Bernarda's House as the Central Image in The House of Bernarda Alba

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1435

In order to arrive at an understanding of the complex images and themes in Federico Garcia Lorca's last play, The House of Bernarda Alba, one must start with the title. Lorca did not call his play Bernarda Alba, or even The Family of Bernarda Alba (The latter would have been especially appropriate given that, like many of the great tragedies of classical Greece, the play focuses on a lineage and the impact of characters' actions on subsequent generations). The title, The House of Bernarda Alba, draws attention both to Bernarda's "house" in the sense of her household or lineage, and to the physical space of the house itself, which serves as the central image of the play.

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From his experience directing a production of the play, Eric Bentley discovered the paramount importance of the house, observing the significant role of windows and doors that serve as both barriers and bridges. The symbolism of what is inside the house and what is outside could not be more important to the themes of the play. To the daughters, the outside represents freedom and possibility, as well as romantic and sexual fulfillment. Throughout the play the daughters run repeatedly to the windows to observe the outside world: the crowd departing the funeral, the men going to work in the fields, and the arrivals and departures of Pepe el Romano. Bernarda upbraids Angustias for looking out through the cracks of the back door, becoming so angry that she strikes her daughter. To Bernarda, the outside of the house represents only negative possibility: corruption from which she wants to protect her daughters, and prying neighbors from whom she wants to keep her secrets.

The house is a self-contained society which Bernarda rules with an iron hand. "To Bernarda's way of thinking," wrote Dennis Klein in Blood Wedding, Yerma, and The House of Bernarda Alba, "virginity is decency and sex corruption." Therefore, it is understandable that when Adela commits suicide, Bernarda's first thought is to make the world believe her daughter died a virgin. Bernarda's rule also means that sexual activity always takes place outside the house: Pepe and Adela meet in the corral, and the maid speaks of Bernarda's husband lifting her skirts behind the corral. The story of Paca la Roseta, who spends a night with some local men deep in an olive grove, is to Bernarda a perfect example of the corruption which runs rampant outside her domestic space. The displacement of sexual activity to the outside is reflected in the symbolism of the weather. The daughters suffer in the heat of a house which is shut-up tight for a period of mourning, during which, Bernarda explains, "not a breath of air will get in this house from the street. We'll act as if we'd sealed up the doors and windows with bricks." The heat in the house thus serves as a symbol for the sexual frustration of the daughters. The men of the town, meanwhile, are of course free to move about outside. They are cooler on the patio and in the fields, suggesting symbolically that they do not suffer from sexual repression.

The heat inside may be what causes Angustias to describe Bernarda's house as hell, and the ongoing torment of all the characters within it suggests the accuracy of her metaphoric description (Interestingly, in her desperation at the end of the play, Angustias reverses herself and adopts her mother's proud rhetoric, cursing Adela: "Disgrace of this house!"). Bernarda's house is also referred to as a house of war, again reminiscent of the lineages of Greek tragedy. Hell is perhaps the strongest lingering image of the house, but other locations of confinement are suggested throughout the play. In his study of the religious imagery in Lorca's trilogy, John Gilmour in Religion in the Rural Tragedies , refers to...

(The entire section contains 3394 words.)

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