The House of Bernarda Alba

by Federico Garcia Lorca

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How effectively does Lorca depict the issues faced by women in The House of Bernarda Alba?

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Lorca gives us, in this play as well as in Blood Wedding and Yerma, a picture of rural Spain which is emblematic of the status of women everywhere in the premodern world.

The irony in The House of Bernarda Alba that makes its message all the more intense is...

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that a woman is the one portrayed as oppressing other women. Bernarda rules her household with an iron hand. She has no sympathy for her own daughters and their plight—in isolation in her house, deprived of relationships with men and of any other kind of fulfillment human beings seek. Lorca's point may be that women themselves have been brainwashed to the point of believing in, and exercising, the false perceptions of society about their supposed inferiority. The daughters rebel against her, but do so ineffectively and with tragic results.

We are actually given little insight into Bernarda's reasons for treating the girls as badly as she does, except that she is simply envious of them in their youthfulness and the vitality of their desires. The aged Maria Josefa, Bernarda's mother, is perhaps even more a metaphor of the oppression of women than the daughters are. Maria Josefa has dementia and lives in a dream world. The offstage figure of Pepe is a mysterious force, unseen but all the more significant therefore as the male catalyst for the tragedy.

Lorca's other plays deal similarly with women trapped, unable to express themselves and compelled to obey society's demands. In Blood Wedding, the forcing of the Bride into an arranged marriage leads to the deaths of two men, and in Yerma, a woman kills herself because she is "barren," unable to fulfill the chief purpose society demands of women at the time—to bear children. Bernarda Alba herself, her mother, and her daughters are all trapped in their household of misery, given no outlet for their desires and thus turning on each other—or, in the case of Adela, on herself, committing suicide when she believes herself unable to escape her entrapment.

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I think that Lorca is able to display the conditions that women face of the time period, but I think that his depiction is more apt for the roles of women that are bound by tradition and custom. For the women, in Lorca's play, women are limited and constrained by what social conditions dictate and social expectations. For example, the notion of beauty for women is seen as something that is inherently bad, something that attracts men and therefore is deemed as bad. When Adela hangs herself out of the lack of being able to act upon her freedom, her mother proudly declares that her daughter "died a virgin." Lorca's depiction here is one of many examples in which social construction of women's reality is a successful one that shows how freedom and self-expression are elements that are subjugated when it comes to issues of gender. The house of Bernarda is filled with this element, with women who cannot act upon their own senses of freedom and autonomy because of the social stigma attached to it. In this light, Lorca is successful in showing what is in the hopes of what should be or, at the very least, what should not be.

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