The Hairy Ape


Eugene O’Neill

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Mildred’s White Dress Symbol Analysis

Mildred’s White Dress Symbol Icon

When Mildred visits the stokehole, she wears a white dress that symbolizes her extreme privilege. Despite the fact that the engineers urge her to wear something else, she insists that she has “plenty of white dresses.” As such, she doesn’t care if this one gets dirty when she rubs against greasy ladders on her way down to the “bowels” of the ship. However, this kind of privilege is so out of place in the stokehole that Yank isn’t even capable of identifying Mildred as a human when he first lays eyes on her, instead thinking that she’s a “white apparition.” Indeed, his inability to contextualize her presence in the engine room is a testament to how sorely out of place she is, an interloper in this world of grease, dirt, and coal dust. Using this dress as a way of emphasizing the harsh juxtaposition between Mildred and the stokers, O’Neill shows the audience just how unprepared Mildred is to see what it’s actually like to live in poverty, despite her desire to “see how the other half lives.” In turn, her dress represents her naivety when it comes to matters of class disparity and inequality.

Mildred’s White Dress Quotes in The Hairy Ape

The The Hairy Ape quotes below all refer to the symbol of Mildred’s White Dress. 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:
Pride, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Hairy Ape published in 1995.
Scene Three Quotes

He whirls defensively with a snarling, murderous growl, crouching to spring, his lips drawn back over his teeth, his small eyes gleaming ferociously. He sees Mildred, like a white apparition in the full light from the open furnace doors. He glares into her eyes, turned to stone. As for her, during his speech she has listened, paralyzed with horror, terror, her whole personality crushed, beaten in, collapsed, by the terrific impact of this unknown, abysmal brutality, naked and shameless. As she looks at his gorilla face, as his eyes bore into hers, she utters a low, choking cry and shrinks away from him, putting both hands up before her eyes to shut out the sight of his face, to protect her own. This startles Yank to a reaction. His mouth falls open, his eyes grow bewildered.

Related Characters: Yank, Mildred Douglas
Related Symbols: Mildred’s White Dress
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:
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Mildred’s White Dress Symbol Timeline in The Hairy Ape

The timeline below shows where the symbol Mildred’s White Dress appears in The Hairy Ape. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Scene Two
Exploitation, Oppression, and the Individual Theme Icon
...“Ho-ho! No, I mean the stokehole.” He then suggests that Mildred change out of her white dress because she’s sure to rub against grease on her way down the many ladders and... (full context)
Scene Three
Pride, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
Exploitation, Oppression, and the Individual Theme Icon
Aggression and Stupidity Theme Icon
...As he does so, Mildred comes down with the engineers, still clad in her perfect white dress . (full context)
Pride, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
Exploitation, Oppression, and the Individual Theme Icon
Aggression and Stupidity Theme Icon
...he thinks is behind him, Yank is astounded to see Mildred standing there in her white dress . She appears to him “like a white apparition in the full light from the... (full context)
Scene Six
Pride, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
Aggression and Stupidity Theme Icon
...on, he explains that he was trying to get even with Mildred. He describes her white dress and says that if he can’t find her specifically, he’ll “take it out on de... (full context)