A Celebration and Criticism of Social Life and Conformity
One of Federico García Lorca's most notable features is how his protagonists are named. With the exception of Leonardo, the characters are designated according to their societal position or role; hence, there is a Mother, a Father, a Bridegroom, and so forth. This particular practice of naming deindividualizes his protagonists. They are made to seem less important as individuals than as social beings. This technique suggests that the play advocates the appropriateness and inevitability of communal, social life. Yet, troubling the stability of this theme is the naming of the Bride's lover, Leonardo. In choosing to individualize a single character in this way, the play advances the possibility that social customs, and the conformity they require, might be a problem. Clearly, the reader is to sympathize with Leonardo's rebellion and the lovers' desire to be together. The play thus poses the following questions: Is it ever appropriate to break social laws? Are such acts always destructive and antisocial? This essay examines these problems of social life and an individual's transgression of social mores.
The play's simultaneous celebration and criticism of social life and conformity finds expression in its presentation of two different types of communality, one that is rendered in an attractive light, and another that seems ominous or oppressive. The first type is a development of human sociality as part of what is beautiful about life on earth, and the other type points to a variety of social conformity that is like ethical quietism, or the refusal to stand up to laws and beliefs that are repressive or oppressive.
The idea that human life is governed by certain perennial institutionalized routines that are wondrous, simply because they define an unchanging aspect of human life, is consistently developed throughout the play. For example, in including only a single “Mother” character, a single “Father” character, and a single “Mother-in-law” character, and so on, the play likens the broad community within the play to a single family. The family, whether in its extended or more limited, contemporary guises and arrangements, is still and always has been a universal human institution. It is an institution in which each member is supposed to be succored and protected by the others. Likening the play's society to a family thus suggests its naturalness, inevitability, and the manner in which social life is designed to ensure the well-being of each of its members. Individuals wither, left to their own, lonely devices, the play suggests, and a person is only healthy and happy when he or she is a part of different communities and groups.
This idea of the wondrousness of human sociality is also imparted by the play's theme of social life as that which is utterly natural in an organic sense, as natural as the growing of trees or the falling of rain. This sense of the naturalness of human interdependence is effected through the drama's linking of humans to things in nature, in conjunction with its focus on the community's closeness to the land. For instance, the Mother refers to her (now dead) husband as a “carnation,” and to this husband and a son together as ‘‘beautiful flowers.’’ In another of her expressions, men in general are linked to, indeed considered indistinguishable from, “wheat”: “Men, men; wheat, wheat,’’ she says. These simple and earthy metaphors for human beings gain full significance once they are considered against the play's rural backdrop. The community's wealth and stability derive, clearly, from the agricultural potential of the land. This land the men work diligently. A small plot of land not owned by either of these families permanently divides the properties belonging to the families of the Bride and Bridegroom, who should never have married. This detail suggests that even the land, or the earth itself, decrees that the union should not take place. If it were meant to take place, then their...
(The entire section is 12,875 words.)