Red Plaid Shirt Where are the memories of our pasts held? In scrapbooks full of photographs, or perhaps written on the pages of a locked diary? Picture though, something as simple and ordinary as a closet full of clothes. Think about its contents, where they have been worn, what they have been through, the stories attached to each item. The nameless protagonist of Diane Schoemperlen's short story Red Plaid Shirt does this as she recalls a snippet of her past life with each article of clothing she picks up. Red plaid shirt, blue sweatshirt, brown cashmere sweater, yellow evening gown, black leather jacket... each item has a tale of its very own, and when combined they reveal the full story of the main character's life.
This story is fairly unique, as it is made up of several smaller tales. It starts off simply enough, as the main character fondly recalls a red plaid shirt that her mother bought for her one summer. Schoemperlen further builds up the plot as the main character discloses every detail that she can remember about the shirt, as well as many other articles of clothing. These details are gradually strung together into the sometimes unfortunate memories that form the story line. The reader cannot help but become involved in the story, for it is such a personal account of the protagonist's life. Many of the readers have probably felt the same way about a few select articles of their own clothing, and attached their own recollections.
As I see it, the main character may have been a very easily influenced person during her past. Although she appears to be stronger at the end of each situation she discusses, the main character goes right back to being obedient and meek at the beginning of each new scenario. It seems as if she feels weak and out of control, a trait that she is now struggling to change. For example, when she heard Dwight, one of the men she was seeing say that he thought grey was a mystical colour, she went out and bought a grey turtleneck the very next day. That casual remark influenced her to go right out and buy something in grey. She goes on to talk about how Dwight does not show up very often, and how she waited around for him every Sunday (the day that he was most likely to show up) with a meal cooked and a bottle of wine chilling.
She does end up showing some strength when she breaks things off with Dwight, but once again falls into her submissive pattern in later relationships. At the story's end, the protagonist is reminiscing about her mother's green quilted satin jacket. She speaks about her childhood and how she always pestered her mother to let her wear it. After her mother has died, the she takes the jacket home as a memory. She plans on wearing it to meet her newest love interest for lunch because she knows that he would love it, but later decides to leave it behind. It seem that she finally realizes that she has to stop trying to impress people and just be herself.
The jacket hanging on the back of a kitchen chair marks a new beginning for the main character, and shows that she has the courage to leave the protective armor of a false front behind. The colour descriptions at the end of each scenario add an interesting twist. Perhaps the descriptions are what the various colours mean to the protagonist of the story, or perhaps not. Their purpose is never revealed, and it is difficult to say exactly what their place is in the plot line. They do add something to the story, and I do not think it would have been the same without them. I believe that Schoemperlen added them without a definite reason in mind, and instead decided to let the reader make their own conclusions about the descriptions place in the story.