How does the corset metaphor unfold in "Miss Adele Amidst the Corsets"?

The corset metaphor unfolds in "Miss Adele Amidst the Corsets" by demonstrating the way tension ultimately rips apart Miss Adele's sense of acceptance. Her presence in the corset store creates a conflict which grows slowly until the environment bursts apart at the seams, leaving Miss Adele exposed and vulnerable.

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Miss Adele has been attempting to squeeze herself into a world that has failed to grow with her, much like her corset which has been ripped in half. As her body has aged, it has become more and more like her father, and this has strained the undergarment required to keep her physique in stage-ready appearance. For a long time, Miss Adele has forced the fit, but the pressure has split the garment in half, requiring change.

When Miss Adele arrives at the store to make her purchase, the atmosphere is tense and conversations are terse. Miss Adele attempts to "fit" into this scene but finds that she is constantly dismissed with a curt reply as salespeople move on to the next customer. Even in New York, which is much more progressive than her native Florida, Miss Adele has had to learn "that there [is] nowhere on earth entirely safe from the voices of rage and righteousness."

At long last, Miss Adele believes that she has found the perfect replacement corset, squeezing into her new undergarment with some help. She is warned that such a fit is "going to hurt," but the eventual effect is satisfactory. Miss Adele is pleased with the warm efforts of Mrs. Alexander but judges Mr. Alexander's tone with consternation.

Eventually, this conflict rips the frenzied yet fairly cordial atmosphere apart. Miss Adele is convinced that the store owner disapproves of her lifestyle, yet it is Mrs. Alexander who calls Miss Adele "sir" and "he," dismantling Miss Adele's perception that she has somehow fit into the world of Mrs. Alexander. Instead, she flees with her new corsets after being denied the opportunity to pay, and she falls down once outside, creating a "big, bleeding dramatic gash all along her left cheek."

The setting of this story creates a pressure that is ripe with tension. Miss Adele is in need of a corset before she can go onstage. The store is filled with customers and not enough clerks to provide adequate customer service to everyone. Miss Adele believes that the Alexanders, who speak a language she cannot understand, are arguing about her presence because of her sexual orientation and race. Everyone is on edge, and it doesn't take much for this tension to explode—much like Miss Adele's corset early in the story.

Thus, Miss Adele is forced to claim what is rightfully hers and flee the store, leaving the money and refusing to be dismissed without her needed garment. Though she flees with the new corset, her efforts leave her injured and looking like a "hot crazy mess." Miss Adele realizes that although she has proven somewhat victorious in her efforts at the store, taking "what was rightfully hers," the new corset has revealed a chasm between her identity and the way she is perceived, leaving her feeling isolated in a city where "every soul on [the] streets [is] a stranger."

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
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