Everybody Has an Agenda

         If English 213 has taught me anything, it is that everyone has an agenda. Everyone has a plan and ideals that he or she wishes to impress upon someone.

         In this instance, the agenda that was put upon us was one of women's issues in film and literature and how through the years feminism and the women's liberation movement became a direct influence.

         In the beginning, there was Wuthering Heights, a tale of a man so cruel and vicious, he destroys the lives of everyone he meets, women especially. The women in the story show no inner strength to counteract the will of the evil Heathcliff. Both female leads simply lie down and succumb to his "power." The novel was written in 1847 by Emily Brontë, and it probably accurately illustrates the way the world was. A woman did not dare stand up to any man for fear of the consequences.

         Thirty-two years later, in 1879, Henrik Ibsen wrote A Doll's House, which was far ahead of its time. When some people read or saw the play and Nora's abandonment of Torvald, I'll wager they thought, "How unrealistic!" But it was almost as if Ibsen were fortune-telling at a time when leaving an abusive, selfish husband would not only be acceptable, but common.

         The next year, in 1880, Henry James wrote Washington Square, another novel which at first casts the image of a weak-willed female lead, eventually shows her freeing herself from the mental abuse of the two male lead characters. In the novel, Catherine Sloper becomes a strong character after realizing she has been duped by Morris. She is a strong, but all the while silent, character. In the film adaptation, The Heiress, Catherine is not so silent and is instead bitter. The film, made in 1949 by William Wyler, shows a more willful character in Catherine, as depicted by Olivia de Havilland, and makes her seem more realistic, possibly due to the ever-increasing women's liberation movements that were slowly surfacing during the time period.

         The 1951 film version of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Eliza Kazan, was almost like a progression of the film-and-literature feminist movement, much like The Heiress. In the beginning, Stella (Kim Hunter) is the loving but naïve wife to the abusive Stanley (Marlon Brando). Throughout the course of the movie, Stella continues to forgive Stanley for all the physical and psychological abuse he puts her and Blanche (Vivien Leigh) until the end when Stella escapes him.

         All of the literature we have read and their film counterparts have had women's issues as undertones and sometimes as the entire basis of the work. It is good to see writers and film makers evolve with the times and incorporate important issues into their works, though in some instances, such as Ibsen's, he foretold what was to come.

         So while everyone has an agenda, not all agendas are bad sometimes. The films, novels, and plays I have experienced in English 213 have shown me more about the progression of women's roles than I ever knew before. I also learned that the majority of male characters throughout literature have not changed--they are still assholes.

Christopher Reaves

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