Men Are Jerks

         In most of the films and plays we have watched and read this semester, there seems to be a common thread. Certainly, if one were to look intently into a lot of the works there would be underlying themes that could be tied together; however, I feel that they parallel on a more obvious plane; all of the leading men are jerks.

         In the 1939 film Wuthering Heights, which was directed by William Wyler and based on Emily Brontë's 1847 novel by the same name, Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) wreaked havoc among all of the inhabitants of The Grange and Wuthering Heights, exacting his revenge with no regard for whom he hurt. Heathcliff married Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald) not out of love but out of spite; his main goal was to hurt Catherine (Merle Oberon); and he would stop at nothing until said goal was ascertained.

         In the 1949 film, The Heiress, which was also directed by William William Wyler and based on Henry James's 1880 novel, Washington Square, Morris (Montgomery Clift) was unscrupulous and just the thought of the way he treated Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) makes my skin crawl. Although Catherine did come out on top in the end, Morris completely destroyed her trusting and kind nature when he abandoned her.

         In both Anthony Asquith's 1938 Pygmalion and George Cukor's My Fair Lady, both based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion, Higgins (Leslie Howard/Rex Harrison) did everything within his power to make Eliza (Wendy Hiller/Audrey Hepburn) feel as if she did not matter. He repeatedly referred to her as a flower girl and belittled her at every opportunity he had. After Eliza was successful at portraying herself as a lady, Higgins took all of the credit. The way Higgins mistreated Eliza was unacceptable; even Colonel Pickering (Scott Sunderland/Wilfred-Hyde White) thought so. However, in the grand tradition of the leading male characters of the works, Higgins continued the legacy of being a jerk.

         In the 1979 play, A Doll's House, written by Henrik Ibsen and the 1973 film directed by Joseph Losey, Torvald (David Warner) was pompous and ungrateful. Nora (Jane Fonda) single handedly saved his life and worked so hard to pay back the money that she borrowed. The moment he found out, Torvald was infuriated and unappreciative. He threatened to take the children away and to merely coexist with Nora as opposed to having a marriage with her. In retrospect, Nora probably wished she would have let him die.

         Naturally, I saved the best for last; Stanley from the 1947 Tennessee Williams play and 1951 film directed by Elia Kazan, A Streetcar Named Desire, was quite possibly the biggest jerk of all. However, he did have one redeeming quality unmatched by any of the other men I have discussed; he was ridiculously good looking. Stanley (Marlon Brando) beat his pregnant wife, Stella (Kim Hunter) and raped her estranged sister, Blanche (Vivien Leigh); and, although his appearance made him easy to look at, it did nothing to validate his behavior.

         All of aforementioned characters would probably get a kick out of each other's behavior. Honestly, I could picture all of them sitting around drinking and playing poker and through a thick haze of cigar smoke, bragging about their most recent act of male dominance.

Kasey Wilson

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