The House of Bernarda Alba

The House of Bernarda Alba Summary and Analysis of ACT III (part two)


After the grandmother leaves, Adela enters cautiously and then exits out to the corral. Martirio enters a moment later, in her petticoats, and looks around for a moment before covering herself with a small black scarf. Maria Josefa reenters and immediately begins to speak to Martirio, noticing her "face of a martyr" and telling her about the lamb, which the old woman says is her baby. She gives a befuddling speech in which she talks of how she used to visit her neighbors when they had babies, and how when Martirio has white hair, nobody will visit her. She continues to say that she must go away, but dogs will bite her, and then adds that Pepe el Romano is "a giant" that will devour all the women because they are "frogs with no tongues."

Martirio grows angry and pushes her grandmother to bed while the latter continues to sing. Once the old woman is gone, Martirio walks to the outside door and calls for Adela a few times; Adela enters with her hair disheveled. Martirio demands Adela stay away from "him" and Adela accuses her of jealousy. When Martirio tells her this "can't go on," Adela says she is only beginning, that she will flee the "death under this roof." She insists that he only went for Angustias because of the money and that he truly loves her, Adela. Martirio agrees but is saddened to hear it spoken. Adela accuses Martirio of loving him too, and she admits it is true, after which Adela asks Martirio to accept that it's not her fault. Martirio will not admit it and pushes her away.

Adela calms down and tells Martirio that she will no longer run from the shame, that she is fine with Pepe marrying Angustias but that she will continue to see him as his mistress. Martirio insists she will never let that happen and that she has "a heart full of a force so evil" that she is drowned by it and will do the same to Adela. Adela counters she will be stopped by nothing and that she finally sees her sister for what she truly is.

A whistle is heard from outside and Adela heads out, but is stopped by Martirio. Their physical struggle calls in Bernarda, who wears petticoats and a black shawl. Martirio accuses Adela of having been with Pepe. Adela takes her mother's cane and breaks it while demanding she will not be ordered around again by anyone but Pepe.

The other women enter the room and Adela tells Angustias that she will be Pepe's. Bernarda calls out for a gun and runs out, with La Poncia leaving before her to try and stop her. Angustias keeps Adela from rushing after them, while lambasting her for her wickedness.

Suddenly, a shot is heard, and Martirio enters, telling them Pepe is gone. Adela rushes out and when La Poncia asks how he died, Martirio admits it was a lie she told to irk Adela; the truth is that Pepe simply raced away on his horse. Bernarda enters and blames her poor aim, and while La Poncia is accusing Martirio of cruelty, they hear a thud in Adela's room.

La Poncia and Bernarda yell at her to open the door, and a servant enters to tell them the neighbors have been awoken. Bernarda lowers her voice as she threatens to knock the door down, but they get no response. There is silence until La Poncia throws herself against the door and screams at what she finds inside: "May we never die like that!"

Bernarda suddenly screams and demands nobody enter the room. She tells them to cut Adela down and to prepare her to be buried as a virgin. She then turns to the daughters and demands they not cry – "death must be looked at face to face" – and then yells at them over and over again, demanding from them "silence!"


The most obvious force that confines the individual is, of course, sexual repression. In this final section of the play, every character enters in her petticoats (undergarments), which calls to mind La Poncia's use of the nightgown symbol earlier in the play. The idea is that we are getting down to the true nature of each of these women, and unfortunately they all reveal they have been made cruel by oppression. Martirio is inarguably ruined with hatred because of her repression, and admits as much to Adela, saying her heart is full of "evil." Even Adela, who has the most reason to be happy, seems to take cruel delight in taunting others with her success with Pepe, even to poor Angustias, who is oldest and least likely to get a husband without her dowry.

Adela is a tragic figure because of her insistence on following her desires. When she breaks Bernarda's cane, she reveals herself master of the world, since that action symbolizes her refusal to follow the strict orders of the world. However, her suicide that follows so quickly afterward suggests that her strength was in some ways a ruse.

In the end, perhaps even Adela was not as free as she seemed. It is true that she flaunts the strictures of her mother's house throughout the play – from playing with the chickens to openly carrying on her affair with Pepe – but perhaps that rebellion is only a different way of showing she is controlled by the same forces. We never get much of a sense of what makes Pepe special – in fact, the best we can imagine is that he is simply good-looking. And yet Adela wraps up her entire spirit in him, in her sexual liaison with him. Even the high-spirited Adela cannot define herself outside of a man, and a potentially unremarkable man at that. The fact that he will marry Angustias simply for money, while allowing his true love to act as his mistress, further suggests his selfishness and makes it all the more tragic that Adela would kill herself over him.

It is as though the limitations placed on women are so harsh that even the freest of spirits cannot realize what true freedom is. In her speech to Martirio, Maria Josefa suggests that a woman's duty is to have a baby. While the speech is in many ways the mark of a senile old woman, there is much wisdom to be found in it. What the speech communicates is that women are prey to men, reliant on them for babies and protection. Maria Josefa, in the wisdom of age, has chosen a lamb, a symbol of innocence, as her new baby. The meaning is perhaps that true innocence comes for a woman only when she is free of the demands of a man.

Another quality that marks Adela as a tragic hero is the strength with which she attempts to transcend those limitations. She insists she will confront both shame and death to be with Pepe. She tells Martirio she does not care if she is scorned by her community – something Bernarda has taught her daughters is the worst punishment – so long as she can be Pepe's mistress. Further, she connects a life under Bernarda's oppression with "death" in her argument with Martirio, suggesting she will escape death and flee into the glory of sexual love. The unfortunate irony is that by attempting to flee Bernarda's "death," Adela runs right into death through suicide.

Of course, for all the elements that weaken Adela's heroic resolve, there is no easy solution on the other side. The view of life pushed by Bernarda is equally ugly. She shows to the end her insistence on being viewed as 'clean' by her neighbors, in the way that she lowers her voice while calling for Adela to open the door and in her final decision to bury Adela as a virgin. Bernarda tells the girls they must look at death "face to face," but she ironically is blind to the lessons Adela's death might otherwise teach.

It is telling that the first and last words Bernarda speaks in the play are the same: "Silence!" Bernarda stands in this place as a symbol of a successful woman, but one whose success is dependent on repressing not only her daughters but herself. They must not only allow men to do as they please, but they must suppress their own desires and learn to treat those desires as both unnatural and sinful. The fact that death will come to us all regardless of how little we allow ourselves pleasure in life doesn't matter – what does is our willingness to let the world continue to oppress it with its moral strictures and repressive desires. In the end of the play, Lorca makes perhaps his most damning comment on humanity: not only do we allow the world to weaken and destroy our transcendent spirits, but moreover we respond to tragedy not by learning to live differently but by doubly committing to that same life, never learning that we can be better.