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The action opens in a "very white room in Bernarda Alba's house.'' Bells toll for the funeral of Bernarda's second husband. The housekeeper, La Poncia, speaks with a maid about Bernarda and her family. La Poncia reports that one of the daughters, Magdalena, fainted during the funeral service. Magdalena is the only onewho loved her father, La Poncia explains. Maria Josefa, Bernarda's mother, calls from within, where apparently she has been locked-up against her will. La Poncia laments Bernarda's treatment of the servants, cursing her with the "pain of the piercing nail." After La Poncia exits, a beggar woman and a little girl appear, but the maid drives them away. The servant hears the bells tolling and cursesBernarda's dead husband: "You'll never again lift my skirts behind the corral door!" The mourning women begin entering until the room is full. The servants now wail, putting on a show of grief for Antonio's passing. Bernarda and the five daughters enter, and Bernarda says a prayer for her dead husband.
The mourning women depart, and Bernarda curses what she sees as their hypocrisy: "Go back toyour houses and criticize everything you've seen." Bernarda explains to her daughters that they will mourn for eight years, during which "not a breath of air will get in this house from the street." The grandmother calls again, and Bernarda orders a servant to let her out Bernarda strikes Angustias, the oldest daughter, upon learning that she has been looking out the cracks in the door at the mendeparting the funeral. La Poncia comforts Angustias as Bernarda orders everyone but her maid out of the room. Bernarda questions La Poncia about the men Angustias was watching. La Poncia then expresses concern about the daughters, who are growing older and not finding husbands. Bernarda feels she's being protective: "For a hundred miles around there's no one good enough to come near them." Bernardaleaves, ordering her servants to work.
Amelia and Martirio enter. They discuss Martirio's poor health, and the fact that their neighbor Adelaida did not attend the funeral (apparently because her boyfriend will not let her out in public). After speaking more about Adelaida's difficulties, Martirio concludes: "It's better never to look at a man." Magdalena enters, deep in mourning. The threesisters discuss the talk of the town, that Pepe el Romano intends to ask their sister Angustias to marry him. Martirio and Amelia are happy about this news, but Magdalena is more cynical, feeling that Pepe is only interested in Angustias for her money. Adela enters, and hearing the news of Angustias's suitor first grows depressed, then defiant and angry. "I'm thinking," she says, "that this mourninghas caught me at the worst moment of my life for me to bear it." Everyone exits at the announcement of Pepe's arrival. Bernarda and La Poncia enter, discussing the division of the inheritance. When Angustias enters, she is chastised by Bernarda for having her face powdered. Bernarda violently removes the powder and sends Angustias out. The other sisters enter, arguing about the inheritance. Thegrandmother, Maria Josefa, enters after escaping from her room. Yelling at the daughters, "not a one of you is going to marry,'' Maria Josefa expresses a desire to return to her home town and be married herself. The act ends with everyone grabbing hold of Maria Josefa to subdue her again.
The daughters are seated with La Poncia, sewing. The betrothal of Angustias has brought out bitterjealousy between them. Angustias expresses a hope that she'll "soon be out of this hell." She explains to her sisters how Pepe asked her to marry him. La Poncia contributes stories about her courtship, and the mood grows lighter. Magdalena goes to fetch Adela, and when they return, everyone questions the youngest daughter about what she did the night before. Adela resents this curiosity, and when...