Every Woman Has Her Story

         In the books and movies shown this semester, the main female characters have been depicted as victims of their loves for the respective men. Although these works are from previous decades or even centuries, they can still teach valuable lessons to both the men and women of today.

         Sarita Wooten and Merle Oberon respectively play the younger and older character of Cathy in the 1939 film Wuthering Heights, directed by William Wyler and based on Emily Brontë's 1847 novel. Throughout the film, Cathy is crazed with a morbid love and hate for Heathcliff (Rex Downing/Laurence Olivier). She is in a state of constant self-denial; always wanting to be rid of him but still recklessly aching to be in his arms. She flips back and forth from beginning to the fatal end.

         Catherine (Olivia de Havilland), in the 1949 film The Heiress, directed by William Wyler and based on Henry James's 1880 Washington Square, shares many of Cathy's obsessive qualities. She is in love with Morris (Montgomery Clift), and she too wields hate into her relationship, but not until the end of the film. Here, she is confronted with her naivety and completes a 180 into a dark and bitter rejected lover. Unlike Cathy, Catherine banishes her lover, thus getting her cold revenge.

         Eliza (Wendy Hiller), in the 1938 film Pygmalion, directed by Anthony Asquith/Leslie Howard, and also in the film My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor both based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion, creates her own sense of revenge with Professor Higgins. In these films, Eliza (Wendy Hiller/Audrey Hepburn) is initially treated like dirt; a flower girl, which is exactly what she is. She becomes a part of his self-motivated experimental project and thus develops a dependency on his teachings, home, and way of life. He continuously recognizes his upper hand and uses it to keep her at bay. By the end of the film, Eliza realizes that she is no longer the meek, helpless girl Higgins (Leslie Howard/Rex Harrison) had taken her for and leaves him. Her abandonment is a smack in his egotistic face and forces him to beg her back. Although her actions are not as vengeful as Catherine's, she still levels an unsettled score. So many women seemingly victimized by the men they cared for; but wait; there is more!

         Nora, in the 1973 films A Doll's House directed by Joseph Losey and by Patrick Garland respectively, becomes another helpless victim of a suppressed gender role. Nora (Jane Fonda/Claire Bloom) confesses the same self-denial as all three previous characters. Her relationship with Torvald (David Warner/Anthony Hopkins) is just as unstable. The striking difference here is that Nora was much more conscious about her feelings and resentment towards her life with Torvald. To be honest, I sympathized more with Torvald for being so naïve towards Nora's false and money-hungry ways than I did for Nora's desire for liberation. Ultimately, like the other women, Nora gets what she wanted. It is not being vengeful or getting even. She just has known she needed to leave and has fortunately been able to do that. Blanche and Stella are not so fortunate.

         Blanche and Stella, in the 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Elia Kazan and based on Tennessee Williams' 1947 play, are the only women of these films that were left powerless and rejected. Blanche's (Vivien Leigh) rough life, abuse, and mental imbalances have rendered her nearly insane by the end of the film. Her sister, Stella (Kim Hunter), painfully has watched Blanche's gradual decay, as she herself has become a victim of abuse and neglect by her husband, Stanley (Marlon Brando). In the end, Blanche is taken away for treatment; and Stella is left with an abusive adulterous husband and father to her newborn child.

         All of these women have amazing stories of love, rejection, empowerment, and betrayal. They are characters in films made decades ago, but could truthfully be brought back to the big screen today without skipping a beat.

Michael Moreland

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