The House of Bernarda Alba Summary
Poncia: The personal servant of Bernarda Alba.
Maid: The underling of Poncia.
Maria Josefa: Bernarda’s mother. She is kept in captivity and appears mad.
Angustias: Bernarda’s oldest daughter (from a previous marriage). She stands to inherit a good deal and will be courted by Pepe el Romano.
Magdalena: The second oldest daughter.
Amelia: The middle daughter.
Martirio: The second youngest daughter.
Adela: The youngest daughter. She does not wish to mourn, and feigns disinterest at news of Pepe el Romano.
Beggar Woman: Minor character who asks for and is refused leftovers.
Women Mourners: Give the audience an idea of what the other villagers think of Bernarda Alba.
The act opens in, “A very white inner room in Bernarda’s house.” Although the action takes place in the summer, it occurs deep in the house. García Lorca stresses that the room contains “pictures of nymphs or legendary kings in improbable landscapes.” This is, perhaps, to contrast the austere, bleak and simple decor with a fantasy world that is out of the reach of the sisters. The scenery is white, as if to emphasize death. Church bells are tolling; The funeral mass for Bernarda’s husband, who has died, is ending.
Poncia, Bernarda’s main servant and the lower maid are discussing the funeral of Bernarda’s husband, Antonia María Benavides. Poncia is eating bread and a sausage, which is seemingly disrespectful of the dead. The two exchange gossip. During their conversation the following becomes clear:
-The deceased only loved his oldest natural daughter, Magdalena.
-Bernarda would not approve of Poncia eating sausages.
-Poncia considers Bernarda a “tyrant.”
The two are interrupted by a voice. The two servants are keeping an “old lady,” Bernarda’s mother, locked up at the orders of Bernarda. The two then continue their chatter:
-The maid complains that she is scouring too much. Her hands are raw.
-Poncia mentions that the deceased relatives dislike Bernarda and only came to see the dead.
-Poncia believes that she has been mistreated by Bernarda over the past thirty years. She despises her and curses her. Poncia, whose sons are also laborers for the owner, hates Bernarda.
Poncia then gives the audience crucial information: Angustias, the oldest daughter of Bernarda, is a child of an earlier marriage. She is the only daughter who will inherit substantial money. The other daughters will only receive, “ . . .bread and grapes. . .” In the patriarchal, male-dominated society in which they live, only Angustias will have the resources to find a husband.
A beggar woman then enters and asks for leftover food. She is rudely turned away by the maid with strong language: “Dogs are alone too, and they get by.” The maid then continues complaining about her own poverty. Then, in a jealous moment, the maid confesses that the deceased, who will rot in expensive clothing, met her behind the corral for romantic moments.
The maid’s sobbing is interrupted by the entrance of woman mourners, Bernarda and her daughters. Bernarda leans on a cane, which she will use to threaten and punish the daughters throughout the play. Her first word, typically enough, is a command: “Silence!” Not caring why the maid is upset, she simply orders, “Less screaming and more work!”
Bernarda considers those beneath her– her maid and servants-- as animals who care for nothing but food. She maligns the poor and orders her daughters around.
The women sit down to drink lemonade. A girl mentions to Angustias that Pepe el Romano, the handsomest man in the village was with the men at the funeral (Throughout the play, the men are kept segregated from the women-- they are restricted to the patio by Bernarda and none makes an actual appearance in the play).
Bernarda then interrupts with a nasty allusion about a widower who may be “involved” with the girl’s aunt. Throughout the play, Bernarda gossips about the neighbors, and wants to protect her family from the gossip of others. Appearances are all-important to Bernarda.
Two mourners immediately whisper that Bernarda is evil with a, “tongue like a knife.” Bernarda then moralizes and speaks poorly of women who use going to church as a means of meeting men. This disrespect of religion is immediately countered when Bernarda bangs her cane and leads the mourners in a prayer.
After the prayer, as the guests leave, Bernarda bangs her cane again– she uses her cane as a means of attention and weapon throughout the play– and dares the neighbors to gossip and criticize. It is clear from her venomous lines that Bernarda hates the neighbors and believes that they are constantly speaking ill of her.
Poncia complains that the neighbors scruffed up the floor, and Bernarda compares them to a, “Herd of goats”; the servants are not the only ones who Bernarda compares to animals.
The action now shifts to dialogue between Bernarda and her daughters. Here, the personalities, rivalries and hidden motives that form the basis of the play slowly come to light. The audience learns:
-Adela, the youngest daughter, is in no mood for mourning. She gives a lavishly colored fan to her mother, who immediately points out how inappropriate it is.
-Bernarda plans to seal the house, as if it were a tomb, for a mourning period. During this time, the sisters are to embroider and sew.
-Bernarda considers this to be the fate of women, particularly women of means-- she constantly distinguishes people according to socio-economic class. Magdelena rebels against this fate of women. Magdelena and Adela are not going to cooperate with their mother.
The dialogue is interrupted by the voice of Bernarda’s mother, an eighty year-old woman who is kept prisoner at Bernarda’s orders. Bernarda learns that her mother believes that Bernarda abuses her. Maria Josefa, the mother, appears mad, and is under the delusion that she will soon marry. Bernarda allows her mother on the patio, but orders the maid to keep watch, not so her mother wont fall in the well, but so the neighbors wont see her. Bernarda is more concerned with what the neighbors think than the health and well-being of her mother.
Bernarda notices that Angustias is missing; she has been checking on the hens. However, Bernarda moralizes and claims that she is chasing men on the day of her father’s funeral mass. Bernarda always imagines a transgression with sexual overtones. She is quick to accuse her daughters of impropriety (not being proper). Angustias denies the accusation, to no avail, and Bernarda smacks her with her cane.
Poncia, then, explains that Angustias, without thinking, had eavesdropped on the men. Poncia relates what they were chatting about: The night before, some “strangers” had tied up the husband of a “loose” women. They then took her...
(The entire section is 2918 words.)
The scene opens in a slightly different white room, deep in the house. It is the room where the sisters sew and embroider. All the sisters sit sewing or embroidering, save for Adela, who is absent. Life is back to normal and the women are occupied. Poncia is with them.
The sisters chat as they work. Magdalena alludes that Pepe el Romano’s initials will be needed on the sheet she is embroidering. Then Magdalena makes comments about Adela; the sisters are as prone to gossip as the neighbors. There is clearly animosity over Angustias’ inheritance and her courtship with Pepe el Romano; Magdalena and Angustias taunt each...
(The entire section is 2482 words.)
Prudencia, a woman from the neighborhood.
Scene: An interior patio. Bernarda and the daughters are eating. Prudencia, a woman from the village is present. Poncia is serving them.
Prudencia and Bernarda discuss Prudencia’s family: Her husband is stubborn and holds a grudge over an inheritance. The daughter has never been forgiven for disobeying the father. Bernarda remarks that, “A daughter who disobeys stops being a daughter and becomes an enemy.”
The conversation is interrupted by the sounds of a breeding stallion. Bernarda orders the laborer to let the stallion free and lock up the mares if necessary. García Lorca, here,...
(The entire section is 2256 words.)