Sometimes a dress is not just a dress, and sometimes it is all that is needed to take a family over the edge. The short-story “The Dress” by Julia Darling takes on the task to try and explain the complex structure of a family with an emotional build-up like a pressure-cooker that at some point has to let off steam.
When girls borrow each others’ things it is usually not a big deal – take my hat, want to try my new lipstick, here’s my new shoes – but nobody likes it when their things get taken from them, get stolen, when you are forced to unwillingly let other people use your stuff, because you cannot stop them, and especially when the thief is someone you by nature consider your biggest rival – your sister.
In the short-story the teenage girl Rachel experiences this type of feeling, this frustration of not being able to do anything and not being able to unleash her feelings on the person responsible – her sister Flora, who has stolen her beautiful new dress, who daringly and unapologetic has taken a possession though very well knowing that it is strictly off-limits. Rachel reacts the way many people probably would when their line has been crossed, and when their personal belongings have been besuddled by an “outsider” – she goes berserk, throwing things about in her sister’s room though knowing that the dress will not be there, screams “FLORA!
” in the empty house and imagines her sister wearing her dress looking beautiful and chik in a cafi??. These images, though not knowing if they are true or not, infuses her already heated temper and makes the emotions build up inside her. You could say that she swallows her rage, which slowly builds up to a more intense bundle of emotion because it is not acted out. Flora on the other hand knows that the act of stealing the dress is wrong, knows that she is not allowed to touch the dress, but does it anyway when she in an unguarded moment is left alone with it.
In the beginning it was not her intend to steal the dress, but just touch it, wanting the glamour and confidence of her sister, whom she calls “taller, braver, cleverer” to rub off on her, but eventually she becomes braver, trying on the dress and justifying the act by comments like “… the dress was meant for her, not Rachel” and “but once it clung to her body she was unable to take it off”. Little acts of defiance are not uncommon between sisters, and both are jealous of each other, guarding their possessions with utmost care.
This jealousy probably colors the sisters relationship, and there clearly is a war going on between the two, a war where the two rivals challenge and provoke each other indirectly, but a war that has been taken into the open by the acts of Flora, who with the taking of the dress directly challenges the status of her sister, provoking her and placing herself above her. SHE is now wearing the dress (pants) in the relationship, and the direct act of defiance undermines the authority of her sister Rachel, something Rachel cannot bear, but cannot do anything about, which combined with Rachel’s picture of Flora sitting in a fancy cafi??
where she should be sitting in her new dress, makes her a white-glowing ball of hate. The very same night the two girls are at a fancy restaurant with their mother, celebrating her fortieth birthday, but the atmosphere is not cheerful and festive, but heavy with emotion and silence. Flora takes advantage of the situation, the birthday and the fancy restaurant, aware that her sister will not say anything about the dress or make a scene in a public place at that particular day. She provokes Rachel further by saying “Cheer up then.
It’s a celebration” and “Can I try some asparagus, Rachel? ” She takes the situation as far as she can, pretending nothing is wrong, pushing her sister further and further towards boiling-point. Their mother on the other hand not knowing what is wrong, cannot stop listening to a birthday party, where people are shouting and laughing and having a good time. She wants to turn around and have a look but feels caught up in the situation with her daughters, she feels sorry for herself, feels old and forgotten and unloved, like her life is standing still and she is left out on all the fun.