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Dressed to Impress: The Role of the Dress in Cinderella and A Doll’s House Sarah Scudder


The donning of her [dancing] dress has actually caused the turning point of her life.

-Barbara Fass Leavy

Gown and outward look have historically played a substantial role in the plot development of fairy tales. Possibly the most well-known dress in our cumulative memory is that which was bestowed upon Cinderella by her fairy godmother. A less common dress, though by no means lesser, is seen in Ibsen’s A Doll’s Home. Nora’s Italian tarantella outfit is in reality functionally comparable to Cinderella’s ball dress. Although they are obtained in different methods, and ultimately attain various ends, gowns in both Cinderella tales and A Doll’s House serve the very same purpose of permitting the heroine to transcend beyond the restraints society has put on her.

In Cinderella stories, elaborate dresses, the existence and absence of them, play an essential function in the lead character’s ability to conquer her challenges, and to accomplish her real capacity. Elisabeth Pantajja, in her essay ³ Going up worldwide: Class in Cinderella,’ ² takes a look at the role of clothes as a ³ political tool of the petit-bourgeoisie ² (99 ). The elimination of certain types of clothes, she argues, is representative of removal of social status. Class, and inferred class by clothing, is the essence of the restrictions troubled a Cinderella character. In many variations, Cinderella’s clothes are lost at the beginning of the tale. ³ They eliminated her beautiful clothes, dressed her in an old grey smock, and provided her some wood shoes, ² checks out the very first scene of the Brothers Grimm variation. In ³ Donkeyskin ² the protagonist’s clothing are not powerfully drawn from her. Rather circumstances require that she not wear them, but instead use just the old donkey’s skin. In both of these cases the elimination of great clothing is symbolic of demotion. Extending that metaphor to a more general interpretation, it is symbolic of pushing the character out of a realm in which she when belonged. In the case of Cinderella stories, the realm just takes place to be that of a greater social order.

In the modern analysis of the Swan Maiden Tale, A Doll’s House, bodily covering is likewise at first lost. This is inferred at the beginning of Act II in A Doll’s House when the Nursemaid says ³ I finally discovered it, the box with the costume costumes ² (35 ). ³ Lastly ², suggests that they were being sought, an element that becomes more relevant when their plot line function is served. Barbara Leavy parallels this brief discovery scene with the point in the Swan Maiden tale when the swan spouse discovers her long lost plumes. The fact that the outfits are for a masquerade, not a daily event, deserves note as they therefore signify entryway into another world that is not the normal. That Nora already owned the dress, the plumes per se, suggests that she had actually as soon as in the past become part of this other place. Extending the literal images of the masquerade to the more abstract world, one could say that this other location from which she was being cooped, was a world in which she has agency. Unlike Cinderella figures, Nora does not initially recognize that she has actually been cooped in another world. Like the Cinderella figure, however, wearing her unique dress facilitates her transcendence of the forces that are in essence holding her captive. The re-discovery, or re-establishment of such clothes is more subtle in the Cinderella tales. In the Brothers Grimm version, stunning gowns are ³ tossed down ² from a fairy godmother-esque Hazel tree. In Donkeyskin, as the clothes is never ever taken away, the re-discovery appears to happen on a weekly basis. ³ She cleaned herself, then opened her chest and first placed on the dress of the moon ² Perrault writes, ³ this sweet pleasure kept her going from one Sunday to the next ² (112 ). Through this rediscovery of her gowns, Donkeyskin prepares for the minute when those gowns will allow her to conquer her decreased social stature. Similarly, the wonderful look of the timeless Cinderella’s gown, as well as the re-discovery of the Nora’s Italian costume, style changes themselves, foreshadow the more considerable non-physical changes to come.

How precisely the numerous gowns enable the characters to break out of their constrained roles is where the two stories diverge. In the Cinderella tales, the lead character is passive. In the classic tale, it is the prince who takes a proactive function. Grimm’s version informs that She looked so lovely in the dress of gold that they believed she must be the daughter of a foreign king The prince approached Cinderella, took her by the hand and danced with her. He didn’t intend to dance with anyone else and never release her hand. Whenever anyone else asked her to dance he would say: ³ She is my partner. ² (119 )

There is a direct link in between how stunning the dress made her look, and the prince’s interest in her. The extent to which the prince takes possession of her is necessary to the story line as it is that feeling of possession, repeatedly asserted throughout the three day wedding event affair, which motivates the prince to seek out Cinderella, ultimately bringing her back up the social ladder by weding her. In Donkeyskin, it is only when the prince sees the princess in her sophisticated dress that he is gotten rid of by her beauty, and thus begins his pursuit of her. Though the disclaimer ³ No matter what her dress resembled, the charm of her face, her lovely profile, [etc.] moved him a hundred times more ² (113) remains in the text, it is tough to discount the truth that she was indeed wearing her unique gown when she caught his attention. It is hard to think of that he would have been equally awestruck had she been using her usual donkey skin. In both versions of the Cinderella story, the dress serves a function of catching attention. This attention capture induces the prince to begin the eventually effective pursuit of the Cinderella character. Through marriage to the prince Cinderella gains noble status, thus, with direct credit to the gown, moving beyond what was originally her constricting social circumstance.

Ibsen’s Nora is a lot more proactive character than Cinderella though she too utilizes her joyful dress to conquer her social constriction. Unlike the Cinderella characters, the various worlds of social classes are not Nora’s issue. Rather, her differing worlds are separated on the axis of gender. Throughout the play Nora exists in a world unique from her spouse. From the overt closed door of his workplace, to the money-borrowing secret she harbors from him, the two exist in totally different aircrafts. The gown itself is among the few links their worlds have, and even that is rather tangential. In Act II Nora tells Kristine that Torvald wants her to go to the masquerade as a Neopolitan fishing lass and dance the tarantella, the dance she found out when they remained in Italy. Moments after she has Kristine help her heal her ³ outfit ² (40) Torvald enters the room: NORA: No, it was Kristine. She was assisting me with my costume. I believe it’s going to look really nice HELMER

: Wasn’t that an excellent concept of mine, now?

NORA: Wonderful! However wasn’t it likewise nice of me to let you have your method?

HELMER: Nice of you- due to the fact that you let you partner have his method? All best you little rogue, I understand you didn’t indicate it that method You’ll be wishing to try the costume on I suppose. (40 )

The existence of the dress, and its involved power battles are highlighted briefly in this scene. Torvald had wanted Nora to find out to dance in Italy and likewise bought the gown for her. What Torvald does not recognize, and perhaps even Nora doesn’t understand at this moment is the result the dress and its associated dance will have on their relationship. Even the existence of the gown in discussion has offered Nora more firm. Her slip up practically provided Torvald a hint that she understands more than she generally lets on.

Though the audience does not see the actual efficiency of the dance in costume at the masquerade ball, the recount by Torvald highlights necessary components and undoubtedly it is the consequences that is more crucial than the real efficiency. ³ She dances the tarantella ² and ³ there was wild applause ² (67) describes Torvald. One can picture Nora performing the crazy dance, all the while concerning the awareness that she need to leave the world she knows. Though it is possible, it is hard to picture the dance being carried out without the sophisticated outfit. The outfit serves to change Nora to a ³ beautiful vision ² (67 ), at the same time changing her spirit into among realization, knowledge of her scenario and what choices she has. At the end of Act III, Nora has changed into a lot more serious and uncomplicated character. She speaks conservatively, frequently in brief sentences compared to Torvald’s long descriptions of how he is going to save her.

In her book In Search of the Swan Maiden, Leavy analyzes the power battle and problem of ownership of the outfit. ³ Insofar as all of Nora’s ownerships come from Torvald, they remain in his control ² states Leavy (299 ). They are illustrative of Torvald’s control of Nora, the social restraints that she need to overcome. Torvald’s tries to exercise his control of the clothing, and by extension Nora, when he learns her trick. ³ Take that will off. Take it off I inform you! ² (76) Torvald exclaims. However Nora, having danced the tarantella, and even if momentarily, went into a realm aside from the doll’s house she knows, has actually increased her willpower. As the scene advances, her control over her clothing, as well as her life, increases. When Torvald asks what she is doing, she replies ³ Removing this fancy dress ² (78 ). Torvald is amazed when she is not preparing herself for bed, and she then responds ³ Yes, Torvald, I have actually changed ² (79 ). The significance of this statement goes far deeper than altering her dress. In using the dress, Nora had an epiphany. She realized that her life was A Doll’s Home, which she didn’t want to live it that way. In removing the dress, she has actually cast off not just Torvald’s ownership, but likewise the social restrictions holding her within her contrived world.

Nora’s chronological dress modifications, from ordinary to stylish and back to ordinary and her corresponding attitude change show that a transformation took place while wearing the costume. In Leavy’s words, ³ The donning of her dancing dress has brought about the turning point in her life ² (298) Thus, it was the dress itself that facilitated Nora’s true change, a realization that possibly never would have happened had she not carried out the unique dance in the unique dress. Unlike the Cinderella characters, Nora goes back to her initial clothing. This difference can be credited to the varying societal constraints and outcomes. While the Cinderella characters absorb into another restricted realm – upper class culture they enter in marital relationship, Nora is entering into a world unidentified, a world probably free of the confinement and ownership that her outfit represented.

When the clock struck midnight in the Cinderella tale, the dress had actually served its function. It was then the prince’s rely on act. In A Doll’s home, when the clock struck twelve on the masquerade, Nora’s gown too, had served its purpose. Nevertheless, it was Nora who took the initiative this time. Her gown, like the Swan Maiden’s plumes, had actually advised her of her own world, her own agency and the world beyond the doll-house. Though Cinderella and Nora started in different scenarios, were victims of different societal restrictions, and had quite various ends to their stories, for both it was a dress that supplied a window of chance, a possibility for transcendence beyond their initial scenarios. Possibly, though, simply perhaps both lived gladly ever after.

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