Changing of Women

         Throughout the twenty-two years of my life, I have noticed something about women: they are changing. I am not talking about the general change brought on by puberty. Women are standing up for themselves and becoming more independent. Just like the women of today, the women in our literature have also changed. Some of the women in the literature and cinematic adaptations from our class changed more than others, and a few did not even change at all. But for the most part there was a deciding factor which caused them to realize that they had had enough, and they therefore changed.

         The first drastic changed I noticed was in Henry James's 1880 Washington Square, transformed into celluloid in 1949 as The Heiress by William Wyler. Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland) starts off as a quiet girl who does not think highly of herself, thanks in large part to her domineering father, Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson). She becomes ecstatic when Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift) shows interest in her. On the night she is going to leave to get married to him she goes begins to go through a very big change. Morris stands her up and is not heard from for a long time. When he returns, she is a totally different person. In the book, she politely but firmly tells him to go away. However, in the movie, she tricks him into falling in love with her once again; and this time she leaves him at her door while he pounds on it.

         Next we have Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion, written in 1913 by George Bernard Shaw, turned into a movie in 1938 by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, and adapted into a musical play, My Fair Lady, in 1956 by Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe, filmed in 1964 by George Cukor. This is the most obvious change in a women that we encountered this semester. It should be too, because that is what Henry Higgins has been trying to do-changing an ordinary flower girl into a duchess. Not only does he do that, but she also becomes a woman with feelings. In the beginning of the play, Eliza is not so easily hurt by the things people do and say to her because she knows she is very low on the food chain. When she returns from the ball triumphant in acting as a duchess, she is hurt by the way Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard/Rex Harrison) and Col. Pickering (Scott Sunderland/Wilfred Hyde-White) ignore her because they talk about is the way they were a triumphant success. Eliza knows that she could not have done it without their help, but she still wants credit for what she has done.

         Nora Helmer of Henrik Ibsen's 1879 A Doll's House, filmed twice in 1973 by Joseph Losey and Patrick Garland respectively, is our next chameleon. Nora (Jane Fonda/Claire Bloom) begins the play as a woman who is very much in love with her husband, Torvald (David Warner/Anthony Hopkins) and her way of life. Throughout the play, we find a few things out about Nora. For instance, she could possibly ruin the reputation of her husband because she had loved him enough to borrow some money and forge her dead father's signature to save his life. The big change comes when Torvald finds out about her having borrowed the money. He flips his wig and lets her know that he thinks she is a stupid woman who could not raise their children. She leaves him after that and goes out on her own.

         Our last transformer is Stella Kowalski from A Streetcar Named Desire, written in 1947 by Tennessee Williams and filmed in 1951 by Elia Kazan. Stella (Kim Hunter) is dominated by her husband, Stanley (Marlon Brando), throughout the play. It is not until Stanley slaps her around and rapes his sister-in-law, Blanche (Vivien Leigh), that Stella is she able to gain the courage to leave him, as she does not in the original play. Then again it is left up to the viewer to decide if she stays away or goes back to him. Therefore, she may not actually change. I believe that she does not go back into the waiting arms of Stanley, and she lives on her own. I also hope that the stay-at-home Stella in the play also manages to transform into something a bit tougher for Stanley to deal with after what he has done to her sister.

         Change is a good thing for people to go through. The women in all of these literary and cinematic works have taken a long time to change the way they do things. Most of them should have undergone a transformation a long time ago before their big breaking point, but that is what makes these stories somewhat dramatic.

James Smith

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