The Philadelphia Story

The Philadelphia Story Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

The True Love (Symbol)

The True Love is the boat that Dexter and Tracy sailed around in on their honeymoon. Its name gives us a pretty clear hint at what it symbolizes: the love shared between the two elites. When Dexter gives Tracy a model of the boat as a wedding gift, she thinks it is pretty and is nostalgic for a moment, but quickly pushes it away and suggests that not long after they sailed it around, it developed dry rot. Thus, the boat's rotting is symbolic, in Tracy's mind, of the way that her marriage went awry. Later, when she discusses the boat with Dexter, she remembers it more fondly, recalling how beautiful it was. In this instance, the boat symbolizes the love that Tracy misses between them. Dexter tells Tracy that he is going to sell the boat and get a new one called True Love 2, which makes her unhappy. This is Dexter's way of playing hard to get and not letting Tracy know that he does indeed still want a relationship with her. The boat symbolizes their love for one another at various points in the film.

Ivory Tower (Symbol)

To suggest that someone lives in an "ivory tower" is to say that they live a very privileged and rarefied life, far from the concerns and worries of average people. In many ways, this is the criticism that Dexter levels against Tracy when he tells her that she fancies herself a goddess. Then later, George tells Tracy that he wants to marry her and keep her in an ivory tower, putting her on a pedestal and protecting her from the world. Tracy is upset with the connotation of this promise, realizing that Dexter is right, and that wanting to be worshipped and put on a pedestal alienates a person from life. Thus, the ivory tower becomes a symbol of Tracy's alienation from the regular world, the ways that her privilege keeps her from knowing how to be a human being, and the ways that a marriage to George Kittredge will make this especially so.

Mike as Cinderella (Allegory)

When he is very drunk and heads to Dexter's house after the party, Mike keeps making references to Cinderella. He refers to the car that he rides to the house as the carriage that Cinderella takes to the ball in the fairy tale, and calls the champagne that he presents to Dexter "Cinderella's slipper." He mixes up his allegory a little bit, in that he is both the prince and Cinderella, but the whole reference shows the way that Mike's plight mirrors that of Cinderella. He is a lowly tabloid journalist and struggling short story writer getting swept up in the glamor and dreamy haze of the wealthy classes, just as Cinderella was a put-upon servant who gets to marry a prince. Tracy's party is, indeed, the equivalent of Cinderella's ball, and by the end of the night, Mike even gets a kiss from the belle of the ball.

Drinking (Motif)

In a film about WASPs, it comes as no surprise that there's a lot of drinking. At the start, we learn that a big reason that Tracy decided to divorce Dexter is because of his heavy drinking. She does not approve of his wayward lifestyle, but he defends it, alleging that Tracy is too unforgiving of his vices. As it turns out, Tracy becomes a perpetrator of this very vice at the party on the eve of her wedding. Becoming so stressed out by the convoluted circumstances of the evening, she downs a number of drinks one after the other and becomes the life of the party. Mike also overindulges, hiccuping and slurring through the evening with a loose charm that he has not exhibited before. At one point, he comments on their beverage of choice for the evening, champagne: "Champagne's funny stuff. I'm used to whiskey. Whiskey is a slap on the back, and champagne's heavy mist before my eyes." The next morning, the only way out is through, and the characters start drinking early in order to keep their hangovers at bay.

"Yar" (Symbol)

The word "yar" in sailing refers to how sensitive the boat is to the captain's touch. When Dexter and Tracy reminisce about The True Love, Tracy remembers just how "yar" it was. At the end, after Dexter asks her to remarry him, she promises that she will be yar herself. In this moment, she compares herself to a boat, and her intention to be yar refers to the fact that she will be more open to him, more compliant, and sensitive to his needs. In this moment, she uses yachting terminology to symbolize how she has changed.