The House of Bernarda Alba Act I Summary and Analysis
by Federico Garcia Lorca

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Act I Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Poncia: The personal servant of Bernarda Alba.

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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.

Summary
Scene:
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.

Action:
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...

(The entire section is 2,918 words.)