Playing Beatie Bow

by

Ruth Park

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Clothing Symbol Analysis

Clothing Symbol Icon

Playing Beatie Bow’s major symbol is clothing—throughout the novel, clothes symbolize the differences and similarities between people from vastly divergent worlds. Abigail, who enjoys sewing as a hobby and is quite good at it, in fact launches the entire narrative when she acquires a bit of old crochet from a scrap bag at the home of her next-door neighbor, Justine Crown. Abigail is fascinated with the pattern, which depicts Parnassus grass and bears the mysterious initials A.T., and sews it onto a dress she’s been working on as a neckline. While wearing the dress, Abigail runs away from her mother’s shop and follows a “little furry girl” she has seen at the playground, only to find herself trapped in another century—with the little furry girl, Beatie Bow herself. In this way, the dress is the literal bridge between two different worlds and symbolizes the permeability of not just the physical, but also the psychological barrier between them—but it is not the only significant and symbolic piece of clothing in the book.

When Abigail arrives in the past, she is injured in one of Samuel Bow’s ranting episodes, as she collides with him and falls to the ground, twisting her ankle and hitting her head. The Bows take Abigail in, and as she settles into life with them, she hides from them the fact that she comes from the future, instead claiming to be an amnesiac who has lost her way. The Bows dress her in the clothing of their time—scratchy woolen dresses, heavy undergarments, thick stockings, and uncomfortable shoes—and at first Abigail is despondent to be wearing the uncomfortable, unattractive garb. As time passes, though, and as Abigail learns not just to tolerate but to love the Bows, the clothes become second-nature to her; when she returns to her own time, she is wearing the green dress again, but is still in Dovey’s woolen stockings and Granny’s leather shoes. She keeps the two pieces as a keepsake, and a way to remember the world she lived in—and the people she loved—for a strange few months in her fourteenth year.

Clothing symbolizes the possibility of bridging gaps not just in history but in relationships. Clothing brings Abigail into the Bows’ world—literally and physically—but it also forms a point of connection between her, Dovey, Granny, and Beatie, as the four women share, wash, tend, and mend clothing for themselves and for one another. By the same token, clothing is a bargaining chip—Granny and Dovey confiscate Abigail’s green dress upon her arrival and tell her they have burnt it, as it is the way for Abigail to return to her own time. Granny and Dovey know that the crochet yoke is something they have planned to knit but have not yet begun to sew, and also that the initials it bears—A.T.—are Granny’s own. Granny wants Abigail to stay in the past, as she knows that Abigail is the prophesized Stranger who will be instrumental in helping to preserve the Bow family Gift of second sight. Abigail, when she realizes that the garment has not been burnt but merely hidden, begs to have it back and searches the house high and low for it, but ultimately settles into her role with a stubborn grace after Granny promises that as soon as her duty is fulfilled, she will have the dress back. Clothing is the great equalizer in the world of Beatie Bow, and serves to bridge both physical and emotional gaps between many characters as the narrative progresses.

Clothing Quotes in Playing Beatie Bow

The Playing Beatie Bow quotes below all refer to the symbol of Clothing. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Puffin Books edition of Playing Beatie Bow published in 1980.
Chapter 4 Quotes

“Do you have a good or a bad feeling about him, poor bairn?”

Granny sighed. “I hae no clear feelings any more, Dovey. They're as mixed up as folk in fog.”

“But you've no doubt that this little one here is the Stranger?”

The two women spoke in whispers, but Abigail heard them, for the night was almost silent. There was no sound of traffic except a dray's wheels rolling like distant thunder over the cobbles at the docks. She could hear the waves breaking on the rocks of Dawes Point and Walsh Bay.

“Aye, when I first saw her I had a flash, clear as it was when I was a lass. Poor ill-favoured little yellow herring of a thing. But still, it came to me then, she was the Stranger that would save the Gift for the family.”

Abigail was so indignant at the description of herself that she almost opened her eyes.

“And then there was the gown, forebye. I swear, Granny, I almost fainted when I set eyes on it. The very pattern that we worked out between us!”

“And not a needle lifted to it yet,” said Granny.

Related Characters: Granny Tallisker (speaker), Dorcas “Dovey” Tallisker (speaker), Abigail Kirk, Gibbie Bow
Related Symbols: Clothing
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

“Stay awhile with us,” begged Dovey the next day, “for you're one of the family, Abby, true!”

“No,” said Abigail. “I have to go home; you know that.”

Her green dress looked strange to her; it had been so long since she had seen it. She saw it was not very well made; it was not worthy of the lace-like crochet. Abigail put on the dress. It fitted more tightly across the chest. My figure’s coming at last, she thought. Inside she was cold and without feeling, like a volcano covered with ice.

Related Characters: Abigail Kirk (speaker), Dorcas “Dovey” Tallisker (speaker)
Related Symbols: Clothing
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Playing Beatie Bow LitChart as a printable PDF.
Playing Beatie Bow PDF

Clothing Symbol Timeline in Playing Beatie Bow

The timeline below shows where the symbol Clothing appears in Playing Beatie Bow. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1 
The Transformative Power of Love Theme Icon
The Wisdom and Power of Children  Theme Icon
...Justine cooks and gets ready for dinner. Justine suggests Abigail help Natalie sew some new clothes for her teddy bear, knowing that Abigail enjoys sewing and makes many of her own... (full context)
Time and the Past Theme Icon
...through a bag of fabric, testing swatches against Natalie’s teddy. Abigail tells Natalie about a dress she has nearly finished for herself, made from an old Edwardian curtain. As the two... (full context)
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
Time and the Past Theme Icon
...makes out two tiny initials: A.T. When Kathy arrives home, she admires the piece of crochet and offers to sell it in the shop, but Abigail declines. Abigail stitches the yoke... (full context)
Chapter 2
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
Time and the Past Theme Icon
...quiet pleas. After she hears her mother leave for work, Abigail dons her new green dress, and instantly feels a little bit better. The more she thinks about her sappy mother,... (full context)
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
...her to just take Natalie—Vincent is ill with a sore throat. When Justine notices Abigail’s dress, she asks her if it is the old rag—the family lace—that she has sewn to... (full context)
Time and the Past Theme Icon
The Wisdom and Power of Children  Theme Icon
...out the little furry girl to Abigail—Abigail notices the little girl, who is pale and dressed in a pinafore, with close-clipped hair that looks like cat’s fur. (full context)
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
Time and the Past Theme Icon
...the only thing that makes her feel a little bit better is her new green dress. When Kathy yells at Abigail for constantly stroking the fabric, Abigail grabs an old shawl,... (full context)
Chapter 3
Time and the Past Theme Icon
The Wisdom and Power of Children  Theme Icon
...back into a drowsy, warm slumber. When she awakes again, she believes she is alone—her clothes have been replaced with a long, thick, uncomfortable nightdress. There is a warm compress against... (full context)
Chapter 4
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
...but does not fully trust her. Granny enters the room as well—both women are in dressing-gowns. (full context)
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
Time and the Past Theme Icon
The Wisdom and Power of Children  Theme Icon
...the Stranger who will save the Gift for the family. Dovey agrees—she knew by Abigail’s gown that Abigail was the one, and adds that she “almost fainted” when she saw that... (full context)
Time and the Past Theme Icon
...was Beatie’s age, as she hasn’t filled out at all. Dovey tells Abigail to get dressed. When Abigail asks for her own clothes, Dovey, looking uncomfortable, tells Abigail that her shift... (full context)
Time and the Past Theme Icon
On the third day, Abigail is allowed to get dressed and have Mr. Bow carry her downstairs. The clothing Abigail must wear is complicated and... (full context)
Chapter 5
Time and the Past Theme Icon
...and fascination with death typical of the Victorian era due to the “kilos” of mourning outfits, brooches, and jewelry that have passed through her mother’s shop, and finds it all exasperating.... (full context)
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Love Theme Icon
Time and the Past Theme Icon
...the future—her parents’ anxieties about her being missing, returning to the present in such odd clothes—but resolves to deal with those problems when she gets to them. (full context)
Chapter 6
Time and the Past Theme Icon
The day Abigail runs away to go home begins like any other. She is dressed in Dovey’s plain clothes. She has noticed over the last several days that some women,... (full context)
Time and the Past Theme Icon
...two weeks there has been little discussion beyond the first few days of Abigail’s green dress, her being the Stranger, or the family’s Gift. (full context)
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
Time and the Past Theme Icon
...Doll’s father died suddenly, her mother went to a “slop-shop” to work, where she sewed clothing standing upright in a cramped room with twenty other women, and soon herself succumbed to... (full context)
Chapter 7
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
Time and the Past Theme Icon
...but not yet sewn. Abigail realizes they were talking all along about the bit of crochet on her dress. Dovey tells her that the Parnassus plant is common in Orkney, and... (full context)
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Love Theme Icon
...conspiring with Granny to keep Abigail from hers. Dovey confesses that she lied to Abigail—the dress was not burnt, but was simply hidden away, and is very safe. (full context)
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
Time and the Past Theme Icon
...completed whatever it is she needs to do in their time, she will return the dress to her, and allow her to go home. Abigail complains that she doesn’t know what... (full context)
Chapter 8
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
Time and the Past Theme Icon
The Wisdom and Power of Children  Theme Icon
...she will not let herself be “beat”—she plans to search high and low for her dress, or bribe or coax either Beatie or Judah into telling her where it is hidden.... (full context)
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Love Theme Icon
...that singular mission. Granny adds slyly that if Abigail is planning on searching for her “gown,” it’s hidden where Abigail will never look for it. (full context)
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
...scrubbing and dusting the house and raking the shop fire. Abigail approaches Beatie about the dress, but Beatie tells Abigail that she has no idea where it is—and even if she... (full context)
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Love Theme Icon
Time and the Past Theme Icon
The Wisdom and Power of Children  Theme Icon
...him. Abigail realizes that Mr. Bow will never cross Granny to help her find her dress. Abigail does not give up, though, and searches surreptitiously for the gown whenever she can.... (full context)
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Love Theme Icon
Time and the Past Theme Icon
The Wisdom and Power of Children  Theme Icon
...and though she would never break into the chest and betray Dovey, she wants her dress badly. (full context)
Chapter 9
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Love Theme Icon
Abigail enters Granny’s room, where Granny is sitting in a chair. Granny puts aside her knitting and tells Abigail that she has been expecting her. As Abigail sits at Granny’s feet... (full context)
Chapter 10
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Love Theme Icon
Time and the Past Theme Icon
...the window and shove it out. Dovey warns Abigail that if the chest burns, her dress will go with it, and she will never be able to go home again, but... (full context)
Chapter 11
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Love Theme Icon
Time and the Past Theme Icon
...her task is done, but Abigail says she must return home. Dovey retrieves the green dress from the bride chest, and Abigail finds that it now looks strange and foreign to... (full context)
Time and the Past Theme Icon
The Wisdom and Power of Children  Theme Icon
...have kissed Judah. Abigail vindictively tells Beatie that she is going to burn the green dress as soon as she gets home so that she can never return, and the two... (full context)
Time and the Past Theme Icon
...stockings and Granny’s shoes. The key to her own apartment is pinned inside her green dress, and she rushes inside, grateful for the sounds of the noisy Crown family next door. (full context)
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Love Theme Icon
Time and the Past Theme Icon
...before her mother will arrive home. Abigail runs to her bedroom and removes her old-timey clothes, stuffing them in a drawer. She catches sight of herself in the mirror and realizes... (full context)
Time and the Past Theme Icon
The Wisdom and Power of Children  Theme Icon
...to work cleaning up a set of Victorian portraits, she marvels at how colorful their clothing was. Abigail corrects her, stating that most people wore drab woolen things and striped stockings. (full context)
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Love Theme Icon
Time and the Past Theme Icon
...heads home. Once back in the building, she fetches her cut-off hair and her green dress, and takes the elevator down to the incinerator, where she burns everything. At the last... (full context)
Chapter 12
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Love Theme Icon
Time and the Past Theme Icon
The Wisdom and Power of Children  Theme Icon
...if her body is moving without her mind’s control or consent. She reaches into her dresser drawer and pulls out the crochet. She speaks aloud to Granny, begging her to warn... (full context)
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Love Theme Icon
Time and the Past Theme Icon
...heard something, but it is too late—Abigail is back in her own time, and the crochet is threads in her hands. Abigail attempts to comfort herself by telling herself that perhaps... (full context)