The House of Bernarda Alba

by Federico Garcia Lorca

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Act III Summary and Analysis

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New Character Prudencia, a woman from the neighborhood.

Summary Scene: An interior patio. Bernarda and the daughters are eating. Prudencia, a woman from the village is present. Poncia is serving them.

Prudencia and Bernarda discuss Prudencia’s family: Her husband is stubborn and holds a grudge over an inheritance. The daughter has never been forgiven for disobeying the father. Bernarda remarks that, “A daughter who disobeys stops being a daughter and becomes an enemy.”

The conversation is interrupted by the sounds of a breeding stallion. Bernarda orders the laborer to let the stallion free and lock up the mares if necessary. García Lorca, here, is once again emphasizing the difference in genders: females, whether human or beast, are kept locked up and away from the males, whose energy is harmless exuberance.

Through the conversation, the audience learns that Pepe el Romano is to marry Angustias. When Angustias shows Prudencia the pearl engagement ring, Prudencia remarks that “pearls mean tears.” The symbolism is clear: marriage is sorrow.

Prudencia departs after some minor chit-chat about the furniture. Adela is anxious to go outside. However, Martiro, jealous and aware of some secret meeting, keeps shadowing her along with Amelia.

Afer they are alone, Bernarda speaks to Angustias about Matirio’s theft. She confesses that the theft may be more than a joke. However, as usual, Bernarda is concerned about what others will think and asks her daughter to, “. . .keep up appearances.”

They then shift the conversation to Pepe el Romano; He leaves Angustias’ window earlier and earlier and seems distracted. Bernarda advises her daughter to only speak when spoken too and not to quarrel with her future husband. Her advise is, basically, that men will behave as they wish. Don’t call them on it.

The other sisters return. Angustias is going to bed early because Pepe el Romamo said he was going on a trip. The sisters chat about the beauty of the night sky. Adela, with her comments, reveals herself as the only romantic in the family. Martirio,is obsessed with watching Adela’s every move and alluding to the fact that it is a good night for a prowler.

After Martirio learns that Pepe el Romano is supposedly on a trip, she immediately glares at Adela. Suspicions are confirmed. Adela is planning on meeting Pepe el Romano, who no longer even wants to be bothered making an appearance at Angustias’ window. All exit, save Bernarda and Poncia. They continue their conversation from the previous act:

-Bernarda is sure that her vigilance can control any situation. -Poncia remarks that all is not as it appears. Bernarda is concerned with appearances that she can not see below the surface. -Bernarda asks whether the neighbors still gossip about Pepe el Romano’s late visits. Bernarda wants confirmation that all is well. She does not want to be contradicted or challenged. Nevertheless, Poncia warns her. Her warning falls on deaf ears. After Bernarda leaves for bed, Poncia and the maid both point out how Bernarda is intentionally blind: she doesn’t want to see the truth, and is, perhaps incapable of seeing it.

Poncia confesses to the maid that the household is on the brink of disaster. “Well, there’s a storm brewing in every room.” Poncia blames Adela for leading Pepe el Romano on, and not the man. This is in line with all the advice and stories that have been related throughout the play: The man is not at fault. Rather it is the woman who should “ . . .know her place.”

Poncia relates, with the subtle phrase, “And other things,” that Adela and Pepe el Romano...

(This entire section contains 2256 words.)

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are doing more than talking. She then invokes a wish similar to that of Maria Josefa in Act 1: she wants to cross the ocean, as far away from the house of Bernarda Alba as possible.

The two, Poncia and the maid, continue gossiping about the deteriorating relationship between the sisters and the impending disaster. Adela enters, ominously at the same moment when dogs start barking, probably because there is an intruder-- Pepe el Romano. Poncia and the maid seem oblivious to this. Adela wants to go out and get a drink from the well. The two servants go to sleep.

Maria Josefa, the “mad” mother of Bernarda, appears with a baby ewe in her arms. The scene that follows is highly symbolic and allegorical. The ewe has been interpreted by critics as a religious symbol, the next generation and/or innocence. Maria Josefa, speaking in verse, repeats her wish to escape to the edge of the sea.

Martirio enters and speaks with Maria Josefa. She speaks in allegories and symbols, constantly alluding to birth, the sea and Martirio’s ugliness. It is increasingly apparent that Maria Josefa is wise. She may be delusional, but she speaks the truth. She knows the sisters are obsessed with Pepe el Romano, and that the end result will be tragedy. There will be no future offspring. The house is destined to remain barren.

Maria Josefa exits and Martiro notices Adela by the corral. Adela appears, all disheveled– from a tryst or romantic meeting– and is confronted by Martirio. Adela is unashamed of her actions and boldly claims that Pepe el Romano is hers. Adela claims that Martirio is simply jealous of what she cannot have. Martirio wants to insure the marriage still occurs since she herself is in love with Pepe el Romano. In the ensuing argument, one learns the motives of Martiro: she can bear to see Pepe el Romano married to a woman he does not love, but not with Adela. The sisters, Martirio and Adela now hate each other. Angustius barely fits into there thoughts.

Adela is willing to live in sin with the whole town against her. She, too, wants to escape the horror of the house and its stifling moral conventions. She invokes an image of Christ, a crown of thorns, to indicate her plight.

There is a whistle and Bernarda enters, realizing that the situation is beyond her control; she is no god: “How poor I am, with no bolt of lightning between my fingers!” Martirio accuses Adela and Bernarda, at once, realizes her youngest daughter is guilty. She moves to strike her with her cane, but cannot; Adela seized it and snaps it in two. This is the final confrontation. She tells her mother that she answers to no one but Pepe el Romano, who is outside “. . .breathing like a lion.” Bernarda asks for her gun.

Bernarda runs out with Martirio. A shot is heard. They return with Martirio exclaiming, “That’s the end of Pepe el Romano.” Adela runs out of the room. Although Pepe el Romano, was not shot, he will not return. Martirio only said he was dead to upset Adela.

There is a heavy thud.

The final moments leave the audiences with the culminating images tragedy:

-The maid relates that the neighbors are awake, Bernarda’s greatest fear. -Poncia breaks down the door to Adela’s room and leaves screaming. Adela has hung herself. –Bernarda, in a state of denial, or rather, damage control, demands that her daughter be cut down. She wants her buried in white because Adela, “. . .died a virgin.” Appearances in the end are all important. The death of the daughter is eclipsed by what the neighbors will think. -Martirio wistfully remarks that Adela died fortunate– she “had” Pepe el Romano-- an unambiguous sexual reference. While the mother icily demands innocence and chastity, the surviving Martirio regrets her very same chastity. -Bernarda’s last word, is the same as her first: “Silence.”


The Culmination of Tragedy:

With the suicide of Adela and the denial of the true circumstances of it by her mother, the tragedy is complete. Adela represents the romantic individual who looks to the stars and believes that her body is her own. However, in the end she is crushed by traditional values which she cannot overcome, her authoritarian mother and the “snitching” of her sister. Adela is unable to escape her destiny. As their names imply, Angustias is to live a life of anguish and Martirio is both a suffering martyr and a woman who bears witness and, later, false witness when she gloats, “That’s the end of Pepe el Romano!” As in a typical tragedy, characters are unable to escape their fate, despite all sort of effort. Bernarda’s authority, though flawed, ultimately dooms her daughters to suicide and misery.

A Political Allegory:

Since García Lorca wrote the play shortly before being murdered by right wing fascists loosely aligned with the Catholic church, critics have often read the play as a political allegory. While, on one level, the play is about Andalusian women, on another, it is about the use, abuse and effects of an authoritarian government. Bernarda rules her house and accepts no rebellion. She wields a cane as a weapon and tolerates no opinion but her own. She is quick to denounce others, but constantly vigilant as to what they might be saying about her. In the end, her vigilance and power are not enough. As the tragedy reaches a boiling point, she remarks, “How poor I am, with no bolt of lightning between my fingers!” She is, clearly, not a god, but mortal. She may rule over her house, but rebellion and death are to permanently alter her authority. In the end she resorts to a lie to keep up appearances. These actions and their effects have been interpreted by critics as a direct criticism of authoritarian regimes. Are they doomed to failure? Are they all based on appearances with a nasty underside? And what of the subjects or citizens who are suppressed? Is it possible for there to be any happiness in the house of Bernarda Alba?

Sexual Allegory:

While in previous acts, the women’s tales portrayed the healthy sexuality of the laboring class as compared to the sublimated energy and jealousy intrigues exhibited by the sisters, the metaphors and allegories in the incidental events and final tryst (illicit meeting) in the corral show that, in the end, there is no real difference between the classes. Sexual energy is a constant that eventually surfaces. There are comparisons made to the animal nature of sex throughout the final act: the breeding stallion, which appears as a minor incident, can be viewed as an allegory for the brute, naturalness of male, sexual energy and the way Bernarda deals with it. The stallion is kicking the walls violently and she orders it released in the corral. In order to do this, the mares have to be locked up. This scenario mirrors the way Bernarda deals with her daughters. They are kept locked away from the animal energy just outside; typical of the themes of so many of the tales throughout the play, Bernarda surrenders to male energy, but attempts to restrain female energy. Later, after Adela, has ventured into the corral and returns all covered in straw, the audience learns that Pepe el Romano is, “. . . out there, “Breathing like a lion!” The constant metaphors of animals in a mating frenzy are certainly intentional. No one, not even Bernarda Alba, can keep nature from taking its course. And, when she somehow manages to impede nature, her action has unnatural consequences.

Maria Josefa Symbolism and Meaning:

Maria Josefa’s appearance in the final act has significance on many levels. At the most obvious, the audience becomes aware that the woman who is locked away actually makes a whole lot of sense; she is not mad, but understands the circumstances of the household and can predict how events will end. Though locked in a room, she knows all about Pepe el Romano. She is like a prophet. And, she is yet another member of the household who tries to escape, although it is an escape in fantasy which she is aware is just an illusion. “I know it’s a lamb. But why can’t a lamb be a child? It’s better to have a lamb than to have nothing.”

With Maria Josefa, García Lorca created a character that is not easy to define. What allusions are being made?

The symbolism of the baby ewe may be a Christian reference. Although an ewe is a female sheep, the ewe that Maria Josefa nurtures can be seen as a symbol of the infant Jesus, especially with lines referring to Bethlehem. The ewe may also allude to the need to begin anew. Clearly, the sisters are doomed and there is a need for the family to start again. The baby ewe represents hope, innocence and a renewed potential for fertility and nurturing, all of which are absent in the house of Bernarda Alba.

Finally, Maria Josefa constantly mentions the sea. In order to better comprehend this reference, critics often turn to García Lorca’s poetry, which has frequent images of the sea. However, even without reaching into García Lorca’s poetry, one can easily attribute a feeling of infinity (timelessness) and renewal to the sea; these have been symbols of the sea since ancient time. The sea is eternal, a never-changing constant. The seashore has a strange grasp over mankind because it is the boundary of the known and unknown. It is where we came from and to where we will return. Maria Josefa’s longing for the seashore and sea is a desire to escape her captivity in a barren house for a place from which all life sprang and continues to spring.


Act II Summary and Analysis