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Last Updated on December 4, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 557

The protagonist of Lynn Nottage’s play Intimate Apparel is thirty-five-year-old Esther Mills, a talented African American seamstress living in Manhattan in 1905. She makes intimate apparel for both black and white women who range from wealthy socialites to prostitutes. Esther herself remains unmarried but longs to find a husband. She also hopes to open her own beauty parlor for black women, but she has been saving money for eighteen years and is no closer to realizing her dream.

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At the beginning of the play, Esther tells her landlady, an African American woman named Mrs. Dickson, that she is tired of sewing for other people’s weddings when she has not had one of her own. Mrs. Dickson gives Esther a letter from a Barbadian man named George Armstrong. He has written to her from Central America, where he is working on the Panama Canal.

Esther visits her white patron, Mrs. Van Buren, who laments to Esther that she is unable to conceive a child and that her husband has a mistress. Because Esther cannot read or write, Mrs. Van Buren writes back to George for Esther, and he returns her letter. Later, Esther visits with Mayme, another of her clients and an African American prostitute, who helps Esther write another letter to George. Though corresponding with George, Esther is also clearly attracted to Mr. Marks, her fabric supplier and a handsome Orthodox Jewish man—but Marks cannot marry a non-Jewish woman and is engaged to a Romanian woman he has not met. Esther receives letters from George that state that he craves “a gentlewoman’s touch.”

George proposes marriage to Esther in the course of their correspondence, and they marry when he arrives in New York. On their wedding night, Esther gives George a silk smoking jacket that she made. She soon finds that George is dismissive of her idea of opening a beauty salon. Esther gives George, who has not yet found a job, money to buy a drink, and he asks her to give him all the money she has saved so that he can purchase a stable. She...

(The entire section contains 557 words.)

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