The House of Bernarda Alba: Motif Tracking – Household Objects







































Poncia: “I’ve opened her jar of sausages.”

This small act of rebellion by Poncia portrays how such a small action makes her happy thus reflects the sadness in the lives of a maid and also shows how rebellion of such sort in that time was limited and wouldn’t get very far. Furthermore it also reflects upon the social restrictions Poncia has put on herself, therefore would only complain and go against Bernarda’s orders behind her back, which also shows how Poncia gives power to Bernarda any accepting this role as a maid who must obey her at all times.



Poncia (at the cupboard): “this crystal has some spots on it

Maid: “neither soap nor flannel will get them off.”

This example of a household objects and how the crystal will never become completely perfect reflects that Bernarda tries to maintain a higher class and rich appearance, however never will attain this status. Moreover it also symbolises how even though Bernarda tries to put up perfect appearances of herself and her daughters, the ‘spots’ / secrets will always remain no matter how hard she tries and removes them. 



Bernarda: “Magdalena don’t cry! If you want to cry, crawl under the bed.”

Bernarda is ordering her daughter to only cry hidden away under a bed, showing how important she believes appearances are and therefore any signs of weakness, trouble or anything other people could gossip about should be hidden.



Adela: “here you are.” (she gives her a round fan decorate with red and green flowers.)

Bernarda (hurling the fan to the floor): “is this the fan you give to a widow? Give me a black one, and learn to respect your father’s memory!”

Household objects also reflect upon the characters and their behaviour as Adela, who is used as tool by lorca to show that restrictions need to be broken and also give a voice to the suppressed (women). Adela hands over a colourful fan going against social expectations as the family is supposed to be in mourning and the red on the fan represents how different she is, passionate about change and braking restrictions, also reflected in the green flowers that decorate the fan and they are a symbol of nature and freedom, which the women long to have but foreshadows that Adela is the only one who is going to do anything about obtaining this ‘freedom’.



Bernarda: “a needle and thread for females: a mule and a whip for males.”

These household objects, consisting of needles and threads reflect on the stereotypical roles and low status of women during that time as women seem to be only doing passive activities such as sewing. Sewing is a large contrast to the males who have a “mule and a whip” which are objects that suggest control and the mule relates to outside work and freedom in comparison with women who are obliged to stay inside all the time. Furthermore the fact that Bernarda says this line shows how she accepts these stereotypes by putting on appearances in order to fit these restrictions that are imposed on women.



“seated in low chairs”

The fact that the women are seated in low chairs could possibly represent how in that period of history women were suppressed and had minority rights and practically no voice compared to men or other authority figures (eg: church).



‘…see each other through a window grating and - just like that- they’re engaged!’

The window grating separates the man and the woman during their conversations (we read about Angustias and Pepe’s interaction and the relatively more passionate interaction between Poncia and Evaristo the Birdman). The grating represents the social (class status), cultural (patriarchal society) and religious rules that the members of this society are forced (ironically, by themselves) to conform to. The fact that the women is behind the window grating may be an implicit portrayal of how these the burden of these rules and regulations falls more upon women than men. In fact, there is a sense of tragedy in the fact that even in this moment, a moment which is meant to be one of the wildest and freest moments of their life thus far, we see constraint and a caging of freedom. Furthermore, this ritual of coming to a woman’s window grating to express interest itself conforms to the stereotypes and rules of a patriarchal society; the man is the rescuer, the ‘knight in shining armour’ for the woman- the damsel in distress- rescuing her from this place of entrapment. There is also a sense of tragedy in this because the women, for all their unmarried life, attach aspirations and idealistic notions with these men; while after marriage the ‘man leaves the bed for the table’.



anyway it’s best for single women like you to know that fifteen days after the wedding, a man leaves the bed for the table, then the table for the tavern.”

This quotation with references to household objects is used to show how women were perceived in those days, thus “15 days after the wedding” they are of no more use anymore to the man. This suggests how powerless women were at the time, and also the social traditions and routines they impose on themselves due to social expectations and their role as women even if they don’t believed it to be the right one or fair.



Poncia: “one day he said something or other to me, and i killed all his finches with the pestle from my kitchen mortar.”

This household object shows role reversal between man and women as here Poncia takes something that belongs to her and she uses everyday in order to set control and give herself power over her husband. The fact that Poncia is going against social expectations possibly shows how Lorca wants women to also go against restrictions of that period and establish power and control compared to the voiceless people they usually are. 



‘You would know better than me, since you sleep with only a wall between you’ – Poncia to Martirio

There is a simple irony in the fact that while, usually, walls would be interpreted as constraining and enclosing, Poncia regards the wall as ‘only a wall’. This depicts the different set of definitions of things like freedom these characters have because of the stifling rules of their society. It also represents the theme of gossip and it’s predominance in this society; a wall is nothing to stop the craving of an ear for gossip.



don’t defy me, Adela, don’t defy me! Because i can raise my voice, light the lamps, and make bells ring!”

Lighting the lamps and making the bells ring, would brake the silence and darkness where all the secrets of the women lie and thus Poncia uses this threat to establish power as she could easily tell people what Adela is doing which not socially acceptable and therefore uncover the appearances the daughters and Bernarda have been keeping up all this time.



Adela: “bring out four thousand yellow flares and set them in the walls of the corral.”

This response of Adela to Poncia’s threat demonstrates a clear shift in power between the two characters, as the only power Poncia had over Adela was knowledge and now that Adela wants to show the world what is truly happening and not afraid to reveal the truth, Poncia is left powerless. Furthermore, the colours of the flares are yellow thus bright and attract attention and they would be “set off in the coral” which is outside of the house and outside of where the stereotypical women of that time are allowed to go. This passage where Adela openly rebels against social restrictions is used as a tool by Lorca to show that these voiceless people need to rebel against society in an open and clear way in order to be heard.



Angustias: “did you buy me that bottle of perfume?”

Poncia: “the most expensive. And the face-powder. I put them on the table of your room.”


The most expensive perfume shows how Angustias concern for status and, in addition, both perfume and face-powder are significant as they are both elements to cover one self up and therefore only for appearance.


The bottle of perfume here may also symbolize Angustias’s impending marriage and her ability to enjoy her sexuality / sensuality now that her relationship with a man is ‘official’ and thus not just scandalous gossip. The sheet with the lace they make for Angustias is also a similar symbol.



‘Adela: Let’s go watch 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’

(Talking about the harvesters)


The window here seems to represent a limited view of the freedom and vibrancy outside. While allowing them this peek however, it is still barring them from it, making it in effect unreachable even though it is so close; an unattainable dream. The girls’ actions here reveal their enchantment and awe at the harvesters is Lorca’s implicit revelation of their desire to escape and break free of this stifling society.


Angustias: “where is the picture?”

Adela: “what picture?”

Angustias: “one of you has hidden it from me!”


Poncia: “it was…”

Bernarda: “don’t be afraid to tell me.”

Poncia: “between the sheets of Martirio’s bed!”


This household is used by Martirio to demonstrate her love towards Pepe, however does so in secret. The fact that Martirio loves Pepe and doesn’t do anything about it, shows the restrictions that are imposed by society and themselves, in which feelings of such need to be kept in secret. Furthermore the fact that Martirio’s only way to demonstrate her love for him is by taking a picture of Pepe contrasts with the ‘heroin’ of the book, Adela as she has ways of rebelling that will actually make an impact.


‘[…The curtain rises on total silence, interrupted only by the clatter of dishes and cutlery.]’

The silence here represents the distance between the characters, emotionally, and the lack of warmth in the family.  The clattering of dishes also exposes the kinds of work that women find themselves doing in this society.



it’s lovely. Three pearls! In my day, pearls meant tears.”

This object, which are pearls on the ring of Angustias are said by prudencia to represent tears. This object was used to foreshadow the tragedy that will occur in the marriage and between the sisters and Pepe. Furthermore, this wedding does actually represent tears for the sisters as they too love Pepe and Angustias herself, as she is being married only for her money and her fiancé is having an affair with her sisters. 



at centre, a table with an oil lamp where Bernarda and her daughter are eating.”

Here the oil lamp in possibly used to soften appearances and thus symbolising how the characters and not showing their true selves due to keeping up appearances for the public and other women in the house.



pictures of nymphs or legendary kings in improbable landscapes.”

This part of the conversation highlights the main use of the furniture; it is not for practicality or even use, simply for showing to others, displaying their wealth.



Prudencia: “your furniture they tell me, is lovely.”

Bernada: I spent sixteen thousand reales.’

The household objects mentioned here, shows how it comes up in conversation in order to act proper and also is important as people look at it and seem judge you from what you own. Once again this is part of Bernarda’s plans to keep up appearance and act much more superior and rich then she actually is in society.



Poncia: “the best is the mirrored wardrobe”

This household objects is significant as it seems to be like a microcosm of the house of Bernarda alba. The mirror on the wardrobe represents the superficiality of the house and how the women are always trying to keep up appearances, thus what other people see is the only thing that matters, when actually many secrets are kept inside the house, represented by the wardrobe which is hiding information, feelings and the truth inside, away from the outside world and locked up. This idea also represents most of the individuals in the house (apart from Adela) as they put on a fake appearance when they are actually keeping secret inside and hiding things from each other.



Poncia: “ your daughters are tucked away in a cupboard, and that’s how they live.”

This household objects represents how the daughters are being locked up and forced (by Bernarda) to hide their feelings and anything that would be seen as socially unacceptable away in a “cupboard”.



‘[She seizes her mother’s cane and breaks it into two]’

The cane which is representative of Bernada’s authority and suffocating control over her family has been broken, symbolizing the ultimate outburst of Adela, her finally breaking free, wildly, of these social rules and obligations that she has been forced to conform to for all of her life. The death of Adela is presented by Lorca as a tragedy; in this oppressive society, she has to die for her freedom.



‘Carry her to her room and dress her in white. No one is to say a thing. She died a virgin’

This is perhaps one of the most shocking moments in the play. Bernada’s reaction to Adela’s death is to ‘dress her in white’ to show (falsely) to society that she died a virgin. White is a colour that symbolizes purity and virginity however what is shocking is that Bernada’s initial reaction is not an emotion or even an outcry on her daughter’s death, but her once again lost in her endless need to present herself and her family as unblemished. She orders for them to change Adela’s clothes; clothes are what society can see, an external factor. Lorca obviously is depicting through Bernada the stifling nature of these social rules; ultimately, she too is a victim of these social rules. In fact she has been crazed by them to the extent that even after a shocking event such as her daughter’s death, she is unable to think of anything else but what people will think.




Key moment:

One of the key moments in this play that represent household objects is when Poncia states that “the best if the mirrored wardrobe”. This object is particularly significant as it represents a microcosm of the house of Bernarda Alba and portrays one of the major themes of the play; appearances. The mirrored wardrobe are like the daughters and especially Bernarda as they all keep up their appearances represented by the mirror, showing that what people see is only what they will know about them and therefore if the house keeps up good appearances it will seem like they are a perfect and socially acceptable household. However the wardrobe behind the mirror represents how the women keep their secrets and feelings hidden away from each other and society. Lorca uses this image in order to contrast with Adela which is how he believes the voiceless and suppressed should act, thus rebel and go against social restrictions, shown when Adela ultimately decides to no longer hide away her secrets and therefore reveal the truth. Moreover, the “mirrored-wardrobe” also represents Spain under the dictatorship of Franco/Fascism, as Bernarda forces her daughters to hide away what is to her unacceptable just like people in Spain were forced to hide away what they thought if it went against fascism or else they would get themselves killed.