Catherine's New Look
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
In the first scene of the play, we get a symbolic conflict over Catherine's burgeoning sexuality. She has recently given herself a bit of a makeover. We don't get before-and-after shots like on all those lovely daytime makeover shows, but based on Eddie's reaction, we get a pretty clear picture of Catherine's old look. The old Catherine looked…well, young. Yes, poor Eddie comes home and is smacked in the face with his deepest fear: Catherine is becoming a woman. Eddie is terrified of his niece growing up and leaving him. He's also terrified of facing his secret incestuous feelings for her. It'll be a lot harder to keep those feelings repressed, with her walking around looking sexy all the time.
So, as you might expect, Eddie does everything he can to criticize Catherine's new look. First, there's the dress. Eddie thinks it's too short. Of course, he does. Too much legs = bad thoughts.
Then there's the worst culprit of all: the high heels. Eddie says, "Now don't aggravate me, Katie, you are walkin' wavy! […] with them new high heels on the sidewalk – clack, clack, clack. The heads are turnin' like windmills" (1.26). In Eddie's world, high heels = sexy, mature woman. He doesn't want those kinds of thoughts going through men's minds about his little girl, especially his own mind. The high heels pop up later on as well. Eddie makes Catherine take them off, right after Rodolpho has wowed her with his lovely singing voice. Chances are this isn't just random fashion advice. Eddie knows his niece better than anyone. He senses already her growing infatuation with Rodolpho. His first act of trying to stop the relationship is to get rid of those sexy symbolic shoes.
Ah, but there's one part of Catherine's new look that we haven't mentioned. She's got a new hairdo. You might wonder why Eddie didn't criticize this as well. It all makes sense when Eddie says, "With your hair that way you look like a madonna, you know that?" (1.126). Eddie then leaps on top of the table, rips open his jacket to reveal a pointy bra, and sings "Like a virgin, Ooh! Touched for the very first time!" OK, he doesn't really do that, but it would be kind of funny if he did. In fact Eddie isn't referring to the sultry mistress of pop. The song still fits, though. Eddie is actually comparing his niece to the Madonna, Mary, Mother of Christ. And what is Mary most famous for? Being a virgin, for giving birth to Jesus without ever having sex. Hmm, so it would seem that Eddie thinks Catherine's new hairdo makes her seem pure and virginal. No wonder he's down with it.