Analysis of the New Dress

The New Dress | Analysis

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From the very beginning of the story, we can see that Mabel is intensely aware of her surroundings- the setting, the people, what they are wearing, and so forth. This adds to her insecurity, as her self-esteem immediately drops when she realizes that her dress does not fit in with what the others are wearing. Their clothes are more exquisite, something which she cannot afford. It is interesting to note that she often thinks about her dress and her life and personality in parallel. After commenting about how shabby and downy she looks compared to others, she thinks about her status as “a weak mother” and a wife. She seems to link these two things- the supposed dullness of her dress with the dullness of her personality.

This leads us to a possible indirect comparison made by Woolf. Rather, we may say that Mabel’s new yellow dress symbolizes her personality. While the dress was being fitted by Miss Millan, Mabel was overflowing with joy and excitement. She felt unique and special and was excited to receive the final product. This is in relation to the color of the dress, as yellow often signifies brightness and happiness. However, when Mabel attends the party, her confidence drops. She feels like all eyes are on her and everybody is mocking her poverty. This is symbolized by the fact that the dress is different from everybody else’s.

It is also important to think about how much of the scenario was simply in Mabel’s mind- did Rose really mock her? Was Robert Haydon’s hastiness because of her dress or out of the surprise of her words? This entire story focuses on Mabel’s innermost feelings, hence we as readers view everything from a biased lens. We see the party and interaction through Mabel’s mind, rather than objectively. This fact highlights how much one’s insecurities and fears can influence the reality of a situation. It is possible that while everyone in the party was dressed better, nobody truly paid Mabel’s dress much heed. However, due to Mabel’s high guard, it felt like they did.

This is brought to life by Woolf’s analogy between the party-goers and flies. Mabel describes herself as a “fly on the wall”, which is a metaphorical explanation of feeling like an outsider looking in. This brings in the theme of social isolation and loneliness. Mabel feels lonely because she cannot fit in – rather than mingling with the crowd, she feels more pay for writing essay watching from the dark shadows in the sidelines. She likens herself to an ordinary housefly, which implies the inferior way she views herself, and compares the other, more extravagant members as beautiful dragonflies and butterflies. Here, we see the theme of wealth and class difference. The extraordinariness of dragonflies and butterflies in comparison to the housefly symbolizes the visible difference between the rich and poor, suggesting that a housefly like Mabel cannot possibly mingle with the likes of the higher class- after all, she even looks different.

When Mabel thinks about her past, the readers may understand that the insecurities have been present for a long time, but only came to fruition in such social situations. She blames the poverty of her upbringing for the current situation and feels envious of others such as Rose. Her constant frustrated remarks seem to be for two purposes- one is to make it clear to those around her that she does not find her dress pretty, for she does not want them to question her taste. The other may be to hear some positive words and reassurances. Though she gets such reassurance, she views it through a guarded lens, and hence it comes across insincere- this only makes her confidence drop lower.

We see her mind flashing between Miss Millan’s workroom and the party. The difference between Mabel’s attitude while in her comfort zone and when she’s in an unfamiliar social gathering is evident. In the workroom, she was flowing with self-love and confidence, which disappears in the presence of others. Here, we see an important element which Mabel addresses herself: getting affected by the opinions of others. Mabel is far too wary of what others may think of her, which is what diminishes her earlier confidence. We see a conflict between two sides of Mabel’s personality- one who wishes to start afresh and be stronger and happier, and the other who is limited by the unease she feels in the presence of wealthier people.

Mabel leaving the party early, wearing her cloak of twenty years, could provide a ray of hope. She waves off Rose and Charles as she leaves, the first act of nonchalance we see from her. It is also important to note that people often vie for invitations to social gatherings, especially of the wealthy, yet she is leaving early despite receiving a direct invitation. We may see it as a subtle act of individuality and courage, a flash of self-realization that she does not have to put herself through uncomfortable situations for the sake of reputation. She is breaking away from others’ opinions and views of her and finally acting for herself. Further, the fact that she is wearing her old cloak, the same as usual, may symbolize that certain things cannot change so easily. This is her life, and it is up to her to make the best of it.

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