The House of Bernarda Alba : Motif Tracking – Violence & Bernarda’s Rod























The motif of violence is used by Lorca to reveal Bernarda as a cruel and oppressive tyrant.  Adela’s suicide is another pivotal point for the motif as her death shows Bernarda’s lost for control for the first time.  Violence is closely related to other motifs within the play such as passion, love and nature.  Society forces Adela to commit suicide as her relationship with Pepe is unacceptable in the eyes of society.








Bernarda [striking her cane on the floor]: Blessed be God!

This depicts Bernarda using her cane to gain the attention of all the women in the house and how she uses this object to control or direct everyone else.


The fact that she goes on to say ‘Blessed be God’ suggests how closely related the Church and violence are. This could imply that the strict rules of the Catholic church are ‘doing violence’ to the people they are oppressing or that these strict rules can only be imposed through violence.



“You weakling! You’re sickening [she strikes her]”

This creates an initial impression of Bernarda as violent and dictatorial – her violence is a literal manifestation of the metaphorical violence done to the individual by the oppressive forces of conservative Spain. Forces that were soon to be victorious under General Franco in the Spanish Civil War.



Bernarda [rapping the floor with her cane]: Don’t entertain the illusion that you’re going to be a match for me! Until I leave this house foot first, I will make the decisions. My own, and yours!

The continuous rapping of her cane is an act of intimidation and makes her seem more powerful and unbeatable. This quotation also reveals the extent of Bernarada’s dominance as it becomes clear that the daughters are not even allowed to think for themselves as Bernarda will make all of their decisions for them.



“Her father killed his first wife’s husband in Cuba so he could marry her himself”.

This scandalous story about Adeleida’s father is the sort of gossip that Bernarda loves as it gives her power over the people who it would shame. There is also a viciousness in the way that Bernarda revels in the sordid details of the story



“Weakling! Hussy! You’re the image of your aunts! [Furiously, she removes the powder from ANGUSTIAS’ face with a handkerchief]”.

Again Bernarda’s behaviour towards her daughters is rough and humiliating – Angustias is a fully grown woman of 39 and is being treated like a child be her mother. Significantly the powder being removed from her face may represent that kinds of luxuries that the daughters are not allowed to indulge in during a period of mourning. This suggests the strictness of the social rules of the time and how Bernarda is bent on maintaining appearances.



“They all drag the old woman off stage”

The violence here suggests Bernarda and the family’s desperation to keep the shameful actions of the ‘mad’ grandmother hidden from view. Significantly Maria Josefa’s madness is a form of freedom – she constantly speaks of going away and going to the sea suggesting both symbols of freedom and, in a very real sense, her insanity means she is not bound by the same rules of thought as other people. Possibly Maria Josefa is not really ‘mad’ at all – just different, and so Bernarda’s rough treatment of her would suggest how roughly Bernarda dismisses freedom and those who are different.



“One day he said something or other to me, and I killed all his finches with my pestle from my kitchen mortar”

Here we see one of the strange inversions of power that seem to center around Poncia. Not only does she have more influence within Bernarda’s house than we would expect a maid to have she also seems to have held considerable sway over her husband, something very unusual in a strongly patriarchal society. Perhaps the violence through which she attains this power suggests something about the destructive nature of this society: within these strict rules the only way to be free is to fight and control others. A clear contrast to a more benign society were people could be individually free without harming one another.



“May god strike me dead if I am lying”.

Religious rules dominate this society and from this quotation it is clear that the people of the pueblo have a violent and oppressive image of God matching the violent and oppressive structure of their society.



“Let them all come to kill her … finish her off before the police get here.’

The punishments for breaking the rules, in this case sex before marriage,  are severe … but they are meted out by the people of the town rather than the police, a judge or any other higher authority. This perhaps intimates how Lorca views us as responsible for the terrible oppressions that we have placed ourselves under.



“[coming close to her]: He loves me! He loves me!”

‘Don’t embrace me’

“That is the bed of a sinful woman! [She moves towards Adela furiously]”

Both Adela and Martirio are in love with Pepe and the violence of the language here suggests the strength of their passion. It also suggests how, in a society as heavily restrictive as that in rural Spain in the 1930’s, people are forced to suppress so many desires and passions that they end up exploding destructively destroying that individual and / or the ones they should care about – e.g. their family



“The shouting in this prison is over! [She seizes her mothers cane and breaks it in two]”.

Clearly a key moment in the play as it suggests that the power of Bernarda has been broken. Suggesting perhaps that the only way to overthrow the oppressive mores of the time is through violent revolution.



“[A shot is heard]”

Following the destruction of her cane it seems that Bernarda is momentarily powerless until she finds the gun. It seems, therefore, that Bernarda’s power is illegitimate and she cannot maintain it herself without some external support (her cane) or weapon (the gun).


This is also a moment of high tension in the play as the action happens off stage and we are unsure whether or not Pepe has been shot.


The play derives some of the power of its tragic end from this uncertainty as Adela kills herself believing that Pepe is dead while in reality he has only run away.




Key moment:

The key moment in this play is the suicide of Adela as it could suggest the extent to which she is rebelling against her mother and society – suicide is a cardinal sin and Adela breaks this rule in the same way that she breaks the rules about sex before marriage and familial loyalty.


Her death may also represent how there is no place in this society for a vibrant, lively and free character like Adela. This reveals how the mores that dominated rural Spanish society in the 1930’s prevented the individual from being who they want to be and, ultimately, destroyed that individual. Ultimately the only way for Adela to be who she wants to be is for her to die – the implicit criticism being that there is no place for a character as lively, vibrant and energetic as Adela in Spanish society of the time.


Another key moment is obviously the breaking of Bernarda’s Rod which suggests that her power over everyone else is also broken as she does not have anything to threaten or intimidate them with. The only other reason others listened and feared Bernarda is because off her cane. But in the end of the play she replaces her broken cane with a gun, so she reclaims her power and control over others, in particular Adela.