The House of Bernarda Alba: Motif Tracking – Outsiders, Strangers and Far Away







































The idea of strangers, far away places and outsiders are associated with the unknown – things that one is not familiar with. The connotations are derived from the impacts and the reactions of people that come from these motifs. In an initial stage of just introducing these foreign and alien things to people, the first reaction may be defensive. People become suspicious and wary; they may begin to gossip and spy. It is not in human nature to dive into the unknown, they may approach with caution and wariness. Strangers and outsiders may even create fear and panic. In human history, there are events which show violent reactions with the discovery of foreign objects. Even conflicting ideologies have aroused aggressive behavior. But for some other individuals, far away places, outsiders and strangers may spark curiosity. And consequently, this leads to potential impacts from these unfamiliar people and places. People will become exposed to other people’s way of living, their cultures, and their principles. There is the possibility for people to become knowledgeable and wiser from being ignorant within their seclusion. For society as a whole, being exposed can lead to progress, advancements and change in social norms. But on the other hand, people can be influenced negatively and become corrupted.  In Bernarda Alba, these motifs emphasize on the topics of imprisonment and control, repression, and society’s expectations.








“She’s the one who will be the most alone.”




This quotation refers to Magdelana, however all the family and Bernada Alba herself are strangers in that they are distanced or estranged from one another. Bernada’s husband has died and the daughters have no husbands, nor do they have each other as they are constantly fighting. The fighting and sense of being alone comes from the spying, secrecy and gossip to maintain ones image and everyone must hide their true selves from each other, hence are left with no one because they cannot open up and be true.



“Relatives…let them sit on the floor”


-Relatives are not directly related to the family, or Bernada’s side of the family and hence they are not directly connected to the town so their status and intentions are questioned.



People from far away are not seen as equal, in Bernada’s eyes in particular, because coming from out of town means they are not likely to share the same values as the townspeople which is perhaps the reason why they are seen unfavourably by Bernada, and hence she says they should “sit on the floor” as they only came “to see” the coffin and “gossip.”


However, this also shows Bernada’s strong, dominant character, and how she has perhaps categorises the extended family as below her social status as otherwise she would be seen to welcome them or at least be ingratiating. This shows how she distances herself from those who may not have the same social upbringing as her. In addition, Bernada lacks patience with those of little importance to her and she may of course, have simpler personal reasons for disliking/dismissing her husband’s relatives.




Beggar Woman

First/Second/Third Woman

All of these people have low social status and are of a lower social class than Bernada Alba. Hence they are ‘strangers’ to her, in that she does not want to be seen with them, or to be associated with them. They are there to help: not to be seen or heard. They also have no names implying that they are only as good as their title of ‘maid’ or ‘beggar’ for example.



Bernarda: […To the guests, who have all left] Go home and criticize everything you’ve seen! I hope many years go by before you cross my threshold again!

The context of this quote is where all the guests, who had just attended the funeral, leave Bernarda’s house. It is unusual for people to visit one another’s homes within this repressive society. Only with the exception of a major incident, such as a death, that the town’s people may step out into other people’s homes. Bernarda is a cynical character, but this quote re-emphasizes on this attribute as she scorns the “intruding” neighbors. They are seen as outsiders. She automatically assumes that she will be judged.


Bernarda: Go with her, and be sure she doesn’t near the well.

Maid:        Don’t worry, she won’t throw herself in!

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

Bernarda is referring to her mother, Maria Josefa, in this quotation. Her mother is constantly locked up throughout the book because her character does not abide by social norms. Her mother is outspoken but is seen as “crazy”. In Bernarda’s mind, this is not acceptable. Within such a judgmental society, Bernarda feels that her mother must be locked away. This quotation shows how self-conscious Bernarda is; she fears that the neighbors will see or hear her mother do or say something which is not “socially acceptable”. Bernarda is wary of her neighbors because they are not part of her household, and therefore, they are outsiders or strangers.


Poncia: [Paca  la Roseta] “rode with her breasts hanging out…hair undone…a crown of flowers on her head”

Bernarda: She’s the only loose woman we have in this town.

Poncia:     Because she’s not from here. She’s from far away. And the men who went with her are the sons of strangers, too. The men around here wouldn’t dare do that.

Bernarda: No. But they like to watch it and talk about it, and lick their fingers over what goes on.


This “loose woman” is Paca la Roseta. The implication of this segment in the story is that this character, Paca la Roseta, had sexual relations with another man who was not her husband. In this repressed society, this is a very sinful act. Bernarda and Poncia gossip about this incident; they not only criticize Paca la Roseta, but also the men who watched the incident. The justification for this woman’s promiscuous behavior is that “she’s not from here”. It is the same for the men who went with her, they are the “sons of strangers, too”. Poncia is implying that this “far away” place which they come from has no morals, because they do not have the same values as they do within the society they live in. Bernarda and Poncia look down on Paca la Roseta and the men who go with her. But perhaps, Paca la Roseta is a symbol which contrasts against their prison-like society. She has freedom with her sexuality. “The men around here” envy this freedom which is why they “lick their fingers over what goes on”.


So people who do not come from the town where the story takes place do not necessarily have to adhere to the  same social rules, or at least not as strongly. They are in a way, excused from harsh judgement or ridicule because they are from ‘Far Away’ and inappropriate social behaviour is somewhat expected while if people were from the town they would be judged.


Lorca therefore suggests the people inflict these rules on themselves, a construct that stems from deep within the community, and has continued throughout history. Lorca chose to write the play for this very reason, to comment on its strict rules that plagued the common people, rules that were beginning to be questioned during the build up to the Spanish Civil War: when the people took two opposing sides, the conservative / fascist – perhaps represented by Bernada - and the new / liberal – perhaps represented by Adela.


However this could just be an example of gossip in the town and how everything is scandalised for eager ears. The men were the ones spreading this news, and since Bernada Alba believes “the men around here wouldn’t dare…do that” but instead “lick their fingers over what goes on” The gossip may be exaggerated so the men can live it out themselves, not daring to experience, just as Bernada herself presumably does, when listening to the gossip of Poncia.




Olive Grove











The Olive grove as a place is ‘far away’ in that it is more or less outside the town; people from within the town will still gossip about the ‘happenings’ there but there seems to be more freedom here.


More importantly however, the olive grove is a symbol for Nature and is used throughout the play to show freedom , which is a direct contast to the ‘House of Bernanda Alba’ which is stark, white and confined. The absence of nature is used to connote the separation from anything ‘human’ or limiting like houses, buildings, or the human social construct and etiquette.


This can also be seen in the ‘waterwheel’ mentioned by Adela (p 133), the ‘fields’ mentioned when the harvesters come  (p.144) and the patio of Bernarda’s house (p164) although, the patio of Bernada’s house, being part of the town, is of course not as free as the Olive Grove.



Bernarda: For a hundred miles around, no one can measure up to them. The men here are not of their class. What would you have me do – turn them over to some field hand?

Poncia:     You should have gone to some other town.

Bernarda: Of course – to sell them!

Poncia:     No, Bernarda, to change… Of course, in other places, they would be the poor ones.

Bernarda and Poncia are discussing about finding suitors for Bernarda’s daughters. In Bernarda’s arrogance, she believes that no man could “measure up” to any of her daughters. Bernarda and the rest of the characters in the play are part of a secluded town. Therefore, all of them are ignorant to a certain extent simply because they have not been exposed to other concepts from outside of their isolated society. We see that element of ignorance in Bernarda in this quotation since she believes that she is of higher class to anyone for “a hundred miles around”. Even though Poncia is a maid and of lower class to Bernarda, she does have a sort of influence over Bernarda. She points out that Bernarda’s daughters “would be the poor ones” if they left their town. It is demonstrated here that when far away places are discussed, people appear ignorant.


Amelia:     You seem livelier since the new doctor arrived.

This “new doctor” is an outsider and stranger in this town. But, as shown in the quote, people’s reactions toward him are not negative. Amelia is talking to Martirio and teasing her, implying that Martirio has a fondness for the new doctor. Lorca illustrates, using this quotation, the introduction of an outsider can lead to progress. A doctor is an asset for this little town and may influence the people in a positive way.


Amelia:     Did you notice? Adelaida wasn’t at the funeral.

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!

Amelia and Martirio and gossiping about an offstage character. Adelaida is not part of their household and is an outsider. The tone of speech here seems as if the two characters are looking down on Adelaida because she is restricted by her fiancé. But this is ironic since these two characters are some of the daughters of Bernarda. Bernarda has been referred to as a “tyrant” and “dictator”, and so they themselves are being controlled by their own mother. An outsider is a subject which will stimulate gossip and spying.


Amelia:     Don’t say that! Enrique Humanas was after you and he used to like you.

Martirio:    The things people make up! One time I stood at the window in my nightgown until daylight because his field hand’s daughter told me he was going to come, and he didn’t. It was all just talk. Then he married someone with more money than me.

In this quote, we see ignorance, gossip and suspicion. Enrique Humanas is an outsider to Bernarda’s household and Amelia and Martirio are speaking about marriage. Enrique Humanas did have an interest in Martirio but was not allowed to marry her because Bernarda did not allow it because of his social class. Martirio, on the other hand, believes that the idea of him proposing to her was fictional because she did not know the whole truth. Instead, she became suspicious and jumped to the conclusion that it was made up. The subject of outsiders brings about negative reactions such as suspicion and gossip. Martirio has unintentionally become ignorant because she is trapped within the controls of her household.


Magdalena: … Today there’s more finesse, brides wear white veils like in the big cities, and we drink bottled wine. But inside we rot away over what people will say.

Martirio:    God knows what went on then!

Magdalena is reminiscing on happier times in the past as she looks at the pictures made by their grandmother. Magdalena is imagining the ways wedding take place in the “big cities”. This is a foreign place and idea since all these characters are part of a small town which is so restricting in terms of social behavior. Here we see that far away places are catalysts for imagining. Magdalena speaks about stereotypical images one would imagine when thinking about weddings. It may seem normal for one who has been exposed to these kinds of festivities, but it appears that there is a lack of expression in this town. Therefore, people like Magdalena would exaggerate its value. This shows how secluded the people of this town are.


Maid:        Pepe el Romano is coming down the street.

Magdalena: Let’s go watch!

Pepe el Romano is an outsider from Bernarda’s household but there is a great amount of attention being paid on him since several of Bernarda’s daughters are interested in him. But even this small act of this character walking down the street arouses enough interest for all of these girls to go watch him from a window. This is actually quite ridiculous from a reader’s perspective. But this demonstrates how an outsider can impact the people of such a repressed society. Bernarda’s daughters have been taught not to look at any man and so even the simple action of walking by can lead to an irrational amount of attention.


Maria Josefa: I want to get away from here! Bernarda! To get married at the edge of the sea, at the edge of the sea!

Maria Josefa is about to be locked up again after arguing with Bernarda and telling her that she wants “to go back to [her] own village”. We see her that Maria Josefa is actually from a far away place herself. This may be the reason why she does not abide by social norms in this society. She rebels against her own daughter and Bernarda’s only way of silencing her is to keep her locked up. Maria Josefa yells that she wants to get married by the sea. The ocean would be far from this “town of wells” showing Maria Josefa’s longing to escape this repressive society.


Magdalena: Where are they from this year?

Poncia:     From very far away. They came from the hills. Full of spirit! Burnt like trees. Shouting and tossing stones! Last night a woman dressed in sequins arrived in town, and she danced to the accordion, and fifteen of them paid to take her into the olive grove. I saw them from a distance. The one who arranged it was a boy with green eyes, as tight as a sheaf of wheat.

Bernarda’s daughters and Poncia are now discussing the harvesters. These people play a major role in these rural areas since they must harvest the crops every year. Harvesters are strangers and outsiders since they come “from very far away”.  These people are obviously very different from the people in this little town – they are “full of spirit” and they differ in physical appearance as well, “burnt like trees”. Another “loose woman” appears in town as well. Some of the harvesters pay to sleep with her. But the tone is different in this quotation from the segment when Poncia was speaking about Paca la Roseta. It does not seem that she is looking down on this woman. Poncia describes watching them as if in envy. Again, these outsiders are not like the locals of this town since they have more freedoms. They are influencing the locals by creating gossip and stirring curiosity.


Like Paca the woman with sequins on her dress shows freedom from society’s rules: she is wearing a bright and attention seeking dress, whereas Bernada’s daughters who are wearing black, unattractive and dull coloured clothes and undergarments for the duration of the play. This shows their lack of freedom in expressing themselves as anything other than the ‘social norm,’. This women’s dress echoes Adela’s green dress, and indeed Adela is actually more similar to this woman than to her own sisters. This shows how the townspeople initially judge by appearance and those who appear different are deemed outsiders.



Adela:      I’d like to be a harvester, so I could come and go. Then I could forget what’s eating away at us.

The harvesters are men that come from another town, singing songs of women and freedom: “open your doors and your windows” - windows and doors that in this play show freedom and openness – and are seen to be closed in Bernada’s house.


The men are free and because of their lack of permanence in the town, as they come and go with the seasons:  they are seen to be wild as the boy with “green eyes” and can barely be judged, unlike the people in the town, caged in black.


Adela re-emphasizes the tone of envy when Poncia describes the harvesters. Adela believes that if she were a harvester, she would be free from her present troubles which are kept in this confining household. One could interpret this influence as both negative and positive. Adela may be corrupted which leads to her sexual relations with Pepe el Romano (even though her sister is engaged to him), or she is given the idea of freedom. Perhaps Adela now believes that she does not have to follow social norms and that she may do as she pleases.


However one must also take into account that the Harvesters are in majority, men and that the gender roles in the time of the play did allow for men to be more free, hence Poncia too accepts and “gave money to [her] oldest son so he could go [to the fields, and to the woman in sequined dress.] Men need these things”



Poncia:     May I speak?

Bernarda: Speak. I’m sorry you heard. It’s never wise to let an outsider into the family circle.

Poncia:     What I have seen, I have seen.

Bernarda: Angustias must get married right away.

Poncia:     Of course. We have to get her away from here.

Bernarda: Not her. Him!

This is the conversation after Bernarda chastises Martirio for taking the picture of Pepe el Romano. Bernarda apologizes to Poncia for letting witness this argument, for it is “never wise to let an outsider into the family circle”. Indirectly, Bernarda has allowed one outsider into her household and family. Poncia is now involved in all of the issues which go on within the house. Poncia is proving to become a more powerful character than at first glance. She has influence over Bernarda. Here, we see that outsiders influence people. Also, the idea of sending Angustias and Pepe el Romano away once their married is considered. Bernarda is considering the idea of a far away place because this would solve the conflicts between the sisters.


Poncia:     You’ve always been clever. You can see evil in people from a hundred miles away. I have often believed you could read people’s minds. But your children are your children. And about them, you are blind.

Poncia is telling Bernarda in this quotation that other people also have the capability to judge those surrounding them. To them, we are the outsiders. Bernarda has always judged outsiders like Paca la Roseta but when it comes to those within her household, she is “blind”. Lorca here tells the reader that one can be blinded by our bias towards those who are closest to us. In this sense, the only way one can be objective is to look at things from a distance.


Poncia:    Martirio is romantic, no matter what you say. Why did you let he marry Enrique Humanas? Why did you send him a message not to come to her window, the very day hew as coming?

Bernarda [loudly]: And I would do it a thousand times again! My blood will never mix with that of the Humanas family – not as long as I live! His father was a field hand.

Enrique Humanas is an outsider to Bernarda’s family. It is natural for outsiders to begin to integrate within a population. In this case, Enrique Humanas is not even an outsider of this town, it is part of it but he wants to be part of Bernarda’s family. In this sense, he also wants to integrate within their small household. But it is in human nature to become defensive when a foreign person is trying to become part of your surrounding family. Bernarda has created a barricade against Enrique Humanas and her justification for doing so is that her “blood will never mix with that of the Humanas family”. In this context, we can see that it is more about social status and class rather than the idea that Enrique is an outsider, but this would be have been a good example of people’s reactions to strangers and outsiders.


Poncia:    I don’t know about that – there are also people in town who can read hidden thoughts from a distance.

The context of this quote is where Poncia tries to inform Bernarda of Adela’s inappropriate behavior with Pepe el Romano. Bernarda refuses to believe that “something monstrous” is happening. This quote is a warning to Bernarda, implying that others are capable of the suspicion that Bernarda has when speaking about outsiders and strangers. One may label Adela’s relationship with Pepe el Romano to be a foreigner’s action. This means that other people in the town can see that Adela is being influenced by outsiders. Adela herself is also an outsider to her neighbors and the surrounding community. She will be judged as an outsider similar to how her mother criticizes and gossips about Paca la Roseta.


Adela:      There are stars in the sky as big as fists!

Martirio:    Our sister was staring so hard at them, she almost broke her neck.

Adela:      Don’t you like them?

Martirio:    I don’t care what goes on above the rooftops. I have enough with what goes on inside these rooms!

Adela dreams of what is beyond the town she lives in which is why she finds such fascination in the stars above her. The stars can be seen as a far away place which demonstrates how Adela longs to be away from this town. But Martirio, on the other hand, does not care since she has “enough with what goes on inside these walls”. Far away places do not spark curiosity or the imagination in Martirio because she is too preoccupied with her troubles in her prison-like household. Her mother restricts their behavior. The only daughter who is influenced by outsiders and strangers is Adela and consequently she gains interests in far away places.


Poncia:     I’d like to cross the ocean and get away from this house of turmoil.

Poncia is discussing the troubles of the household with the maid. They are aware of Adela’s improper behavior with Pepe el Romano. In this quote, Poncia brings up the idea of the ocean like Maria Josefa did at the beginning of the play. These far away places (i.e. the ocean or the edge of the sea) provide an escape from “town of wells” where repression creates “turmoil”. Poncia could be influenced by Maria Josefa, who is in a way, an outsider herself since she does not come from this town.



Key Moment:

Bernarda:          She’s the only loose woman we have in this town.

Poncia:             Because she’s not from here. She’s from far away. And the men who went with her are the sons of strangers, too. The men around here wouldn’t dare do that.

Bernarda:          No. But they like to watch it and talk about it, and lick their fingers over what goes on.


The discussion between Bernarda and Poncia about Paca la Roseta is the key moment in this play which demonstrates the most themes which are associated with the motifs of strangers, far away places, and outsiders. This quote appears quite early on in the play but gives a good base for the reader to understand the society which characters exist in. These two women characters are gossiping about what the men have said. They criticize and look down on Paca la Roseta and the men who followed her because they have no “decency”. Bernarda calls Paca la Roseta a “loose woman”, this sounds as if she is a prostitute or that she is simply promiscuous. Here, Lorca sums up the natural defensive reaction that people would have when introduced to something alien. To be so free with one’s sexuality is not a norm and so Bernarda and Poncia blame this behavior on the fact that she is an outsider. The men who take part in this “unacceptable incident” are also outsiders. Immediately, Bernarda has created barricades to separate herself from these people as she looks down on them. These outsiders have aroused gossip amongst both women and men. One may perceive Bernarda’s ignorance as well since similar behavior takes place within her own home as the play progresses. Ironically, she believes that this appalling behavior only occurs amongst outsiders but eventually, her youngest daughter is found sleeping with her firstborn’s fiancé. Lorca also establishes the curiosity that comes with foreign and alien subjects. Bernarda adds that local men “like to watch it and talk about it, and lick their fingers over what goes on”. These men who observe are aware that this behavior is unacceptable, but they still watch. They become curious and envious because no one else within their town would do such things. In this short quotation, Lorca has shown the defensive reaction of people, the influence that rubs off onto the locals, and the curiosity and envy that comes from strangers, far away places, and outsiders.