The House of Bernarda Alba: Motif tracking: Doors and Windows




Summary Paragraph:

Lorca uses the motif of doors and windows to symbolise the entrapment and confinement of the daughters by their despotic mother. It is what stands in the way of their freedom and the daughters are constantly reminded of their isolation. The windows, doors and walls in the play give us an insight from into how women were, almost literally, kept imprisoned within the home and the division disparity between the freedoms allowed to men and women are clearly outlined as we often see the women near windows and doors but unable to exit through them in contrast to the men who are frequently depicted as working in the fields, etc. The walls that shut the women inside the house are ‘thick walls’ that let nothing in or out with the exception of the sound of the church bells which also reflects the omnipresent power of the church.


Doors and Windows can also be used to suggest the power of social expectations as outside the daughters are forced to keep up appearances but when they are inside they are afforded a limited freedom since even Bernada admits that she doesn’t care what the daughters get up to as long as ‘the neighbours don’t see’. The power of these social rules is evinced when Bernarda aims to lock up the house for 8 years to mourn her husband’s death and the girls also have no freedom with regard to whom they marry


In the beginning, the doors and windows represent the power and control Bernarda wields but as time goes on, and as Bernarda is unable to see the turmoil brewing within her own doors that is causing her authority to evaporate, the doors and windows signify her complete loss of any influence on the actions of her daughters. Doors and windows are also used to demonstrate that Adela rebels against her mother’s oppressive ways and helps the reader grasp to what degree Adela is rebelling.








“A very white room in BERNADA’S house. Thick walls. Arched doorways with jute curtains trimmed…Church bells are tolling”

This quotation shows the emotionless lack of life (white) in Bernada’s house with the whole family imprisoned within the room. The ‘thick walls’ highlights the theme of imprisonment or oppression of the family reflecting the oppressive conservative forces of the time. The only sounds that can get through the walls are the church bells which suggest that the church has enough power to control anyone and anywhere. The arched doorways implies the grandness, powerful, or dominance of the record of the family once being rich or possibly wanting to appear rich


This quotation shows how the townsfolk such as the Alba family fear the eyes and ears of their fellow townspeople. This quotation may also suggest the irony that the social rules which constrain the people of the pueblo have been, like these thick walls, built by the people themselves.



Poncia: The old lady. Is she   locked up tight?

Maid: With two turns of the key

Poncia: You should fasten the bolt, too. She has fingers like five skeleton keys!


The old lady is locked up as she is considered mad due to her outspoken nature, which, in this society, is dangerous as certain things have to be kept secret.


Poncia: On that day I will lock myself in a room with her, and spit at her for a whole year!

The maid’s jealousy/anger for Bernarda is overflowing as the maid wants to corner Bernarda and let her feelings be known.



“the walls trembled, and when he sang ‘Amen’, it was as if a wolf had come into the church”

This shows that that even the walls that are powerful enough to keep anyone out or in even give into the power of the church as they trembled. It shows that amount of power and control the church has to flex its influence over society and social order.



Bernarda: Have them leave they way they came in. I don’t want them coming through here.


It reveals the power that Bernarda has in the house as she controls how and where people move.


Bernarda: Well, look for another – you’re going to need one. During our eight years of mourning, no wind from the street will enter this house! Pretend we have sealed up the doors and windows with bricks. This was how it was in my father’s house and in my grandfather’s house.


This is a key quote as it illustrates what Bernarda is presently doing; sealing up the house. It also reveals her motives behind it (her father and his father did it).


This quotation also shows that Bernada is imposing the social rules and orders upon her family and herself, which implies that the social order of society is kept up because we impose it upon ourselves to obey and suffer. 



Bernarda: It’s not that – out there, the neighbours can see her from their window.

Bernarda says why her mother shouldn’t be seen and through this, reveals that the actions of her mother are unacceptable to her as it reflects poorly on her in the eyes of society.


In addition, this quotation reveals the importance of gossip and the fear of being spied upon that runs throughout the play. Gossip travels through spaces such as doors and windows and so those portals must be kept closed.


Obviously this also shows that Bernada cares more about appearances rather than the health for her mother; showing just how importance appearances are to her.  



“I saw her peering through a crack in the front door. The men had just left”

This quotation shows how the daughters of Barnarda Alba are denied their freedom which is represented by the world outside which can be seen through the crack in the front door. It also shows the desperation of the daughters that they are willing to peer through the front door through a small crack rather than try to open the door itself.


It also shows that looking at the men is frowned upon suggesting that the rules are strict with severe consequences if not obeyed.



Poncia: …And she stood at the window, listening to the men’s conversation – which as always, was not fit to hear.

This obviously illustrates the spying that goes on in society, and the fact that women were not allowed to mix with the men but it also suggests that cracks in windows and doors provide women the opportunity to find out the gossip and news of towns from their comfort of home and a sense of freedom.


 The fact that men are outside their windows suggests that men are more free than women as they can roam about and do as they please unlike women who can usually never go out and do anything without worrying. It shows that they are near freedom, but can never be free like the men are.


In addition the cracks may suggest the fact that the control of the authoritarian forces is not complete or it may reflect that small desire within everyone to rebel and to search for personal freedom.



Martirio: I knew she wouldn’t be. Her fiancé won’t let her go out, not even to the front door. She used to be full of fun; now she doesn’t even powder her face.


This is a parallelism as Bernarda takes the same stance as the fiancé in treating her daughters and reveals the degree of power that men can have over women’s lives.


 The fact that he doesn’t let her near the front door implies the freedom that lies behind that door and that the women crave it and will possibly never come back the husbands once having discovered it.


We also see the girls indulging in gossip as this is their only source of information about the outside world and also the only thing they have to alleviate their boredom.



Adela: Is that why she went out after the funeral and was looking through that door? And that man has the nerve to…

Adela: I will not get used to it! I can’t be locked up! I don’t want my body to dry up like yours! I don’t want to waste away and grow old in these rooms. Tomorrow I’ll put on my green dress and go walking down the street. I want to get out!


Adela comments on the spying that occurs in society and also expresses her desire for freedom away from Bernarda’s house. The pain she feels from the entrapment enrages her and her rebellious spirit explodes out in anger.


Bernarda: Until I leave this house feet first, I will make the decisions – my own, and yours!

Bernarda once again asserts her dominance in the house and makes it clear that she and only she has the power in this “prison”.



A white inner room in BERNADA’s house. The doors at the left lead to the bedrooms.

Once again reflects the plain, simplistic life the women in the house lead (lack of life). This is due to Bernada imposing the social rules upon herself and her daughters. The doors possibly could signify the existence of privacy within the house as well as the doors to each other’s lives that exist within one house.



Amelia: Open the door to the patio, to see if we can get a little fresh air.

As the daughters are only able to open the door and not go out, this quote reinforces the entrapment of the daughters.



Poncia: …Angustias was still at her window with Pepe.

Poncia: Tell me Angustias – what did he say to you, the first time he came to your window?

Martirio: It really is strange how two people who have met suddenly see each other through a window grating and – just like that – they’re engaged!

Angustias: Not me, because when a man approaches a window grating, he already knows – from people who come and go, who fetch and carry – that the answer will be yes.


This dialogue here shows the importance of the window in Spanish society for the women as men propose to them from there. It reveals that the window represents the hope of freedom for women as they can look at the outside through it (which is emphasised in the play by the fact that women rarely leave the house).


This also suggests the existence of the society of male predominance- that women’s lives will forever be controlled by men’s actions, needs and wants as it is up to them to approach the windows.


Poncia: The first time my husband, Evaristo the Birdman, came to my window – ha, ha, ha!


Shows the reader that men in this society typically go up to windows to propose.


Amelia jumps up and peers out of the door.

This shows the fear of social rules and expectations as Amelia is clearly nervous about whether or not their conversation and laughter has been overheard.



Adela: Concern? Or curiosity? Weren’t you all sewing?  Well, go on! I wish I were invisible, so I could walk through these rooms without being asked where I am going!


Adela questions why everyone is society spies on others and complains that nothing can be done without others knowing.


“You would know better than me, since you sleep with only a wall between you.”

This may suggests that walls can keep things (mainly gossip and news) from travelling, but two things cannot be stopped by walls. They are the church and its influence over everyone and spying on one another that even members of the same family do. Similarly the activities and events that occur within the house can suggest that another power that is great enough to travel through the walls are family matters that are hazardous to destroying the family and the whole ‘house’.



Poncia: Why were you standing at the open window, half naked, with the light burning – the second time Pepe came to talk with your sister?

This quote uses a number of motifs to strengthen the belief that Adela wants to be free. The open window, lack of clothes (as clothes are restrictive), and the light (suggesting hope) all combine effectively to express Adela’s wish for freedom from her mother.



Chorus: Open your doors and your windows, Ladies who live in this pueblo! Harvesters beg for your roses, Roses to trim their sombreros!

Adela: Let’s go and watch them from the window in my room!

Poncia: Be careful not to open it too wide – they’re bold enough to give it a push to see who is looking.


The fact that the men are singing the song to persuade(?) the women to come out and ‘show’ themselves to the men suggests the power the men have over women. It also shows the relationship between men and their freedom that contrasts greatly with that of the women as they watch from their open windows who can see the freedom, but never actually experience it.


“Let’s go watch them from the window in my room”

This is a very important quotation in the play as it is juxtaposition to the normal representation of windows as a barrier because here the window seems to be a provider of freedom.



“The neighbors must have their ears glued to the wall“

Shows that most of the townspeople are always on the lookout for other people’s gossip. This also could suggest that the gossip creates but is also fostered by the imprisonment and boredom of women that are stuck within the house.



“Because if I talk, the walls will collapse in shame!”

The image of collapsing walls suggests the destructive results of going against the conventional social rules. It is in order to avoid this shame that Bernarda (and others) have constructed such a cage around themselves.



Angustias: I talk through the window in my bedroom.

Angustias makes it clear that Pepe will marry her as he comes to the window in her bedroom.



Maid: There’s a big crowd up the street! And all the neighbours are at their doors!

This quote reveals that people feel in power and control when they stand next to their doors and this makes the door a symbol of power.



They stand listening, not daring to take another step towards the outside door.

It might appear that they are fearful of the outside world (nature/freedom), but it is rather the consequences that they would face if they were caught. Their fear comes from the strict and powerful Bernada that instills fear into them through violence and her status as the widower of the house.



Four white walls lightly bathed in blue. The décor must be one of perfect simplicity. The doors, illuminated by the light from inside, cast a delicate glow on the scene.

The scene color now changes to a blue suggesting a of tragic, sad atmosphere that will occur in this act. This also suggests that the atmosphere that will happen inside the house will not affect the outside world, for the lightly bathed blue light cannot escape and is entrapped within the 4 walls. This relates closely to the theme of imprisonment and captivity of the girls in the house.



Poncia: …But some dogs, with more feelings than many creatures, pulled it out, and as if by the hand of God, they put it on her doorstep. …


The door is once again a symbol of power as it claims that God himself placed on the most prominent location of the house that everyone can see.



Prudencia: You know how he is. Ever since he fought with his brothers over the inheritance, he hasn’t used the front door. He puts up a ladder and climbs over the wall and the corral.


Out of shame, he stops using the front door to prevent allowing the eyes of society to look at him. It shows the pressure that society can exert upon a person. However, he still enters the house, only this time by a ladder. This story helps to suggest how ludicrous our adherence to social rules is.



The breeding stallion, locked up and kicking the walls

This quotation reveals the theme of nature against social rules which may imply that the social rules of the pueblo are unnatural. The stallion represents nature as he tries to kick down the walls built by the society which box him in the small space of the corral. It also shows how the males, man or animal, are granted freedom because Bernarda commands that he be let out of the corral.



Adela: I’m going to the front door to stretch my legs and get a little fresh air


This is the first time that a woman goes outside the house and it hints at the rebellion building up within Adela.



Angustias: I often stare very hard at Pepe, until he goes blurred behind the bars of the window, as if her were being covered by a cloud of dust like the ones the sheep stir up.


It is important to note that the windows have bars covering them and this enforces the prison like atmosphere within the house. Also, it reveals Angustias’s own hopes of being free from her mother.



She looks furtively from side to side and disappears through the door to the corral


This quotation shows the fear created by breaking the rules.



Maria Josefa: Are you going to open the door for me?

The “mad” woman wants to be escape and be free but is unable to do it herself as Bernarda has banished her away from the eyes of society.



Adela: Get away from that door!

Adela is rebelling against her family and is trying to break free from the prison she feels she is in.



“Open up! Don’t think these walls can hide your shame!”

Echoes the quotation on page 148 about the walls collapsing in shame; that the shame of disgracing your family with their sinful acts cannot be hidden by the walls. This implies that the sinful acts are too powerful and that even the strong walls cannot withstand the burden of a huge secret. On the other hand, however, it appears that Bernarda is powerless to open the door suggesting that Adela currently has the upper hand.



Bernarda: Open up, or I’ll break down the door! Adela! Bring a hammer!

Bernarda is no longer in control of her own household and is unable to make Adela do what she wants her to do.




 Key moment:

Adela’s suicide is by far the most important scene in the play for this motif. The door plays a pivotal role in showing Bernarda’s loss of control in the house as she is unable to open the door. The door itself used to be a barrier for Adela to break down but as she gains control over her life and Bernarda loses her authority, this role reversal is reflected by who controls the door, “Open up, or I’ll break down the door! Adela!”. The door also sheds light on Bernarda’s character as her overbearing and cruel personality is apparent. The importance of the door in this scene is further highlighted by the fact that it is the climax of the play and it is part of the very last scene, which is the scene the audience will remember when they leave. The door also plays a key role in the plot as it prevents Bernarda from trying to stop Adela committing suicide. Neighbours are also denied the opportunity to spy on Bernarda, “the neighbours are awake”, due to the door that is blocking their view, and this shows the extent to which spying and gossip stretch in this society.