The House of Bernarda Alba: Chapter Notes – Act 1
In this act, we first learn about the funeral of Bernada’s husband, followed by the introduction of the different female characters and our impression of them based on their conversations. Also, we learn about Pepe el Romano, Angustias’ fiancé. There is a conflict between Bernada’s mother and Bernada at the end of Act One.
Motifs and Connotations
“This crystal has some spots on it.” Pg 121
Bernada feels that that cleanliness of the house speaks for who she is. Everything has to be clean and orderly as she is afraid of anything that could tarnish her reputation or image, and this is metaphorically shown as the symbol of cleanliness.
Water- wells, sea, rivers
“…this damn town without a river, this town of wells!” Pg 125
“To get married at the edge of the sea, at the edge of the sea!” Pg 136
Water is one of the major symbols representing freedom within this play. The quote on page 125 refers to a well. In that context, the water doesn’t flow, indicating the lack of freedom as well as the confinement and restrictions that Bernada places upon her daughters and similarly, the hold that society has on individuals. This is contrasted with the quote on page 136 where the flowing water in the sea represents freedom.
Doors and windows
“…the neighbors can see her from their window.” Pg 127
“…peering through a crack in the front door.” Pg 127
Another motif that represents freedom, one of the key themes to this play. The two quotes above reveals different scenarios. The first one on page 127 speaks of how Bernada is worried that “neighbors can see her…”. This draws the importance towards fulfilling social expectations and how significant public appearances are to Bernada. She refused to release her mother as she feel that she will tarnish her reputation and image. On the contrary, the second quote on page 127 represents the freedom that the daughters were denied. Angustias was spying on the men through the crack in the door. In a sense, this gave her a yearning to be free outside.
“…the men who went with her are the sons of strangers, too.” Pg 128
There is a sense of detest for strangers when Bernada described the men who “kidnapped” Paca la Roseta. It would seem like anyone outside the circle that society has drawn is seen as immoral. This shows how important conforming to society is, as if not, then that individual will be judged by the rest of the community.
“Then he married someone with more money than me.” Pg 131
“I want a man so I can get married and be happy!” Pg 136
The quote on page 131 shows the priorities in those times where the idealistic ideas of marriage based on love is not in practice. Like Martirio, Pepe el Romano is marrying Angustias for her wealth and land. This is contrasting to Maria Josefa’s intention of marrying for love and be happy. She links this to the sea, feeling that marriage will grant her freedom. However, this is ironic as given an example from previous pages; marriage is simply another form of imprisonment.
Gaps and uncertainties
“[They sit. There is a pause.” Pg 123
There are pauses and gaps through this novel to show tension, uncertainty or even to hide secrets. The quote on page 123 shows the power that Bernada holds over her daughters. There is a traditionalist mentality of following rules when set and told. This emphasises how restricted the freedom within the house is and how confined the daughters feel.
There is a system of ranking within the household on the power that each has. Even though Poncia is also a maid, she has been given a name, indicating her as a higher rank compared to the other servant, simply referred to as maid. Below the maid is the beggar woman who begged for scraps.
The head of the house hold is Bernada, mother of five daughters. From the conversation between them, it allows the readers the opportunity to evaluate each character. Of the five daughters, Angustias, is to be married of to Pepe el Romano. This has caused a rift between the sisters as Adela has fallen for him as well and also because of marrying for her money. Despite Angustias stubborn nature, it causes the readers to sympatise with her, whether or not she is oblivious to the situation.
There are also the First, Second, and Third woman.
“A very white inner room in Bernada’s house. Thick walls. Arched doorways with jute curtains trimmed with black beads and ruffles. Rush bottomed chairs. Pictures of nymphs or legendary kings in improbable landscapes. It is summer. A great shady silence envelops the stage…Church bells are tolling.”
At the beginning of the play, the setting was described as the paragraph above. Already from the description of the house- thick walls, there is a sense of confinement and secrecy. “A great shady silence” describes the tension in the air. It also represents how Bernada feels constantly pressured to conform to society. The “pictures of nymphs” depict a highly romanticised and wealthy family. Finally, the last line describing the church bells highlights the importance of religion, as not only to live but also as a source of confinement.