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Politics of Clothes and Aesthetics of Communication in Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel

  • Journal of Modern English Drama
  • Abbr : JMBARD
  • 2016, 29(3), pp.123-144
  • Publisher : 한국현대영미드라마학회
  • Research Area : Humanities > English Language and Literature > English Literature > Contemporary English Drama

Yon-hee Chun 1

1성신여자대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

Politics of Clothes and Aesthetics of Communication in Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel Abstract Chun,YonHee This paper aims to put in the foreground the voice of an ordinary African American woman who is characterized by a combination of heartfelt desire and indomitable self-esteem. To display the narrative of an illiterate African American seamstress named Esther, who lived in the early 1900’s in New York, Lynn Nottage calls her onto center stage by delicately depicting her transformation as she refashions her lifelong dream. Esther, who has been confined by ideologies concerning sex, gender, race, and class, gradually recovers her self-esteem and, through her flexible approach to life, gives a fluid voice to how her vocational efforts of fashioning clothing and undergarments stand in tandem with her desires. The intimate apparel itself is intertwined with and gives objective expression to the intimacy, bonding, and touching moments exchanged between Esther and her customers; in other words, the apparel serves the role of a symbolic medium. It deconstructs the societal barriers that have oppressed Esther. These garments further help her to expose her inner thoughts and desires. The garments and undergarments in the play, which consist of various materials, provide the main focus of each scene within the overall plot, for each garment signifies Esther’s secret desires. The garments are not only possessions to adorn customers physically, but media through which Esther intensifies her intimacy with Van, Mayme, and Marks. This intimacy among them provides momentum for Esther to subjectively experience the living out of her inner thoughts and the attaining of her personal identity. The garments also lead the characters to new levels of objective self-realization, for the clothing is the tool through which they build a network of social relationships where they are free to express their personal, private domain of inner feelings and ambitions. Through a process that moves from the exposure of inner desires to the development of meaningful, intimate relationships with others, Esther learns the value of perseverance, discovers her skills for dealing with obstacles, and gains the courage to re-establish the personal territory that undergirds her self-esteem. As she works with clothes and relates with others, she finds the means to becoming an independent woman with her own sense of subjective success. Nottage uses this play to posit alternative for how marginalized African American women, as well as American theater, may leap over the boundaries imposed by society and, like Esther, gain the self-esteem and skill set necessary for creating beautiful work of art.

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