These People Ought to Know Who We Are and Tell That We Are Here

        A familiar theme throughout literary history is the struggle of women. In the case of a variety of the works in this course, the women are surrounded and used as pawns by larger than life, often male characters, and they must struggle to break free of their oppressors.

        In Emily BrontŽís 1847 Wuthering Heights, and the theatrical counterpart directed by William Wyler in 1939, you have Isabella Linton (Geraldine Fitzgerald). Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) manipulates her, even marries her only for the sake of getting to Catherine (Merle Oberon). Her brother Edgar (David Niven) treats her almost equally horribly. After she marries him, he no longer wants anything to do with her, despite the emotional abuse she suffers. In BrontŽís original work, Isabella does manage to escape it all, and lives the rest of her life away from these people. There is also the character of Cathy Linton. Cathy is manipulated by Heathcliff to marry his son Linton, as a means of getting the last laugh to the Linton family. Linton dies, and Heathcliff takes control of her life, she does, however, manage to find love with Hareton.

        Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland) of Henry Jamesís 1880 Washington Square and William Wylerís 1949 The Heiress must contend with family and fiancť. Her fiancť, Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), uses her for a long time, hoping to marry into wealth; and when he believes she is not going to receive it, he disappears. Her father, Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson), neglects her for her entire life, and her Aunt Penniman (Miriam Hopkins) takes the side of her fiancť, trying to help him take advantage of her. In the end, Catherine snaps back at all of them, telling her father what he how she feels about him, sending Morris away while silencing Penniman.

        George Bernard Shawís 1913 Pygmalion and Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howardís 1938 film version, as well as George Cukorís 1964 My Fair Lady features Eliza Doolittle (Wendy Hiller/Audrey Hepburn) as a struggling flower girl, who sees an opportunity to get out of the gutter and into a flower shop. She finds herself in the hands of Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard/Rex Harrison). Higgins treats her as though she is beneath him, someone he can throw away at anytime. When her father (Wilfrid Lawson/Stanley Holloway) finds out about the arrangement, he shows up, not to the rescue, but to demand money from Higgins for her. Higgins uses her as a means of proving himself, teaching her to speak like royalty. Eliza accomplishes his goal. Then, Colonel Pickering (Scott Sunderland/Wilfrid Hyde-White) declares Higgins a success, Higgins heaps praise onto himself, and Eliza is ignored. Eliza and Higgins have a fight afterward, after which Eliza runs away. Higgins realizes that he needs her, and in the original play, Eliza leaves him for good to be with Freddy Eynsford-Hill (David Tree/Jeremy Brett).

        In Henrik Ibsenís 1879 play A Dollís House and the two 1973 films (directed by Joesph Losey and Patrick Garland, respectively) based on it, Norah Helmer (Jane Fonda/Claire Bloom) is a woman whose husband, Torvald (David Warner/Anthony Hopkins), has no respect for her. Torvald is condescending to her; he treats her as a plaything and she plays along, because she believes they love each other. She is also in the debt of one of Torvaldís employees, Krogstad (Edward Fox/Denholm Elliott), and forged her fatherís name to the agreement. Torvald fires him, and he threatens to reveal her secret. If Torvald were to discover her secret, it could tear their marriage apart, and for most of the story she is afraid of that. In the end, Torvald discovers her secret, and he is enraged, but then the debt is alleviated. It is too late, Norah realizes that if something could so easily do so much damage, then the marriage is not worth it, and she walks out on him.

        During their respective stories, these characters find out who they really are, realize their situations, and fight back against those using them. After their conflict, they manage to break free of their tormentors and find happiness with themselves, whether they find someone to care for them or they are on their own.

Jeremy Workman