The House of Bernarda Alba: Motif Tracking – Sex and Passion




























Adela’s insatiable lust for Pepe el Romano, Angustias’ fiancé, causes tension between many of the characters in the play. Adela and Pepe meet secretly at night, but are seen one night by Poncia and her sister Martirio, who we also learn envies Angustias as she steals Angustias’ photo of Pepe. This causes tension between the sisters as Martirio threatens to tell on Adela and Poncia, who we know is a gossip, now has the power to destroy Adela’s name. In Act two, Librada’s daughter is dragged by the mob across the town for giving birth before getting married, contradicting the towns’ social expectations. This scares Adela as she has lost her virginity to Pepe, disobeying social expectations. This is proven when Adela says “[Clutching her womb]: No! No!”, suggesting that she is pregnant with Pepe’s child. When Adela hears a gunshot in the end of Act three, she assumes that Bernarda has shot Pepe. Due to intense emotions and her vulnerability, she decides to hang herself. Furthermore, it can be argued that Adela’s confidence has grown as the play has developed. It could be due to her relationship with Pepe that she finally has the confidence to stand up to Bernarda and actually break her Rod, ending the tyranny in the House of Bernarda Alba








‘Never again will you lift up my skirt behind the back corral’


The intercourse here is animalistic suggesting either the exploitative nature of the relationship (man to woman / master to servant) or the over-powering urge of desire. The setting is also importance because like the olive grove the corral is a place where rules can be broken or, alternatively, it indicates how rule-breaking must be carried out in secrecy.



‘Standing very near your aunt.’

Bernarda hints indirectly that the aunt was behaving improperly. Her proximity to the ‘widower from Darajali’ hints at an attraction between the two but the fact that something so insignificant is looked down upon reveals how strictly controlling the social rules in this town are and also how much of a vicious gossip Bernarda is. This is confirmed on p.124 when Bernarda exclaims that ‘Whoever turns her head is on the prowl for a man.’ where the use of ‘prowl’ is meant to insinuate how base, animalistic and immoral any woman who would do such a thing is.



“What were you looking at? And who?

This is when Bernada is terrorizing her daughters and is angry that they dare look at men during their father’s funeral mass. This reveals how the girls have no freedom whatsoever and their lust for a man is so strong that they will take every opportunity they have to study the men around them. They are reduced to ‘peering through a crack in the door’ and this is the closest they can get to a man.



‘They say she rode with her topless with her breasts hanging out.’

Paca le Roseta is obviously a symbol of sexual freedom. The open clothing suggests her lack of inhibitions and the fact that she is associated with animals like the horse, distant places like the olive grove and other symbols of nature like the crown of flowers reinforce this idea.



‘Her father killed his first wife’s husband in Cuba so he could marry her himself. Then, here,  he deserted her and ran off with another woman who had a daughter. And then he had an affair with this girl, Adeleida’s mother, and he married her after his second wife went made and died.’


This is the story of Adeleida’s father and it is a good example of the kinds of stories of sexual gossip that Bernarda, Poncia and, presumably the other members of the town are constantly on the look out for. It appears that Bernarda ‘needles’ Adeleida about this every time that she visits and it is clear that possession of this kind of information has given Bernarda some kind of hold over Adeleida as she is anxious for the truth to remain hidden.


As if she had a lizard between her breasts

The sexual imagery here is used to suggests Adela’s jittery nature and her desire for Pepe.



“It really is strange how two people who have never met suddenly see each other through a window grating and – just like that – they’re engaged!”


This quotation reveals how restrictive the society is at the time. People are not given an opportunity to get to know their future partner before agreeing to marry them – everything is arranged in advance so that nothing inappropriate can happen. The travelling to the window for the first time also has a symbolic or performative aspect to it – it is more of a gesture to the other townspeople of the intention to marry rather than a gesture of love. As such it reinforces how many actions are done for the sake of appearance and how the town is watching you all the time.



Why were you standing at the open window half naked?

This quotation is clearly meant to suggest Adela’s desire for Pepe but also the rebellious and unconstrained nature of her character. It also reveals how closely watched Adela is and how nothing can escape Poncia’s eyes.



“- I’d fight my mother, to put out this fire that rises from my legs and mouth.”

Here Adela is being openly honest with Poncia. The fire that rises from her legs is referring to her passion and desire for Pepe and probably freedom in general and an escape from the house.



“No reason, except I thought I heard people in the corral”

This quotation from Martirio reveals that she knows about Adela’s relationship with Pepe. The fact that it occurs in the corral (an animalistic / natural place) bespeaks the freedom associated with this action as Adela begins to tear free of the despotism of Bernarda’s house It also suggest how transgressions of the rules need to be kept secret. Martirio’s attempt to make her comment seem innocuous while actually desperate to find the truth or perhaps prompt a punishment for Adela reveals how the house and town is riven with gossip and how Martirio, even though she suspects the affair, has to maintain an appearance of innocence.


On p.148 we find out that Martirio stolen Pepe’s photo and has placed it under her sheets suggesting she is jealous of Adela’s affair as she too lusts after Pepe. Thus it reveals how all of the sisters are willing to betray one another. Lorca appears to be implying that one of the results of the overly oppressive rules in place at the time is that people who should care for one another will be turned against each other … and ultimately will be turned against themselves as their jealousies and passions consume them and drive them towards self destructive behaviour.



“The breeding stallion, locked up and kicking the wall.  Shackle him and let him out in the corral! He must be hot.”


The heat she refers to is the passion and lust while ‘locked up’ suggests how little freedom the daughters have. Ironically animals, however, are free.



“They are women without men, that’s all.”

This quotation  sums up their continuous lust for sex in order to claim a man and marry them to be free.



“Stay away from that man!”

‘He loves me! He loves me!’


Their passion to escape from the house is so deep that their even willing to betray their own sisters in order to get out. The repletion and exclamation also suggest the extent of Adela’s fervor.



“Let my breast explode like a bitter pomegranate!”

This release of anger shows how much they long for passion or some form of love but how, after continually having to repress these desires the daughters have become bitter and rotten inside.



“If one of us has to drown, let her drown! Pepe el Romano is mine!”

This quotation re-enforces how badly the daughters want to escape with a man that their willing to sacrifice their own sisters for a life of their own. The idea of being carried away by a river which is also mentioned here suggests the uncontrollable force of Adela’s passion.


She died a virgin

This reveals not only the importance of maintaining the appearance of following the rules of the town (as opposed to actually following the rules) it also reveals the price that Adela has to pay for being an individual and her death actually implies that there is no place for a free and passionate character like Adela in this play nor in Spanish society of the time. This quotation also reveals how cold Bernarda is – her daughter has died and her first concern is to avoid scandal and protect the name of the house.




Key Moment:

One key moment for the motif “Sex and Passion” is the end of Act three, where everything is in chaos. This is the part where Adela hangs herself because she feared that Bernarda has killed Pepe. This was clearly an act of passion, giving the audience a sense of how much Adela loved Pepe. Furthermore, Bernarda’s announcement that “She died a virgin”. is important because it tells the audience that the whole play revolves around rumors, gossip and the keeping up of appearances: Bernarda said this to protect the Alba family name.


Another key moment is when Adela ‘bursts into angry tears’ on page 134 and says she ‘can’t be locked up!’ and she doesn’t want her ‘body to dry up like’ her sister’s and she doesn’t want to ‘waste away and grow old in these rooms’. These quotations shows what all the other daughters are thinking, even though Adela is the only daughter unafraid to speak out. The quotation suggests how the daughters don’t want to die alone, or die a virgin or die without ever having felt love, but due to their surroundings and the way they’ve grown up, it’s already too late for some of the daughters to change this.