This paper deals with the symbolic aspects in drama. More concretely, I will analyse three plays, and how women’s attire is used in these plays to symbolize those desires that the female characters cannot express openly in their society. The three plays, A Doll House by Henrik Ibsen, Mother Courage and her Children by Bertold Brecht, and My Beatles by Satoh Makoto, are all very different, as are their female characters, but they have in common that women’s clothing, shoes, or headgear appear as symbols for their unexpressed desires.
I will briefly summarize the plays, before going on to a more in- depth analysis of the individual women’s attire functioning as symbols in each play. I will draw comparisons between the plays, and give connections symbols appearing in to other literary works.
A Doll House by Ibsen is set in one Christmas week in late nineteenth century Norway. The main characters are wife and husband Nora and Torvald Helmer. Major supporting characters are Nora’s friend Kristine Linde, Torvald’s friend Dr. Rank, and Krogstad, bank employee. Nora is married to Torvald and mother of three. Torvald loves her very protectively, treating her like an immature child. Krogstad blackmails Nora because Torvald fired him. Nora had forged her father’s signature to obtain a loan to save Torvald’s life years earlier. Krogstad threatens to bring it all to light unless Nora persuades Torvald to employ him again. Although Krogstad decides to stop blackmailing Nora as he and Mrs. Linde, who was decades ago his lover, get back together again, Torvald finds his letter and learns about the truth. Instead of appreciating Nora’s action he despises her and cares only about his own reputation. When the immediate danger is gone as Krogstad writes to apologize, Torvald wants to get back to life as usual, but Nora, understanding the reality of their marriage, decides to leave him.
Mother Courage and her Children by Brecht is set in the first half of the seventeenth century, in the midst of the Thirty Years War. The action stretches over twelve years and various locations, beginning in 1624 in Dalarna and ending in 1636 in Halle. The main character, Mother Courage, moves around with the army as a kind of merchant woman. She has three children, sons Eilif and Swiss Cheese and daughter Kattrin. Through the course of the play, both sons are recruited for the army, and die for their most remarkable traits of character: Swiss Cheese for his honesty, and Eilif for his brave heroism. In the end Kattrin as well is killed by soldiers as she tries to warn the citizens of Halle. Throughout the play, Courage seems to care more about her business than about the lives of her children. Even though the war kills her children one by one and causes so much misery, Courage prefers war to peace because war offers better business opportunities. (Brecht 1939)
My Beatles by Satoh Makoto is set in Japan in the 1950s/1960s. The main characters Chong and Katsura are rehearsing a play which deals with the Komatsugawa incident, where an ethnic Korean born and raised in Japan raped and killed a Japanese schoolgirl allegedly out of revenge for the discrimination he experienced. A Japanese with an ambiguous role shows up, and then four movers who claim to be the Beatles, and start directing the rehearsal. The rehearsed play increasingly takes on its own life, and the limits between rehearsal and reality blur. The names of the main characters Chong (Korean) and Katsura (Japanese) turn out to be their roles in the rehearsed play, and that their ethnicities are in fact opposite: Chong is ethnic Japanese, and Katsura is ethnic Korean. Chong is killed, the Beatles turn out not to be the Beatles, and Katsura is left with her illusion of the Emerald Peninsula Korea.
The unexpressed wishes of Nora Helmer, the main female character in A Doll House, are symbolized by a costume. For a Christmas costume party Nora is to wear an Italian costume Torvald bought for her while they were in Italy and dance the tarantella. When the nanny Anne-Marie finds the costume in a box, it is damaged after years of storage. Nora wants to tear the costume to pieces, but then accepts Mrs. Linde’s help to mend it.