Themes

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1128

Beauty Beauty—specifically the beauty of Adela, Bernarda's youngest daughter—is a source of conflict in the play. Beauty becomes corrupted, Lorca suggests, in an environment where people are not permitted to pursue their desires and passions. Pepe el Romano is passionate for Adela, but is bound by economic necessity to court...

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Beauty
Beauty—specifically the beauty of Adela, Bernarda's youngest daughter—is a source of conflict in the play. Beauty becomes corrupted, Lorca suggests, in an environment where people are not permitted to pursue their desires and passions. Pepe el Romano is passionate for Adela, but is bound by economic necessity to court Angustias instead. "If he were coming because of Angustias' looks, for Angustias as a woman, I'd be glad too," Magdalena comments, "but he's coming for her money. Even though Angustias is our sister, we're her family here, and we know she's old and sickly, and always has been the least attractive one of us!" The daughters are all in such a state of repressed isolation that they will resent both Angustias, for having a suitor, and the beautiful Adela, for possessing Pepe as a lover.

Fate and Chance
The characters' attempts to control their own lives bring them into contact with the inevitable and result in the tragedies that conclude not just The House of Bernarda Alba, but each of the plays in Lorca's trilogy. Destiny is intermingled with the repetition of the life cycle; what occurred in the past is often fated to occur again. For example, all the women in Adelaida's family suffered before her, and she is destined to suffer, too (Martirio observes elsewhere in the play, "History repeats itself. I can see that everything is a terrible repetition."). In the scene with Prudencia, several symbols of bad luck appear (spilled salt and an engagement ring of pearls rather than diamonds). All the bad luck predicted in this scene comes to pass. Martirio comments, "Luck comes to the one who least expects it." But good luck does not seem to come to anyone in Bernarda's house, whether they expect it or not. Adela, meanwhile, struggles against her fate and fails. The other sisters are resigned to their fate, lacking Adela's faith that she can control the course of her life.

Death
Each of the three plays in Lorca's trilogy ends with a significant death. Death is a mounting inevitability as the frustration of the characters grows more intense. Death comes to characters in situations with no hope, who are helpless victims of their desttny. 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. Adela seems bound by fate not to survive, but Bernarda brings about tragedy through actions that have the opposite of their desired effect. In this, she appears more like a heroine of Greek tragedy, although she survives, perhaps to make the same mistakes again.

Freedom
The play is formed by Lorca's sense of social justice, warning society at large about the tragic cost of repressing any of its members. Adela's dilemma is Lorca's central concern. She has more to lose than the others in the dashing of her two hopes, men and freedom. Her optimism is irrational because of the isolation in which Bernarda keeps her and her sisters, and because she should be able to see from the society around her that men and freedom are mutually exclusive possibilities for a Spanish woman. But even servitude to a husband would likely provide Bernarda's daughters with more freedom than they have under her tyrannical authority. The land, which produces wealth, also serves as a metaphor for procreative power and other freedoms. The fields are a source of refreshment and escape for Bernarda's daughters. They see the men who work the land as free and independent, as having everything the women who are prisoners in the house do not have.

Honor
Honor is closely related in the play with themes such as status, money, and gossip. Bernarda feels she has a social position to maintain in the town; she won't let her daughters marry beneath this imagined station, and she won't give up her social airs. The tyranny of Bernarda is fueled by her own sense of honor and tradition. The desire to act honorably— to mourn her husband's death for eight years— ruins the lives of Bernarda's daughters. Bernarda's sense of honor is formed by her awareness of the judgmental opinions of her neighbors. However, she has only herself to blame for her fear of what the neighbors think, because she has manipulated them by gossip in the past. Adelaida, for example (a character never seen), is afraid of Bernarda because the woman knows her sordid past, and throws it in Adelaida's face every chance she gets. Part of La Poncia's job is to keep Bernarda informed of what is going on in the town. When the neighbors awaken at the end of the play, however, it appears there will be no more controlling them (although Bernarda is desperately trying to keep up appearances).

Sex Roles
Lorca's primary identification was always with female characters, and all the plays in his late trilogy are about the plight of Spanish women. The House of Bernarda Alba bears the explicit subtitle, "Drama about Women in the Towns of Spain,'' and there are more frustrated women in it than in any other Lorca play, perhaps than in any other modern play in the world theater. In Lorca's view, men and freedom are mutually exclusive for Spanish women. Although no male characters appear in the play, it is clear that the women's feelings of isolation are largely the consequences of men's actions and attitudes. In depicting sexual frustration, Lorca maintains the masculine mystique by keeping Pepe from appearing. Pepe acts only on instinct, his desires pit mother against daughter, sister against sister. Magdalena curses womanhood if it consists of nothing more than being bound by tradition. A woman has little control in achieving personal satisfaction and in determining the course of her own life, and therefore must often resort to desperate measures. The three plays of the trilogy dramatize tragic attempts by women to free themselves from impossible situations: the Bride runs off with Leonardo in Blood Wedding, Yerma kills her husband, and Adela kills herself.

Wealth and Poverty
Angustias suffers because she knows Pepe is only marrying her for her money, that even when they are together his thoughts are far from her. Land is the source of wealth throughout the three plays of the trilogy, and wealth creates stature. When Bernarda judges the men of the area as unfit for her daughters, she does so not on their individual merits, but because as shepherds and laborers they are all beneath her economic ideal. In such circumstances, wealth controls fate. Not only does Pepe become engaged to Angustias because of it, but the play is rich with other symbolic battles over money. Prudencia's family, for example, is torn apart by a struggle over money: a disputed inheritance.

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