January 31, 2008, 2:00 pm; posted by
Filed under Articles, Erin, Featured  | 1 Comment

YermaFederico Garcí­a Lorca was a Spanish author who lived from 1898 until 1936, when he was executed by members of the Nationalist party for reasons that may have included his political affiliations, his homosexuality, and the content of his works. Although this beginning may sound a little bit (okay, a LOT) similar to a poorly written biographical piece (read: Wikipedia article), it’s not really what I’m on about. I think that to understand the play Yerma, one needs a bit of background knowledge on the struggle and unpopularity of its author.

Yerma takes place in rural Spain at the turn of the last century, and focuses on the struggles of its titular character whose name means, quite literally, “barren land.” Yerma is married to Juan, a farmer, and encounters many townspeople (never given names more specific than “First Girl” or “Second Sister-in-law”), as well as a few other central characters: Víctor, Marí­a, the Old Woman, and Dolores.

The plot hinges on a single, bitter fact: Yerma has no children. In a day where a woman’s purpose in life stemmed from her role in the home raising her children, she is inútil, useless, and nothing that she can say or do for Juan gets through to him. Her desperation is markedly worse every time we encounter her, causing her to hallucinate sounds or smells, to refuse to speak to her sisters-in-law who come to stay with her family, or to sneak out of her home at night to meet Dolores, a woman of reputed spiritual/magical skill.

Without giving away the end of the play, I wanted to share this beautiful peace of prose-poetry-drama with any Bweinh! readers who enjoy gems of literature. The play is, in my opinion, one of the best I have read in my lifetime for a few reasons.

First is its imagery and symbolism. Throughout the play, Yerma lives in the bitter irony of the fact that her husband is a successful farmer, who works many long hours watering, tilling, fertilizing, and taking care of his fields and orchards, and yet he cannot do the same with his “most precious possession” — his wife.

YermaLorca directly challenges the idea of women as property by the continuous use of water as a symbol of life. The townspeople refer to Yerma’s house as a place engulfed in flame that cannot be quenched; Yerma often speaks of feeling that she is dying of thirst; and locations such as the town fonte (sort of equivalent to a well) or river augment water’s importance as a dramatic symbol. As Yerma grows more and more desperate, she pleads with Juan to come home to her at night and to stop treating her like property, but his only response is that his duty is to his fields, and that children cost too much to be worth the struggle of bringing them into the world.

Second is its inclusion of poetry. Yerma is not meant to be uber-realistic — meaning that Yerma’s monologues are most often poetry/songs. The way that they change over the course of this (short!) work are heartbreakingly beautiful. She progresses from “From where are you coming, my love, my child…what do you need…what do you beg, from so far away?” to “But you have yet to come, my love, my child / because this salt water, the fruitful ground, and other’s bellies keep their children / as the clouds withhold their sweet rain.”

Third is the social criticism. Perhaps it’s rather pathetic how much I enjoy Lorca’s “sticking it to the man,” but the fact that he champions women as just as human, just as soulful, and just as deeply needed as men is something I can’t help but enjoy. He challenges the practice of arranged marriages and also criticizes the Church for its stagnancy and desire to control people’s lives to the nth degree.

There are other areas of this play that I could elaborate on, but for now I will just leave you with a strongly-worded piece of advice: find a copy of Yerma. (It’s a tragedy, so drama geeks, be careful how wrapped up you get in the characters). If you read Spanish, read it in its original language; if not, find a good English translation. We could all use a bit more literature in our lives, and plays like Yerma, which beautifully depict the sorrow of human lives, can deepen our understanding of our pain and that of others.


1 Comment to “Yerma”

  1. suveeran on November 1st, 2009 7:59 am

    GOOD ENJOYED. the most inhuman thing is ”killing”. dont you think yerma turns negative at the end? instead of finding a remedy for life.

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