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6.1 La casa de Bernarda Alba – Federico García Lorca

10 min readjune 13, 2023

Sylvia Rodriguez

Sylvia Rodriguez

A

Alejandra Ramos


AP Spanish Literature 💃🏽

24 resources
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Federico Garcia Lorca, one of the most well-known Spanish playwrights and poets of the 20th century, wrote the drama "La casa de Bernarda Alba". The damaging power of familial and cultural restraints is explored, along with issues of repression and societal expectations.

Context of La casa de Bernarda Alba

Author Background

Spanish playwright, poet, and theater director Federico Garcia Lorca is renowned for his lyrical and symbolist writing. He was a prominent character in the literary and artistic movement known as the Generation of '27, and his writing frequently explored complicated human emotions while addressing social and political issues.
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Image Courtesy of The New Yorker

Time and Place

Historical
"La casa de Bernarda Alba" was written when Spain was experiencing major political and social instability in 1936. The conflict and disputes that existed within Spanish society during the Second Spanish Republic and preceded the start of the Spanish Civil War are reflected in the drama.
Geographic
The play takes place in a tiny community in southern Spain's rural Andalusia region. The geographical setting has an impact on the social norms, cultural traditions, and sense of seclusion within the tightly-knit group shown in the drama.

Societal Context

Political
With references to the strict social conventions and gender roles enforced by the conservative Spanish society of the early 20th century, the political context of the drama captures the repressive atmosphere of the time. It also makes reference to the political unrest that existed at the time the Spanish Civil War began.
Socio-economic
The socioeconomic aspects of a wealthy landowner family are examined in the drama. The socioeconomic status of the characters and their desire to preserve their reputation and social standing heavily influence their behavior.
Cultural
"La casa de Bernarda Alba" explores rural Spain's cultural norms and traditions, focusing on the idea of honor, the suppression of women, and the complicated interactions inside a family. The conflict between societal norms and individual wants is highlighted in the play.

Need to Know About La casa de Bernarda Alba

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Image Courtesy of PechaKucha

Characters

Bernarda Alba: As the family's overbearing matriarch, Bernarda stands for repressive social conventions and stifles her daughters' aspirations.
Adela: The youngest and most disobedient daughter, Adela epitomizes fervor, rebellion, and a yearning for freedom within the constrictive framework of the family home.
Mara Josefa: Bernarda's old mother, Mara Josefa stands for female liberation and the repressed aspirations of women.
Angustias: Bernarda's eldest child from her previous marriage, Angustias is reportedly less liked by her mother and characterized as being plain. Due to her inherited wealth, she becomes a focal point in the family, which makes her sisters envious.
Martirio: Martirio is described as being spiteful and bitter. She is one of Bernarda's daughters. Her jealousy causes a fatal turn of events because she harbors an unrequited love for Pepe el Romano, who is engaged to her sister Angustias.
Magdalena, Amelia, and Martirio for (Adela's sisters): These sisters, who each represent various facets of society's expectations and repression, add to the strained environment in the home. They struggle with their needs, restrictions, and connection to Adela.
Poncia: As Bernarda's maid and confidante, Poncia offers commentary and insight into the happenings inside the home. She presents a counterpoint to Bernarda's domineering personality and provides a window into the characters' inner thoughts and intentions.
Pepe el Romano: Although he never makes an appearance on stage, Pepe el Romano nonetheless plays a vital role in the play. Although he is engaged to Angustias, he attracts the attention and passion of numerous of Bernarda's daughters, which causes bitter rivalry and tragic outcomes.

Literary Terms and Devices

  • Personaje: The play uses a variety of personajes (characters) to examine the intricacies of human nature and societal expectations while portraying many parts of Spanish society.
  • Ambiente: The play's ambiente (setting) is mostly confined to Bernarda Alba's home, which creates a tense and oppressive environment that reflects the authoritarian nature of the society being portrayed.
  • Acotaciones (stage directions) are used throughout the play to control the performers' actions, facial expressions, and gestures. These acotaciones heighten the dramatic impact and establish the tone of the scenes.
  • Público (audience): The play seeks to engage and generate emotional responses from the viewers, provoking contemplation on the subjects presented. As a result, the público (audience) is a vital aspect of the theatrical experience.
  • Acto: The play is composed of several acts, each of which represents a different section of the plot and adds to the overall narrative framework.
  • Tres unidades: In order to produce a seamless and well-defined storyline, the play follows the classical theater paradigm of tres unidades (three unities).
  • Tragedia: The tragedy "La casa de Bernarda Alba" examines the negative effects of suppressed ambitions, societal restrictions, and the conflict between personal aspirations and societal standards.
  • Diálogo: The play mainly focuses on conversation to depict the ideas, feelings, and conflicts of the individuals, exposing their relationships and the power dynamics in the home.
  • Symbolism is used extensively in the play, with black representing grief and repression and things like the fan expressing societal appearances.
  • Metáfora: The speech and monologues of the characters are given depth and richness by the use of metaphorical language to express emotions, relationships, and societal conceptions.
  • Símil: similes highlight the characters' confinement and desire for escape by allowing for vivid descriptions and parallels, such as when the characters are likened to caged birds.
  • Falla trágica: The play makes use of the idea of a tragic fault in its characters, especially Bernarda and Adela, whose flaws ultimately lead to their downfall.
  • Irony is a literary device that contrasts appearance and reality, highlighting the inconsistencies and hypocrisy of both characters' behavior and societal norms.
  • Prefiguración: The drama employs prefiguración (foreshadowing) by way of indirect allusions and cues, heightening tension and generating interest in the tragic events that take place.
  • Hipérbole: Extreme emotions of the characters are emphasized, dramatic tension is heightened, and the repressive aspect of the setting is highlighted by the use of hyperbolic language.

Summary

The Casa de Bernarda Alba is a drama set in a rural Spanish town in the 1930s. It follows the story of Bernarda Alba, a domineering widow who forces her five daughters to remain in mourning for eight years following the death of her second husband. The play is a tragic exploration of the oppressive nature of patriarchal society and the powerlessness of women in a male-dominated culture.
The play follows the story of Bernarda and her five daughters, who are forced to remain in mourning and subject to Bernarda's oppressive rule. As the play progresses, the characters are forced to confront the tragic consequences of their situation, as they are unable to escape the oppressive society they live in. The play explores themes of oppression, patriarchy, repression, family, and tradition, as the characters struggle to make sense of their lives in a society that subjugates them. Through the use of symbolism, imagery, and metaphor, the play paints a vivid picture of the tragedy of a patriarchal society and the powerlessness of its citizens. The Casa de Bernarda Alba serves as an important work of literature that highlights the need for freedom and equality in a world where oppression and subjugation are still prevalent. Act I: The play begins with Bernarda Alba announcing to her five daughters that they will remain in mourning for eight years following the death of her second husband. The daughters are then left to grapple with their oppressive situation and the strict rules imposed by Bernarda. Adela, the youngest daughter, is particularly frustrated and openly challenges her mother's authority. Act II: In this act, tensions between Bernarda and her daughters come to a head. Adela continues to challenge her mother's authority and declares her love for Pepe el Romano, a man forbidden to her. This sparks a heated argument between Bernarda and Adela, and Bernarda eventually relents and allows Adela to marry Pepe. Act III: In the final act, tragedy strikes when Adela commits suicide. The family is left in shock, and Bernarda is left to grapple with the tragedy of her daughter's death. In the end, the family is left with a sense of tragedy and hopelessness, unable to escape the oppressive society they live in.

Themes:

La dualidad del ser
  • Through the interior difficulties and contradictions of the characters, the drama explores the idea of la dualidad del ser (duality of being). They demonstrate the complexity of human nature and the conflicts that exist between one's inner self and the roles that are prescribed by society by struggling between adhering to societal expectations and yearning for personal freedom.
La construcción del género
  • By illustrating the restrictive gender norms and demands put on women in the society of Spain at the time, the film "La casa de Bernarda Alba" dives into the topic of la construcción del género (the creation of gender). The characters are constrained to play specific roles in order to highlight the constraints and effects of cultural standards on personal identity and agency.
El sistema patriarcal y las divisiones socioeconómicas
  • The drama depicts the impact of the patriarchal system and the socioeconomic status-based divisions in society. The power relationships in the home are influenced by both gender and class, with Bernarda representing the patriarchal order and holding onto the family's wealth.
Assimilation and marginalization
  • The themes of assimilation and marginalization are portrayed through the characters' struggles with societal pressures to fit in and play by the rules. Adela and other people who don't conform to social norms experience marginalization and exclusion in their own communities.
La diversidad
  • By highlighting the characters' disparate personalities, goals, and views, the drama explores the concept of la diversidad (diversity). The characters illustrate the variety and richness of individual identities under a constrained and oppressive context by each representing a distinct facet of the human experience.
El machismo
  • The drama is greatly affected by patriarchal standards and expectations, which makes the concept of el machismo (male chauvinism) a recurring motif. The drama examines how machismo negatively affects women's life, relationships, and autonomy.
La tradicion y la ruptura
  • "La casa de Bernarda Alba" addresses the themes of tradition and disruption by highlighting the conflict between the need for change and adherence to long-standing social norms. The play's core tension arises from the characters' effort to break free from repressive traditions and assert their individuality.
La trayectoria y la transformación
  • As the stories of the characters' journeys develop, the themes of trajectory and transformation become clear. The drama demonstrates the course of their lives and the transforming effect of society's limitations, from their initial conforming identities to their eventual rebellion or catastrophic endings.
El amor y el desprecio
  • Through the intricate relationships between the characters, the concepts of el amor (love) and el desprecio (contempt) is explored. Love highlights the destructive nature of repressed impulses and societal expectations by being intertwined with sentiments of resentment, envy, and power dynamics.
La comunicación o falta de comunicación
  • The play's depiction of the characters' tense and constrained interactions makes clear the issue of la comunicación (communication) or falta de comunicación (lack of communication). Misunderstandings, secrecy, and the inability to confront underlying issues are all made worse by a lack of open and honest communication.
La imagen pública y la imagen privada:
  • The issue of "public image" and "private image" is present as the characters negotiate the conflict between upholding appearances and their own inner wants and conflicts. The difference between the characters' public personas and their private selves adds to the overall feeling of repression and suppressed feelings.
  • Oppression: The play explores the oppressive nature of a patriarchal society and how it can lead to tragedy andeir subjugation.
  • Patriarchy: The play examines the power of the patriarchal system and how it can lead to the oppression of women and the subjugation of their rights. Through the story of Bernarda and her daughters, the play shows how a male-dominated society can lead to the repression of women and their inability to escape such an oppressive environment.

Analysis and Significance

Federico Garcia Lorca creates a tragic tale in "La casa de Bernarda Alba" that explores the intricacies of human nature, societal limits, and the destructive power of repression. The drama draws light on the repressive social conventions and gender roles that were enforced by Spanish society at the time through its investigation of issues like the dualidad del ser, la construcción del género, and the patriarchy. It illustrates the characters' struggles for personal independence within a constrained setting, their conflicts and contradictions, and the terrible outcomes of certain actions.
"La casa de Bernarda Alba" is significant because of its potent critique of the repressive factors that limit and discourage individuality, especially for women in a patriarchal and traditional culture. The drama highlights the oppressive environment of societal norms, the negative impacts of gender roles, and the results of suppressed urges. The play acts as a mirror to reflect on the restrictions and negative effects of social norms through its study of issues like love and contempt, communication or lack thereof, and the conflict between tradition and rebellion. "La casa de Bernarda Alba" is a timeless work of literature that continues to resonate and inspire reflection on the human condition because of Lorca's portrayal of these subjects and their characterizations.
The Casa de Bernarda Alba is an important work of literature that explores the oppression of women in a patriarchal society. It serves as an example of the powerlessness of women in a male-dominated culture and the tragic consequences of such an oppressive system. The play highlights the need for freedom and equality in a world where oppression and subjugation are still prevalent. It is a powerful reminder of the need to challenge oppressive systems and fight for a more just and equitable world.
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