In her book Lorca: The Drawings and Their Relation to the Poet’s Life and Work, Helen Oppenheimer analyzes the figure of the sailor in Lorca’s drawings and writing within the context of his work dealing with the nature of identity that emerged during the years of his close friendship with Dalí. While her reading of this symbolic character is useful to understanding the role of the sailor in our play, it is by no means the only interpretation and our play in many ways contradicts or challenges the ideas presented in this book.
The sailor is primarily a symbol of sexual freedom both as it relates to love and passion as well as creative freedom that Lorca saw as intertwined with sexual expression. Often the word “amor” appears in the picture with the sailor and he might be given wings to illustrate his association with flight and freedom. However, the sailor does not represent an attainable love, but one that is anticipatory. He occupies an abstract rather than a realistic life, and rather than a participant in life he is isolated from it. Although the sailor is exiled like the gypsy, his exile is by choice.
As an object of love in Lorca’s work, the sailor represents an unattainable ideal of love within the realm of dreams rather than reality. He is the object of a frustrated love, love “as it should be, but never as it is” (55). The sailor hails from a “dream-world of constant expectation,” and the flowers that often grow from his otherwise empty eyes or mouth symbolize a dream-like longing for a past or future happiness.
Lorca in Cadaqués visiting Salvador Dalí, 1927
Here, Lorca felt the most happy and closest to his own unattainable love for Dalí.
Despite his lofty associations with dreams and unattainable desires, the sailor is also an emblem of sexuality and passion, often appearing as an amorous lover. The drunken sailor or the sailor appearing from within a tomb is thus a symbol of a fatal passion that leads to death and demise.
Lorca, Sueño del marino, 1927
Lorca with Pablo Neruda and other friends dressed up as sailors in Buenos Aires, 1934
Buster Keaton out to sea in The Navigator
Some questions to consider…
How does this interpretation of the sailor relate to or differ from the Sailor in Barbarous Nights? What is the importance of the Sailor’s isolation from society in our play? How does the Sailor’s relationship with dreams and dreaming relate to the surrealist qualities of our play? Does the Maiden ever attain the unattainable love embodied by her Sailor? How does this symbolism surrounding the Sailor relate to issues of gender and identity in the play and in Lorca’s work in general?
Oppenheimer, Helen. Lorca: The Drawings and Their Relation to the Poet’s Life and Work. New York, NY: Franklin Watts. 1987. Print.