RED DRESS by Alice Munro Alice Munro (Canadian writer, famous throughout North America) THEME: FEMALE ADOLESCENCE Sub-themes: •Mother-daughter relationship: o”She was just sitting and waiting for me to come home and tell her everything that had happened. And I would not do it, I never would. ” (implies that the daughter wished for her own space and felt her mother was too clingy and needy for her attention – failure at being a woman) o”My mother, never satisfied, was sewing a white lace collar on the dress; she had decided it was too grown-up looking. (implies that her mother was kind of “coordinating” her life) •the importance of physical appearance and female self-consciousness – her fear of standing at the blackboard thinking there was a red stain on the back of her clothing – reference to menstruation and the associated “shame”. “I did it up! ” “You look like a Zulu. Oh, don’t worry. Let me get a comb and I’ll do the front in a roll. It’ll look all right. It’ll even make you look older. ” I sat in front of the mirror and Lonnie stood behind me, fixing my hair.? •Feeling like an outsider: the main character – “At high school I was never comfortable for a minute. ” oMary Fortune – “… he had brought me from Mary fortune’s territory into the ordinary world. ” (implies that Mary didn’t fit in the stereotype of society) •social hierarchy and popularity in school •sexuality (sexual competition and questioning of sexuality – heterosexuality, homosexuality) oGoing with Mary Fortune vs the boy who asked her to dance. “I thought that I ought to tell him there was a mistake, that I was just leaving, I was just going to have a hot chocolate with my girl friend.
But I did not say anything. ” (inner conflict with choosing between Mary and the boy – and possibly alludes to finding her sexual preferences) o”Also we read articles on frigidity of the menopause, abortion and why husband seeks satisfaction away from home. When we were not doing schoolwork we were occupied most of the time with the garnering, passing on and discussing of sexual information. ” •Womanhood othe mother as a failure of a woman in contrast to the narrator’s construction of woman as sexually attractive. Her desire for consumerism associated with womanhood: “I had worn these clothes (made by her mother) with docility, even pleasure, in the days when I was unaware of the world’s opinion. Now, grown wiser, I wished for dresses like those my friend Lonnie had, bought at Beale’s store. ” •Peer influence/pressure – with Lonnie, Mary Fortune o”Lonnie was probably not going to be my friend any more, not as much as before anyway. She was what Mary would call boy-crazy. ” o”I went around the house to the back doors, thinking, I have been to a dance and a boy walked me home and kissed me.
It was all true. My life was possible. ” (although she conforms to the social norm in the end, the tone betrays her need to rationalize these events as success. She does not sound fully satisfied or convinced) oinfluence of Lonnie: “I did it up! ” “You look like a Zulu. Oh, don’t worry. Let me get a comb and I’ll/do the front in a roll. It’ll look all right. It’ll even make you look older. ” I sat in front of the mirror and Lonnie stood behind me, fixing my hair.? PURPOSE: To reveal the great social pressures faced by female adolescents and their issues of self-esteem linked to physical appearance and popularity in school •To defend the narrator’s choice either to conform to the social pressures to gain popularity and status or follow Mary Fortune’s independent but difficult path •To investigate sexuality – heterosexuality and homosexuality “I went around the house to the backdoor thinking I have been to a dance and a boy has walked me home and kissed me. It was all true. My life was possible. ” SETTING: 1. School Society. Has a social hierarchy based on popularity, experience (Age) and associated power. oIs a place where she feels self-conscious and insecure as a female adolescent in the “practice world” 2. Janitor’s place (visited with Mary) dark, unknown by majority, symbol of exceptionality, underground, forbidden area – forbidden love. “I reflected that athletes always seemed to know more than the rest of us about the school as a building; they knew where things were kept and they were always coming out of unauthorized doors with a bold, preoccupied air. orepresents the place in society that independent women and /or lesbians have been relegated to 3. Home: associated with her childhood, where her mother remains and does the things of her childhood. Her frustration with her home and family/being a child. IMAGERY: •symbols: RED DRESS – womanhood/female sexuality. The red dress used to be the equivalent of the modern black dress. It oozes sexuality and womanhood. My mother, never satisfied, was sewing a white lace collar on the dress; she had decided it was too grown-up looking… I saw how my breasts in their new stiff brasserie, jutted out surprisingly with mature authority, under the childish frills of the collar. ” •Cigarette – establish the difference between the old womanhood and the new one •KISS osymbol of “return to reality”. oAllusion to fairy tale kisses like those in Sleeping Beauty and Snow White but unlike the fairy tales, she does not seem elated. A sexual act associated with adulthood MOOD: generally tense with the narrator’s fear of rejection– waiting for the dance event and being afraid of not succeeding in competition “Pray, I though I couldn’t close my eyes but I said over and over again: Please me, please me… ” NARRATION: The narration is personal and diary-like. Tone changes throughout the story: oanxious in the beginning, a lot of strong emotions of self-criticism, dissatisfaction oin the scene with Mary Fortune, the tone is calm, liberated and hopeful.
Lifts the mood of the scene so that it is light and free oin the last scene, the tone is one of relief, happiness of having survived the night and of being home again, acknowledging the reality of her mother in her life “That old building, with its rock-walled clammy basements and black cloakrooms and pictures of dead royalties and lost explorers, was full of the tension and excitement of sexual competition, and in this, in spite of daydreams of vast success, I had premonitions of total defeat.
Something had to happen, to keep me from that dance. ” “But when I saw the waiting kitchen, and my mother in her faded, fuzzy Paisley kimono, with her sleepy but doggedly expectant face, I understood what a mysterious and oppressive obligation I had, to be happy, and how I had almost failed it, and would be likely to fail it, every time, and she would not know. ” •1st person narration that carries the anxiety of the protagonist; creates better empathy with the protagonist •point of view: adolescent girl in 1946 facing the stress of growing up
Characterization: A. mother: caring, old-fashioned (in her own fashion style; she makes her daughter’s clothes which may suggest that they cannot afford to buy ready-made clothing), patient, loving, understanding, unattractive and unladylike, rather pathetic, tries to act young around her daughter and Lonnie, is critical of her daughter “I was embarrassed by the way my mother crept around me, her knees creaking, her breath coming heavily,. She muttered to herself.
Around the house she wore no corset or stockings, she wore wedge-heeled shoes and ankle socks; her legs were marked with lumps of blue-green vein. I thought her squatting position shameless, even obscene…” odoesn’t care about her looks, cares about her daughter, wants to give her the best she can- “Well nobody ever made me a dress when I was going to high school” my mother said, “I made my own, or I did without. ” o feels that her daughter doesn’t appreciate it olives her life vicariously through her daughter B. best friend, Lonnie: othe typical girl, polite to adults, boy crazy two-faced (polite to grown ups only when they are present), more adult, good friend, is from a high social class “it’s beautiful, said Lonnie, in her mild, sincere voice. ” Lonnie wore the composed polite appreciative expression that her disguise in the presence of grown-ups. She laughed at them and was a ferocious mimic, and they never knew. ” C. Mary Fortune oPopular and responsible – “she was an officer of the Girl’s Athletic Society and she was on the Honour Roll and she was always organizing things. ” oIs not mainstream: “I can’t stand it. I hate dancing when I don’t like the band.
Listen. They’re so choppy. ” o‘the independent woman’, clear vision of future, ambitious – “She said she planned to work her own way through, she wanted to be independent anyway, she would work in the cafeteria and in the summer she would do farm work like picking tobacco. Listening to her, I felt the acute phase of my unhappiness passing. Here was someone who had suffered the same defeat as I had – I saw that – but she was full of energy and self-respect…” o subversive as she might be a lesbian (athletic like the other athletes who hide in the janitor’s room)
D. Girls at the party: boy-crazy, snobbish ? role model of behavior for the protagonist/narrator “They behaved as if only they – the older ones – were really at the dance as if the rest of us, whom they moved along and peered around, were, if not invisible, inanimate…” E. Popular boy – Mason Williams: owants to be noticed and uses the narrator to depict the stark contrast between popular and unpopular by asking her to dance with him odoesn’t care about others “This Mason Williams was one of the heroes of the school; he played asketball and hockey and walked the halls with an air of royal sullenness and barbaric contempt. ” She understands her position as a nonentity in comparison to such a hero (sheep mentality – follows the roles determined by other people) “To have to dance with such a nonentity like me was as offensive to him as having to memorize Shakespeare. ” F. Hierarchy of the school society: i. Top 1. 13th and 14th grade girls: already have a social status 2. Mason Williams: steers the protagonist, aware of his social status 3. Lonnie: ideal girl, polite, smiling all the time, self-confident ii.
Middle 1. Protagonist: anonymous individual, insecure, “nonentity”, submissive (in relation to Williams and Mary) iii. Bottom 1. Mary Fortune: different from the mainstream school culture herself, independent, self-confident 2. Fat and poor girls: marginalized G. the narrator/protagonist – feels overprotected, suffocated by her mother, doesn’t want to stand out, feels different from the others, wants to have a “normal life” like her friends, thinks there’s something wrong with her, hides her emotions, irritated by her mother’s actions, self-conscious a. Was it possible, could I believe it, was there nothing the matter with me after all? ” (low self-esteem ) b. “I longed to be like that. ” (doesn’t want to stand out) c. “all the stories of my mother’s life which had once interested me had begun to seem melodramatic, irrelevant and tiresome. ” (irritation) Structure: Chronological and can be ordered according to the scene below •Before the party (preparing the dress) •Preparing the dress (flashback in her childhood and exposition on the relationship with her mother) •Description of her feelings in class Preparing for the party (trying to get sick) •During the party •Before meeting Mary Fortune •Meeting Mary Fortune •The moment of choice – choosing to dance with the boy •After the party (back home) – the kiss and going home QUESTIONS: •Why is the dress red? •What is the real reason of her unwillingness to participate in the school dance? •Why is the popularity so important for them? •What are the features of grown-ups and how to take after them? •Is “boy-craziness” real madness? Which is the moment of madness in this story? Why? •Is the protagonist’s mother really suffocating her? •Do you think the narrator was wrong to stay at the dance instead of going with Mary? •Why do you think she did that? •How did the dance affect her relationship with Lonnie? Questions on Mary Fortune: •What does Mary Fortune represent? •How is she perceived by the narrator? •Why does the society isolate Mary Fortune (independent women)? What about the other athletes? •In what way does the society isolate them?