Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 874
There are two ways the theme of death is developed in this play. First, there is death as the end, and the enemy, of mortal life. Death as an inevitable end that must be accepted is developed through the character of the Mother, who often laments the deaths of loved ones, while stoically enduring these painful losses nevertheless. There is more to this first theme of death than death's inevitability, however. The passionate bond of the lovers gives shape to another aspect. Their bond represents human life in general as being characterized by our connections to others. Death, therefore, kills not only our physical body, it also puts an end to that which makes us human. In claiming a person' s life, Death sunders human bonds. Lorca introduces and develops this of death in the actions of his characters. For example, it is learned at the play's outset that the Mother's husband and one son were violently killed. One way the Mother mourns these events is by pointing to the fact that the killers reside seemingly content in jail. Not only do the killers escape real punishment, but she, the wholly innocent one, is the one being punished by having been deprived of her loved ones, and they, the loved ones, are being punished by having been deprived of their share of life. Death does not simply end life, it is anathema to it by destroying precious connections. Hence the play's characterization of death as a cruel and cold beggar woman who acts as the lovers' “enemy” by revealing their whereabouts to the hunters.
If death is anathema to life, then being deprived of a full life is like death-in-life. The theme of death-in-life is generally most closely associated with the female characters, although it is also closely associated with Leonardo and the Bride, in particular. It is linked to Leonardo and the Bride, since, to them, not to be able to love each other is not to live fully. Hence, at the end of the play, both would prefer death than endure the death-in-life of separation. As the First Woodcutter says, ‘‘Better dead with the blood drained away than alive with it rotting.’’ In terms of the female characters, the theme of death-in-life takes on broader connotations. Women as beings whose lives occur behind “thick walls” is underscored throughout the play. For example, at one point in the play, the Mother asks the Bride: “Do you know what it is to be married, child?” The Bride says she does, but the Mother emphasizes her point anyway: “A man, some children, and a wall two yards thick for everything else.’’ Their lives, in the private realm of the home, is like life within a thick-walled coffin. It is a death-in-life because these exaggerated limits on women's social roles prevents them from pursuing all of the joys and varieties life has to offer. The men come and go, but the women are mostly at home. While the women are depicted as having many responsibilities and solid social stature, they are nevertheless firmly excluded from deciding how the community is run and what its rules, laws, and traditions will be. The stark separation of male and female spheres no longer seems like fairly divided work when the differing nature of the work is considered. If women cannot contribute to making the rules, then the rules might not accommodate their needs. If their...
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