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Revision: La Casa De Bernarda Alba

So you may have seen my post on the French book Le Silence De La Mer last week. Believe it or not, I’m stupid enough to be taking more than one language A level, and so here are my revision notes on the literary text we’re studying for Spanish.

Fortunately, there are a few more resources for this than the French. I’ve been using this study guide, and this website to help me revise.

As with the other post, you have any revision notes, please comment below. I’m sure I’m not alone in needing all the help I can get!


Plot

Act I opens with funeral bells. We see La Poncia and Criada gossip about the man that died, and the widow he leaves behind. It’s clear that they dislike Bernarda, as she treats them poorly.

Bernarda and her daughters then return home from the funeral, bringing with them other mourning women. Adela, the youngest of the daughters, has with her a colourful fan, which Bernarda scolds her for. She says that this fan is a sign of lack of respect for her father.

Bernarda declares eight years of mourning and obedience over the house. As the head of the house, this tightens her control.

We hear Maria Josefa calling to be released, but she is left locked away.

Angustius is told off for looking at the men outside. La Poncia believes that Pepe el Romano is the best suitor for her. As the oldest of the girls, and the only daughter of Bernarda’s first husband, she has the most money and therefore the best marriage prospects.

Adela openly rejects the mourning and imprisonment. As the youngest of the girls, it is clear that she is the most rebellious.

Maria Josefa escapes from her room. She tells the audience that she wants to be free from the house, and get married.

Act II opens with La Poncia and most of the daughters sewing. They talk about how Pepe has been visiting Angustius, until 1:30 am. La Poncia, however, says she heard him at 4.

Adela enters, telling the others how she wishes to be free. She dislikes the interference of her sisters, especially Martirio.

The other sisters leave and La Poncia reveals that she knows that Adela has been secretly meeting Pepe. Although Angustius is due to marry him, La Poncia says that she will probably die in childbirth, and so Adela can marry him afterwards. Adela is too impatient to do this, and so La Poncia threatens to tell on her.

Angustius has a portrait of Pepe that is missing. She enters, accusing the other sisters of taking it. Eventually, Martirio admits to taking it, calling it a joke.

After this incident, Bernarda accepts the advice of La Poncia to marry Angustius off without delay.

True to her word, La Poncia tells Bernarda about Adela seeing Pepe.

Adela and Martirio end up arguing over Pepe.

Gossip tells the girls that La Librada has given birth to an illegitimate child, and killed it out of shame. Out of all the girls, Adela is the most horrified by this.

Act III begins with Prudencia over to discuss the wedding. They talk about many bad luck omens.

Angustius says that she thinks there is something wrong with Pepe.

La Poncia knows that something bad will happen.

Maria Josefa escapes again, this time bringing a lamb with her.

Adela and Martirio fight again. Martirio admits to loving Pepe, but Adela says that he loves her. At this point, Pepe arrives, but Martirio stops Adela meeting him. They physically fight, only to be discovered by Bernarda.

During this argument, Adela breaks Bernarda’s stick, calling Pepe her only master. In response, Bernarda runs for a shotgun. A shot is heard, and Martirio says that Pepe is dead.

Adela runs off stage. We find out that Martirio lied, and Pepe has in fact fled.

It is too late, though, as Adela has hung herself. Bernarda insists that her daughter died a virgin, and orders the house into silence.


Themes and Context

The book is set in 20th century Andalusia, and so many of the themes reflect key aspects of life during that time. Lorca himself was assassinated for his republican ideals, and this play reflects his compassion for marginalised members of his society. He hoped to create a critique of the society at the time, in which everyone was under the strict scrutiny of the Catholic church.

In the world of Rural Andalusia, values were highly traditional. A few landowners owned all the land, and not all human rights were respected as they are today. Women were seen as secondary humans, and political and domestic violence were rife, along with illiteracy.

The most prominent theme is the role of women in Spain. All the characters in the play are women, who are confined to their house. For them, the only way out of this is marriage or death. Corporal punishment and disinheritance were genuine threats if they did not behave as was expected of them. We see this when Bernarda threatens her daughters with her stick. Despite the fact that men were allowed to be promiscuous, women were expected to remain chaste or risked becoming the subject of gossip. We hear several pieces of gossip about local women, who had children out of wedlock or ran off with men. These broke the rules that they were expected to follow, and so were frowned upon by the other villagers.

Love and courtship is another important theme. Women were supposed to be pure in those days, hence Bernarda’s insistence that Adela died a virgin. Traditionally, men visited the window bars of a potential match, as Pepe does. The neighbours were then able to approve the match, including the strong influence of the couple’s parents. Having a dowry was also important. As the only child of Bernarda’s first husband, Angustias is the richest of the daughters, and so has the largest dowry.

The play is set in a time where name and blood determined class. Social mobility was practically non-existent, as wealth came from inheritance or marriage. In La Casa De Bernarda Alba, we see the tension and hypocrisy caused by social class. For example, even the servants are cruel to those of lower classes.
Reputation is also important in the play. The family are fairly wealthy, due to Bernarda’s inheritance from her two dead husbands. Throughout the play, Bernarda worries about what her neighbours will think of the family. Wealth and respectability were valued strongly. Bernarda is so caught up in her worries about their reputation that she doesn’t consider Adela’s feelings, ultimately leading to her death.

Death features heavily, too. The play opens with a funeral, which the whole town attends. This shows that the family have high social status, as the number of attendees to a funeral was proportional to social status. In fact, some rich people paid others to cry at their funerals. Traditions are exaggerated for dramatic effect in the play, for example the duration of the mourning that Bernarda puts in place.


Characters

Bernarda Alba

The overly controlling mother of the house, Bernarda is twice widowed. To her, the most important thing is maintaining her family’s reputation. She oppresses the freedom of not only her daughters but her mother, too.

Adela

As the youngest daughter, Adela has the most tendency towards rebellion. It can be argued that it is not a love for Pepe that causes her suicide, but the realisation that she cannot escape Bernarda’s tyranny.

Angustius

The oldest daughter, Angustias, is the ugliest and most sickly. She has a sum of money from the death of her father, Bernarda’s first husband. This makes her the most likely to marry, hence her engagement with Pepe. However, she knows that they are not truly in love, but Pepe is her escape from the household.

Martirio

Martirio was previously in love with a man named Enrique Humanas, who was of a lower class. Because of this, they were prevented from marrying by Bernarda. Martirio still wants to escape, but she has almost given up hope. As a hunchback, her physical deformity combined with her lack of money make her unlikely to find love.

Amelia

Amelia seems to fear Bernarda the most, giving in easily to her demands.

Madgalena

Magdalena speaks of her womanhood as a curse, viewing the world bleakly.

La Poncia

The daughter of a prostitute, Poncia has been a servant to Bernarda for a long time. Despite the fact that Bernarda views her solely as a servant, Poncia considers them as friends.

Pepe El Romano

Pepe is a man from the local village who is engaged to Angustias solely for money. He is also secretly seeing Adela, which almost leads to his murder.

María Josefa

María Josefa is kept locked away in a room by her Bernarda, her daughter. Her lines are seemingly rambling and nonsensical, but as the play progresses we see that there is a truth behind her words.


I have also made a revision course on Memrise with all the key vocab.

Good luck!

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