Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The primary theme of Federico García Lorca’s poem is the heroic nature of facing death. While the poet specifically presents the theme of the cultural importance of the Spanish bullfight, he extends the quality of heroism into the normal routine of daily life as well. The underlying theme of the importance of choosing one’s own destiny is offered through the metaphor of time, encapsulated in the duration of the fight. The poet also self-consciously examines the theme of immortality: although it is primarily Ignacio’s own heroism that will cause him to live on, the poet also has a role in endowing him with immortality. That is, the writer is a kind of hero because of their role in perpetuating others’ acts: it is primarily through words that memories are created.
The theme of heroism is presented within a specific Spanish cultural context in this poem but, more generally, Lorca can be understood as writing about the important, enduring qualities of Spain that were endangered at that time. Although he does not address politics directly, Lorca was well known as an opponent of Francisco Franco and his brand of nationalism. As Lorca writes movingly of national values, he is implicitly criticizing the corruption of those values that he saw occurring all around him. In praising the poet’s role, he is also promoting freedom of speech and expression, which he saw threatened. The heroism of Sánchez Mejías within one cultural realm may likewise be extended into the responsibilities of all Spaniards to stand up for what matters in their own society, even at the cost of their own death.
The idea that the time has come for all Spaniards to stand up and be counted is emphasized through the repetition of a single phrase about time. “A las cinco de la tarde,” “At five in the afternoon,” became a refrain associated with Lorca’s execution by Franco’s forces and, by extension, the ongoing struggle against them.