Learning Lessons from Past Works

         If I were to teach a class on women's issues with an emphasis on abusive relationships within the family in a film and literature format, I would choose Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play A Doll's House, filmed twice in 1973 by Joseph Losey and Patrick Garland respectively, and Tennessee Williams' 1947 play A Streetcar Named Desire, filmed in 1951 by Elia Kazan, as my two main works of emphasis. I feel these two works present a great deal of women's issues within the family structure as well as the abusive relationships that can arise within that same structure. Both works are great examples of abusive relationships, but they are presented in different ways. For example, A Doll's House relies on a sort of mental abuse in which Nora (Jane Fonda/Claire Bloom) can never share the power that Torvald possesses, while Stanley (Marlon Brando) in Streetcar physically abuses the women around him. At the same time, both works present women's rights issues within the family structure as well as in society as a whole.

         In A Doll's House, Ibsen shows the lack of women's rights within a marriage. Nora is an underappreciated wife whose only fault is borrowing money to save her husband's life. Torvald (David Warner/Anthony Hopkins) constantly criticizes her for being a spendthrift when, in reality, she is saving every last dime to pay off her debt. On the surface, it seems as if all their problems are from a lack of communication and the secret Nora has kept from Torvald, but upon further analysis, even if Torvald knew why Nora had borrowed the money, he would not have forgiven her, much less thanked her for her loving act.

         Torvald is an abusive husband because he refuses to share any power with Nora. In a sick way, he seems to enjoy Nora begging him for money because it makes him look like the responsible caretaker of his family while belittling Nora at the same time. It also makes him feel like a hero when he gives her even the smallest sum of money. This would perhaps be a common marital relationship. If the balance of power leans all the way to one side, then the marriage has failed; and like Nora, one side should take the necessary steps to end the unhealthy relationship.

         A Streetcar Named Desire, on the other hand, is an example of a physically abusive relationship. Unlike Nora and Torvald, there is no doubt in my mind that Stanley truly loves Stella (Kim Hunter) and vice versa. However, as unfortunate as it may be, some men, and women in some cases, are incapable of being involved in a loving relationship because they are too violent. We see Stanley's violent side the night of the first poker game. However, after Stanley pleads and screams her name, Stella returns to the man she loves, only to be hurt again.

         Fortunately, we live in a society that can help treat people like Stanley and prevent them from turning to violence in the future. Some people, such as professional athletes and police officers, are surrounded by violence every day, and it is often hard for them to separate their occupation from their regular life These people are now able to be treated while given help in controlling their violent ways. At the same time, we are also better educated in identifying types of unfortunate situations. However, there are still people like Stella who return to physical violence time and time again.

         In some ways, today it is easier to sustain a violent relationship like Stella and Stanley's than it is to save a marriage like Nora and Torvald's. In today's society, Stanley could receive treatment to possibly save the marriage. Obviously, treatment is not a guaranteed fix, but it could help. On the other hand, Torvald's problems seem more like ingrained personality flaws that he either refuses to confront or does not even see as problems. Nora had the right to leave, and any self-respecting woman would have done the same thing, regardless of the time period. The last conversation they have is the first one they had in eight years as a married couple. What they had was not love, but rather an arrangement for her to be a mother to his children and for him to be a provider for the family. There is no love involved, and therefore there is no reason to attempt to fix it.

         It is good to look back at these works as examples of women's issues and abusive relationships It would be foolish to think that these types of problems no longer exist, but they at least show the improvements that have been made.

Kevin Kraus

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