Pretty Woman

Pretty Woman Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Fairy Tale: Rags to Riches (Motif)

The film has been touted as a modern American fairy tale, and indeed, within the screenplay itself, many characters make reference to fairy tales. Much like Cinderella, Vivian goes through a huge transformation from a poor girl who cannot provide for herself, to the beautiful date of a wealthy and influential man. Prostitution is substituted for chores, a businessman for a prince, and a hotel manager for a fairy godmother. When Edward offers her an apartment and an allowance in New York, Vivian cannot accept his offer because, as she details to him, she always dreamed of being rescued by a knight when she was little, and his offer falls short; "I want the fairy tale," she tells him. In her childhood fantasy of the fairytale ending, she says, "never in all the time…that I had this dream did the knight say to me, 'Come on, baby, I’ll put you up in a great condo.'" His offer is too business-like to satisfy her desire for romance and magic.

When Kit visits her at the hotel, Vivian asks her if the "rags-to-riches" story has ever worked out for anyone they know, and Kit responds, "I got it. Cinder-f*ckin-rella." Kit urges Vivian to hold out hope by taking inspiration from the fairy tales. Finally, Edward does give Vivian the fairy tale ending, when he rescues her at her apartment.

Dental floss (Symbol)

Shortly after Vivian has entered Edward’s penthouse apartment, she excuses herself to use the bathroom. When Edward walks in on her and Vivian hides a package of dental floss behind her back, Edward assumes that she is using drugs. She actually just wants to take a moment to floss the strawberry seeds out of her teeth. In this moment, the dental floss becomes symbolic of the social expectations that surround prostitution, and Edward's assumptions of Vivian's habits based on her career. It also symbolizes the ways that Vivian eludes those expectations, and is an unexpectedly wholesome and self-caring person. The fact that Vivian is flossing rather than using drugs not only corrects Edward's misperception, but also surprises and intrigues him, because it suggests that she takes care of herself, which he does not expect from someone who makes their money as a sex worker. The dental floss is therefore a symbol of both Edward's misperceptions and prejudice, but also Vivian’s wholesomeness, and her potential to transform into a more socially acceptable member of society.

The salad fork (Symbol)

When Vivian is getting ready to go to dinner with Edward and Morse, she enlists Barnard, the hotel manager, to help her learn proper dinner etiquette. He teaches her the ins and outs of a formal dinner, much of which she has a hard time remembering. At the end of the lesson, the one piece of table manners that she remembers is the use of a salad fork. When she attends the dinner with Morse that night and the salad is not served first, she is indignant: "Where's the salad? That's the fork I knew." In this moment, she transgresses social expectations and Edward seems a bit embarrassed, but Morse gracefully sympathizes that he has a hard time remembering as well. Thus, the salad fork becomes a symbol of Vivian's ability to charm her way through fancy situations, and a symbol of her class mobility. Her down-to-earth approach to the dinner and her limited understanding of the etiquette required earns her the endearment of Morse, who is also alienated by formal social expectations. The salad fork is a symbol of the fact that Vivian is often at her best when she is being herself, and her charm and straightforwardness is what helps her to belong; not her understanding of formal ritual.

Diamond necklace (Symbol)

The diamond necklace that Edward gives Vivian to wear to the opera is very symbolic, similar to Cinderella's slipper. The necklace symbolizes Edward's affection for Vivian; he acquires the very valuable—quarter of a million dollars—necklace on a loan from a store, just so Vivian can wear it to a night at the opera. Edward would not give such a beautiful necklace to just anyone, and it symbolizes just how much he enjoys Vivian's company.

The necklace has additional symbolic significance at the end of the movie. As Edward returns the necklace to Barnard and asks him to return it to the store, Barnard says, "It must be difficult to let go of something so beautiful." In this moment, Barnard is insinuating that Edward is not letting go of just the necklace, but also Vivian. Here, the necklace symbolizes Vivian's beauty, and the fact that Edward only got to spend a week with her. Barnard tries to hint to Edward that he ought to go after Vivian, and Edward takes the hint.

Heights (Symbol)

When Vivian details her desire for a fairy tale ending, she references the fact that her mother used to lock her in the attic as a little girl when she was bad. In the attic, Vivian dreamed of being rescued by a knight, who would climb the "tower" and save her. In this fantasy, Vivian's isolation from the world was from a great height, and heights symbolized her distance from the world around her, and her isolation from true love and connection.

Similarly, Edward always finds himself in the penthouse suite of any hotel he stays at because it is "the best," but he never goes on the balcony because he is afraid of heights. Edward stays in the penthouse because it is the fanciest room to stay in at a hotel, not because he likes it. Thus, "heights" symbolize alienation and isolation for Edward as well, who is cloistered away in a tower of his own making by his own desire for wealth and privilege.

At the end of the movie, Vivian is rescued from her tower, and Edward overcomes his fear of heights. Heights no longer symbolize the characters' loneliness, but rather the surmountable challenges that they can both meet together. Edward bravely climbs the fire escape of Vivian's building, emboldened by his love for her, and they live happily ever after.