Past Perceptions of Women

†††††††† Most literary and cinematic works discussed in this course were classics and dated from 1847 to 1973. Each of these was written during a time when women were viewed differently from the way that they are today. Most women were housewives, and the few that worked mainly did so for survival. Women were still denied the rights that they earned to have today. Women were often perceived as inferior. This is true for some of the plays from this course; but in a few, the woman, even though socially viewed as inferior, had a dominant power, although they had to manipulate those around them, while playing often demeaning games.

†††††††† In the most recent play, A Streetcar Named Desire, written in 1947 by Tennessee Williams and filmed by Elia Kazan in 1951, the women are perceived as merely wives or inconveniences. Women did not often work, and if left without money, as Blanche was, they were left to mooch off their family, in this case, her sister, Stella (Kim Hunter) and her husband, Stanley (Marlon Brando).

†††††††† Ironically, the oldest novel from this course, Wuthering Heights, by Emily BrontŽ, written in 1847, 100 years before A Streetcar Named Desire, filmed in 1939 by William Wyler, gave the woman a little more credit. The women were not seen in the workplace, but Catherine (Sarita Wooten/Merle Oberon) was given much attention. The Grange and Wuthering Heights were controlled, through manipulation and demeaning game playing, by Catherine. She overpowered both of her men, Heathcliff (Rex Downing/Laurence Olivier) and Edgar (David Niven). Also, Ellen Dean (Flora Robson) manipulated her way to control of both places after Catherineís death. This novel set a tone containing more equality between sexes than that in A Streetcar Named Desire.

†††††††† Another older play, A Dollís House, written in 1879 by Henrik Ibsen and filmed twice in 1973 by Joseph Losey and Patrick Garland respectively, also showed the woman having a manipulative power even though she did not have a job or many rights. Nora (Jane Fonda/Claire Bloom) was a strong woman who, while playing such demeaning roles as squirrel and chipmunk, convinced her husband, Torvald (David Warner/Anthony Hopkins) to take an expensive vacation to save his life, give her unnecessary money, and give her friend, Christine (Delpine Seyrig/Anna Massey), a job at his bank. Most of the other works from the course portrayed the woman as a delicate prize, and someone who is alive to be married and live for romance.

†††††††† The perception of the role for a woman has changed considerably since the publication of these works. Most of the plays depicted woman in such a way as she was understood during that time period. Ironically, a couple of older works, such as Wuthering Heights and A Dollís House did not fail to show the always existing power of a woman, although the power was not always easy to implement against the dominate males.

Shannon Logan

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