La Casa De Bernarda Alba Summary
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Famed Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca wrote La Casa De Bernarda Alba (The House of Bernarda Alba) in 1936. It was to be his final play, as he was shot two months later by the fascist Falangist group he had criticized throughout his life. Lorca was a critical member of Generación del 27 (Generation 27), a group of Spanish poets that blended surrealist elements with piercing looks into human emotions. Staged for the first time in 1945, La Casa De Bernarda Alba was a critical success and continues to resonate with audiences across cultures. Recent productions in New York and London have set the play within an Asian-American community and used American Sign Language to tell the story.
Lorca, who faced repression for his homosexuality, explored themes of state and domestic repression, unreciprocated love, familial obligation, the effects of men on women, and envy among family members. The domestic authoritarianism of the title character echos the fascist regime Spain was entering at the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Like Lorca, the characters of his play resort to small acts of violence to maintain their individuality within a repressive society that constantly demands they conform to oppressive norms.
La Casa De Bernarda Alba is set in Andalusia (southern Spain). With the subtitle “a drama of women in the villages of Spain,” the play follows a family’s matriarch, Bernarda Alba, as she bosses around her five daughters (from oldest to youngest): Angustias, Magdalena, Amelia, Martirio, and Adela. After the death of her second husband, Antonia María Benavides, Bernarda forces her five daughters to sit in her house and mourn with her for the next eight years, claiming that it is family tradition. She says they will all wear black and no makeup. By locking herself and her daughters in the house, she can avoid criticism from the village; there are rumors that her late husband had had an affair with their maid Blanca.
The oldest, Angustias, arrives first. She is the envy of the other girls because she received a large inheritance from Bernarda’s first husband. The second husband, who fathered the other girls, leaves them each a small inheritance. Because of Angustias’ wealth, she attracts a range of young, attractive suitors. One of them is Pepe el Romano. Her sisters are jealous that, despite her plain looks, Angustias could attain such an attractive man.
Bernarda allows her daughters to leave the house, but only to go to church. She instructs them to look at no man but the priest, but the women past shirtless framers and feel lust. Adela takes note of Pepe el Romano, and vice versa. There are men around the house who are there to mourn, but Bernarda restricts them to the patio.
Adela, the youngest sister, is thrilled that her overbearing father is dead, and despite tradition, wears a green dress. She is happy until she realizes Angustias will likely marry Pepe el Romano.
Poncia, a maid for thirty years in the Alba households, talks to another maid about the family’s situation. Through Poncia’s complaining, the audience learns about the daughters’ jealousy over their various inheritances. Poncia calls Bernarda Alba a “tyrant,” believing she, Poncia, along with the rest of her family, has been mistreated and underpaid the last thirty years.
As Bernarda directs everyone’s mourning, the audience learns more about her unsavory character. She often enters a room with “Silence!” She gossips about neighbors while saying gossiping is bad. She focuses on distinguishing herself from poorer people. When Adela gives her a colorful fan, Bernarda scolds her for the inappropriate display of cheerfulness.
When Bernarda sees that her eldest, Angustias, has disobeyed her mourning regiments by wearing makeup, she is furious. Bernarda forcefully scrubs the makeup from her daughter’s face. The other daughters witness this act, as does Bernarda’s own mother, Maria Josefa. Maria Josefa warns Bernarda that her daughters need some independence from her or they will be weak and miserable; a tragedy will happen unless she loses her reigns over the family. Bernarda hushes her mother, and forces her back into her room where she locks the door from the outside.
Tensions within the house rise as more sisters, particularly Martirio, admit to feelings for Pepe el Romano. Adela and Pepe el Romano are having a secret affair. It is hinted that Adela may be pregnant; hearing what the townspeople do to a woman who gives birth to, then kills an illegitimate child, Adela is horrified more than any of the other women.
After family members confront each other over love and inheritances, Bernarda chases Pepe el Romano with a gun. Off stage, a gunshot is heard; everyone believes that Bernarda has killed Pepe el Romano. Adela runs to her room in despair.
Martirio tells everyone that Pepe el Romano ran off on a horse and is not dead. Adela, crying in her room, does not hear this. Bernarda returns and says, as a woman, she can’t be blamed for having poor aim. She calls for Adela, who does not come. Along with Pontica, they knock down the door. Poncia shrieks; Adela has hung herself.
Bernarda, whose pride is more concerned with family reputation than family welfare, instructs everyone to say Adela died a virgin. She also forbids anyone to shed a tear.
1. Why might García Lorca, in his stage direction, have indicated that there should be, “Pictures of nymphs or legendary kings in improbable landscapes” on the walls? How do these images contrast with the rest of the scene and the action in Act I?
2. There are no men in the play. Yet, they are never far from the action. How does García Lorca contrast women and men in Act One?
3. The play begins at the conclusion of a funeral mass. Do Adela and Angustias behave appropriately considering the occasion? Is Bernarda correct in scolding them?
1. Why might García Lorca have included the story of the field hands hiring prostitutes? What does this story indicate about the way the different socio-economic classes approach sex?
2. Do you think the theft Pepe el Romano’s picture was a joke? Why not?
3. What does Bernarda’s response to the infanticide (murder of a child) indicate about her personality? Does Bernarda ever evoke any sympathy in the audience? Is she purely a malevolent character?
1. Do you believe that Maria Josefa is mad or insane? Much of what she says and does is a logical response to the situation in which she finds herself.
2. Maria Josefa is carrying a baby ewe. What might it symbolize? Why?
3. Do you think that Bernarda actually believed that her daughter died a virgin? Would she be able to convince herself of this over time?