Who is Magdalena in The House of Bernarda Alba?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Magdalena, who is 30, is the second oldest of Bernarda's five daughters. Her name is an allusion to Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus's followers, who witnessed his crucifixion and resurrection and is regarded as a figure of lamentation and sadness. Also a figure of lamentation, Magdalena is the only daughter who cries at her father's funeral, and she seems to be the only daughter who is distressed by losing her father. She faints during her father's funeral service, and one of the family's servants says of her, "She’s the one who’ll be most bereft."

Magdalena is generally good and submissive; for example, she accepts, generally without rebellion, the situation that some of her sisters don't and is resigned to never marrying. When her mother orders her to embroider the trousseaux for all the sisters, as they have to wait for several years to marry, Magdalena says, "It's all the same to me." Her reaction to her situation is to wish to be a man, as she deplores sitting at home in a dark house and says she would prefer to work and even bring sacks to the mill, as men do. When Bernarda, her mother, says that mourning in a dark house is the lot of women, Magdalena replies, "Then curses on all women." She is capable of being sarcastic despite her general submissiveness. 

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In La Casa de Bernarda Alba, by Federico Garcia Lorca, Magdalena represents a slight form of Electra complex. She is the 30 year old daughter of Bernarda who, almost by default, develops a deep connection with her father. This is understandable, considering the horrid persona of Bernarda Alba.

Magdalena, like every other character in the play, is named the way that she is for a reason: she is the only one of the daughters who is so overwhelmed at her father's funeral that she actually faints, despite of the iron-clad control that Bernarda instills in her daughters. Like the Christian character of Mary Magdalene, Magdalena carries the burden of existing within the "realms" of her mother to a sacrificial point.

Magdalena is also the second oldest daughter. She knows that her fate is sealed, that she will never be married, and she would rather see her younger sisters happy. She is one of the most supportive  daughters and she, unlike Martirio, understands the love of Pepe El Romano for Adela. In the end, Magdalena is once again forced to pretend that you must look death in the face and become stronger than it when her beloved sister, Adela, commits suicide and things in the household remain the same horrid way.