I Am Woman; Hear Me Roar!

     This semester in class we have read plays and novels that all seem to have the same theme. The theme of the books is the dominance of men over women. There have been two literary works however, that have this story line but with a twist. A Doll's House, directed by Joseph Losey in 1973 and based on the 1897 play of the same title, written by Henrik Ibsen, has this premise. The other story that we have read also pertaining to the same topic is the 1880 book Washington Square, written by Henry James, which was filmed as The Heiress in 1949 by director William Wyler. These stories both have the leading female character break away from this weak female role and take a stand against the men oppressors in their lives.

     The leading female role in A Doll's House is Nora, played by Jane Fonda in the movie. After living an existence of playing the ignorant wife and fluttering around the house discussing shopping, she decides to leave her husband and three children. Nora comes to the realization that she has been pretending her whole life in order to fit into the roles that her husband and father both had thought that she should be doing. After the exposure of a deep secret that she has been keeping from her husband, Torvald (David Warner) that she had borrowed money and forged her dead father's signature to save her husband's life, her husband explodes and destroys her lover for him. Therefore, she decides that it is time for her to go out on her own and discover life herself.

     Washington Square and The Heiress both tell a similar story. This tale is about Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland in the movie) and the relationship she has with her father (Ralph Richardson in the film). Catherine is constantly trying to please her father, who has nothing but snide remarks and put-downs for her, especially in the movie. Catherine finally decides to stand up to her father when she thinks that she has the love of a man, Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift on screen). Her relationship with this man drives Catherine and her father even further apart, and he threatens to disinherit her if she marries this man. This man ends up leaving Catherine, but she does not tell her father, although he realizes Morris is gone. Catherine in the book says nothing about it, but Catherine in the movie eventually tells her father that Morris had jilted her.

     In the book, Catherine dutifully stays by her father's side even when he is dying. In the movie, in much less time, she stands up to him and leaves him to die alone even when Maria, the maid (Vanessa Brown), summons her. Then later in both versions, Catherine turns down Morris when he comes back for a second chance. In the book, she politely tells him to go away. In the movie, she sets up a phony elopement and leaves him banging on the door as she strides triumphantly up the stairs, her lamp carried high.

     Both of these stories are different, but the same theme is told through them. That is that the women in them are the oppressed for only so long. These women are tired of being put down and told what to do. They decide to take their lives into their own hands and make their own decisions, even though they have had to make great sacrifices. These stories were a much-needed breath of fresh air when one is reading literature that is dominated by male superiority.

Krista Germann

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