The House of Bernarda Alba

by Federico Garcia Lorca

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Act II Summary and Analysis

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The scene opens in a slightly different white room, deep in the house. It is the room where the sisters sew and embroider. All the sisters sit sewing or embroidering, save for Adela, who is absent. Life is back to normal and the women are occupied. Poncia is with them.

The sisters chat as they work. Magdalena alludes that Pepe el Romano’s initials will be needed on the sheet she is embroidering. Then Magdalena makes comments about Adela; the sisters are as prone to gossip as the neighbors. There is clearly animosity over Angustias’ inheritance and her courtship with Pepe el Romano; Magdalena and Angustias taunt each other, and Angustias brags that she will, “. . .soon be getting out of this hell!”

The gossip then becomes quite detailed. There is a disagreement over exactly when Pepe el Romano left Angustias’ window the night before. Magdalena seems to have hidden information and speaks ironically of one o’clock being “late.” Poncia and Amelia believe that Pepe el Romano left the household at 4 A.M.-- if this is the case, he was not with the woman he is courting.

Angustius then relates the story of her courtship in a matter-of-fact manner. The description does not sound very romantic. Nevertheless, Angustias is deeply moved; she had never been alone with a man at night. She downplays how handsome Pepe el Romano is.

Poncia then relates the circumstances when she was proposed too years ago. Although she does not mean for her story to contradict Angustias’s, the tale she relates has more passion. Her visitor approaches the wrought iron bars of the window and says: “Come here, so I can feel you!”

All the women laugh, but with a hint of fear; Bernarda might overhear them having fun. There should not be any laughing in Bernarda’s household.

Poncia continues her story and advice: According to Poncia, the attentions of a man only last some fifteen days after the wedding. Afterwards, he forgets about “the bed” and hangs out in a tavern– throughout the play, the women do not have a very high opinion of men and a woman’s fate after marriage. Poncia brags that she used to beat her husband and even killed his birds on one occasion. The sisters find this funny.

The sisters then call for Adela. In her absence they gossip. Angustias thinks Adela is envious of her. Martirio, who shares a common bedroom wall, seems to know better (note the irony with which she considered 1 A.M. “Late” above, as well as García Lorca’s comments as to Martirio’s tone).

Adela enters, claiming that she did not sleep well. She dismisses the gossip and says, “I’ll do what I want with my body.”

The sisters, except for Adela, exit to deal with a lace seller. Martirio glares at Adela as she leaves–remember the two share a common bedroom wall, and Martirio claims that Pepe el Romano left the property at 4 A.M. Poncia remains with Adela. They talk.

Adela complains that Martirio won’t leave her alone. She is always peeking into Adela’s room to see if she is sleeping. Indeed, the behavior borders spying. Adela then repeats that her body is for anyone who pleases her; she is not concerned with conventions and mores.

Poncia then makes a direct accusation: Adela’s body is for Pepe el Romano. Adela is shocked, but does not deny the charge. Instead she asks what Poncia knows. García Lorca, with this scene, has informed the audience of the impending tragedy.

The much older Poncia gives Adela some advice to gain Pepe el Romano...

(This entire section contains 2482 words.)

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in a more accepted manner: Adela should leave him alone for now and wait until Angustias marries him, and, then, inevitably, dies in childbirth– Angustias is too old and narrow-hipped for birth. Then, Pepe el Romano will behave just as other men: he will collect the wealth of his first wife and marry the “youngest” and “most beautiful,” Adela. There is a moralistic overtone to Poncia’s speech: She doesn’t want Adela to “go against the law of God.” She wants to live in a respectable household. She isn’t concerned about the well-being of the sisters, but her own respectability as a servant in the house.

Adela is hot-headed and impulsive. She berates Poncia and will not heed her advice. The two quickly cover up and change the subject as Angustias enters, asking Poncia for perfume. Angustias exits and the other sisters enter.

The sisters chat about wedding sheets and undergarments. Poncia mentions children. Amelia dislikes children, calling them “Brats.” Poncia claims that those who have children can actually laugh. The house in which she works is like a “convent.”

There is a jingle of bells. As the workers return from the fields, the sisters comment on the differences in classes. Poncia, whose sons work in the fields, tells how the harvesters are good-looking young men who paid to take a prostitute into an olive grove. This tale contrasts the difference between the way the upper-class is supposed to behave and how the working-class can be more frank about sexuality. Ponicia’s confession that she has paid so that her oldest son could go with women of this sort, also enhances the gender differences: men are allowed to behave this way.

Adela and Amelia bemoan the fate of women at the conclusion of this narrative. The sound of a party intrudes from offstage; the men (never seen) always seem to be having fun or celebrating, while the women are stuck brooding in the dark (white) household. The sound of the harvesters’ song intrudes. The images are that of fertility, in stark contrast to the barren household. Adela, Magdalena and Poncia run to a window to glance secretly at the harvesters, leaving Amelia and Martirio.

Martirio seems to want to share her information about Angustias with Amelia. She alludes to intruders in the corral late at night, hoping that Amelia will understand that she means Pepe el Romano. Amelia does not pick up the true meaning.

The conversation is disturbed by Angustias, who, with Adela, enters in a rage because someone has stolen a picture of Pepe el Romano that she had hidden under her pillow. Martirio denies stealing it; Amelia mockingly mentions: “It’s not as if Pepe el Romano were a silver Saint Bartholomew.” The sisters trade allegations as Bernarda enters. As usual, she is mainly concerned that the neighbors will overhear some juicy gossip. After Angustias informs her of the theft, Bernarda becomes enraged and orders Poncia to “look in the beds!”

Poncia exits and re-enters after having found the picture between the sheets of Martirio’s bed. Bernarda begins beating Martirio with her cane, insulting her all the while.

Martirio claims that the theft was a harmless prank, but Adela interjects that Martirio is secretly in love with Pepe el Romano; the rivalry between Adela and Martirio is now a major component of the play. Amelia and Magdalena fade in importance from this point; Angustias, Adela and Martirio all have aspirations, some of them secret longings, for Pepe el Romano. Martirio implores Adela to be quiet, lest she start talking.

The conflicts in this scene are at a boiling point. Finally, one of the sisters, Adela, boldly tells Angustias that Pepe el Romano is only interested in Angustias’ wealth. Bernarda, enraged orders all her daughters out. She is left to speak with Poncia.

Poncia then gives Bernarda her un-asked-for opinion. In the ensuing conversation it becomes clear to the audience that:

-Bernarda is more capable in seeing the “evil” in her neighbors than in her own children.
-Bernarda is incapable of seeing the extent of the transgressions in her household.
-She refuses to believe that the theft of the picture is anything but a joke.

Poncia then accuses Bernarda of meddling into Martirio’s one chance at romance; Bernarda had sent a message to Enrique Humanas, telling him not to court her daughter. Humanas’ father was a field hand; in Bernarda’s opinion, such an inferior husband for her daughter was unthinkable. Better that she live as an old maid.

Bernarda again asserts that nothing is amiss in the household– and, if there were something wrong, the neighbors would not find out. Bernarda remains obsessed with what the neighbors think about her household. Much like any person who is being told bad news, Bernarda turns on the messenger, Poncia, asserting that her mother was a “whore” and that Poncia should just do her work and keep her mouth shut. Bernarda continues to believe, despite Poncia’s warning, that her daughters respect her and will not go against her will. Poncia then begins to give more details: Her oldest son saw Pepe el Romano at a window at Bernarda’s house at 4 A.M. (This time discrepancy is mentioned again and again. The audience is well aware that Poncia’s suspicions are justified– Pepe el Romano visits Angustias until one and then “changes” windows). Angustias enters and is horrified at the assertion that Pepe el Romano was there until 4 A.M. “That’s a lie!” A controversy ensues and it becomes clearer that one of the other sisters, Adela, is the real subject of Pepe el Romano’s affection. Nevertheless, Bernarda remains in a state of denial, claiming that the people of the town are bearing “false witness.”

The maid enters suddenly and informs everyone that there is a commotion in the street. Bernarda implores her to find out what is happening– Bernarda allows herself, only, the luxury of gossip. All exit except for Martirio and Adela. During their brief dialogue, Adela admits to embracing Pepe el Romano. Martirio says that her sister would be, “better off dead!”

The scene ends with the scandalous story of the commotion in the street. A village woman had a child out of wedlock, committed infanticide and hid the corpse under rocks. Bernarda immediately passes judgement that the workers should whip and kill the woman. Adela is horrified and, according to García Lorca’s stage direction, clutches her womb.

The curtain falls with the conflicting images of Adela grasping her womb, screaming, “No” and her mother shouting, “Kill her! Kill her!” Both Martirio and Bernarda have uttered wishes or commands that forecast the death of Adela.


The Development of the Tragic Scenario:

In Act II, a fateful triangle becomes evident: Angustias is formally courted by Pepe el Romano, who is actually meeting her sister, Adela, secretly. Martirio, who has a crush on Pepe el Romano is jealous of Adela. The situation is volatile and bound to end badly. The walls are thin; Martirio knows what Adela is up to, and Poncia has too much experience in the ways of the world to be fooled. Only Bernarda, perhaps in a state of self-denial, remains ignorant as to the seriousness of the moral infractions occurring in her household. Her quick moral judgement on the neighborhood woman who has just committed infanticide is bound to haunt her.

A Political Allegory:

García Lorca wrote the play just as the Spanish Civil War was breaking out. He died under mysterious circumstances before ever revising it, and the play was banned in Spain for a long time. Because of the political backdrop, critics have been quick to point to anti-authoritarian allegories in the work: Bernarda Alba is the authoritarian villain symbolic of a dictatorship. Her offspring attempt to free themselves in various manners, but are doomed to failure– a failure required in a tragedy. Bernarda Alba is very conservative; she clings to the ways of old and the primal morality which requires the death of an unwed mother who commits infanticide. She constantly points out the low birth of others, and believes herself superior. Her oppressive relationship with her daughters insures that their rebellion will be tragic. The open rebellion of Adela will be symbolic of the futility of resistance in the face of such callous, tyrannical authority.

Sexuality and Courtship:

Throughout the play, the women relate tales of sex and courtship. The different genders are contrasted in chatter interspersed between details about when Pepe el Romano actually leaves the property. These tales are indicative of the difference between the classes in Southern Spain. As in Act One, laborers or working class men are quick to alleviate sexual longing. They pay for prostitutes and celebrate sexuality and fertility with abandon. This unrestrained euphoria is in direct contrast to the manner in which the upper-class (ruled by the ideals of Bernarda) confronts sexuality, marriage and courtship. In the house of Bernarda Alba, courtship is based on heredity, not love or longing. The eldest daughter, irrespective of other virtues such as beauty and congeniality-- which she lacks-- will attract a suitor because she has wealth. The sisters are expected to wait for suitors worthy of their class, and will, most likely, die waiting. Sincere passion must occur on the sly, with a secret meeting. And the woman who takes part risks shame. In this respect, the daughters are to be pitied. While Poncia, the servant, has been courted with passion, Angustias is approached by Pepe el Romano with a proposal that is business-like. The message is clear: unabashed sexuality or passion with abandon is reserved for the lower class laborers. Meanwhile, Bernarda Alba’s daughters are kept virtually as prisoners in a “convent.” The chance for love, no matter how brief, is thwarted by Bernarda; she interceded to prevent Martirio from being courted by the son of a laborer. Angustias, though obviously a poor match for the younger more attractive Pepe el Romano, is to marry for reasons of property transfer while her other daughters remain pure, having their desires denied. The boundary that Bernarda draws between her offspring and all men other than legitimate suitors is, in the end, illusory. Everyone is human. They are all born with human frailties. To not acknowledge them, as is the case with Bernarda Alba, is an invitation to disaster.

A Critique of Andalusian Custom:

García Lorca grew up in Andalusia, a region in southern Spain. As he mentions after the “cast of Characters,” the play is meant to be a photographic documentary, a testament of images of the region. One Andalusian custom which is mentioned numerous times throughout the play is the courtship of a woman at her window (through wrought iron bars). Critics have remarked that Martirio’s remark, “It really is strange how two people who have met suddenly see each other through a window grating and – just like that – they’re engaged!” can be seen as a critique of traditional courtship and romantic notions found in a lot of Andalusian songs and poetry. Is true love an illusion or fantasy, much like the “improbable landscapes” found on the walls in Act One?


Act I Summary and Analysis


Act III Summary and Analysis