Imagery; vivid descriptive language that appeals to one or more of the senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste). The first impression of a person that someone gets will always color the image of the person. Everything about how someone looks and acts creates how that person is viewed by others. But when this image is controlled by others or the person just isn’t strong enough to show their true self, their identity is twisted into something almost unrecognizable. Henrik Ibsen, Zora Neale Hurston, and Tennessee Williams use the imagery connected with their lead female characters to show how society tries to put individuals down with false generalizations to hide women’s identities.
The authors use the imagery of clothing to address how family members try to mold the women below them in power to their image of their character. For the Sternberg’s fancy dress ball Torvald want’s his wife Nora to dress up, “… and Torvald wants me to go as a Neapolitan fisher-girl,…” (Ibsen 37). The Neapolitan fisher girls are girls from Naples, Italy often thought of as possessing a very classic Grecian beauty. These fisher girls have been subjects of many works of art such as paintings and statues. With Torvald making Nora dress up as a Neapolitan fisher girl he is making her into something beautiful and to be appraised like a piece of art. This image of Nora being beautiful like a painting is Torvald’s way of putting Nora beneath him. He dresses her up and parade’s her among their friends while all the while taking ownership of her beauty. Nora doesn’t get to choose what she wears to this ball and she is not recorded saying a word to anyone at the party.
Torvald even commands Nora to leave the party after she has finished her dance as he doesn’t want anyone being near her. Nora’s identity is lost in the imagery of her Neapolitan fisher-girl costume and Torvald’s control of her dress. By the same token Janie in Their Eyes Were Watching God is forced to wear head rags by her husband Joe. “The business of the head-rag irked her endlessly. But Jody was set on it. Her hair was NOT going to show in the store,” (Hurston 55). The imagery of Janie’s head-rags suggests that she is Joe’s property. Janie’s hair is her personal symbol of power,strength, and identity. Joe by making Janie cover her hair up in head-rags is symbolically stifling Janie’s power and identity.
Without her individuality Janie is nothing but what Joe makes out of her, which is his wife. And society too will only see Janie’s image as Joe makes her image to be . Laura from The Glass Menagerie is also suffered to a similar fate as Nora and Janie as her mother forces her to wear chest enhancements. “‘Now take a look at yourself. No, wait! Wait just a moment- I have an idea!’ Amanda produces two powder puffs which she wraps in handkerchiefs and stuffs in Laura’s bosom. ‘Mother, what are you doing?
They’re called gay deceivers! … I won’t wear them!’ “ (Williams 120). Similarly the imagery of the powder puffs implies that Laura is the perfect young woman that Amanda invisions of her. With Amanda putting the powder puffs down Laura’s dress she is trying to envision Laura as a perfect young woman. But Laura just is not this perfect girl who everyone loves and adores like Amanda wants to see Laura as. The imagery of Laura’s deceivingly good figure signifies that people will perceive her as a perfect young woman.
Nora and Janie’s imagery of the past and their memories is used against them to paint false images of their identities. Near the end of the play, Torvald has just found out of what Nora had done in the past to save him and utters this simple and resonant statement, “And I must sink to such miserable depths because of a thoughtless woman!” (72). With this sentence Torvald is making Nora seem like a terrible woman who is mindless to any thought of her husband. Even though much earlier in the play Nora tells Mrs.Linde that she only borrowed money so that her husband wouldn’t die from his illness. Torvald just judges Nora’s image by her actions, not the motives behind her actions. And this paints an entirely false image of Nora as being thoughtless and uncaring about her husband.
When in any case Nora was just looking out for her husband, being anything but thoughtless and uncaring. The Victorian society Nora lives in is also as cruel to someone in her position. It goes without saying that the man is always the one to handle the money and the well being of the family. And by Nora borrowing money by herself she is breaking the rigid gender roles that their society has set in place for women. So society will also look down on Nora as a disgraceful woman because of her past actions. Janie is in a similar situation when coming home from the Everglades is judged by her neighbors. “They passed nations through their mouths.
They sat in judgement. Seeing the woman as she was made them remember the envy they had stored up from other times. So they chewed up the back parts of their minds and swallowed with relish,” (1-2). The people of Eatonville, especially the women had always been jealous of the attention Janie had gotten from men for her looks. And with the knowledge that Janie had ran off with a younger man in the past the people think of Janie as a absurd fool. But they don’t know that Janie with all her suffering and joy that she lived through is incredibly wise. The imagery of Janie’s actions or more so the memory of her actions, has the people of her community believing that Janie is nothing more than a lost old woman, falling for the false love of a young man. Janie’s individuality as a woman who is wise and has lived through many tough times is taken away from her as Eatonville reduces her to just a love sick woman.
Hurston, Williams, and Ibsen use the imagery of objects to display how people on the outsides of the characters lives perceive them and their individuality. When Jim is over at the Wingfields apartment Laura is telling of how much she loves the unicorn from her glass menagerie. “ You see how the light shines through him? … I shouldn’t be partial but he is my favorite one… Haven’t you noticed the single horn on his forehead? …” (143-144). The imagery of Laura’s favorite glass ornament, the unicorn, represents how people in society see Laura. Like the unicorn which light shines through, Laura’s disposition and identity is completely see through.
Every facet of her personality is easy to see as she is but a incredibly shy and timid girl. Laura’s love for the unicorn is because of it’s peculiarity of the horn that separates him from the other glass horses in her collection. The imagery of this unique glass unicorn represents Laura’s own individual separation from other girls. Everyone notices that Laura is uniquely different, like her glass unicorn she loves so much.In the same way as the unicorn describes Laura, the Christmas tree in the Helmer’s home describes Nora. “Hide the Christmas tree carefully Helen. Be sure the children do not see it till this evening, when it is dressed … And what is in this parcel? No no! you mustn’t see that until this evening,” (5 & 7). The image of the splendid and elusive Christmas tree in A Doll’s House expresses how Nora’s identity is seen by the society around her.
The Christmas tree serves the function as an ornament in the household and Nora just like the tree is ornamental in the home. She doesn’t take care of the children, or have a job, she just decorates and dresses up for the people of the house as well as the visitors. And as a decoration Nora isn’t able to voice her own opinion or let her identity shine through the pretty things that accessorize her. Nora’s identity is hidden away throughout the play and as the Christmas tree is hid from the children, Nora’s dress is hidden from Torvald so he will not see her. Nora’s identity is hidden from not only the people she knows but also the one’s she is closest to. She is not able to be herself as society shuns Nora’s true identity, as the loving wife she is that would do anything for her husband, such as borrow money without his consent so he can live.
Janie is also in Laura and Nora’s situation as the people in her community judge her actions and therefore her identity because of her hair. “What dat ole forty year ole ‘oman doin’ wid her hair swingin’ down her back lak some young gal?” (2). Just like the two women in the other pieces of literature, the image of Janie’s long hair is utilized by Hurston to show how Janie’s community in Eatonville doesn’t recognize Janie’s true identity. The women on the porch mention that Janie looks like a foolish old woman with her hair all the way down her back like some young woman. The women of Eatonville think Janie is trying to be like a young woman as she has run off with a young man and is now coming back with her hair no longer tied up.
This is not the true image of Janie as she is not trying to be a young woman. After all the life that Janie has experienced she keeps her hair down to show that she no longer cares what people in society think of her. But the image of her loose hair to the rest of her society is of a very rebellious and foolish old woman. They want to see her as a married woman being under the thumb of her husband and not as herself. Even though now Janie is trying to show her true identity the community won’t accept that and is blinding themselves by only focusing on her hair to critique Janie in the way they want to think of her.
The three authors use the imagery of speech to the character to shape their false identity in the eyes of their family. One day in the store Joe get’s frustrated with Janie’s poor job at cutting some tobacco and insults her about her age. “A woman stay round uh store till she get old as Methusalem and still can’t cut a little thing like a plug of tobacco!” (78). The image of Methuselah that Joe says to describe Janie is used to show how Joe and Eatonville see Janie when she is in the store. Methuselah is a man from the Bible that is known to be the oldest person to ever live. The allusion to this character is said by Joe to make Janie feel like she is so old that she is ancient. It insults Janie and her character, making her seem old and inefficient for not being able to cut a plug of tobacco after all the time she spends in the store. Eatonville after hearing what Joe has spoken of Janie can see her as an elderly woman who still can’t do simple chores around the store.
In a likewise manner Amanda says some harsh words to Laura for dropping out of business college and hiding it from her. “You did all this to deceive me, just for deception? … We won’t have a business career- we’ve given that up because it gave us nervous indigestion! … barely tolerated spinsters living upon the grudging patronage of sister’s husband or brothers wife!” (93-94). In the same way Amanda’s image placed on Laura when she learns she dropped out of business college in secret is used by Williams to show that Amanda see’s Laura as a weak girl with no identity to her. The image of Laura is that she is a fragile girl with little to no way to support herself having left the one opportunity she had to make a future for herself. The imagery of Amanda’s words that Williams writes twists the picture of Laura into a thoughtless and selfish girl, not thinking about anything but her own personal desires. But her identity is not as a thoughtless girl but as a shy and caring young woman.
She is seen as continually concerned for her brother, but still throughout most of the play Amanda see’s Laura as being just self involved. The false image of Laura as being self absorbed is enforced by the imagery of Amanda’s harsh words about dropping out of business college. In opposition to Janie and Laura, the pet names Torvald uses for Nora as terms of endearment are actually very insulting terms to her. “Is my little squirrel come home? … The same little featherhead! … Come come my little skylark, …” (6-7). Comparably Torvald’s words to Nora are suppose to be endearing but with the knowledge of what the animals are is used to paint an unflattering picture of Nora. Squirrels are animals with very small brains and that are generalized as being unintelligent. A featherhead isn’t an animal, but it is implying that Nora’s head isn’t filled with a brain, but is instead filled with feathers. Nothing substantial that she can actually make her own thoughts with.
Torvald with this term of endearment is suggesting that Nora doesn’t have a brain but just feathers in her head. Furthermore a skylark is a bird that nests on the ground, then being easily destroyed and that are not very distinctive in coloring. This name makes Nora seem plain and foolish. With these pet names of animals that are ordinary Torvald through the imagery of his words is insinuating that Nora is plain and not very bright. Torvald is also putting himself above Nora with his words. He is making it seem like he is the all important person of the house and that he is better than Nora because he is intelligent. Nora’s individuality is taken away from her with Torvald putting above himself and putting her in the background. Nora has no identity when she is with Torvald as he puts her so below himself that he doesn’t believe she can be herself.
Tennessee Williams, Henrik Ibsen, and Zora Neale Hurston use the imagery in their works associated with their lead females to portray how society’s views of people is usually false and undermines their individuality. How people are viewed by what they wear, what they own, their past, and what people say to them is a simple way to miss a person’s true identity. These generalized views are easily broken apart when evidence of people’s character is put forward, and this is what get’s society into trouble. These three authors aren’t just writing literature, they are making a statement on how society works. Including how society is wrong and how generalizations about types of people need to be broken in the collective minds of the people so every person is seen as themselves and not as a stereotype. To give everyone their own voice without being prejudged by society’s absurd expectations.
Courtney from Study Moose
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