The Heiress and the Doll Made Similar Choices

         Relationship troubles are a recurring theme in cinema because they are universal issues. Two films based upon plays, The Heiress, written by Ruth and Augustus Goetz in 1947 and based on Henry James’s 1880 Washington Square, and A Doll’s House, written by Henrik Ibsen in 1879, are both about women who grow to despise the men they once held in high esteem, choosing a path at the end that may very possibly lead them both to unending unhappiness and loneliness. In The Heiress, the female protagonist chooses to forget about her ex-beau after his actions show his lack of true affection for her, and in A Doll’s House the female protagonist decides to leave her husband after his actions show his lack of true affection for her.

         In The Heiress, the 1949 film directed by William Wyler, the main character Catherine, played with youthful zest and then with harsh coldness by Olivia de Havilland, falls in love with a man (Montgomery Clift) that her father (Ralph Richardson) does not approve of but finds out her suitor’s affection is shallow when he leaves her and does not return after finding out she would not be rich if they got married.

         Upon his return years later, at the end of the film, Catherine stands him up in the same way he stood her up by leaving him out in the cold night after saying she would come let him in. Her decision to forever forsake the relationship is the logical thing to do because of his true character and will help her feel as if she has gotten revenge upon him, but she will remain alone, and no one really wants to be alone. He says he has grown out of his immaturity; and, maybe if she gave him a second chance, he would prove his love for her, or maybe he would just break her heart again.

         In A Doll’s House, the 1973 film directed by Patrick Garland, the main character Nora Helmer, played by Claire Bloom, is at first controlled by her husband (Anthony Hopkins). She is the doll in the title; and her husband, a man of propriety and good reputation, plays with her but does not treat her as an equal in the dealings of the household. After learning of her borrowing money to fund a therapeutic vacation for his benefit, he lashes out at her and even strikes her in the film.

         In the end she leaves her husband, an unbelievable act for the time period, because she feels she needs to “become a person” like him and because she realizes their love is not a sincere one and that she is really a mere ornament in the household.

         In both these films, both based on plays, the female protagonists make choices that will forever sever them from the men they once loved. Though their reasons are different—revenge and the desire for respect—their choices will make them unable to attract most men, since their situations—being an old maid or having left her husband--were not considered attractive to the social elite during their time periods. Their actions, although fictional, have had an impact on feminist thought, however; and, were they alive today, they would both be the role models of frustrated housewives everywhere.

Eric Hovis

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