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Silence in the House of Bernarda Alba by Garcia Lorca

By balk2305 Sep 20, 2012 1537 Words
The word “silence” is constantly repeated throughout the play. In fact, the very last word that comes out of Bernarda’s mouth is “silence.” What do you think this word can symbolize? In the play called “The House of Bernarda Alba” by Garcia Lorca, Bernarda Alba is a mother of five who silences her daughters and servants several times throughout the play. In many instances of the play, the word silence is used or is enacted, placing great significance to the word. If the word is taken out of context then one can infer that the word silence when said to someone symbolizes power. The word silence places the person who says it or yells it at a greater position than the person who it was said to. In other words, the person who says the word silence has more power or authority over the person spoken to. For example, if a parent utters the word silence to his child, he gets to higher state or authority than his child who stops what he is doing and listens to his parent. Silence is used throughout the play to enact power. At the beginning of the play, when Bernarda accompanies the townswomen into her house for a ceremonial ritual held for the funeral, the servant starts to cry and Bernarda yells silence to her. The servant then runs off and leaves the scene of the play. Magdalena, Bernarda’s second oldest daughter, was also silenced and made to stop crying during the funeral ceremony. During anytime throughout the play when Bernarda yells at her children, a silence abruptly occurs that fills the room and nobody dares to talk. It is at these moments that Bernarda has the most control over her children and is able to make them do what she wants. Silence is also a key element in the play that kept many of the neighbors from finding out what was going on in Bernarda’s house, therefore, preserving her image or honor in her town. For example, when one of her daughters takes Angustias’s photo of Pepe el Romano and hides it, a problem erupts and Angustias begins to call her sisters out and asks them who took her picture. They make enough noise for their mother to come in and control them saying: “(Entering with walking stick) What noise is this in my house midst the silence of the stifling heat? The neighbors must have their ears glued to the walls” (44). This clear example shows not only her authoritative figure within the house (by her walking stick symbolizing her power that she uses to punish her daughters), but also one of the reasons why she silences them. In many instances, silence symbolizes a sign of repression as well. Because the play takes place in stifling weather conditions, tension builds along with the daughters’ desire to be free. Throughout the years, Bernarda oppresses much of that tension in her household using silence and making her daughters keep quiet about their feelings and thoughts. Bernarda’s major concern had been to keep her reputation in her town. Moreover, since Bernarda’s second husband died, the responsibility in keeping their reputation intact was her responsibility now therefore, she silences them as a way to utilize her power. However, as tension throughout the play built and the desire to become free of oppression became ingrained in the daughters’ minds, silence and keeping quiet began to cease. This is especially the case for Adela, the youngest daughter who starts to wander off into the night where she escapes and has an affair with Pepe. When finally Bernarda finds out Adela has been escaping into the night because of the noises she makes when getting into an argument with her other sister, Martirio, the silence is yet again broken, and this time Adela expresses her feelings of Pepe to her mother. However, as soon as Bernarda realizes she cannot keep her daughters quiet and in control, she decides to shoot him. At the very end of the play, Bernarda again silences her daughters as they start to cry for the death of their youngest sister, Adela: “And I don’t want any tears. You have to look death in the face. Silence! (To another daughter) Be quiet, I said! (To another daughter) You can shed tears when you’re alone. We will drown in a sea of mourning! She, the youngest daughter of Bernarda Alba, has died a virgin. Do you hear me? Silence. Silence, I said. Silence!” (75). This very last thing that Bernarda Alba says to her daughters allows her to regain power in the household. Furthermore, by making her daughters keep quiet Bernarda is able to maintain her reputation or honor in her town. Silence is a word Bernarda uses to control her children or implement power. It is also used to keep her image or reputation intact by making her daughters keep quiet. Moreover, as silence occurs frequently, it can also symbolize a sign of oppression amongst the daughters. If intense feelings and desires are not expressed, but rather oppressed then these feelings can build tension. This is what creates problems and is difficult to maintain. With time, eventually these feelings have to come out which is evident with Adela having the need to break free of the oppression and sexual freedom. In conclusion, there are many instances in the play that silence is used to enact power or show oppression. Not only does the word silence come out of Bernarda’s mouth, but there are many examples when silence was enacted to express the tension or oppression within each of the children. Although the word silence is a powerful word in general, in many cases such as with this play silence could also imply a form of oppression. What do you think are the main themes of this play?

In any play or piece of literature there are themes that help express relative ideas presented within the story or even the story’s context. In the play, The House of Bernarda Alba, Garcia Lorca illustrates many themes such as oppression, power, sexual morality which goes along with freedom or sexual freedom, honor or reputation, and finally women and the difference between the gender in society. However, the three major themes of the play are oppression, power, and women in society. These themes are relative to the story’s context and provide an insightful outlook on the relative gender roles and structure of the society at the time. Power is one of the main themes of the play. Bernarda symbolizes the power over her household as soon as her second husband who was in charge and had power dies. During the Spanish Civil War, the Catholic Church, the military, and the wealthy people with estates had most of the power who controlled the poor and some of the working class. As with the power that Bernarda has in relation with her children, this power can also be compared to the society at the time. With absolute power comes oppression, which is another theme of the play. This theme is seen throughout the play as tension builds over the years. Adela as well as her sisters can represent those that are being oppressed in society. Staying quiet and being silent is what makes the oppression even worse over time. Bernarda, who uses her power, makes sure that the silence is reinforced and the neighbors don’t hear them. Eventually, however, with enough tension that builds up throughout the years problems start to appear as seen in the play. For example, when Adela wears the purple dress on the day of her dad’s funeral and begins to throw a fit when she finds out Angustias would be marrying him. When Angustias puts on makeup to impress Pepe is another example of rebellious acts that offer a sign of oppression because it shows their determination for freedom even though they know it is wrong to do these acts. Finally, all the characters in the play are women as a way to reinforce the barriers of women in society at the time. During the time of the play, women were confined within the household, and were often subject to have children and to take care of them as well as do anything house related. They cooked, cleaned, and were expected to do anything that the man wanted while men, on the other hand, were free to do pretty much anything including cheat on their spouse. They were expected, however, to work and provide for their family. When Bernarda set the stallion free at dawn because it was wild while the other horses stayed in the stable symbolizes the true difference seen between men and women in terms of freedom. In conclusion, the main themes of the play are power, oppression, and women in society. These themes are symbolic to the context of the story and represent what was going on during the time of the Spanish Civil War and how women were seen differently than men. During that time, men and women had completely separate lives for the most part, except for when they met in the house. Nonetheless, these themes are significant when it comes to society back then.

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