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The House of Bernarda Alba

By TheOmen Oct 22, 2013 1647 Words
Reasoning with Bernarda Alba
Frederico Garcia Lorca is renowned for his tragedy plays. The House of Bernarda Alba is amongst the ones that helped him achieve his worldwide fame, representing remote and rural settings for the play. Throughout the production, several themes intertwine together to create the desired tragedy effect that Lorca aims for. For instance, Bernarda's love of gossiping and desire to know everything that is going on with the neighbors in her village are contradictory to her fear of others finding out what goes on behind her closed doors. This brings up a contrast between her private and her public appearance. [Certainly, it is clear to the audience, that what she tries to portray to the public is false as many horrible things happen within her household.] Also, the theme of sex [[and love]] is apparent in Bernarda’s household, introducing society’s double standards and which to some extent, is inseparable with that of repression. Paralleling on the flip side is the notion of individuality that Adela frantically seeks to obtain, which ends in her death, a theme that begins and ends this play.

In a first instance, the subtitle implies that we are given a glimpse on the women of Spain. The neighbors, including the 200 women, are denied an intrusion on Bernarda’s personal life because she has power over them. Alternatively, the spectators are not subjected to Bernarda’s power, giving them a privileged position by the playwright as a kind of voyeuristic approach, though still intruding, breaking the fourth wall created in plays. Bernarda loves to know what goes on with the people of the village, thus exemplifying the villagers’ provincial attitudes. Her excessive gossiping earns her criticizing remarks by her surrounding, for example the mourners during the funeral scene. It is clear that the neighbors show interest in acquiring knowledge on each other’s deepest secrets and in fear of appearing as a wicked person, Bernarda’s tyranny is motivated more than any other moral code. Her greatest concern when dealing with Adela’s corpse during the last scene of the play is how the neighbors woke up, depicting that they are listening to the commotion coming from her house. Because of the severity of gossip, Bernarda searches for ways to have a neat and clean house “Yes, to fill my house with the sweat from their wraps and the poison of their tongues” (Act I, p. 548, line 169-170), indifferent to the irony of darkness that surface due to her extensive demands. Since the Alba family is a landowning family, being wealthier than the rest and, as such, putting them in a higher position on the social status scale, Bernarda sees it more as a responsibility for her to know about the other villagers. On psychoanalysis level, the more she knows about other’s, the less her life looks problematic, explaining why she craves the gossip. Then again, her attitude towards the servants and her daughters awards her a constant reference of being a tyrant throughout the entire play. She is possessive of her daughters in a way that depicts her imperfect life and believes that her five girls are the only thing she has control over.

In the second place, the theme of sex and love is visible as well as Lorca’s play is set during a hot summer, sexuality dripping like sweat. Lorca insinuates that sexuality is a completely natural facet of the human race, something that everyone, including women, face in distinctive and sometimes even brutal ways. It does not mean that it lacks the danger, quite the opposite; sexuality is the mechanism that brings tragedy to this play. Nonetheless, with the contribution of both genders, sex exposes society’s double standards. On one hand, you have men that use their sexuality as a power tool whereas on the other hand, it is unacceptable for women to possess that power without being labeled as prostitutes. There are stories that highlight how lust and desire have brought awful ends, for instance, La Poncia says “Years ago, another of these [prostitutes] arrived, and I myself gave money to my oldest son so he could go. Men need things like that.”(Act II, p. 560, lines 217-18) Yet, La Poncia patronizes Adela about leading Pepe on, saying how she feels that a woman has her place in society and should maintain self-control on the subject of sexuality. However she condones men’s behavior, indicating her own double standard view. Moreover, men are always compared to or associate with animals, which implies two things: food and sex. Bernarda’s husband only wanted food, another form of lust and desire, and the text suggests that he has had an affair with a servant as she says “You’ll never again lift my skirts behind the corral door!” (Act I, p. 546, line 95-6) Nonetheless, with the contribution from both genders, sex exposes society’s double standards, on one hand you have men that use their sexuality as a power tool whereas on the other hand, it is unacceptable for women to possess that power without being labeled as prostitutes. Certainly, the play accentuates that these sexual desires should not be hidden, but rather emphasizes on the importance of recognizing them. Likewise, love merits some reflection seeing as it is seldom discoursed without the sexual element. Evidently, Lorca’s several insights on sexuality grants full admission to the theme of repression. It takes on a role of great magnitude that connects with the previous themes since the daughters’ sexuality is what happens to be the most strictly repressed whether it’s the reason for corrupting love or simply a natural circumstance that humanity exhibits. To understand both the characters and the story itself, one must understand repression as it is conceivably the most manifested theme of the play.

What is more, Bernarda, being aware of her daughters’ sexual desire, oppressively detains and forbids them from putting it into effect. Instead, she forces them into an eight-year mourning period, frightened that they give in to a man like Pepe if they are not restrained from investigating these desires. She judges her actions fitting and justified albeit La Poncia advising her that the children will break free as soon as they taste an inch of freedom. Correspondingly, the notion of repression, alongside the resentment and hatred amongst the sisters, gives the play a suffocating ambiance. Their repressive world rationalizes their desperate need to have Pepe as an object of reverence and illuminates on the hostility they illustrate towards each other. Although Lorca is hesitant in relation to the powers of human sexuality, he is assertive about the expense of repression: it triggers withering and grief, damaging individuals and transforming them into people of inferior quality. In congruence with repression comes the idea of individuality. A lively soul such as Adela’s is kept from blossoming due to the repression. She demonstrates, more than a few times, her unconventional philosophies of love and enthusiastically attempts to show off her individuality. She is prepared to relinquish any security, solely to become Pepe’s mistress, a disputable resolution involving a chance to free herself from her mother rather than being about love for the greedy Pepe. Lorca, being a poet in a conservative country, noticeably identifies with this girl who, incapable of achieving her true self, results in her death in the end of the play because she tried.

As a final point, to unite everything, the theme of death makes its appearance in the first scene and comes to a full circle by being the theme that ends the play. Granting not discussing the issue in depth, the characters are conscious of a forthcoming catastrophe that envelopes the whole play. La Poncia states that “All we have is our hands and a hole in God’s earth.”(Act I, p. 545, line 59) affiliating well with Lorca’s own outlook on death, establishes a tacit task on the forces that besiege the women of the play. The Alba family lives in severely repressed world, driving them to bitterness for one another, yet La Poncia is perceptive and knows that conforming to this world is irrational because nobody actually owns anything. [[Some of the characters’ features and personalities enlighten the audience on their perspectives of death. First, La Poncia mentions that yielding to one’s sexuality steers directly in the direction of death. Second, Martirio’s deformity and melancholy can be assigned to wanting to fill the time until she dies and last, Adela associates her repression with death. Undeniably, Adela’s unfortunate demise validates the maid’s point of view. Furthermore, from the fairly wealthy Bernarda or her husband, to the hunchback Martirio, they have nothing except themselves and their looming fatality. Only Adela possesses the willpower to answer the call for action, but unfortunately, the forces are too powerful and she forfeited her life as a result.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether you abide by the rules or run against them, there is no escaping the force. This explains why Lorca makes regular use of death in his plays and to completely fathom the key elements of this play, one should focus on the thematic of it. What hides behind closed doors? Why does Bernarda have a need for gossiping? How is it that sex, repression, and individuality combine to end with death? The House of Bernarda Alba can be looked at as many questions, but mostly one that is imperative: how should one live his life, bearing in mind that death is inevitable? Either by abiding the rules or by going against them, but one thing is for sure: the power of the individual is not enough. Work Cited

Gainor, J. Ellen, Garner Jr., Stanton B., Puchner, Martin. The Norton Anthology of Drama, Volume Two. The House of Bernarda Alba. USA: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2009. Print.

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