The secret symbolism of the play
d-baby is a play about secrets, so it is fitting that it should have a few secrets of its own.
You don’t need to know this to read, enjoy or perform the play, but they are there to discover for curious students. Some of this was deliberate. Others happened by chance. I made a decision about a name or an action, and then discovered that the symbolism fitted the play.
Here they are, in rough order of appearance.
- ART – Dee and Tess are good at art because that is the acronym for Assisted Reproductive Technology, (also known in the industry as ART), which enables donor conception. ART is also a metaphor for the divine gift of creativity, which is often referred to as coming from somewhere else – a muse.
- June says “Only the educated are free”, a prophecy – neither she nor Dee will be free until the secret about Dee’s genetic identity is revealed.
- “Silence is golden” is a reference to June’s silence about Dee’s origins and her inability to tell the truth.
- References to food being in the fridge and frozen, (salad and turkey), hint at Dee’s origins as a frozen embryo.
- “Blood’s worth bottling” – a reference to blood ties
- The group assignment – a reference to the fact that Dee’s conception was the result of a group assignment between Tess, June, Matt, Dan and Jay.
- June retraining at work – a reference to her having to accept a new role in her relationship with Dee.
- June needing new frames for her glasses – a reference to her needing to see things more clearly – to have her vision of the world corrected.
- Attached and non-attached earlobes – Family attachment, likeness.
- A job – independence for Dee, a task for both June and Dee in unravelling/revealing the secret that both binds them and oppresses them.
- Education – liberation for women and what June wants for Dee, but also Dee being educated about her real identity.
- Dee being colour-blind – not seeing what is obvious to others/a flaw in her nature.
- Pedigree Analysis – raises the question of Dee’s legitimacy within the family.
- Credit card – analogy to the fact that Dee’s conception was a transaction.
- Marshmallow – Marshmallow holds a feminine vibration and holds the element of water. Connected to the moon and the goddesses Althea, Aphrodite and Venus.
- Yule solstice – theme of transformation and release
- Ion – a mythological character who was created through the intervention of the Gods (Apollo raped Athena) and was deliberately raised to be ignorant of his real identity, and who is later reunited with his mother. Gods as a metaphor for IVF technology, which plays God with people’s lives.
- Oracle of Delphi – Font and keeper of knowledge and truth: know thyself.
- The Pythia – priestess who held court at Pytho, the sanctuary of the Delphinians, a sanctuary dedicated to the Greek god Apollo and who was highly regarded for channelling prophesies from Apollo himself, while steeped in a dream-like trance. The fact that Dee is studying The Pythia as character is an indication of what she will discover about her own identity.
- Columbus – another person of disputed identity, who sets out on a voyage of discovery. There are many debates about whether he was Portuguese or Italian, a good guy or a bad guy.
- Little Big Lies, My Fair Lady, When Harry Met Sally, Les Miserables, Hamilton – the films that Dee and June discuss are all about transformation and identity.
- Snow/snowflakes – Water in all forms is a symbol of knowledge. Spiritually, snow represents “heaven speaking to us” (according to popular culture). The concept of “explaining knowledge through metaphor” and also an in-between state – between water and ice. Snow acts as a border between divinity and spirituality, in order to contain the flow between the two. Snow represents purity, and also a covering – blanketing all in its way. Snowflakes are unique and also represent human individuality. Snowflakes also represent change, as they undergo many changes in their journey from the sky to earth. This is also the actual term used in embryo adoption.
- Fairy tales – Dee refers to June’s story as a fairy tale. Traditionally, fairy tales have involved lies, fabrication and myths.
- Mother’s milk – the first source of nourishment that a child receives and the most natural. Metaphor to the first information the child receives about the world and itself – something June could still give Dee, even though they are not genetically related.
- Mirror – Dee looks in the mirror twice – once when she is trying on clothes before she meets Tess and again when she is trying on the prom dress – reflecting her search for her true self and her identity.
- Garden of Eden – a place untarnished by the notion of sin, and the follies of humanity. Perfection and unity with God. A place where mankind flourishes, but also a reference to Creationism and Genesis, where man is told about his origins in a mythical story.
- Donuts – tempting, but not good for you. A cake with a hole – something missing.
- Fig leaves – coverings, covert, secrets and shame. Reference to The Fall. Dee’s fall from Grace with June and June’s fall from Grace with Dee.
- Dee’s coat – lost and found – a covering, a cover up, a protection.
- Jay – a type of bird that is a symbol of truthfulness. If this bird appears in your life, it means that you are always looking for the truth.
- Zac – slang term for penny, something not worth much, a reference to how little sperm donors get paid (compared to the cost of sperm for those seeking donors) and to the significance of their contribution not being valued.
- Balloons – heaven, letting go, eggs.
- Bananas – symbol of male genitalia – in dream culture they represent the foetus and fertility. If you dream of bananas you are facing some fertility issues or lack of sexual pleasures in life.
- Colour-blind – unseeing, ignorant, confused about the world.
- Deidre – sorrowful, (Name origin), a reference to Blake’s Infant Sorrow in Songs of Innocence and Experience.
- Diseases – destructive, something that destroys from within, unease, the perils of inheritance.
- Frozen – stuck in limbo. Unable to move forward.
- Gifted children – Tess’s twins, Joy and Luke, go to St Anne’s, a real school in Brooklyn for gifted children. Reference to donor children who are a gift to their infertile parents. Gift, something to be passed from one person to another. Gifted, special, talented, unique.
- Hamlet – Dee lies about seeing Hamlet – another tortured soul searching for the truth about his father. Also a real production in Harlem starring the actor she mentions.
- Humanism – Rationality, choice, reason, science, self-direction, compassion – the opposite of the religion that rejected June for adopting embryos, a metaphor for embracing the science of ART.
- June – in Roman mythology Juno was the protectress of women and marriage. June is known as the bridal month.
- Lighthouse – showing the way, providing safe passage, avoiding peril.
- A stillborn child – death, someone who is stuck, inert, which cannot come to life.
- Stories – the stories that Tess has that Dee wants – her past – the narratives we are all given about our families and which connect us.
- Summer Solstice – the longest day of the year, a metaphor for the long journey DC people must take in seeking to discover their true identity.
- Pilot – someone in control, who sets out on a journey with a destination in mind.
- Self-portrait – Dee’s own version of her identity – not June’s. Forging her own identity.
- Tess -The selfless mother figure Mother Teresa, serving the poor but not contributing anything to the problem of poverty – Tess helps Dee, but can’t solve the problem of her complex identity. Perhaps she makes it worse?
- Thanksgiving – Metaphor for the pressure DC people feel to show gratitude.
- Turkey – represents Earth Mother and spirituality. The red wattle (flap of skin from the male turkey’s forehead) represents the third eye – the energy centre of intuition.
- Graduation/dress -growing up, entering the adult world
- Wonder Woman – June, sole parent, sub-editor – battling on her own.
- The Mummy – buried secrets, preservation of stories and culture
- Video that Dee sends to Tess – her way of ensuring she is seen. Being seen is a metaphor for being known.
- Boston Herald – the lesser-known and less prestigious Boston paper – as opposed to The Globe. Symbol of June’s second-class status as a sole parent.
- Rocky Road – confection that Zac gives Dee, symbolising the rocky road she has travelled.
- Joy – the name of Tess’s other daughter. Infant Joy from William Blake’s poem from Songs of Innocence and Experience, with its emphasis on joy and wonder – the joy that Tess’s child brought her, compared to the sorrow (Infant Sorrow) and grief that having Dee brought June due to the pressure of her secret.
- Quote from the Book of Ezekial – about the destruction and exile of Judah and the promise of its eventual restoration by God. Ezekial was a 6th Century profit and Hebrew priest who held that each man was responsible for his own acts. Reference to the barren woman being made fertile through IVF and donor conception.
- Death – In the beginning, when Zac meets Dee for the group assigment on Ion by Euripides he says that Ion is “a tragedy but no one dies”. d-baby parellels this. Death is a theme, but no one dies, except Nan.
When Dee also pretends she has cancer to try and get info about her donor out of the cryobank, death is also hinted at.
It’s also hinted at when Zac and Dee talk about Jewish heaven.
But death does occur in the play metaphorically. By the end of the play, the old Dee is dead and the new one, with the self-knowledge she needed in order to grow up, is born, embracing the snowflake that she was and her complex new identity.
Death occurs metaphorically in the end with the death of the original relationship bewteen June and Dee and the birth of a new one.
- A note about Tess and June – A few people in audience in the Melbourne rehearsed reading hoped that Tess and June would meet. Dee wants that too. She says that when she asks June to come with her to the second meeting with Tess.
But both she and the audience will remain frustrated as neither Tess or June are capable of that.
Tess has too much too lose. The secret that Dan is not the twins’ father is the pin that holds her family together. She is protecting them and herself.
Although Tess says she is disappointed that June didn’t come with Dee to their initial meeting, she doesn’t mean it. She’s actually relieved. (This should come out in acting/direction in a full production.)
And although she says she might go to Dee’s graduation, she doesn’t and never intends to. There is too much at stake.
This makes the final snowflake scene, where Joy finds Dee through Ancestry.com much more significant and surprising.
The fact that she doesn’t turn up is made clear in this scene when the photo she has given Dee of her and Dan at the twins’ graduation is on one side of the dorm shelf, and the photo of Dee’s graduation, with just Dee and June, is on the other side.
This is the tragedy of the play. There is no real resolution for Dee. She must come to terms with her complex new identity by herself.
There may be more secrets and symbols! Perhaps you can find them?