From the Outside, Looking in

         There are many facets of the term "relationship." One could be speaking about a father or mother, a sibling, cousin, friend, teacher, acquaintance, a boss, or even a lover. The strength of each of these relationships can help sustain what one has and hopes to keep. It is said that healthy relationships are key. A relationship is something that cannot be avoided. In each story we examined in class, there is either a positive or a negative example of how relationships are handled. It is easy for one on the outside looking in to pinpoint the problem in each relationship, and that is my intention this evening.

         Starting off the semester, we dealt with Wuthering Heights. For those who know the story, the obvious relationship under scrutiny would be that of Heathcliff and Catherine. As children, they start out well together, creating their fantasy lives up on the cliff, playing and competing for each other's time. However, as the years pass, it is apparent the two lovebirds, although raised under the same roof, are brought up very differently. While Heathcliff is made a slave, Catherine is made a princess; and this "problem" is the cause of all their troubles. While they are both selfish, unjust, and unkind, Heathcliff thrives on revenge, just as Catherine thrives on drama. This unsightly issue and their stubbornness cause them to lose a lifetime of happiness and contentment together. Although all three versions of this story are told differently, it is obvious Emily Brontë's 1847 novel is true to the turmoil and regret that this story evokes. William Wyler's 1939 film adaptation focuses on that relationship especially. He visualizes the complexity and the anguish of their relationship for his audience.

         Moving on to the second book we read, we found that Henry James's Washington Square, written in 1880 and filmed by William Wyler in 1949 as The Heiress, is a solid example of a poor relationship between a father and a daughter. After the death of Mrs. Sloper, Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson) is left with nothing but the memory of his wife and a disappointing child. Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) is a young woman, although very shy, plain, and lacking in social skills, who does everything she can to please her father. No reward, no pat on the back or any acknowledgement is ever given to her. By today's standards, she is a genuinely good person. However, relative to her time, she lacks all the skills and attributes that make daughters acceptable. In today's society, Catherine is looked upon as handling her situation as best she can. She might benefit from being more vocal about how she feels, but in the 1800s, that was not an option for a proper young lady. Dr. Sloper, although he provides for his daughter and tolerates her, is nothing more than a care giver. He is a parent with a hollow heart, and with no intentions of building a healthy, happy relationship with Catherine. Their relationship problems last for years without being addressed, but it is not until Morris (Montgomery Clift) comes along that their family problems surface. It is then that Catherine builds the strength to stand up to her legal and rightful guardian. Although once again stubbornness, as well as bitterness, block their way to reconciliation.

         In A Doll's House, written by Henrik Ibsen in 1879 and filmed twice in 1973 by Joseph Losey and Patrick Garland, respectively, the relationship between Nora (Jane Fonda/Claire Bloom) and Torvald (David Warner/Anthony Hopkins) is the epitome of an awful marriage. With loves comes truth and honesty. It is clear within the first few pages of the play that this husband and wife apparently lack these attributes. Therefore, it is demonstrated that there is no true love in their marriage. Nora believes her little white lie to be a reason to be proud and secretive, unlike her husband. It seems this couple has a decent communication level. It also seems that they are more affectionate and more verbal about their feelings. But clearly the audience sees this as a mask. Just because a couple is touchy-feely and believes its love to be the center of the universe, that by no means indicates the love can withstand anything. When Nora's lie about her loan from Krogstad is revealed, it is obvious this is their first fight, as well as the first time the aggressive side of each of their personalities is exposed.

         It is questionable whether Nora's decision to leave Torvald and her children may have been too rash. Oftentimes when one is upset, one tends to say things one does not mean or act in ways one would not normally behave. Either way, this is a decision that should have been well thought out. Then again, I have always been told "The only person who can make a decision about one's life is oneself." The bottom line is, things are not always what they seem. One must read between the lines and look at the signs in order to judge objectively.

         The one truly healthy relationship I came across during the semester is the friendship between Colonel Pickering (Scott Sunderland) and Professor Higgins (Leslie Howard) in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, written in 1913 and filmed in 1938 by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard. It seems they communicate and understand each other well. As colleagues, they share the same interests and therefore always have much to discuss. At the end of the story, Pickering is able to verbalize to Eliza (Wendy Hiller) how Higgins feels. Pickering is oftentimes the voice of reason. He is always polite and patient, while Higgins is the opposite. Their personalities complement each other and make for an easy camaraderie.

         There are many genres of relationships, all with healthy and unhealthy examples. But when it comes down to it, this semester we have seen many good examples of each type of relationship: healthy/unhealthy, abusive, dishonest, familial, among friends, and lovers. Looking at the works objectively, it is clear there are some unhealthy relationships, but reflecting on our own, we may view things differently.

Becky Owler

Table of Contents