Celie exemplifies a woman escaping the patriarchal order, winning the right to be her own person, no longer socially, sexually or psychologically enslaved. Mabel progresses some way along that road, identifying what is good in her life, and by that process, finding resolution. Both achieve self realization and peace. The stories will be examined separately, exploring the male-female interactions and the women's development towards liberation.
The New Dress (Woolf, 1927): Told as a stream of consciousness, in the third person, the narrator allows access to all thoughts and feelings. What Mabel Waring wore, symbolically represents her need for acceptance as a witty, beautiful woman in the social setting of a party, a microcosm of society. She craved this from the men in particular. Unable to afford to be fashionable, "fashion.., meant thirty guineas at least - but why not be original" (Woolf, 1927, p. 296), Mabel convinced herself of the possibility with Miss Milan, her dressmaker. That was discounted when Mabel was confronted by the "ordinary people" (p.296) at the party, for which the dress had been made.
Mabel interpreted Mrs. ...
nt "But my dear, it's perfectly charming!" (p.296) meant the opposite, as Rose was "dressed in the height of fashion, precisely like everybody else, always." (p. 297). Metaphorical imagery of "Flies trying to crawl" (p.297, applied to the company as a self-protective mantra, failed for Mabel; in her yellow silk dress, she defined herself as "..some dowdy, decrepit, horribly dingy old fly," while the "others were dragonflies, butterflies, beautiful insects, dancing, fluttering, skimming." (p.297) Mabel's feelings of social and economic inferiority made her unable to accept reassurance from other women.
Male positive reaction would confirm her worth. She sought approbation through wit, with the fly simile to capture a compliment from Robert Haydon. His polite response was insincere: "she saw in a flash right to the bottom of Robert Haydon's heartshe saw the truth" (Woolf, 1927, p.297) That 'truth' was Mabel's interpretation, the worthless 'self' was reality. Charles Burt's reaction to her ambiguous comment, "It's so old fashioned" (p.298) was observation, not admiration, reinforcing negative self-image, arousing paranoia, which segued into self-pitying reminiscence of an underprivileged background and romantic hopes dashed.
Further memories allowed Mabel to recognize aspects of her life, more meaningful than male admiration.
"As if she were lying in the sun or carving mutton. It would be it!" (Woolf, 1927, p.300).
Clothing became important, in this instance a uniform; the transformation she sought relied on becoming 'Sister Somebody'(p.300). While ambiguous, as Mabel might have meant nun or nurse, both domains are all female, making male admiration and power inconsequential for defining oneself. Whatever she did, Mabel might escape the