In the play, The House of Bernarda Alba by Federico Garcia Lorca, oppression, death, depression, and desire are recurrent themes that relate to each other. The play also focuses on what happens when freedom and individuality are restricted and how almost all the characters fall into the theme.
“Needle and thread for women. Whiplash and mules for men.” (Lorca 1. 1. 200-201), is a line that signifies the oppressive world that Bernarda Alba lives in. In the play, it is quoted often how a woman must behave in society notably around men. For example, Angustias is given advice from her mother Bernarda Alba that she must not ask her fiancé Pepe el Romano what is on his mind. This is because a wife must appear calm on the surface despite the circumstances.
Oppression is the ultimate theme of the play since it is what the predicament is centered around. At the opening of the play, Bernarda Alba’s second husband dies and Bernarda establishes that she and her daughters will be in mourning for eight years. During these years, the girls are supposed to be doing needlework. This births a problem since they are not allowed to go outside or associate in any affairs. This is the first symbol of the theme of oppression besides the obvious patriarchy in Roman Catholic Spain. Bernarda is restricting her daughters’ freedom. Eight years feel like an eternity for her daughters. Unable to bear the monotony and the isolation, they go insane later on in the play.
The house can be a representation of Bernarda’s twisted mind since it was inverted with a courtyard that was enclosed outside. This shows that Bernarda has a closed mind and does not want her daughters to leave even though the house tries to give false security of looking similar to the outside world when in reality it is nearly unattainable to have a connection with anyone beyond the house’s walls.
Another character that oppresses others is the servant, Poncia. When the beggar woman comes in front of the door asking for leftovers, Poncia justifies not feeding her by saying “Dogs are alone too, and they live”(Lorca 1. 1. 85). In conclusion, everyone is oppressing everyone in some way or another, especially the sisters who harass each other rather than loving each other.
The second recurrent theme in the play is death. It is as if Lorca added this theme since it had a powerful effect and meaning. The play began with a death and ended with a death in a literal sense and a metaphorical sense. In the beginning, the audience is greeted with the characters dealing with the death of their father and at the end, the characters are dealing with the death of their sister. Due to the suicide of Adela, the theme death can also be associated with escape. It shows that Adela hated her life so much and was so drastically in love with Pepe that she would rather die than continue to live on. Death is also symbolized with the black clothes the daughters wear throughout the day while the white clothes they wear is used to symbolize purity. In a metaphorical way, death is represented not only as a form of oppression but depression as well.
Martirio’s depression lurks and it causes her to wait around until her time is up, Poncia believes that giving into your natural sexual instincts leads to death, and Adela suggests that repression is the same thing as death. In my understanding of reading the play, the moral question I think Lorca was trying to bring up is, “How should we live our lives?” since we all are going to pass away someday.
Death creates a lot of stress in the household and the heat is a symbol that helps carries the theme of oppression. It refers to Bernarda’s oppression and frustration and expresses Bernarda’s dominance and fury throughout the play. Heat is also a symbol of desire by the presence of fans and lemonade which the women are using to keep cool. The symbol of heat can also represent the daughters going into heat or ovulation due to their anger at their mother as well due to their desire for affection. For instance, the battle between Martirio and Angustias during Angustias loss of her boyfriend’s picture shows that she isn’t the only daughter who desires affection. Adela actually has intercourse with her sister’s fiance.
Overall the themes of oppression, death, depression, and desire were all relevant in the play in many ways and helped tell the story of what happens in the house of Bernarda Alba. This play also reflects Lorca’s life since he was a gay man living in a time where homosexuality wasn’t accepted as it is today. I believe his feelings are well expressed since there was a quote that said: “better never to lay eyes on a man, never to have seen one.” The themes that are represented in the play are all connected to each other. As an example, the play shows how desire can lead to death. The daughters chase after someone who is not
worth their time due to the fury that is inside them. This leads to one suicide, heartbreak, a loss of engagement, and an emotional split of the family.
Lorca, Federico Garcia, The House of Bernarda Alba. The Norton Anthology of Drama.Vol. 2 J Ellen Gainor et. al. W.W. Norton & Company, 2018. 630-663
Bio: Kathryn is a freelance writer and blogger in the Asheville, NC area who enjoys the creative writing realm and is currently pursuing a degree in psychology and minoring in creative writing.
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