The House of Bernarda Alba: Motif Tracking – Clothing and Nudity






























Clothes are significant because it represents the boundary between men and women as well as religion. Bernarda illustrates her power through clothes, by restricting what her daughters can wear. Forcing her daughters to wear black for 8 years represents her grief. Clothing symbolizes people from the outside; it affects how they are viewed by society. Perhaps Bernarda’s is obsessed with her image and how society perceives her and her family.








Roy away! Antonio Maria Benavides, stiff your woven suit and your high boots! Rot away! Never again will you life up my skirt behind the back corral!’

There is something animalistic about the way that they had sex in the corral and also the way in which they did not even undress properly. The sequestered location suggests that this was the kind of secret that needs to be kept away from the prying eyes of the people in town and it also suggests that this kind of freedom can only exist in natural places (the corral) rather than in the house.


This quotation also reveals the exploitative nature of the upper classes. Antonio is dressed nicely in ‘woven suit’ and ‘high boots’ and it is because of the social status indicated by these clothes that he is able to treat the maid in this manner. Possibly we see how corrupt the upper classes are and thus they hypocrisy of the strict social rules which are enforced upon everyone else.



‘In church, women should look at no man but the priest, and at him only because he’s wearing skirts.’

Firstly this suggests how respectful and modest women are expected to be and how strict the rules are for them: Bernarda and says that the only man a woman should look at is the priest because ‘he is wearing skirts’, i.e. someone who is not ‘really’ a man at all. Otherwise the girls are forbidden to look at any other man.



‘Yes – to fill my house with their sweaty underclothes and poisoned tongue!’

The image of disgusting underclothes suggests how underneath the outward appearances the town is corrupt and dirty. There is also something sordid about possibly echoing the sordid pleasure that Bernarda gets when she gossips about others or when they gossip about her. The poison tongues suggest the deadly potency of this gossip and reinforces the idea of something squalid and corrupt.



‘Is this the fan you give to a widow? Give me a black one, and learn to respect your father’s memory’

This reveals how strictly Bernarda will follow the rules of mourning – even the fans must be black – we get the impression that she wants everything to be perfectly black so that no one can judge her.


The fact that Bernarda doesn’t want the fan to be green signifies that she does not want to give anyone in the house any chance of freedom. In contrast all that is allowed is the stifling and deathly colour of black.



‘Don’t take the kerchief off your head.’

The fact that Bernarda commands the daughters immediately suggests a dictatorship and the fact that Bernarda is going to try to make sure that she is the only one that remains in power. Furthermore, the fact that she wants the daughters to be seen with kerchiefs on their heads when outdoors adds to the idea of Bernarda trying to ‘keep up appearances’ because she wants people to know that she is following social expectations, and is mourning for her recent loss.



‘They say she rode with her breast hanging out.’

The lack of clothes represents freedom although Bernarda views this as evidence that Paca is a loose and shameful woman. Although it is also clear that Bernarda loves gossiping about sexual things – possibly partly because of the power that this knowledge will afford her over others but it seems more that there is a vicarious pleasure she gets out of hearing of the exploits of other suggesting her own desires to be free.



‘... Paca la Roseta had her hair undone and was wearing a crown of flowers on her hand.’

Here Paca’s clothes, or lack of the suggest that she is not following the social codes of the pueblo. The crown of flowers suggests freedom and the image of her riding wit her hair undone, further shows that she is challenging social expectations and does not care for what she looks like in public. This perhaps foreshadows Adela’s later rebellions and is representative of the freedom that Lorca wishes were enjoyed in Spain in contrast to the oppressive social rules currently in place.



“In the mean time you can begin to embroider your trousseaus”


 ‘Trousseaus’ are supposed to ‘the new clothes a woman brings to her marriage’ suggesting the importance of external appearances and also the need to have trousseaus for her daughters’ weddings because this is what society would expect to happen.


There is also a sense of futility and pathos about this as it is clear that none of the other sisters is ever going to marry.



‘Today there’s more finesse, bridges wear white veils like in the big cities...’

This suggests the idea of keeping up appearances as the ‘white veils like in the big cities’ clearly shows the wish to appear of a higher economic and social status. The idea of white also portrays innocence and the fact that she has no hidden secrets, which we as readers know is not true.



“She put on the green dress she made to wear on her birthday; she went out to the corral and began to shout”


“I had such dreams about this dress. I planned to wear it the day we were going out to eat watermelons down by the waterwheel.”


The green dress is an important motif. Firstly the fact that it is ‘green’ suggests nature and in turn freedom. The further mention of watermelons and waterwheels reinforce this. This quote sums up the freedom that the girls do not have


Green is also a bright colour which suggests the happiness and vibrancy which the house lacks but which Adela possess. The green dress foreshadows Adela’s later rebellions against Bernarda



‘What you could do is dye it black’

This quote occurs right after Adela expresses her emotions and her dreams of the cheerful times she would wear this dress, and this is being crushed by the greater forces who believe that oppression is the best way for these daughters. Black is a dull colour and dying a cheerful dress which represents freedom black, is a metaphor for the idea of oppression taking over the freedom.



‘I’ll put on my green dress and go walking down the street’

Again we see Adela rebelling against social expectations and desiring to be free



‘Why were you standing at the open window, half naked, with the light burning’

The lack of clothes suggests she wants to give herself away This quote can be interpreted in two ways. Firstly, it could easily suggest freedom, and the idea that the daughters are living in two worlds which has freedom and oppression. They long for freedom which is shown by the ‘open window’ and the fact that she is ‘half naked’ however they are caught up in a dictatorship as we know the windows are barred and she is only ‘half naked’ which is suggests she longs for freedom, but a greater force holds her back from going all the way. This is also the moment when Adela is tempting Pepe to come to meet her after he has been talking at Angustias’ window.



“It’s for me. For a shift”


‘Shift’ is a type of underclothing, and it represents several ideas. Firstly the ‘shift’ may represent their desire for sexual pleasure. The daughters have experienced nothing throughout their lives and the ‘shift’ is one of the forms they can bring pleasure into their unvarying lives. The underclothing also represents freedom but the oppressed environment around Martirio forces her to keep her show of freedom hidden under her clothing defying the entire point of freedom. The idea of having the shift hidden also enforces the idea of ‘appearances’ as Bernarda, who represents the oppressive environment, is unable to see it and therefore the appearance on the outer layer still looks fine and a good appearance is upheld which is the only thing which Bernarda desires in the town they reside.



“Lizards between her breasts”


The reader has been given an impression that Adela is restless and is hiding something from the rest of her family. This signifies the idea of censorship and the fact that the whole family has to carry out any tasks which could possibly be a threat to their reputation in complete secrecy. This portrays the oppression which is imposed by Bernarda Alba.



“Until they strip themselves naked, let the river sweep them away”


The idea that they strip themselves naked suggests freedom once again and the motif of water is once again added to reinforce this. It suggests that Adela has been pushed so far that she will do anything she feels like.



“Dress her in white”


The idea of dressing Adela in white after she has committed suicide suggests the idea of appearances once again. We know that Bernarda has a longing to appear socially and economically superior in the town they are in even though they are not exactly what they seem. The fact that she is being dressed in white reveals the hypocrisy  of Bernarda and the conservative system she represents as we know that Adela was not a ‘virgin’.




Key moment

‘She put on the green dress she made to wear on her birthday’

‘I’ll put on my green dress and go walking down the street’


The green dress can be seen as a symbol of rebellion. She's not wearing black, the colour her mother ordered her to wear for 8 years to mourn for the death of her father and so she is rebelling against her mother's expectations and the expectations of a society. In contrast, green is a color that presents liveliness and vibrancy. This shows Adela's liveliness and vitality and the fact that the society she lives in is too restrictive for her. Her desire to walk out in the street is symbolic of her rebelliousness and desire for freedom because the whole play is set inside the house, the girls are always restricted and confined.



“Standing at the open window, half naked, with the light burning”.


This is a key moment because this line optimizes the entire story by the way the daughters are trapped and the feelings they are experiencing. The idea that the daughters are ‘half naked’ and the ‘open windows’ are barred shows that the freedom they experience is not complete and there will always be a stronger force that controls them. This reflects the power of the conservative rules that governed Spanish society at the time.