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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Throughout the play, Macheath wears fancy white kid gloves. In a literal sense, Macheath’s gloves represent his class aspirations: Macheath wants to be an aristocrat, so he dresses in the clothing of the upper class. Mrs. Peachum does not even recognize him when she sees Macheath in his elegant dress. In a more profound sense, the kid gloves serve as a metaphor for the brutality of humans: while Macheath hides his crimes behind his elegant dress, society hides its exploitation behind a gentle Christian morality. However, the white kid gloves do not hide someone’s true character; they only make the person wearing the gloves look proper and classier in society. Above all, the white kid gloves serve as a disguise for the criminal that Macheath ultimately represents.
The moon appears whenever love is in the air. The Peachums sing about it mockingly while discussing Polly’s love, and Polly sings about the moon in her song about falling in love with Macheath. Later, after Macheath has left her, Polly describes the moon as “thin as a worn-down penny.” The sweetness of the moonlight always contrasts with the hardness and dirtiness of the world below. The moon also represents hope. Brown refers to the moon when he realizes that he betrayed his friend, Macheath. Brown stares at the moon and hopes his team of police do not find Macheath, but his hope falls when he sees Macheath in the jail cell.
In The Threepenny Opera, sex serves two important functions. First, sex demonstrates how people are driven by material, physical urges. Macheath should flee the city, but he returns to the whorehouse anyway, because he cannot resist his weekly appointment. In this respect, sex represents how people are first and foremost motivated by their desires. Second, the normality of the prostitutes’ lives serves to emphasize again the arbitrariness of values. Prostitutes are no different from any worker in the capitalist system because they simply provide a service for money. Everyone is selling something, but that selling one’s body is not seen as worse than selling labor shows Brecht’s outlook of capitalism as a moral equalizer of a variety of deeds.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Threepenny Opera!