In this lesson, we will summarize and describe the characters from ‘The House on the Lagoon’ by Rosario Ferre. This novel describes the family history of a Puerto Rican family over several generations.
Isabel and Quintin
How are the experiences in the lives of your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents reflected in your life? What legacy are you leaving your children and future generations? In The House on the Lagoon by Rosario Ferré, the protagonist and main narrator, Isabel Monfort, is a writer who is recording the genealogy and accompanying stories that reflect the history of both her family and that of her husband, Quintin Mendizabal. Much of their story runs parallel to major political events of Puerto Rico. Let’s discuss the characters and summarize the story.
As Isabel writes the history, Quintin discovers her work entitled The House on the Lagoon and becomes furious. He feels like her description of his family is not only inaccurate, but that it makes them look bad. A third-person narrator explains, ”By Chapter 8, Quintin had ceased to be amused.
” From this point, the book switches back and forth between Isabel telling a series of short stories about the people in the family and Quintin reacting to the stories as described by an objective narrator. The competing interests between Quintin and Isabel emerge as the main conflict in the story with the other members of the family being cast in supporting roles. While Quintin sees events in black and white, Isabel believes that, ”Nothing is true, nothing is false, everything is the color of the glass you’re looking through.”The story is an analogy of Puerto Rican politics during the 1900s, with the Monfort family representing Puerto Ricans who are fighting for independence in an effort to establish their own identity and the Mendizabal family representing the citizens who have been heavily influenced by American capitalism and wish to become part of the United States.
- Carmita is Isabel’s mother. When Carmita becomes pregnant with her second child in three years, her mother convinces her to have an abortion. The primitive methods cause Carmita to hemorrhage and develop an infection that makes her infertile.
Carmita does not tell her husband about the abortion and feels incredibly guilty that she is unable to give him a son. Isabel narrates, ”All of a sudden, it was as if Carmita weren’t here anymore;She wouldn’t let me kiss or embrace her, because I reminded her of the dead baby.”
- Abby is Isabel’s paternal grandmother. She does not approve of Isabel and Quintin’s marriage. She says that, ”when people fall in love they should look closely at what the family of the betrothed is like, because one never marries the bridegroom alone but also has his parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and the whole damned tangle of the ancestral line.
” Abby’s words are what inspire Isabel to research and write about the family history of both herself and her husband.
- Gabriela is Isabel’s maternal grandmother. She loved her husband, Vicenzo, very much and enjoyed making love to him, but after six children in six years, she kicked Vicenzo out of their bed, even going so far as holding a knife on him, to prevent future pregnancies. Gabriela encouraged his affairs with other women and legitimized his children with them. When she reached menopause, she allowed Vicenzo to return. Gabriela taught her daughter, Carmita, not to have more than one child.
When Carmita became pregnant with her second child, Gabriela convinced her to have an abortion.
- Aristides Mendizabal is Quintin’s maternal grandfather. He was born in Italy, but endured systemic racism and worked hard to become a naturalized citizen. Aristides was not taught Puerto Rican history, just American history at his Catholic school; therefore, he revers the United States.
- Buenaventura Mendizabal is Quintin’s father. He is orphaned at 15 years of age and moves to Puerto Rico from Spain when he is 23 years old with nothing but good looks and an impressive lineage. During World War I, Buenaventura becomes wealthy when, inexplicably, his food import business seems to be the only one whose ships can make it to the island through the German submarines.
He is suspected of being a German sympathizer, but Quintin claims it is not true. He is known for his violent temper.
- Rebecca is Quintin’s mother. She is a beautiful, albeit spoiled girl from a well-to-do family. When the Spanish Casino decides to crown her ”Queen of the Spanish Antilles,” Rebecca rejects all of her potential escorts until she hears of Buenavertura’s lineage. A month later, they are married.
Rebecca delays having children because ”she was a free spirit; if she had children, she’d never be able to dance and be one with nature the way the wanted.” At one point, Rebecca leaves Buenaventura, causing him to become deeply depressed. When he chases after her, he finds out that she is pregnant and they reunite.
The House on the Lagoon is a story within a story. On one level, the protagonist and first-person narrator, Isabel Monfort, is researching and writing a novel that describes the lineage and stories behind the family members of both herself and her husband, Quintin Mendizabal, to try to determine how their ancestral line led them to become the people they are now. The main conflict is that Quintin wants the book destroyed as he disputes the facts and does not like the way his family is presented. Isabel believes that the truth depends on perspective.
Isabel describes her mother, Carmita, who becomes severely depressed after a botched abortion her mother, Gabriela, convinces her to have, resulting in infertility. Gabriela is a beautiful woman in a loving marriage who shuns her husband sexually from her seventh year of marriage until menopause after having six children in six years. Abby is Isabel’s paternal grandmother, and her favorite grandmother, who disapproves of Isabel’s marriage to Quinin and inspires Isabel to examine a person’s ancestral line to determine who they are. Quintin’s family, which represents American capitalism, consists of his father, Buenaventura, a Spanish immigrant who makes his fortune during World War I, likely by becoming a German sympathizer; his mother, Rebecca, who marries Buenaventura for his title, but is unhappy in the marriage; and his maternal grandfather, Aristides, who is an Italian immigrant who loves everything about the United States.