The Symbolism of a Ribbon in "The Husband Stitch" Story

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The Symbolism Of a Ribbon in “The Husband Stitch”
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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • The Significance of the Ribbon to the Protagonist in The Husband Stitch
  • The Secret Behind the Ribbon
  • Conclusion
  • Work’s Cited:


Every Woman has their secrets, every person in general has their secrets. These secrets protect us from deception, humiliation, and vulnerability. In “The Husband Stitch” story the ribbon the protagonist wears in the story symbolizes the secrets and personal obscurities every woman has and are entitled to. The protagonist, along with every woman in this story, wears a ribbon. This symbolism is never fully explained. The husband stitch analysis shows that the ribbon can be taken literally or figuratively in this context it could mean something that holds and keeps women as one, or anything that makes that certain woman who she is.

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The Significance of the Ribbon to the Protagonist in The Husband Stitch

Machado starts her piece by showing the life of a woman, it illustrates how she grows to become a woman, how she finds love and even begins to build her own family. But she also takes time to tell fables that could be truth or fiction. The first time Machado mentions the green ribbon that adorns the protagonist's neck is when she first meets her soon to be husband. As they finish kissing, he notices this ribbon wrapped around her neck,” His eyes dart around for a moment, and then settles on my throat. What’s that? He asks. Oh, this?... It’s just my ribbon.” (Machado 236). This is the first time a ribbon is mentioned within this text, but what’s most important is how the woman reacts to her soon to be husband when he leans to grasp it, “He reaches out his hand, and I seize it and push it away. You shouldn’t touch it, I say. You can’t touch it.” (Machado 236). From this point forward, the audience is stricken with curiosity. Why had he not been able to touch the ribbon? What makes this ribbon so important to her?

One might also wonder why the men within this story don’t wear ribbons as well and why they themselves do not know the meaning behind them. There is only one reason why the protagonist could have acted this way, the ribbon is something values more than anything. It literally defines everything she is and who she is as a woman within this story. The author never fully explains what this symbolism of the ribbon means, in a way she lets her audience decide and interpret its true meanings. On page 235 of “The Husband Stitch” you are made aware that the protagonist is a seventeen-year-old girl that wears a green ribbon around her throat. There is no clear explanation as to what this implies, but you can only see how important this ribbon is to her, and how much it means for her to keep its knot secure. This also comes to light when the man she marries once again acknowledges this ribbon on their honeymoon, “Will the child have a ribbon? I feel my jaw tighten. My mind skips between many answers and I settle on the one that brings me the least amount of anger. There is no saying, now, I tell him finally.” (Machado 241). You can tell from her thought process that this question not only angers her but incenses her. Then, her newly-wed husband once again tries to touch her ribbon, “He startles me, then, by running his hand around my throat. He presses the silky length with his thumb...Please, I say. Please don’t. But he releases me. My wrists ache, and I rub them. I need a glass of water, I say... I run the tap and then frantically check my ribbon, tears caught in my lashes. The bow is still tight.” (Machado 241)

The woman not only repeatedly says “Please don’t” in an unsteady voice when referring to her husband untying the ribbon, but as she left she also started to cry. As soon as he let go of her wrists she went to the bathroom to check if her ribbon was still securely wrapped around her throat. This not only complies that this ribbon is her one vulnerability, but it also holds together her resolve, what lies behind that ribbon contains every single fear or secret she has ever had. It holds together her integrity as a strong woman, whether that is a façade or her true self. This ribbon lets her live her life not in fear but in reassurance. This one ribbon, tied tightly around her neck, keeps all those secrets at bay. One extremely underestimated concept in this story is why the protagonists’ husband continuously asks to see what is behind this ribbon even though any person reading this story can tell there is a, if not serious than personal, reason behind the fact that she wears this ribbon. As said by Katie Jones in the article “Stitching Feminism and Fairytale” she also believes that the protagonist’s ribbon not only involves secrets, but also the husband direly wants to know them, no matter the cost, “The protagonist is open to any and all forms of sexual pleasure, but we return to this image of the ribbon and the boy’s desire to possess this secret part of her throughout the story. It is the only thing she will not give him; it belongs solely to her...”

The Secret Behind the Ribbon

The husband knows himself that she is hiding something, because she is. She is hiding and refusing to reveal what is behind her green ribbon, but she is entitled to that. But as you read this story you come to understand that not everyone agrees with this statement, certainly not her dominant male husband and even the protagonist herself. No matter how many questions he had asked, or even how many times he nearly forcibly removed that ribbon, she has kept it safely intact. That is until her husband removed it. The revolutionary part of this both intriguing and slightly confusing story is the moment the protagonist permits her husband to reveal what is beyond her ribbon. “With trembling fingers, he takes one of the ends...The ribbon falls away. My husband frowns, and then his face begins to open with some other expression-- Sorrow, or maybe pre-emptive loss.. I love you, I assure him, more than you could possibly know. No, he says, but I don’t know to what he's responding. As my lopped head tips backwards off my neck and rolls off the bed, I feel as lonely as I have ever been.” (Machado 251).

This quote from “The Husband Stitch” could be interpreted literally or figuratively. The protagonist finally reveals what the ribbons purpose is, or what lies beyond that securely tied ribbon. But in a sense the audience still doesn’t quite know. From the last few words of this story by Machado, “I feel as lonely as I have ever been.” It is implied that the one thing that made her whole, the one thing that, in a way, made her feel safe was taken that easily from her. The husband's reaction to this revelation, was one of surprise. His expression “sorrowful”, one of “pre-emptive loss” this shows that some secrets, some personal obscurities should be left untouched. These secrets protected her from the humiliation and loneliness she so clearly felt. She had warned him, “You think you want to know, I say but you do not.” (Machado 245). Yet he revealed what was beyond that ribbon without second thoughts, no matter what his wife’s biggest secret unveiled about her personal life.


In the thrilling story “The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado her protagonist, an unknown woman, wears a silky green ribbon tied securely around her throat. What is beyond this is a mystery to whoever reads. But what isn’t a mystery is what this ribbon symbolizes for all women alike. It symbolizes the secrets we keep so desperately hidden, that we, as women, have a right to keep. This ribbon holds within it all out fears, integrity, obscurities, ones that make us feel most vulnerable when shared. This is proven through the countless quotes within this writing. The protagonist’s reactions to whenever her husband, or even her own child, who is a boy, questions its purpose or even dares to touch it. That ribbon is something that binds her, and when untied, dishevels her to no end.

Work’s Cited:

  1. Machado, Carmen. “The Husband Stitch.” The Carolina Reader, edited by Ethan J.H. Knight and Hannah Huber, Macmillan Learning, 2018, 235-251.
  2. Jones, Katie. “Stitching Feminism and Fairytale.” THRESHOLDS, 10 Oct. 2017,

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