Summary and Analysis Act I, Scenes 1-3
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1951
Bridegroom: A young man of good standing who is to be married and whose name is never revealed.
The Bridegroom’s Mother: A grieving woman who lost her husband and first son in a blood feud.
Neighbor: An acquaintance of the Mother.
Mother-In-Law: The Wife’s mother who sings a lullaby to a baby child in her arms.
Wife: Leonardo’s wife.
Leonardo Felix: The Wife’s husband; the only character with a name.
A Girl: A minor character who comes in with news on the impending wedding.
The Bride: The woman who will soon marry.
The Father of the Bride.
A Maid: A woman who looks after the Bride.
In the opening scene of Federico García Lorca's play Blood Wedding, a mother and her son (the Bridegroom) meet in a room that is painted yellow. Although it is breakfast time, the son wants to head straight for the vineyards without eating breakfast. The Mother grows distressed because the son wants to cut grapes in the vineyards. When he asks for a knife, her alarm grows. The audience learns that the Mother has endured the murder of both her husband, to whom she was only married for three years, and her eldest son. The Mother compares her dead husband to a bull, a symbol of fertility in Spain. The reminiscences of her dead husband always evoke symbols of fertility and procreation—for instance, the father “smelled like carnations.” A few lines later, the father and dead brother are compared to geraniums, again evoking an image of nature’s regenerative capacities. These images are contrasted with the destructiveness, final and irreparable, of a knife or pistol.
While the audience never learns exactly why the Mother’s husband and eldest son were killed, the Mother does reveal that the killers are still alive, but in prison. The fact that these killers are alive while her family is “dead,” with only one last hope at procreating and carrying on the “blood,” the soon-to-be-married son torments the Mother. The contrast causes her much grief: “My dead ones, covered with weeds, silent, turned to dust. Two men who were like two geraniums! The killers, in prison, alive and well, gazing at the mountains.” The Mother has been grieving for years. However, instead of being happy at the news of her surviving son’s impending marriage, she is suspicious.
The Mother seems to want to convince herself that the bride-to-be (Bride) is a “good girl.” But she has doubts. A sense of foreboding enters the dialogue. Little is known about the bride-to-be. She lives far away, and the Mother implies that she may have “seen” someone else before her son. The son finally manages to distract his mother with thoughts of future offspring.
After the son exits, a neighbor appears at the door. The Mother pumps the Neighbor for information on the woman her son is to marry. The Neighbor reveals that “no one really knows her.” In the gossiping, it is revealed that the bride-to-be’s mother did not love her husband. This increases the sense of foreboding—of tragedy waiting to happen—that has been building during the scene. The sense of foreboding reaches a climax when the Mother hears that the bride-to-be was indeed involved at one time: with Leonardo Felix, a member of the family that killed her husband and eldest son.
The second scene shifts to the Mother-in-Law and her daughter, who are singing a lullaby to a child. The lullaby includes two important symbols: an unhappy horse and a river. As the child drifts off to sleep, the Mother-in-Law exits and Leonardo enters. The Wife begins questioning him about his treatment of his horse. She implies that he has been taking long trips and that the horse is suffering. Leonardo denies it, but his wife is not entirely convinced. The Mother-in-Law reenters and backs up her daughter’s assertions: “Who is riding that horse so hard?” Leonardo callously claims that he doesn’t care about the horse’s well-being.
The conversation shifts to news of the impending wedding. The Wife is the cousin of the woman who is to be married. A girl enters with news of the fine lace that the groom is bringing for the wedding. The Bridegroom clearly has more financial standing than Leonardo. Leonardo is perturbed by this news. He becomes angry, and the Wife becomes suspicious of his changing mood. The bitterness is not resolved. Leonardo exits and the Wife and Mother-in-Law pick up singing the haunting lullaby again.
In the third scene, the Mother and the Bridegroom pay a visit to the residence of the Bride in order to secure the wedding date and give gifts. The residence is over four hours away in the secluded dry lands, the same area where Leonardo has been accused of riding his horse. The Father of the Bride is very impressed by the wealth of the Mother and Bridegroom.
The Father and Mother discuss the impending wedding. They talk about the traits of their offspring. However, love is never mentioned. From the description, the wedding seems more like a comfortable arrangement than the result of a passionate romance. When asked whether she is happy, the Bride’s reply seems to be serious, almost brooding.
Again, there are portents of impending tragedy: the wedding is to occur when the Bride is twenty-two, the same age that the Mother's eldest son would be if he were still alive. Furthermore, the Mother’s wish that the Bride and Bridegroom “live” seems morbid. Why dwell on death at what should be such a happy occasion?
After the Mother and Bridegroom leave, the Bride’s unhappiness becomes more apparent. She is unimpressed with the gifts of lace and doesn’t want to look at the presents with the Maid. The sense of impending doom increases when the Maid mentions that a horse with a rider was standing under the Bride’s window the night before. Although the Bride denies that Leonardo paid a visit, she does not bother continuing with the lie when the sound of hoof-beats intrudes on the conversation. Leonardo is riding by again. The curtain falls, and the audience is left with the impression that an imminent, unavoidable tragedy is about to unfold.
There are many different classifications of tragedy in literary handbooks. One of the most common involves a protagonist whose tragic fate is predestined. Although the protagonist makes every effort to escape the fate that awaits him, he actually fulfills his tragic destiny in pursuing the very means he has taken to avoid it. This is the case in García Lorca’s Blood Wedding, where the Bridegroom is ostensibly overcoming the destiny that claimed his father and brother. However, the very means that he chooses, the wedding and the implicit procreation that a wedding implies, ultimately lead to his demise.
The play is filled with portents that “history repeats itself.” The Mother’s husband and eldest son have both been murdered. The Mother's angst when confronting her surviving son as he holds a knife gives an indication that the son, too, is fated to die a violent death. The Mother’s dwelling on the knife increases the sense of doom. As in a timeless tragedy, the Bridegroom makes every effort to avoid the fate of his father and brother. He proposes marriage in an attempt to bring the cycle of life to its rightful conclusion: he wishes to procreate and further the “blood” of his clan—Act I contains numerous allusions to fertility and procreation. The Mother constantly mentions the fertility of her dead husband. However, the Bridegroom is not destined to further his bloodline; rather, he is to die a bloody death. In order to illustrate this, García Lorca uses images and symbols—the play is highly symbolic—and these symbols often have multiple meanings. While the meaning of the knife is unambiguous, the “blood” of the title can refer to bloodlines, violence, and, as will become apparent in Act II, passion.
Another symbol prevalent in the first act is a horse, present in the lullaby that the Wife and Mother-in-Law sing to the child. This horse indicates the freedom of one of nature’s creations, portends an ominous end to this freedom, and highlights Leonardo’s treatment of his horse. Additionally, the Mother speaks in metaphors alluding to fecundity (fertility). Her husband is like a bull, a symbol of power and fertility, and her dead family members are described as geraniums, flowers.
The cyclic nature of events is alluded to in other ways than simply through the omens of a violent death for the son. In this regard, the conversation with the Neighbor is most telling. Although the information is relayed secondhand, the audience has no reason to doubt it: the Bride’s mother did not love her husband. Given the repetition of nature, it is ordained that the Bride does not love her future husband either.
If the Bride is not in love with the Bridegroom, why is she agreeing to marry him? This question gets to the heart of the political and revolutionary aspects of the play. The conservatives in Spain loathed García Lorca so much that they eventually murdered him. Blood Wedding can be, and often was, viewed as an attack on the conservative status quo then present in Spain in 1933. The Bridegroom is a member of the landed gentry; his family has fertile land, and he has the capital to acquire even more land with which to impress his bride. The Bride, on the other hand, is not so fortunate. The land that her father possesses is not so fertile; her father is more a rancher, and he must struggle to survive. Seen in this light, the marriage is one of convenience for the Bride. The Bride is marrying, not out of love, but to improve her social position. And, as is implicit in the play, this sort of arrangement is both condoned and encouraged in the conservative, rural society in Andalusia where the action unfolds.
Although the Bride is ostensibly going through the motions of the marriage, she is very unhappy. In her heart, she loves Leonardo, a mere peasant. Although the audience is never told exactly why Leonardo and the Bride were never married, the constant allusions to wealth make it clear that Leonardo lacked the means to make an acceptable offer; his love is thwarted by the demands of society. Leonardo is quite jealous of the reports of the fine gifts of lace that the Bridegroom has bought for his, Leonardo’s, true love.
Many critics have pointed out that Leonardo Felix is the only character in the play to be given a name rather than a generic title for one’s function in society or an event, i.e. Wife, or Mother. This can be interpreted in many ways (remember the effect is enhanced when one reads rather than attends the play: the generic character labels stand out in print more than on stage). The most obvious interpretation involves Leonardo having a place or role outside of accepted society. He has no accepted role to play but is an individual with unique traits that have no place in the rigid Andalusian society. In this sense, the only role he can play is that of a spoiler of other roles. What’s more, his name is directly related to the Latin words for “lion” and “happy,” thus his anglicized name might read as “Happy Lion.” Although in the hierarchy of the jungle the lion gets what he wants, in an inflexible, artificial environment, he is likely not to meet with success.