The House of Bernarda Alba: Motif Tracking – Animals, Nature and Natural Places








































“I’m a good dog; I bark when I’m told to, and I snap at beggars’ heels when she [Bernarda] sets me on them” - Poncia

Dogs are known for their loyalty so Poncia is describing herself as a very loyal and obedient servant to Bernarda. Even though she doesn’t like her ‘owner’, she takes pride in being a good servant as that’s the best thing she can do within her social status, and therefore she can give meaning to her life.



“Never again will you lift up my skirts behind the back corral!” – Maid

The corral is where the ‘inappropriate’ activities go on. In this case for instance, it’s where the maid got seduced by Bernarda’s husband. It’s a suitable place because it’s located outside the house and is a place where only men work in, so other women are unlikely to go there and spot them. Furthermore, since it is a place where horses are kept in there is not only a sense of freedom in being there but also a feeling of rebelling since these animals can be quite wild and passionate, and in this play they’re often associated with running away from this town (e.g. when Paca la Roseta was carried away on horseback).



“The sun beats down like lead” – Third Woman

This image represents the fascist era in Spain under the authority of Franco when strict rules were enforced and those who broke them were severely punished if not killed. The sun’s heat not only make the people feel constricted (under all the rules) but the way it ‘beats down like lead’ shows the heavy, violent punishments which came to those who broke them. An unbearable, oppressive atmosphere is intentionally created by Lorca as well to convey how people of every class in Spain were affected by the dictator’s unjust methods of ruling, as exemplified by the sun, the heat of which can be felt everywhere.



“That’s the way you must talk in this damned town without a river, this town of wells! Where you always drink the water fearing that it’s poisoned!” – Bernarda

Rivers are bodies of moving water and so symbolize freedom whilst on the contrary wells enclose still water, evidently symbolizing restrictions and a sense of uncertainty for the future (since nothing much can be seen when looking down into a well). Therefore, this town is obviously filled with restrictions as seen in the form of the numerous social rules which the inhabitants – especially the women – apply on themselves. The fact that everyone has to constantly be on guard and live in fear also suggests all the betrayal and backstabbing which goes on between the townspeople. Underneath the facades all a person in this place cares about is making themselves get by in life, and they’d go as far as “poison[ing]” others to do so since making others live in fear seems to be the only way one can have power over them.



a round fan decorated with red and green flowers” – (stage directions)

This fan sums up Adela (the owner of the fan) perfectly. The colour red connotes passion, romance and in terms of people, a strong, assertive and wild personality, all of which describes her. The colour green and the flowers are associated with nature and hence, freedom, another quality which Adela seems to have a lot of compared to the other characters. Additionally, because she’s the one giving Bernarda the fan suggests she’s a kind and generous person whilst her mother, who ungratefully rejects the fan, is seen as a rude and rather cruel character.



Paca la Roseta had her hair undone and was wearing a crown of flowers on her head” – Poncia

The natural state which Paca is in, with her hair all loose and a garment made out of something from nature, conveys her carefree attitude and the freedom she had. This freedom was gained from her choosing not to follow social rules anymore and instead do what she wanted without caring what anyone else thought. Her appearance is now relaxed and lighthearted because she no longer has to maintain a certain appearance for society.



she put on the green dress she made to wear on her birthday, she went out to the corral and began to shout, ‘Chickens! Chickens, look at me!’” - Magdalena

Adela is the only daughter who openly shows she cannot stand the numerous restrictions and being conservative for the sake of keeping up appearances. At the same time though, she doesn’t want to completely break the rules of society and bring shame to her household, so she decides to exercise and stretch her freedom rights instead. That is why she puts on a dress the colour of nature and goes outside the oppressive, restrictive house to the corral and interacts with the animals. Her call out to the chickens shows her crying out for attention and recognition that she’s now that little bit freer. Magdalena is the only sister who genuinely cares for Adela, and here it’s obvious she’s talking about her out of affection, but perhaps also out of jealousy because she wouldn’t dare to do such a thing.



“we were going out to eat water melons down by the water-wheel” - Adela

The notion that they were going to go outside to eat watermelons – which bears the 2 significant colours of red and green – and the enthusiasm with which Adela said this demonstrates how eager they all were to leave the oppressive household and be closer to nature, their only source of freedom. Even though they would have been less restricted out there, they still wouldn’t have been completely free of society’s rules. The water-wheel suggests this; the water does flow around the water wheel (a sign of freedom), but it only travels around repeatedly in a circle, signifying the cyclical nature of things in this play. No matter how hard the people try to escape the constricting rules of society and of Franco, they always end up coming back to where they started because they’re too scared to completely break these rules and suffer the consequences.



“I want to get married at the edge of the sea” – Maria Josefa

Maria Josefa seems to be the only one in the Alba household who doesn’t care about social expectations, and this is emphasized by her wanting to get married despite being 80 years old. Even though she would go to the sea – where the water runs free and wild like those who aren’t under the regulations and power of Franco and society – she realizes somehow she doesn’t have complete freedom and so can only manage to go to the edge. She is on the borderline between being free and being bound by rules, and between being sane and insane.



“I killed all his finches with the pestle” - Poncia

In this play, Lorca displays how the only way a woman can gain power is by acting like a man. This is shown here when Poncia uses violence to intimidate and control her husband by killing his birds with a pestle, a phallic object. Moreover, birds can fly and therefore symbolize freedom, so Poncia is being represented as Franco here by crushing the people’s freedom and killing their loved ones.



see if you can catch this wild rabbit with your hands!” - Adela

Adela describes herself as a “wild rabbit” because she may look pretty on the outside but is bursting with energy and passion on the inside, and she won’t let anyone ‘catch’ or contain her because she hates being restricted. She’s ‘wild’ because she is unpredictable, but she only thinks of herself as a rabbit possibly because she’s not as strong as she wants to be. This is evident at the end of the play when she kills herself because she wasn’t mentally capable of handling her lover’s supposed death.



“they came from the hills…[the harvesters] paid to take her into the olive grove…a boy with green eyes, as tight as a sheaf of wheat” - Poncia

These men have come “from the hills” where there are evidently no strict social rules which they are restricted by, and since they work with the land they seem to be at one with nature and therefore appear to be liberated and not oppressed. The boy with eyes the colour of nature emphasizes this point. Another symbol of freedom is the olive grove; similar to the corral it’s where the ‘socially unacceptable’ activities occur, but the people who go there have rid themselves of maintaining appearances and seem to be a lot happier because of it. The olive grove also represents a place where many people would’ve wanted escape to in the fascist era because they didn’t like the dictator leader and his methods of control through violence and intimidation.



“they harvest right through the blazing heat” - Martirio

The harvesters are oblivious to the “blazing heat” which signifies the oppressing situation the townspeople are in, i.e. Spain under Franco’s rule, because they choose not to subject themselves to living under such strict and numerous social rules. Instead they choose to be free by working hard for themselves on the land, at one with nature.



“I’d like to be a harvester, so I could come and go” - Adela

As mentioned above, the harvesters are not restricted in any way and so naturally Adela is very envious of them. She hates being contained within the oppressive household with her dictator mother and ‘fake’ sisters who don’t have her best interests at heart, and would rather have the freedom to come and go as she pleases. Adela probably wants to be closer to non-judgmental nature as well because she’s been cooped up and has been keeping up appearances for such a long time, and so would love to have a man’s job of harvesting where no one would care how she looked or behaved.



the rainy days, the frost – anything but this interminable summer!” - Martirio

Martirio is on the edge of an outburst – as suggested by the use of an exclamation mark – because she can’t stand the oppressive society she lives in, as represented by the strong and stifling summer heat. The fact that it’s “interminable” shows her feeling hopeless as it seems to her like things would continue to be like this forever, meaning she’d have to continue keeping up appearances. Furthermore, the image of moving water in the form of rain could display Martirio’s desire to be freer and unrestricted.



“a little stray mule” - Amelia

Lorca is showing the nasty method of control Franco used to claim power over the people of Spain – Amelia doesn’t explicitly insult Adela but does so in a subtle manner by calling her a “stray mule” instead. A mule is well known for its stubborn quality, its inability to reproduce, and its unattractive features, all of which Adela is to Amelia. To top that all off, she uses the term “stray” to convey how Adela is not on the right path in society and therefore doesn’t fit in with what is considered as the ‘norm’.



“I will have to claw you to pieces!” - Bernarda

Once again, women have to use violence and act like tough men in order to gain power. Here, Bernarda uses the verb “claw” – a term usually applied to fierce animals – to describe the way she must act to beat her opponent. Because she’s not in front of other members of society she can say such things and drop her façade, and this is Lorca demonstrating what kinds of things goes on behind everyone’s backs.



“let them all bring whips made from olive branches” - Bernarda

The whips are made from olive branches, which is highly significant because the olive grove is where all the ‘unacceptable’ events take place, so Bernarda wants to use the girl’s choice to freedom against her by beating her with the branch. It’s her way of demonstrating how it was wrong to break the social rules, and Lorca’s way of showing how the fascist leader would’ve used violence and the law to punish those who rebelled.



“if there were grass growing in this house, you’d bring every sheep in the neighbourhood in to graze” - Bernarda

Bernarda is referring to how if she allowed nature, a symbol of freedom, to penetrate her house it would cause chaos, make others take advantage of her (by grazing on her grass) and would eventually lead to her downfall in society. She feels she has to have complete control over everyone and everything, and maintaining a prison-like house is the easiest way to exert this power of hers on her daughters.



“I’m afraid the dogs will bite me…I don’t like the fields…he [Pepe] is going to devour you, because you’re grains of wheat. Not grains of wheat! Frogs without tongues!” – Maria Josefa

Again, she seems to be borderline sane and insane, and free and not free. At first she says she wants to go outside, to get away from the oppressive house and daughter, but she’s afraid of the dogs and the fields (both symbols of freedom). It seems she’s having trouble finding a way to keep herself happy – she wants some freedom but doesn’t want to completely break the rules of society.




Key Moment:

BERNARDA: Yes – to fill my house with their sweaty underclothes and poisoned tongues!

AMELIA: Mother, don’t talk like that!

BERNARDA: That’s the way you must talk in this damned town without a river, this town of wells! Where you always drink the water fearing that it’s poisoned!

PONCIA: Look what they’ve done to the floor!

BERNARDA: You would think a herd of goats had walked on it! [Poncia scrubs the floor.] Adela, give me a fan.

ADELA: Here you are. [She gives her a round fan decorated 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!

MARTIRIO: Take mine.



This is the key moment I chose for my motif because not only does Lorca use animal and nature imagery in various different ways here, but the conversation also reveals each character’s true self and the main themes of the play. The “poisoned tongues” immediately conjures up the image of a serpent because this animal is often associated with its dangerous poison, (in relation with the story of Adam and Eve) lies and deceit. Therefore, for Bernarda to call her guests this behind their backs clearly shows her rude and insincere personality. This is apparently what most of the people in this town does though, especially the women; they gossip and talk about each other behind closed doors but when face-to-face each person maintains the false appearance of being a ‘socially acceptable’ lady. This is further emphasized when Bernarda talks about the “town of wells” – rivers are freely flowing bodies of water, a symbol of freedom, whilst wells are still bodies of water which appear dark and undefined when you look into one. What Lorca is trying to convey here is how there is no freedom in this town due to the strict social rules which people have created and enforced on themselves. Moreover the townspeople have to live in fear because it’s uncertain as to when someone will betray you or speak badly and ‘poison’ you when you aren’t there to listen. This relates to the historical context as the people of Spain had to live in fear under the rule of the fascist leader, Franco, and his harsh methods of control.


Apart from defining society during that era, viewers can also see the characters for who they really are and who they represent. Amelia portrays the typical woman of the period – proper, polite, and passive – as shown by her being shocked by her mother’s cruel words. Martirio symbolizes the people who try so hard to please those in power in order to selfishly gain safety and status for themselves. Bernarda is the one who represents the dictator Franco himself. She is cruel to others behind their backs and her using animal imagery pejoratively shows this; by calling her guests “goats” she’s suggesting they are people who stupidly follow others around with no real sense of purpose and cause a lot of mess wherever they clumsily travel. When she drops her façade she’s also rude to the people in her own house, as shown by her ungrateful behaviour towards Adela’s kind gesture. Perhaps Lorca’s favourite character, Adela’s rebellious nature and desire to be free is evident through the red and green fan of hers, the colours of which symbolize these things. She is the example of what Lorca thinks everyone should be like – someone who is willing to go against the rules and challenge authority because they don’t like the way they’re being controlled. This is how the Spaniards should have behaved in the playwright’s opinion, because if all of them decided to end the rule of Franco then they would’ve had safety in number and could’ve easily overthrown the dictator.