The House of Bernarda Alba

by Federico Garcia Lorca

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Who is Magdalena in The House of Bernarda Alba?

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Magdalena is Bernarda Alba's second-oldest daughter and the oldest by her second husband. She is more of an observer than a participant in the play, often seen sewing or embroidering, typical of women in Francoist Spain. Realistic and cynical, she comments on the futility of Pepe marrying Angustias for her money and resigns herself to never marrying due to Bernarda's control.

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Lorca's tragic play La Casa de Bernarda Alba tells the tragic, fictional story of the five daughters of the titular character, Bernarda. Bernarda puts her daughters (the oldest of whom is the daughter of Bernarda's first husband, who, according to the text, seems to be endowed with an inheritance that separates her in status from her sisters) on house arrest on the occasion of the death of the father to all but one of them (the oldest, Angustias). The thirty-year-old Magdalena is the second-oldest daughter, and the oldest of the daughters of the recently deceased. Of the sisters, Magdalena is the most resigned to her fate.

The play's plot centers around these women's various relations with Pepe el Romano, the primary male protagonist (who, consequentially, never appears on stage). The oldest daughter, Angustias, is engaged to be married to him. The youngest, Adela, is suspected of having a secret affair with him, while Amelia and Martirio at one time or another have loved him in secret. Magdalena stands apart from this. Magdalena is relatively credulous; she is slower to understand her sisters' secrets (which she often feels they keep from her). Magdalena is often seen sewing or embroidering—a traditional task for women in the era in which the play is set (specifically, under the dictatorship of the especially conservative Francisco Franco). In this way, Magdalena is representative of the average women in Francoist Spain.

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Magdalena is the second-oldest of Bernarda Alba's daughters, and therefore the oldest of the daughters by her second husband. In the action of the play, Magdalena is more of an observer than a participant. She also seems to be the most realistic and cynical of all of them.

All the members of the household are at each others' throats. Bernarda is hated by the daughters, by the maid La Poncia, and probably also by her own mother Maria Josefa, who has dementia. The center of the plot is that Angustias, the oldest and probably least attractive daughter, who has inherited the just-deceased stepfather's wealth, is set to marry the much younger and sought-after Pepe. Magdalena is the one who openly comments, "Why would Pepe want her?" Magdalena says it would make far more sense for Pepe to marry the youngest sister, Adela, or the middle one, Amelia. She knows Pepe is only after Angustias's money. Magdalena says this in front of the other sister Martirio, who is at this point secretly interested in Pepe as well. Of all the daughters, Magdalena is the one who says that she herself will never get married—such has been the iron will of the mother, Bernarda, in keeping them all under lock and key.

Magdalena is somewhat like a chorus, commenting on the action, though only at brief and pointed moments. She's correct about Pepe's being more likely to take an interest in Adela. This, tragically, is what happens, and when Bernarda and the others realize Adela and Pepe have been together in the hayloft, she grabs her shotgun and shoots at Pepe. Though he escapes, Adela believes him killed and hangs herself. Bernarda's final act of tyranny is to declare that everyone will be told Adela "died a virgin."

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Magdalena, who is 30, is the second oldest of Bernarda's five daughters. Her name is an allusion to Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus's followers, who witnessed his crucifixion and resurrection and is regarded as a figure of lamentation and sadness. Also a figure of lamentation, Magdalena is the only daughter who cries at her father's funeral, and she seems to be the only daughter who is distressed by losing her father. She faints during her father's funeral service, and one of the family's servants says of her, "She’s the one who’ll be most bereft."

Magdalena is generally good and submissive; for example, she accepts, generally without rebellion, the situation that some of her sisters don't and is resigned to never marrying. When her mother orders her to embroider the trousseaux for all the sisters, as they have to wait for several years to marry, Magdalena says, "It's all the same to me." Her reaction to her situation is to wish to be a man, as she deplores sitting at home in a dark house and says she would prefer to work and even bring sacks to the mill, as men do. When Bernarda, her mother, says that mourning in a dark house is the lot of women, Magdalena replies, "Then curses on all women." She is capable of being sarcastic despite her general submissiveness. 

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In La Casa de Bernarda Alba, by Federico Garcia Lorca, Magdalena represents a slight form of Electra complex. She is the 30 year old daughter of Bernarda who, almost by default, develops a deep connection with her father. This is understandable, considering the horrid persona of Bernarda Alba.

Magdalena, like every other character in the play, is named the way that she is for a reason: she is the only one of the daughters who is so overwhelmed at her father's funeral that she actually faints, despite of the iron-clad control that Bernarda instills in her daughters. Like the Christian character of Mary Magdalene, Magdalena carries the burden of existing within the "realms" of her mother to a sacrificial point.

Magdalena is also the second oldest daughter. She knows that her fate is sealed, that she will never be married, and she would rather see her younger sisters happy. She is one of the most supportive  daughters and she, unlike Martirio, understands the love of Pepe El Romano for Adela. In the end, Magdalena is once again forced to pretend that you must look death in the face and become stronger than it when her beloved sister, Adela, commits suicide and things in the household remain the same horrid way.

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