The Prince and the Toad

         In many of the films viewed this semester there was a main, male actor controlling the main, female actress. However, the men alone could not have controlled these women. Instead, a certain internal desire they had for the men controlled them. In a sense, these women were trapped by different desires. If only these characters had had more patience, if only they had been stronger, if only they had lived in a different time, things may have been different. People sometimes become lost in their desires. Although these women were controlled by men, the women were first controlled by a desire. These desires included wealth, social status, love, and lust.

         In the film Wuthering Heights, directed by William Wyler in 1939 and based on Emily Brontë's 1847 novel, Catherine (Merle Oberon) was controlled by the desire to attain wealth and social status. She denied her love for Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) and followed her material wishes. She ignored her heart, dug for gold, and became trapped in a superficial lifestyle. Although she accomplished a higher status in society and more wealth, Catherine's life had little meaning without Heathcliff. She had given up her freedom to Edgar Linton (David Niven) and was very unsatisfied. Catherine escaped her trap but only through her death.

         Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland) of The Heiress (1949), another William Wyler film, based on Henry James's 1880 Washington Square, was controlled by the desire for love and lust. Miss Sloper had grown up without a mother and with a lonely, cold father. She was starved for love and affection. When she met Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), she was overcome by him. She had never been noticed by a man and had never wished for a man as handsome as Morris. She was very innocent and believed all of Morris' sentiments without question. She had never known love before and was very anxious for the experience. She was very careless and became trapped in hate. Although Catherine Sloper escaped Morris' greedy fingers, her naive eyes were opened too widely to the cruel ways of the world. She would never know true love.

         In A Doll's House, directed by Joseph Losey in 1973 and based on Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play, Nora (Jane Fonda) was controlled by love. She loved Torvald (David Warner) so much that she risked her dignity to save his life. She made a vow of secrecy with herself. She never told Torvald that she had forged her father's signature to receive a loan, in essence, to save his life. Everyday when Torvald made fun of Nora because he saw her as irresponsible, she played his games. She did not realize the shallowness of their relationship until she found it hard to keep her little secret. She realized she had no shame to hide from Torvald and owed him nothing. She realized she deserved his respect, and he could not give this to her. Nora escaped her weakness; and, in the most healthy way of all the characters discussed thus far; she walked away.

;          In A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Elia Kazan in 1951 and based on Tennessee Williams' 1947 play, Stella (Kim Hunter) walked away from Stanley (Marlon Brando). Stella was driven by lust. She adored Stanley's body; there was little more than his body to adore. Stanley was a supreme jerk. He was an alcoholic wife abuser who expected to be taken care of and waited on hand and foot. He had no class or manners and was very destructive. However, Stella did not notice these poor qualities until he raped her sister. She was so deluded by his fine figure that she forgot about her dignity. Nevertheless, when Stanley raped Blanche (Vivien Leigh), Stella's spell was broken. It was as if the prince had turned into a toad.

         Desire can be a very ugly word; however, it can also be a very beautiful word. Desire can become an obsession that controls our minds and souls, or desire can be a force that keeps living a wonder. However, in most of the works we have studied this semester desire has been seen as a handicap that keeps a character from true happiness. In most cases this semester desire has been a toad, and not a prince.

Elizabeth Satterwhite

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