Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1156
Adela, age 20, is the youngest, most attractive, spirited, and rebellious of Bernarda's daughters. As Magdalena says of her, Adela "still has her illusions," and thus has difficulty submitting to the strong will of her mother, who keeps all the daughters under tight reign. As a form of rebellion, Adela puts on a green birthday dress and goes out in the yard shouting, "Chickens, look at me!" She craves social interaction and cannot bear to be locked away from the world. She has a deep connection to nature, yearning to be free of the house and breathe the fresh air of the fields. As the conflict with her mother's will intensifies, Adela's defiance is symbolized in her breaking of the walking stick with which Bemarda has beaten her daughters. Ultimately, Adela chooses death as a means of escape from an intolerable life, when the only alternative she can envision—Pepe—is no longer available.
At age 60, she feels out of place in the village, sure that everyone in the town despises her. She feels superior to her neighbors in social station and will not allow her daughters to be courted by the men of the area, whom she generally finds inferior. She curses "this village full of wells where you drink water always fearful it's been poisoned." Bernarda runs her house with an iron hand; La Poncia calls her a "domineering old tyrant." Her husband, Antonio Maria Benavides, has recently died, and the family has gathered at her house for the funeral. Her domination of the family and servants intensifies the day of her husband's funeral. She is hard on her own daughters out of a sense of what is proper behavior for women in a period of mourning. She plans to keep the house shut up for eight years, and requires the daughters to cover their heads in mourning. She is a vicious and manipulative person who keeps a mental record of every scandal that involves her neighbors, so she can use the information as a weapon against them. Bernarda seems unmoved by her daughter Adela's death, more concerned about the perceptions of her neighbors as she orders her daughters to uphold the lie that "She, the youngest daughter of Bernarda Alba, died a virgin."
Of all the characters, Amelia, Bernarda's third youngest daughter at age 27, perhaps stands out the least as an individual. She is kindhearted and hates to hear her mother speak unkindly. She is concerned about Martirio's health even if Martirio is not. Like Martirio, she feels uncomfortable and embarrassed around men. Like Magdalena, she feels that being born a woman is life's worst punishment. Amelia seems to be afraid of almost everything; unlike Adela, who seeks the truth, Amelia would rather close her eyes to it.
The eldest daughter at age 39, Angustias is a half-sister to the others, because she was bom of Bernarda's first marriage. She is therefore the only one with any inheritance worth mentioning, and thus has a suitor, Pepe el Romano. Bernarda strikes her when she learns that Angustias has been looking out the cracks in the door at the men departing the funeral. Angustias knows that Pepe only wants her for her money, but is resigned to this fact. Near the conclusion of the play, Angustias stands her ground when an hysterical Adela orders her to tell Pepe that Adela will be his. She curses her sister: "Thief! Disgrace of this house!"
She expresses bitterness about Bernarda's treatment of her and the other servants (Bernarda must have everything perfect, and works her servants hard to get it). La Poncia, who is 60-years-old, is perhaps the most complex character in the play. A mediator, she is all things to all people, without being a hypocrite. La Poncia is torn between debt to and hatred of Bernarda. Additionally, her sons work Bernarda's fields, so Bernarda controls the economic fate of the entire family. Nevertheless, La Poncia is extremely frank with her employer, which may be a privilege of age (Lorca is careful to indicate they are exactly the same age). La Poncia provides the daughters with friendly conversation, which they lack, and on occasion defends them to Bernarda. La Poncia persists in trying to make Bernarda recognize there are real problems brewing in the house.
Apparently the only daughter who truly loved her father, Magdalena, 30-years-old, faints during his funeral. Realistic to the point of pessimism, she is convinced she is never going to get married. Like Martirio, she claims not to care if she lives or dies. She speaks out against hypocrisy when she hears it, and believes women should be strong and not tolerate poor treatment by men. She refuses to contribute a stitch to the making of clothes for the christening of Angustias's future first child. Her form of escape is a pleasant memory of the past
Like the other servants in Bernarda's employ, her life consists of nothing more than cleaning the house until her fingers bleed, without ever earning Bernarda's approval. When the maid hears the bells tolling for Bernarda's dead husband, she curses him, "You'll never again lift my skirts behind the corral door!" She is 50-years-old.
Bernarda's mother, 80-years-old, is the most poetic character in the play, identified closely with Adela (they share a desire to escape the house and be free). Maria Josefa is a voice of truth, painful to Bernarda, who keeps her locked away. What she claims to want—marriage to a virile young man and lots of children—is irrational. But Maria Josefa is also very perceptive, more aware than Bernarda of the dire situation in the house. When she cradles the lamb, she knows it is not a real baby, but accepts it as better than nothing.
Martirio, Bernarda's second youngest daughter at 24, has been under the care of a doctor but does not express any hope of her condition improving (Indeed, she takes her medicine more out of routine than any concern for health). She is in many ways a younger picture of her mother, called "a poisoned well'' by La Poncia. Martirio feels that God has made her weak and ugly and that all things considered, "it's better never to look at a man." She hypocritically says having a boyfriend does not matter to her, but she is consumed by jealousy and sexual frustration. She steals the picture of Pepe el Romano so she can at least possess the image of a man. Martirio is the one daughter who reluctantly agrees that Pepe el Romano really loves Adela and not Angustias, to whom he is engaged. Still, she does all she can to keep Adela and Pepe apart.
One of Bernarda's few friends in the area, she is frustrated with her husband, who refuses to forgive their daughter for an incident long in the past. Prudencia is 50-years-old.