    Jaime's lack of fortitude here does not show a lack of strength; rather it shows his compassion. This example sentence sets up later scenes where Jaime shows his fortitude by rejecting 1) the President's offer to call a truce to avoid needless sacrifice and 2) the military officer's offer of safe passage home in exchange for lying about the President on national television.
  8. tumultuous
    characterized by unrest or disorder or insubordination
    He now found himself trapped in a demanding relationship at an age when he no longer saw himself capable of tumultuous love.
    Aside from his age, the tumultuous state of the country would make a tumultuous relationship with Amanda impossible for Jaime to maintain. Even if he could feel more than compassion for her, he would not allow himself to indulge in a passionately tumultuous relationship, when so many people need his medical energies. He prefers to satisfy his needs through occasional encounters with a willing nurse or prostitute.
  9. intransigent
    impervious to pleas, persuasion, requests, or reason
    Nevertheless, he could not help thinking of him as one of those fatal men possessed by a dangerous idealism and an intransigent purity that color everything they touch with disaster, especially the women who have the misfortune to fall in love with them.
  10. expropriate
    deprive of possessions
    Tres Marias was one of the last haciendas in the South to be expropriated under the agrarian reform.
  11. excoriate
    express strong disapproval of
    The provincial judge, seeing that he could get himself in a fix and might wind up on national television excoriated by the leftist press, promptly went on a fishing trip.
  12. inflammatory
    arousing to action or rebellion
    These were the youth brigades, who thought they could save the revolution with patriotic murals and inflammatory doves.
  13. haggard
    showing the wearing effects of overwork or care or suffering
    He had lost weight and looked haggard. He was working eighteen-hour shifts, and when he could finally lie down on his cot, he was often unable to sleep. His mind raced at the thought of all the patients who were waiting for him, the lack of anesthesia, syringes, and cotton, and the realization that even if he could be multiplied by a thousand it would still not be enough, because it was like trying to stop a train with your bare hands.
  14. denounce
    to accuse or condemn openly as disgraceful
    The President appeared on television almost every night to denounce the ruthless war being waged by the opposition.
  15. terse
    brief and to the point
    “The Navy has revolted, Doctor,” the President explained tersely. “It’s time to fight.”
  16. purge
    an abrupt or sudden removal of a person or group
    In barracks across the country, purges had begun of all those remaining loyal to the Constitution.
    Other definitions of "purge" connect it to cleaning, purifying, or clearing of sin or guilt. But the military coup's purges involved: "two days without food or water, rotting in their own excrement, blood, and fear, until they were all driven by truck to an area near the airport. In an empty lot they were shot on the ground, because they could no longer stand, and then their bodies were dynamited. The shock of the explosion and the stench of the remains floated in the air for a long time."
  17. persecute
    cause to suffer
    “I speak to all those who will be persecuted to tell you that I am not going to resign: I will repay the people’s loyalty with my life.
  18. unequivocal
    admitting of no doubt or misunderstanding
    Some of them, emboldened by the violence of the past few days, stopped all men with long hair or beards, unequivocal signs of a rebel spirit, and all women dressed in slacks, which they cut to ribbons because they felt responsible for imposing order, morality, and decency.
  19. aspersion
    a disparaging remark
    The new authorities announced that they had nothing to do with actions of this sort and had never given orders to cut beards or slacks, and that it was probably the work of Communists disguised as soldiers attempting to cast aspersions on the armed forces and make the citizenry hate them.
  20. perquisite
    an incidental benefit for certain types of employment
    He didn’t give me a chance to ask about my son Jaime or to congratulate him for the valiant actions of the soldiers who had saved the nation; instead he asked for the keys to my car, on the ground that Congress had been shut down and that all Congressional perquisites had therefore been suspended.
  21. asylum
    a shelter from danger or hardship
    From the very first days, the most pressing need was to secure asylum for those in danger of death.
  22. undermine
    weaken or impair, especially gradually
    The newspapers said that the beggars in the streets, a sight that had not been seen in years, had been sent by international Communism to discredit the military junta and undermine the return to order and progress.
  23. impunity
    exemption from punishment or loss
    They adjusted the maps because there was no reason why the North should be placed on top, so far away from their beloved fatherland, when it could be placed on the bottom, where it would appear in a more favorable light; and while they were at it they painted vast areas of Prussian-blue territorial waters that stretched all the way to Africa and Asia, and appropriated distant countries in the geography books, leaping borders with impunity until the neighboring countries lost their patience
  24. edict
    a legally binding command or decision
    There were words prohibited by military decree, such as the word “companero,” and others that could not be mentioned even though no edict had swept them from the lexicon, such as “freedom,” “justice” and “trade union.”
  25. culmination
    a final climactic stage
    She did not understand the state of civil war, nor did she realize that war is the soldiers’ work of art, the culmination of all their training, the gold medal of their profession.
  26. scruples
    motivation deriving from ethical or moral principles
    The coup gave them a chance to put into practice what they had learned in their barracks: blind obedience, the use of arms, and other skills that soldiers can master once they silence the scruples of their hearts.
  27. dismantle
    take apart into its constituent pieces
    The union leaders were either in jail or dead, political parties had been indefinitely recessed, and all student-worker organizations, and even professional associations, had been dismantled.
  28. severance
    a personal or social separation
    The labor force was reduced to slavery, and for the first time in many decades management was able to fire people at will without granting any severance pay and to have them thrown in jail for the slightest protest.
  29. falter
    move hesitatingly, as if about to give way
    Soldiers broke into his house, ransacked his snail collection, his shells, his butterflies, his bottles, the ship figureheads he had rescued from so many seas, his books, his paintings, and his unfinished poems, looking for subversive weapons and hidden Communists, until his old poet’s heart began to falter.
  30. flay
    strip the skin off
    She was absorbed in the task of tracking down the disappeared, comforting the victims of torture who returned with their backs flayed and their eyes unfocused, and searching for food for the priests’ soup kitchens.
  31. besiege
    cause to feel distressed or worried
    Still, in the silence of the night, when the city lost its stage-set normality and operetta peace, she was besieged by the agonizing thoughts she had repressed during the day.
  32. dissent
    a difference of opinion
    The military were a breed apart, brothers who spoke a different dialect from the civilians and with whom any attempt at dialogue would be a conversation of the deaf, because the slightest dissent was considered treason in their rigid honor code.
  33. ferocity
    the property of being wild or turbulent
    But Pedro Tercero had had a premonition of the ferocity of the new regime long before anyone else, perhaps because during those three years he had come to know the armed forces and no longer believed that they were any different from those elsewhere in the world.
  34. precarious
    not secure; beset with difficulties
    Trueba noticed, but said nothing. He supposed that his granddaughter was giving the money to a forbidden cause, just as he imagined she had done with the weapons she had stolen, but he preferred not to know about it in order to retain his precarious stability in a world that was crumbling beneath his feet.
  35. monumental
    of outstanding significance
    She heard Miguel’s name but did not know what they were asking her, and kept repeating a monumental no while they beat her, manhandled her, pulled off her blouse, and she could no longer think, could only say no, no, and no and calculate how much longer she could resist before her strength gave out, not knowing this was only the beginning, until she felt herself begin to faint and the men left her alone, lying on the floor, for what seemed to her a very short time.
    Alba's repeated "no" might be monumental because it signifies her resistance (although she really doesn't know where Miguel is or what they're asking about him). "Monumental" also means "imposing in size or bulk or solidity" so Alba's repetition of the word could make it seem more imposing and solid, especially when compared to the small size of her body that's in the hands of torturers.
  36. atrocious
    shockingly brutal or cruel
    Then she felt the atrocious pain that coursed through her body, filling it completely, and that she would never forget as long as she lived.
  37. inflict
    impose something unpleasant
    At times he appeared to be genuinely moved, personally spooning soup into her mouth, but the day he plunged her head into a bucket full of excrement until she fainted from disgust, Alba understood that he was not trying to learn Miguel’s true whereabouts but to avenge himself for injuries that had been inflicted on him from birth, and that nothing she could confess would have any effect on her fate as the private prisoner of Colonel Garcia.
  38. sepulcher
    a chamber that is used as a grave
    At first, huddled in her sepulcher, unable either to stand up or sit down despite her small size, Alba managed to stave off madness.
  39. fortuitous
    having no cause or apparent cause
    I am beginning to suspect that nothing that happens is fortuitous, that it all corresponds to a fate laid down before my birth, and that Esteban Garcia is part of the design.
    "Fortuitous" also means "occurring by happy chance"--but this definition would not fit here because Alba is talking about the terror and torture that she had undergone. Now home after being rescued, Alba is trying to make sense of the events. Knowing that "no brushstroke is in vain" helps her to cope with the past and move on towards a future, especially for the sake of her unborn child.
  40. inexorable
    not to be placated or appeased or moved by entreaty
    It would be very difficult for me to avenge all those who should be avenged, because my revenge would be just another part of the same inexorable rite.

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