The House of Bernarda Alba: Motif Tracking – Sight & Blindness



































‘If Bernarda should see you - !’

Social and communal expectations and constraints come in to play wherein appearances are constantly judged by others and it thus comes to play an essential part in the community.



“today she won’t notice”

This is set on a day where mourning is taking place, therefore, supposedly, there are a number of expectations that are to be adhered to. Poncia takes advantage of the occasion by taking and eating more than she perhaps should, she assumes that due to the circumstances her mother simply ‘won’t notice’. This implies that you can break the rules and try to get away with things when you won’t be noticed – implying that the appearance of following the rules is more important than the actual following of the rules themselves.



‘Entire days spent peering through cracks to spy on the neighbours and bring her the gossip. A life with no secrets from each other’


‘But I’m a good dog’

Poncia has achieved a measure of influence in the house as, instead of being merely a maid, she is a pivotal cog in Bernarda’s house as she is capable of relaying gossip about other people from within the community, a forbidden fruit that Bernarda appears to relish.


It appears that Bernarda is also blind to the bitterness and anger evident when Poncia refers to herself as a dog who wants to spit on Bernarda and crush her.



crawl under the bed.”

Magdalena has to move hide herself away from everyone’s sight in order to express emotions which Bernarda doesn’t want displayed in front of the mourners.



‘In Church, women should look at no man but the priest, and at him only because he’s wearing skirts. Whoever turns her head is on the prowl for a man.’

This shows the importance of communal rules and social values as women aren’t allowed the freedom of looking at other men in the same way that the men look at some of the women. The priest is an exception because he is ‘wearing skirts’, hence he is barely a man and is perceived of as no threat to proper behaviour. These rules are especially as they are currently in mourning.



VOICE” “Bernarda let me out!”

Shows how this character has been hidden away from the readers/public’s eyes in the play. This character is locked up and controlled by Bernarda.



‘It’s not that – out there the neighbours can see her from her window’

This illustrates the importance of appearance within the community the image of one family member can tarnish the reputation of the entire family and their name. This also shows that Bernarda is embarrassed by her mother because she is different to a common citizen, she wants to break free. Clearly this is also used to vilify Bernarda.



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

Here Adela is telling on Angustias. She knows full well what Bernarda’s opinion of looking at other men is, therefore she knows that Bernarda will become infuriated when she learns that Angustias was spying on and looking at other men during a period of mourning. Not only does this reveal the tension between the sisters and their animosity to one another but the fact that Angusitas is reduced to ‘peering through a crack’ reveals how little freedom she has and how limited her views of (and access to) the outside world are.



‘It’s better never to lay eyes on a man. Since I was a child, I’ve been afraid of them.’

This shows just how dominating men are or how intimidating they can be which perhaps reflects how separate the lives of men and women are in this society. Although actually we know here that Martirio is lying as she secretly desires Pepe and so it perhaps also reveals how the girls have to keep their real feelings hidden. There is also a sense of ‘one-up-manship’ here and perhaps Lorca is attempting to mock how characters attempt to out do one another by taking more and more extreme positions adhering with the social rules while, in reality, they wish for those rules to be broken.



‘What do they care about ugliness? All they care is about is land, oxen and a meek little dog to cook for them.’

This shows that men see women as being insignificant requirements for a proper life, they are less important than things like land and oxen; they are simply dogs who do the cooking. This also emphasises the women’s lack of freedom, their lack of importance, they are needed but are not considered essential.



Pepe El Romano is coming down the street. Let’s go watch!’

The women are fascinated by this man, he is the best looking man in town and so they flock to see him as the opportunities are scarce. The lack of interaction between men and women in the town is emphasised by the fact that occasions like these are exciting: something as simple as looking at him as he walks down the street.



“Don’t look at me anymore … turn your head away when I pass”


‘Old women can see through walls’


‘I wish you were blind’

Adela is confronting Poncia here. Initially, it seems as though Adela is worried by Poncia’s scrutiny. She knows that sleeping with her sister’s fiancé is not only against the social rules but also immoral and her wish to avoid Poncia’s sight implies a wish to avoid judgment as she knows that she is doing something wrong.


Poncia’s response that she can see through wall, emphasises how little freedom and privacy people have as well as reinforces the impression that the people of the house (and the town) spend their time desperately spying on one another – not only to discover and punish rule breakers but also out of some desire to vicariously enjoy the pleasures which they are forbidden from. Additionally, the knowledge gained through spying gives the spy a measure of influence over the rule-breaker.



why were you standing at the open window, half naked, with the light burning…”

The burning light is Adela’s attempt to attract Pepe’s attention but it also reveals her passion for him and, like the episode with the green dress, it makes it clear that Adela does not feel the need to hide from others when she breaks the rules reinforcing her position as the heroic rebel. She does not mind being plainly seen and her comfort with light and being visible suggests something honest, honourable and pure about her which the other characters lack.



‘I can light the lamps …’


‘Bring out four thousand yellow flares’

The threat to ‘light the lamps’ thus making Adela visible to the other members of the town / house and subject to their judgment is Poncia’s greatest weapon. It is as if she can imagine no greater punishment than being seen breaking the laws.


Adela’s request for more light in response reveals her as passionate and head strong character but also one who is fundamentally different to any of the other women in the house: one who does not care about the judgment of others and will accept their condemnation in order to follow her own desires.



“Not even our eyes belong to us”

The loss of their own eyes implies that women are so strictly controlled that they do not have even the freedom to decide what to look at. Metaphorically it may imply that they are not allowed to have an opinion or point of view on anything.



“be careful not to open it too wide”

The girls are going to look at the harvesters and Poncia cautions them not to open the window, emphasizing the restriction of the girls’ lives, the need for secrecy and the extent to which their access to the outside world is limited.


149 - 150

“open your eyes and you’ll see”


“and about them you are blind”

Poncia can see the truth that Bernarda refuses to. This reveals not only how desperate Bernarda is to hold on to the illusion of respectability (she will even lie to herself) but it reinforces Poncia’s position as the spy and furthermore, the vicious pleasure she seems to get out of pointing the truth out to Bernarda reveals that even the closest relationship in the play (that between Poncia and Bernarada) is one of control and deceit. Poncia is only loyal to Bernarda because Bernarda knows a secret about her past.



‘I never saw one of those fancy things.’

This shows the obvious division between the classes as the ‘mirrored wardrobe’ suggests Bernarda’s wealth. However, this also reveals that Bernarda is doing her best to impress everyone and put on the appearance that nothing is amiss by covering up the truth about the tensions that Pepe’s marriage to Angustias has caused between the sisters through ostentatious displays.



‘Look at him when he looks at you.’

This is the idea of respect for men and their dominance in society. Implying that you are only to initiate conversation or interaction if the man does so first, this would make it ‘okay’, otherwise it is strictly prohibited, by the rules of society.



‘Not me. I like to see things blazing through the sky, after being motionless year after year’

This perhaps symbolises the position of the women under the constraints of society, the predicaments they face being female. Once in a while they too would like to blaze and be free after being motionless, held back, year after year.




Key Moment:

The key moment when the motif of blindness and sight occurs in the play is when, Poncia is trying to tell Bernarda that her other daughters love Pepe El Romano and that he only wants Angustias for the money and nothing more. This is a key moment of the motif as Poncia tries to portray the similar points through to Bernarda in many different ways. She uses the incident when Pepe’s photograph goes missing as well as when there are noises from the corral at four o’clock in the morning. The various number of questions which she forces Bernarda to ask herself and her daughters highlights the main key moment for the motif. As many questions are risen there is always tension created in the conversations taking place between Poncia and Bernarda mainly but also sometimes with her other daughters. The writer, Lorca, has used many short and long dialogues which become a very intense conversation between Poncia and Bernarda only.