“The Dress” is a short story about a dysfunctional family, consisting of two sisters, Flora and Rachel, and their mother. Flora has stolen Rachel’s dress, spilled a drink upon it and afterwards buried it in the garden. The conflict erupts during their mother’s birthday meal at a restaurant. Once at home again from the restaurant the crisis results in both girls leaving the house – leaving their mother behind, alone, with a glass of wine. The setting of the story is not distinctly described as it is not crucial for the understanding of the story.
The story only features three characters: Flora, Rachel and their mother. Rachel comes across as the bigger sister, frustrated with Flora’s carelessness. Her rage against Flora for stealing the dress is unusual keen, concerning the fact that it is only a dress – “only a scrap of material”, as Flora at some point exclaims. As a reader you immediately get a sense of a smouldering danger just beneath the surface. Something undefined, yet ominous. Flora is obviously conscious that what she is doing is wrong.
But while she understands that her sister will not be pleased with her stealing the dress, she could not possibly imagine the hatred it would release. Flora is ignorant and careless, but she is only immature – not vicious. Their mother is a bereavement counsellor, but despite this she is unable to deal with the daughters constant intrigues. When she is at home she has a need to distance herself from her professional work, and therefore she only wishes to be in a loving and caring environment. This results in a neglection of her daughters, which has obviously had an effect on the two sisters.
Rachel depresses her feelings, and is unable to handle them: “.. Rachel knew that she would have to be pleasant, to forget about her stolen dress, wear something else, and smile. ” , and Flora is desperately trying to get her mother’s attention. The mother feels unsafe about facing serious problems in real life: “She (the mother) liked emotions to be explored in safe rooms, with a clock. ” She is rather ignorant about the serious crisis between her daughters, and would like them to make an effort – to behave nicely, and hide away their problems.
The relationship between the two sisters is tensed. Flora is dangerously jealous of Rachel, and secretly wishes to be just like her: tall, brave and clever. The dress represents everything that Flora wants to be – and everything that Rachel is. But the other way around Rachel seems to feel jealousy towards Flora too. When she realises her dress has gone, and she imagines how Flora would be sitting at a cafe wearing it, Flora is described rather incredible. As if Rachel’s perception of Flora is that she is superior.
Rachel may be feeling overlooked and deprived of motherly care, as her sister desperately craves their mother’s attention. This naturally generates a fierce hate against whoever, in this case Flora, gets the attention she is deprived from. This may explain why Rachel reacts unexpectedly intense in the matter of the stolen dress. To her it is not just the dress – it is Flora steeling the attention and loving care that she, Rachel, was meant to have. The mood in this short story is the feeling of a great danger just underneath the surface.
Something that is much more frightening than the superficial crisis in the mutual relations. It makes you feel like you are apathetically awaiting something unpredictable, yet inevitable. The whole story seems to me like an allegory. Nothing seems right, just as if the story is a transparent layer, covering up the real story. The dress in this story is the main symbol. It plays a central role in the relationship between the two. Between the sisters the dress is a symbol of the differences between them and the jealousy.
Flora is trying to “steel” the identity of her sister Rachel. Flora is insecure, and feels like she deserves the dress (Rachel’s qualities) more. This frustrates Rachel – for if Flora becomes Rachel, then who is Rachel? When flora buries the dress in the garden, it becomes a symbol of neglection of the jealousy, and her failed attempt of becoming like Rachel. The language is down to earth and everyday like. The sentences vary from very short, definite, ones when describing actions, to longer descriptive ones when describing surroundings.
It creates a perception of a dull and ordinary life. The main themes are jealousy and neglection – the jealousy that Flora feels for Rachel, and their mother’s neglection of them, and their emotions. The short story is about a mother’s inability to cope with the crisis between her daughters, despite the fact that she is actually a bereavement counsellor. Maybe there is a connection between the mother’s profession, and Flora’s act of burying the dress, which is rather ironic.