Rae Spoon’s “Sunday Dress” is a commentary on the ironically confining nature of Canada’s prairies. Though the prairies are by definition wide open spaces, there is little space for anyone who does not conform to the social and religious expectations of those living there.
In Spoon’s novel “First Spring Grass Fire”, the author illustrates the protagonist Rae’s struggle as someone who does not fit into the norm of their environment, and the emotional damage this can cause. When put into the context of the novel, the song “Sunday Dress” expresses Rae’s discomfort within the gender binary, and the clash between their religious upbringing and their homosexuality, resulting in the mental health issues and stigmatization they experience as a result of their inability to fit into a societal norm.
Spoon’s lyrics “Shaved my head and did my bit / tried to stand tall with whiskey on my breath” are the sorts of things Rae did to “spen[d] the next ten years wrestling with [their] past”, trying to unlearn all the hatred they learned as a child Rae’s “long, light brown hair” is a symbol of the femininity they were forced into as a child, whereas Spoon’s lyrics “Shaved my head and did my bit” are the rejection of this femininity. Rae’s rejection of their parent’s conservative beliefs regarding the gender binary Rae is uninterested in “domestic activities, like cleaning and sewing”, which girls were expected to excel at. In fact, Rae says that “These gave me a sense of foreboding From a young age, Rae was taught that boys and girls were Rae says “I knew that I was a girl, but I didn’t feel like I was a girl”. From a young age Rae always felt different.
In Spoon’s novel “First Spring Grass Fire”, the protagonist Rae becomes the object of struggle as someone who does not fit into the norm, and the emotional damage this pressure to be “normal” can cause. Rae’s discomfort within the gender binary, and the clash between their religious upbringing and their homosexuality, causes Rae to be stigmatized, and ultimately leave their prairie home. “Given how overwhelmingly conservative Alberta is”, any form of difference is looked down upon. Rae’s rejection of gender roles is evidence of their discomfort within the gender binary their parents were trying to enforce. Rae states that “[my parents] probably hoped … that I would come home begging to wear dresses and clean the house”. That Rae would come home begging to be the perfect girl they wanted.
The confining nature of the prairies is similar to that of a Sunday dress. Spoon demonstrates their discomfort growing up in the prairies with the simile “My prairie home fits like a Sunday dress”. Though a Sunday dress is supposed to make a person feel beautiful and feminine, Spoon finds it constricting and uncomfortable, just as in the novel Rae “felt awkward in [their] Sunday clothes”. Similarly, the prairies are seen as inviting and friendly, yet the people inhabiting them are judgemental, forcing everyone to conform to their ideals. Rae is expected to where boys were supposed to play hockey and girls Rae still appreciates femininity conceptually, as is seen in their homosexual attraction to This is a direct representation of how Rae feels in relation to the femininity they were expected to possess. Just as they were attracted to women, proving that they can appreciate the appeal of femininity, however they were uncomfortable attempting to fulfill it themselves. Direct representation of the standard of femininity Spoon was expected to fulfill. Spoon’s song “Sunday Dress” depicts how pressure for religious conformity through fear mongering and indoctrination doesn’t succeed in control, but instead causes emotional damage.
Spoon’s lyrics, “I thought I had to hold up the world / Singing Hallelujah in the choir / To keep my feet out of the fire”, directly exemplifies the religious indoctrination they experienced as a child. Rae was made to believe the conservative, religious nature of their family the people inhabiting them have a conservative nature that opposes any form of difference. Rae’s struggle with their gender identity Rae is raised in a Pentecostal Christian household, where their father is a deacon Spoon found they have more in common with what they learned was the devil than they did with anything they learned in Sunday School. Rae was taught that god wanted Rae started to have an identity crisis when they were nine years old. Rae was taught that they were a girl, “but didn’t feel like a girl”. Rae could not understand “why would God make [them] like this?”. Why would God make Rae want to be a boy, when they were taught that a sex change “was a sin and an insult” that would send them to hell.
These contradictions in Rae’s life were the start of her skepticism towards religion. Rae’s differences were seen by all their peers, and caused them to be isolated. They had few friends growing up, until Spoon sings They were isolated their whole childhood until the devil came for them in the form of secular music, like Nirvana. Spoon sings,“When I was fourteen the devil came for me / Showed me hell could be pretty”. Yet Kurt Cobain, the singer of the devil’s music, is able to wear a wedding dress, the most sacredly feminine Sunday dresses. In a way, the devil is the one that saved them. The image of “Kurt Cobain in a wedding dress” goes directly against what Rae was taught as a child. A symbol for the devil wearing the most sacredly feminine Sunday dresses. Rae would rather be happy in hell than miserable in heaven.
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