The Truth Hurts Sometimes

         The world is, and always has been, surrounded by countless unpredictable situations. We, as the human population, do not behold much power to alter the inevitable; but we can choose whether to confront it and accept it: or we can remain ignorant altogether. An interesting question surfaces when books and films are created to prove, enlighten, mock, and depict the social problems we as a society has been faced with for all of time. Therefore, as Professor Roulston has inquired, with all the misery in the world, should writers and film makers depict such unhappiness, or should they concentrate upon sunny, happy works?

         Most individuals agree with the saying “the good comes with the bad,” and story writers should not only agree with it, but they should follow it. Everyone is aware of the problems that have engulfed societies over the centuries; but whether all admit to knowing or not is an entirely different aspect. Cliché, but brutally honest, “ignorance is bliss” might be valid on some levels; but, when applied to social problems, this is surely false. Many books we have read and films we have seen thankfully do not put on a mask to hide from what is real in the world. Even these works, which were created mostly in the early to mid-twentieth century, were able to break past the “everything’s peachy” outlook and make a respectable literary work.

         In the books and films of Wuthering Heights, Washington Square, The Heiress, Pygmalion, A Doll’s House, and A Streetcar Named Desire, all focused on one similar theme: women are, and should be, submissive to men. Women have been fighting the war of equality since one can remember; and, although society has drastically progressed, women are still not, nor will they probably never be completely equal to the male gender. In an important time period for women’s rights, Emily Brontë, William Wyler, Henry James, George Bernard Shaw, Henrik Ibsen, and Tennessee Williams were not afraid and reluctant to write about the truth regarding women and men. They did not hide behind a mask and create only a comedy, or only a love story: but they created a funny story or a slightly romantic literary work mixed with men overpowering women.

         A prime example of this is Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 A Doll’s House, filmed twice in 1973 by Joseph Losey and Patrick Garland. Nora (Jane Fonda/Claire Bloom) and Torvald (David Warner/Anthony Hopkins) seemed to have a normal, healthy relationship in the onset of the play. However, as it progresses, the reader comes to terms that Torvald treated his wife as if she were one of his children, and at the same time she was not allowed to do much else than stay at home and essentially be a “trophy wife.” Torvald had the common mentality that men rule the house, and he took this “title” quite seriously. In the end, Nora struggled to find herself in the marriage; and unfortunately she did not like what she came to discover. Her husband did not take her seriously; she was used to be “something nice to look at,” and, when she finally realized she did not have any binding need, other than money, to her husband, she left. The ending has often been referred to as “the door slam heard around the world.” This action was not only an eye-opener for women in similar positions, but it was also an inspiration. Ibsen’s take in this play had several comical parts, but it opened a door of reality and inspiration for women to stand up for themselves. Men taking advantage of women is in no way a “sunny, happy” situation, and luckily Ibsen took a chance to write a play that was truthful, but close-to-the-heart for many women. Every tiny realization, support and mentioning of women’s submission to men was a slow, but steady push for society to broaden the horizons.

         In addition to women’s fight for equality theme. Another not-so-happy element of the works studied was corruption of the innocence and psychological effects. In Henry James’s 1898 The Turn of the Screw, filmed as The Innocents in 1961 by Jack Clayton, the governess basically lost her mind; believing in encounters with ghosts and possession. This eventually took a toll on her, and she became more of a threat than a guardian to the children she was responsible for. The book loomed with sexual desires and inappropriate relationships with a young boy, Miles. However, the theme was powerful; not necessarily true in that demons possess small children, but honest in the broader range that innocence is corrupted, no matter the cause. Psychology is an important study in today’s world; mainly on behalf of the non-stop, stressful life the human race lives. Corruption of the mind is indeed not a happy nor welcoming aspect, but yet again, the novel and its coordinating film, starring Deborah Kerr as Miss Giddens, the governess, made an impression on those who saw it.

         Another literary work which obtained psychological elements was Tennessee Williams’s 1947 A Streetcar Named Desire. Dubbed for being one of the best films made, Elia Kazan’s 1951 cinematic version was alone about an abusive marriage, with a depiction of character insanity as well. Blanche (Vivien Leigh), the sister of Stella (Kim Hunter), was the main focus in the play. She had led a hard life, and it ultimately affected her emotionally. She strived for attention, had a fear of growing old, and essentially did not have one honest relationship due to this fact. Blanche’s inability to accept the truth led her to a prolonged stay in an insane asylum. Both these plays depicted harsh realities likely to happen to anyone; and, although they were not of an “upbeat” nature, they still “won” the heart of countless readers and viewers.

         Life is not always going to be a steady roller coaster ride. There are many hills to triumph over and even more down hills to endure by simply sucking-it-up and holding on as best as possible for the ride. If books and movies were not to truthfully depict the problems our society is faced with, there would be a lingering false image that everything is fine the way it is. However, this is not the way to approach social problems. Denial is the major step to first conquer. If we as individuals progress as if nothing is wrong in the world, eventually it will all become out of control. People will only listen to elders or authority figures to an extent.

         But media is a whole different approach, and frankly, has the most impact on society. Hence, the authors of the twentieth century were way ahead of their time, by taking a chance and writing about important social problems. This opened many doors for women’s equality and gave them hope and understanding that what was occurring was not acceptable. Granted, a happy, feel-good movie is always welcomed, but a book or a film with a purpose or a point to get across has a much bigger effect on society and will fain even more credit as time lingers on. A mask is sometimes appropriate to hide something, but eventually it must be removed, and the world seen head-on most likely will be entirely shocking if the mask has been worn the whole time. The same goes for social problems; it is better to have them in the open because that is the best chance possible to solve them.

Alicia Cassady

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