writing || IB HL English WIT || Blood and Water in Blood Wedding: An Exploration of the Symbols in Spanish Culture as represented through the Lullaby
In Blood Wedding, Federico Garcia Lorca constructs an environment that is heavily weighed down by cultural expectations. As both a playwright and an accomplished theatre director, Lorca’s command of dialogue, musical drama, and stage direction is used with purpose to create this tense, eerie atmosphere. In particular, the play’s recurring intra-textual Lullaby piece gives audiences an insight into its cultural setting by mirroring the language and symbolism its characters later employ in describing their feelings of suffocation and tension. It depicts an ancient struggle – one that is still relevant enough to be passed on through the generations. And in it, we see the juxtaposition of carnal flesh and blood with inanimate trees and rivers, both symbols that serve as metaphors for the forces at odds in the play.
The Lullaby is told twice to Leonardo’s baby, and is also referred to in the moments leading up to the wedding. In the Lullaby, we witness a forest scene with a river, a bridge, and trees. And, as is frequently repeated for emphasis, a “great proud stallion that would not drink the water!” (Lorca 10) In the river, a separation is established between the water and some blood that has been spilled. The Mother-in-Law says, “in his eyes a-shining/there’s a silver dagger. […] And blood there was gushing/thicker far than the water.” (Lorca 15) Though it is not explicitly stated where the blood comes from, it is implied that it may belong to the stallion because he is the only animal in the scene, has wounded hooves, and is either currently seeing or has the memory of a blood-drawing dagger in his eyes.
In fact, Leonardo’s entrance occurs, very poignantly, just as the first recitation of the Lullaby is complete, when he arrives on a stallion that is tired, worn down, and with lost shoes. (Lorca 12) A few lines before, the Lullaby had presented audiences with a scene of a worn-down stallion arriving at a stream but not wanting to drink the water. Thus, we can infer that the Stallion is a metaphor for Leonardo, making the shedding of his blood in the Lullaby a prophetic event. Even the Bridegroom’s death is foreshadowed in the Lullaby. Before the Lullaby appears in Act 2, the Bridegroom’s Mother remarks in Act 1 to the Bridegroom, “I’d like you to be a woman. Then you wouldn’t be going to the stream now.” (Lorca 4) This statement is highly relevant given that both men later stab each other to death at a stream in the play, and the blood in the Lullaby is also shed at a stream.
Thus, in the Lullaby, blood reaches the water in the river and causes tension as the liquid lifelines of animals – blood – and plants – water – are forced to intermingle and fight for claim of the same river. In the play itself, the tension exists between the internal passion coursing within Leonardo and the Bride, and the social conventions that they are bound by, which dictate that they should not be together. First, Lorca builds up this atmosphere of tension and struggle through literary features. When the Mother and Father first meet, they use short, choppy dialogue and frequent pauses (Lorca 16-17) to paint the wedding as an uncomfortable, artificial and inanimate love union. During the wedding, the Bridegroom and the Bride are assailed by various characters offering their romantic advice, from the Servant providing wine and cheese, to the Mother describing how the Bridegroom should make love to his new Bride, to the girls bickering about whose wedding was prophesized to occur next. With stage directions involving lots of enters and exits and calling for the Bride to be “ill at ease, with a fierce inner conflict” (Lorca 39), a chaotic and on-edge scene is created that culminates in the Bridegroom shocking the Bride with a simple hug from behind. (Lorca 40)
In addition to literary devices, the tension is exarberated when even in dialogue, the characters never directly refer to their struggles. Instead, they refer to the contrasting symbols of blood and water to describe the tension between their passionate desires and social conventions – a topic that is so unaccepted in their culture they cannot discuss it. Lorca’s experience as a homosexual may have played a role in his profound ability to depict a culture so keen on avoiding mention of what they deem to be a taboo topic.
First of all, blood is used as a symbol for the embodiment of the secret, passionate desires that the characters harbour. Blood in the context of a Blood Wedding can very well represent the mixing of familial blood and the defloration of a bride on the wedding night, or the violent shedding of blood in conflict. Either way, blood is traditionally associated throughout literature with fierce, uncontrollable passion and love.
Furthermore, the characters in the play which are associated with blood are those whose cultural constructs are at odds with their personal passions. Blood is directly related to Leonardo, the main instigator of the play’s conflict, through his depiction as the wounded, bleeding Stallion in the Lullaby. Also, near the end of the story, the Woodcutters say, in reflection about the Bride and Leonardo’s lives, “you have to follow where your blood takes you.” (Lorca 45) In describing blood as a source of meaning and purpose in life, the Woodcutters are likening it to the passion that motivates Leonardo and the Bride.
On the other hand, the symbol of water is used to portray social customs and norms. As the lullaby progresses, the Stallion begins crying in a display of vulnerability, yet the Mother-in-Law tells him not to come near them, to keep away, and urges someone to “seal up the window with branches of dreams and dreams made of branches”. (Lorca 10) She says this as she is singing the lullaby to Leonardo’s baby, who is frequently referred to as a plant – a rose tree and a carnation. In a metaphorical sense, these instilled values are likened to the water providing nourishment “For men to be men; for wheat to be wheat.” (Lorca 4)
In addition, the wedding’s proceedings are described as being a river that weaves through the meadows, drawing a metaphor between water and the wedding: “through the meadows weaving/the wedding now draws near”. (Lorca 34) Hence, water is what supports crops, which, in the culture of Blood Wedding, is related to settling down, marriage, and cultivating land to support a family. Even at the ending of the play, the Bride refers to her arranged love with the Bridegroom as “a drop of cool water that I hoped would give me children, land, health”. (Lorca 62)
Yet ultimately, as is described through symbolism, the social conventions suffocate Leonardo and the Bride, and lead them to elope despite the consequences. When the Bride and Leonardo meet just before the wedding, they exchange an intense dialogue about the burning passion that is consuming both of them from the inside. Then, Leonardo remarks of this passion, “When something has got right deep into you, there’s nobody can root it out”. (Lorca 26) The reference to roots and the rotting of plants occurs often in the play, and may be a clever extension of the metaphor of water and plants representing social conventions and traditions. When a plant is watered excessively, its roots begin to rot in a scientific phenomenon called “root rot”. When Leonardo proclaims that his love for the Bride is still burning inside him, he says, “keeping quiet and burning inside is the worst punishment” (Lorca 26), to which the Bride replies, “the strain has rotted my heart.” (Lorca 27)
The characters involved in the central tension became suffocated by the constraints of their culture, like a plant would of excess water, and were in the end overwhelmed by the blood that threatened to overtake the water within their veins. At the end, the Woodcutters discuss the events of the play and say that the two lovers “were right to run away.” The first woodcutter then replies, “They weren’t being honest with each other; in the end the blood was too strong for them.” (Lorca 45)
Therefore, the symbols introduced in the lullaby set up the atmosphere and culture of Lorca’s Blood Wedding, while allowing audiences to understand the key tension in the play. In the end, the eloping of Leonardo and the Bride means “they’ll have mingled their blood, [and] they’ll be like two dried up streams.” (Lorca 46) Sure enough, Leonardo is lifeless, with his veins no longer carrying the essence of life, and the Bride is left weeping for her lost lovers. Although Lorca provides no conclusion to the established tension in his play between blood and water – symbols used to represent passion and cultural norms, respectively – he provides a final, powerful statement of what emerges when the forces of external expectations and internal desires within an individual become too much to bear.
Lorca Federico Garcia. Four Major Plays. New York: Oxford World’s Classics, 2008. Print.
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