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Short Stories > Dress of White Silk by Richard Matheson

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message 1: by Martha (new)

Martha (hellocthulhu) | 71 comments I love Matheson's stories and I have read Dress of White Silk many times, but it seems a bit ambiguous as to its meaning. I'm guessing this was done on purpose. I love how it's written and it has some quotes I like. But what does it mean to you?
To me, I see it as a little girl inheriting her mother's (evil?) power. Her mother may have been a witch? The ending also seems to imply that whatever "terrible bad" thing she did, she gained some manner of power from.
Or, it could also mean the dress contains some leftover power of her mother's that possessed her while she held it.

Btw, this story has been reprinted many times, but here are two newer editions that contain it.
Nightmare At 20,000 Feet Horror Stories By Richard Matheson by Richard Matheson
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

message 2: by Shawn (last edited Aug 06, 2010 07:45PM) (new)

Shawn | 1149 comments Funny, I just re-read this as part of my upcoming review of Richard Matheson: Collected Stories, Vol. 1. Matheson says in his post-notes that he wrote it because "Born of Man and Woman" had worked so well and he wanted to see if he could do the "children's voice trick" again.

As to what's going on - well, it's ambiguous on purpose, not just for the pay-off but also to forestall questions that might arise if too many details are given. Obviously the "little girl" is normal enough to have a friend that visits, so she's no obvious monster, but that the mother herself probably appeared somewhat monstrous at her death (buck teeth = fangs, funny hands = claws), her shroud is the "dress of white silk" and donning it either causes the daughter to be possessed by the mother or perhaps come into her inheritance of monstrous desire and power (the story hints that it has happened before). I actually think it's pretty evocative as is, asking questions just pulls an effective but flimsy structure apart.

message 3: by Mark (new)

Mark (markmckeejr) | 201 comments This is my favorite Matheson Sr. story. I take a much more naturalist approach to it, though. Sure, it's prolly got tons of supernatural undertones, but I look at it as the lost innocence of childhood - in this case, at a very early age. I don't look at it as a supernatural monstrous form, but more the innate animalistic monster that lurks in all humans. All it takes is a stressful situation, and someone pushing the wrong buttons. And, snap.

message 4: by Tressa (new)

Tressa  (MoanaLisa) | 23558 comments Ooh, I'm always up for reading and discussing a short story. Am off to see if I can find it.

message 5: by Tressa (new)

Tressa  (MoanaLisa) | 23558 comments I read it and liked it OK. Reminded me a little of that short story where the monstrous-looking boy is kept locked in a basement.

Why does the grandmother allow a kid to come and play with the girl? Surely she knows something is not right because she screamed "god help us its happened."

Stuff just flies over my head sometimes in short stories. I didn't pick up on the buck teeth (fangs) or hands (claws) as being something other than the little girl worshiping her mother and not wanting to hear anything but how beautiful SHE thought her mother was. No wonder it was so dark in the house.

How'd I ever get my English degree?

message 6: by Shawn (new)

Shawn | 1149 comments Well, it's not as if it's a given - that's just my interpretation about fangs and claws, Mark has a much more naturalistic take on it. And you're right, it's Matheson trying the same format as "Born of Man and Woman", which is the other story you reference. Mark's naturalisic take on things seems just as valid to me, although I wonder about the last line under that view...

message 7: by Tressa (new)

Tressa  (MoanaLisa) | 23558 comments I also wonder about the hole in the "red" dress. Maybe someone slammed a stake into it.

message 8: by Shawn (new)

Shawn | 1149 comments Yeah, that's kinda what I was thinking.

message 9: by Tressa (new)

Tressa  (MoanaLisa) | 23558 comments I wasn't thinking vamp at all, just a disturbed child. Thanks for pointing it out.

message 10: by Martha (new)

Martha (hellocthulhu) | 71 comments It's ok, I never really thought of a vampire either! Wow, what goes over my head sometimes...

message 11: by Tressa (new)

Tressa  (MoanaLisa) | 23558 comments Good. Now I don't feel so bad. :-)

message 12: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 5378 comments Tressa, there's no hole in the "red" dress. The line says:

"No she said she was so mad and red it has a hole in it."

Although without punctuation, it seems to be it's saying that Mary Jane is mad and red and said, "No, it has a hole in it."

Tressa wrote: "I also wonder about the hole in the "red" dress. Maybe someone slammed a stake into it."

message 13: by Aloha (last edited Sep 06, 2010 03:24AM) (new)

Aloha | 5378 comments My take on the story:

The ending gives it away for me:

"She doesn't have to even give me supper. I'm not hungry anyway.

I'm full."

The way Matherson emphasized that ending in his wording, tells me she ate Mary Jane.

"buck teeth funny hands" could be a werewolf or a vampire.

It seems obvious to me that the mother turns into a monster, and the child has inherited her tendency. For me, the big question is the role of the white dress. Here's a line that I'm puzzling the meaning of, when the daughter pretends to be the mother going out against the grandmother's wish:

"And oh stop your sobbing mother they will not catch me I have my magic dress."

I searched through the story, and I still can't figure out how the dress is going to stop her from being captured. If she goes out and turns into a monster to claim her victims, what is the role of the dress?

message 14: by Shawn (new)

Shawn | 1149 comments Perhaps she isn't actually a creature but the dress/shorud magically transforms her into one, and so taking it off would turn her back, eluding her captors?

message 15: by Tressa (new)

Tressa  (MoanaLisa) | 23558 comments Come again? What has a hole in it? I don't have the story in front of me. I assumed the dress or the mother had a hole in it, which led me to thinking of stakes and vampires.

message 16: by Aloha (last edited Sep 06, 2010 09:46AM) (new)

Aloha | 5378 comments ***SPOILERS****

It could be what you say, Shawn. Some clues that the dress has evil power:

The beginning where the girl was locked in her room:
"Because its happened she says. I guess I was bad. Only it was the dress."

Later in the scene, she talked about her grandma:
"And she says I should burn it up but I loved her so. And she cries about the dress."

After Mary Jane insulted her mother:
"I think the dress moved in my arms."

"I think I heard some one call dont let her say that! I couldnt hold to the dress. And I had it on me I cant remember. Because I was grown up strong. But I was a little girl still I think I mean outside.

I think I was terrible bad then."

My take on the dress:

1. The dress is a part of the mother, her monster, evil side. To destroy the dress is to destroy the mother. That's why the grandmother cannot destroy the dress.

2. Evil is passed on from the mother to the daughter, like the old concept, "Sins of the father...", particularly mentioned here and there in the Bible.

I think the dress represents the evil that is within all of us and is also our inheritance.

In the Matheson's story terms, the dress transforms the mother into a supernaturally strong evil monster, so that man would have a hard time destroying her. Thus, she cannot be caught. Since that evil is an addictive part of her, she needs to don it every night to go out and commit her destruction.

message 17: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 5378 comments Tressa, I reread the story for anything that would give away the red hole. That's the only passage containing the word "red" and "hole". Then I figured out how you could have made that mistake.

message 18: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 5378 comments And then I can get really philosophical about the nature of good and evil, how evil is a part of us, can good exist without evil, what is good and what is evil, blah, blah. Because I'm really good at that philosophical mumbo-jumbo. But I'm not going to do that to you. :o)

message 19: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 5378 comments ***SPOILERS***

I figured out the symbology of the dress of white silk while I was in the best thinking place, the shower. What dress of white silk is traditionally passed down from mother to daughter? A wedding dress! It represents an inheritance, and it represents a marriage. In this case, it is a marriage to the evil side. This is meant to be a story about innocence whose unavoidable inheritance is to be irrevocably married to the evil side upon maturity.

message 20: by Martha (new)

Martha (hellocthulhu) | 71 comments Aloha wrote: "***SPOILERS***

I figured out the symbology of the dress of white silk while I was in the best thinking place, the shower. What dress of white silk is traditionally passed down from mother to daug..."

Huh. I never thought of that at all. Interesting idea.

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Books mentioned in this topic

Nightmare At 20,000 Feet: Horror Stories (other topics)
I Am Legend and Other Stories (other topics)
Collected Stories, Vol. 1 (other topics)