Her life has changed dramatically since she donned her dancing dress.
Barbara Fass Leavy’s work has been highly acclaimed.
The dress and appearance of a character has played an important role in fairy tales. Cinderella was probably the recipient of one of our most cherished memories: her dress, given by Cinderella’s fairies godmother. A Doll’s House by Ibsen has a dress that is less common, but no less significant. Nora’s Italian-style tarantella dress is actually functionally identical to Cinderella’s gown. Dresses in Cinderella stories and A Doll’s House, although they were obtained differently and achieved different ends, serve the same purpose: to allow the heroines to transcend the limitations society placed on them.
In Cinderella, elaborate dresses play an important role in a protagonist’s success. In her essay, Going Up in the World: Cinderella’s Class, Elisabeth Pantajja examines the role that clothing plays as a “political instrument of the petit bourgeoisie” (99). According to her, the removal of some types of clothing signifies a decrease in social standing. Cinderella’s limitations are based on class, or the inferred status of clothing. Cinderella is said to have lost her clothes in some versions of the story. In the first scene, the Brothers Grimm’s version, they took away her beautiful clothing, dressed in an older grey smock with wooden shoes. The protagonist in “Donkeyskin”, however, is not stripped of her clothes. She is forced to wear the skin of an old donkey because she cannot wear her clothes. In both instances, removing fine clothing represents a demotion. The metaphor is also used in a general sense to represent the character’s expulsion from a world where she was once a member. Cinderella tales are usually set in a more affluent social setting.
A Doll’s House’s modern interpretation of The Swan Maiden Tale also loses the body covering at the beginning. The Nursemaid’s words at the beginning Act II of A Doll’s House – I found it! – imply this. Finally, they are implied to be being sought. The significance of this becomes apparent when the plot line’s function is achieved. Barbara Leavy compares this short discovery scene to the moment in The Swan Maiden story when the swan’s wife finds her long-lost feathers. Noting that these costumes are not for everyday events, but masquerades, signifies that Nora is entering a different world. Nora had previously owned the dress or feathers. This indicates that Nora once belonged to this place. In a way, the metaphorical imagery of the masquerade could be expanded to include a more abstract world where Nora has agency. Nora doesn’t realize she’s been captured in another world, unlike Cinderella. As with Cinderella, Nora’s special dress allows her to transcend the forces holding her hostage. Cinderella stories are subtler in their reintroduction of the clothing. In the Brothers Grimm story, a Hazel branch reminiscent of a fairy-godmother throws beautiful dresses down. As the clothes are never removed, in Donkeyskin the discovery seems to happen every week. She first washed her face, then opened up her chest before putting on the moon’s dress? Perrault states that her sweet delight kept her going each Sunday. Donkeyskin is preparing for her social status to be restored by rediscovering her dresses. The magical appearances of Cinderella’s classic dress, and Nora’s Italian costume, all fashion transformations in themselves, prefigure the non-physical transformative changes that are to come.
Two stories diverge in the way they describe how different dresses can help characters break free of their restricted roles. Cinderella is a passive story. The prince is the protagonist of the classic story. Grimm tells us that the people believed she was the foreign princess because of her beautiful dress. Cinderella approached the prince who danced and took her by hand. He never wanted to dance again with anyone else. Every time she was asked to dance by someone else, he said: She is mine. (119)
The prince’s interest is directly related to how stunning the dress makes her appear. It is crucial to the plot that the prince feels a strong sense of ownership over her. This is what drives him to pursue Cinderella and marry her, ultimately helping her to climb the social ladder. In Donkeyskin he only becomes attracted to her when he sees her in elegant gowns. It is true that the disclaimer ‘No matter what dress she wore, I was still attracted to her beauty, her beautiful profile and her gorgeous face. It is not difficult to see that she was wearing a special dress, which is why he was so moved (113). It is difficult for him to believe that he’d be equally as impressed if the donkey skin had been worn. The dress is used to attract attention in both versions of Cinderella’s story. This is what causes the prince’s pursuit of Cinderella to be successful. Cinderella is elevated to a higher social class by marrying the prince.
Nora by Ibsen was a far more proactive character compared to Cinderella. However, she does use her festive dress as a way to overcome this social constraint. Nora is not concerned with the social class differences, unlike Cinderella. The axis on which her worlds differ is gender. Nora has a distinct world that she lives in throughout the play. The two are on completely different planes. From his closed office door to her secret of borrowing money, they exist on separate worlds. Even the dress is a tangential link between their worlds. Nora tells Kristine to get ready for Act II. Torvald wants Nora to be a Neopolitan girl fishing and to dance tarantella. The dance Nora had learned in Italy. Torvald walks into the room moments after Nora asks Kristine to fix her costume. She was helping to fix my costume. It’s going look great, don’t you think?
HELMER: Isn’t this a great idea?
NORA: Wonderful! The way you wanted it was great!
HELMER : You are so nice, because you allowed your husband to do what he wanted. It’s all right little rogue. You will want to wear the costume, I’m sure. This scene briefly highlights the power struggles and the presence of this dress. Torvald bought Nora the dress to help her learn to dance. Torvald doesn’t yet realize the impact of the dress or the associated dance on Nora and Torvald’s relationship. Nora’s agency has been boosted by Nora’s mere presence in the discussion. Torvald was almost convinced that Nora knew more than what she normally said.
Torvald’s recounting of the performance at the masquerade Ball is important because it highlights the necessary elements. In fact, it is more important to see what happens after the performance. She is dancing the tarantella. Torvald describes the wild applause as a “wild” (67). Nora could be performing this frenzied dancing while realizing that she has to leave her world. It is difficult to imagine Nora dancing without her elaborate costume, even though it’s possible. Nora is transformed into a beautiful, visionary Nora (67), transforming Nora’s spirit and bringing her to an understanding of the situation she finds herself in. Nora becomes a more serious character by the time Act III ends. She is conservative and uses short sentences, as opposed to Torvald who describes in detail how he will save her.
In her book In Search of the Swan Maiden Leavy examines the issues of power and ownership of the costumes. Torvald is the owner of all Nora’s items. Does that mean he has full control? Leavy (299) states. They illustrate Torvald’s control over Nora and her need to overcome societal restrictions. Torvald, upon learning Nora’s secret, tries his best to control her clothes. Take it off. Take it Off, I say. Torvald screams. Nora’s determination has grown stronger after dancing the tarantella. The scene advances, and her control of her clothes, as well her life, grows. Torvald asks her what she’s doing and she says she’s taking off the fancy dress (78). Torvald was surprised that she wasn’t preparing for bed. When he asked her what she was doing, she replied, Taking off this fancy dress (78). This statement means much more than simply changing Nora’s dress. Nora’s epiphany came when she put on the dress. She realized she was living in a doll’s home and didn’t like it. By removing her dress, she’s cast off both Torvald as her owner, and the social constraints that held her in her contrived life.
Nora changed her dress in a chronological order, going from the ordinary to the elegant and then back again to the ordinary. Her attitude also changed. This indicates that Nora was transformed while wearing a costume. Leavy said, “The donning a dancing dress brought a turning moment in her own life. Nora does not wear her Cinderella costumes. This can be explained by the different societal outcomes and constraints. Cinderella’s characters assimilate into the high society culture that they marry into, while Nora enters a completely unknown world.
Cinderella’s dress had done its job when midnight struck. The prince was next to act. Nora wore her dress to the masquerade when the clock struck 12. Nora, however, took the initiative. The Swan Maiden’s plumes, as well as her dress, reminded Nora that her world was outside the dollhouse. Cinderella, Nora, and their stories were very different. Both started in different circumstances and faced different social pressures. Perhaps both ended up happily everafter.