What Not to Do in Relationships

         If I were to teach a course on relationships, I do not believe I would be able to use any of the readings or movies from class as positive examples of ways to behave. It seems to me that from the very beginning the level of screwed-up relationships cascade downward until hitting the point of no return with Stanley and Stella's abusive and one-sided relationship. Even though none can be salvaged to use to educate a class in a positive manner, I believe they all can be used as perfect examples of how not to act. Analyzing these pieces from a "what not to do" perspective, students can indeed learn many valuable lessons.

         Starting from the beginning with Emily Brontë's 1847 novel, Wuthering Heights, filmed in 1939 by William Wyler, we first came across the misguided relationship of Catherine (Merle Oberon) and Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier). Even though their relationship is formed through jealousy and spite, they are truly in love with each other, and they let their passion get the better of them. This, in turn, ends up destroying their lives and their love. Here lies lesson number one: Petty jealousy and selfishness can ruin even the greatest love. At least in the book, Brontë provides a happier ending with a new generation. The film just cuts off in despair.

         Moving on to Henry James's 1880 novel, Washington Square, filmed in 1949 as The Heiress by William Wyler, we see the hopelessness of a wretched young girl who is seduced for her fortune. Even if Morris (Montgomery Clift) does love her a little at the beginning, he eventually uses Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) and breaks her eager little heart. The relationship here is wrong because it is one-sided and takes advantage of an easily hurt party. One can definitely teach a course on being wary of men by analyzing Washington Square. Even though the relationship is faulty, there are still redeeming qualities in Catherine that help her reject Morris at the end of the novel, but one almost still wonders if she would have been happier if she had taken him back. In the film version, at least there is a self-assurance in her that proves to the audience she is better off without him.

         In Henry James's 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, filmed in 1961 as The Innocents by Jack Clayton, a whole new level of disillusionment is invented to portray the nonexistent relationship between one governess and one master. The governess (Deborah Kerr) is completely insane, driven by weird childhood issues and guided by sexual frustration. Even though her relationships with the master (Michael Redgrave) and the children (Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens) are messed up, she does not really have any control over her sanity.

         As the spiral of inadequate relationships and superficial couples quickly plummets into a deeper chasm, we soon reach the inevitably disastrous relationship in A Doll's House, written by Henrik Ibsen in 1879 and filmed twice in 1973 by Joseph Losey and Patrick Garland, respectively. Nora (Jane Fonda/Claire Bloom) and Torvald (David Warner/Anthony Hopkins) do not have a real relationship based on true, natural love. Their marriage is based on ownership-specifically speaking, Torvald's ownership of Nora. He treats her like a little prize he has won. She has no real say-so in the house, and the only way she can get what she wants is by acting like a child and putting on a cute frown. As Nora says in the film, "We've never had a real conversation before." Their relationship is far from honest, and that is why she leaves in the end and discovers her own life. Even though Torvald is nicer and tries to sit down and talk to her at the end of the second film, saying he is going to change is no longer enough. Nora needs to do it on her own. This example might be the closest to teaching a class a positive aspect to relationships. Even though their lives together have been wrong, Nora is strong enough to know she needs to try it on her own.

         In George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play, Pygmalion, filmed in 1938 by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard and in 1964 as My Fair Lady by George Cukor, the situation is only slightly altered. The professor (Leslie Howard/Rex Harrison) turns Eliza (Wendy Hiller/Audrey Hepburn) into a little toy, but he never gives her the slightest compliment or bit of reassurance. He treats her terribly and uses her as his own little pet project. In the play, even in the end, he never changes and continues to abuse her emotionally. Their relationship is certainly not equal, and never will be because she will never be good enough for him. At least in My Fair Lady, we get a hint that he falls in love and will change for her, as implied by the sarcastic smile when he asks for his slippers at the end.

         Last and most certainly least, the relationships in Tennessee Williams' 1947 play A Streetcar Named Desire, filmed in 1951 by Elia Kazan, hit the bottom of the bucket when it comes to what and whom to not get involved with. Stella (Kim Hunter) and Stanley (Marlon Brando) are the epitome of a relationship gone wrong. As much as the previous relationships may have been one-sided, Stanley takes it to an extreme by totally dominating his wife. Stella is stuck in a helpless position, totally devoted to a man she believes she is in love with, though always chastised and beaten down by him. She is completely under his control and subjected to endless torment--and she does not even realize it because he has her brainwashed! He says he loves her, but anyone who truly loves her would never do the things he does. After reprimanding her, beating her, yelling at her, and raping her sister, Blanche (Vivien Leigh), there is not much more, aside from murder, that a man can do to victimize his wife. Understandably, Stella would argue that he is not always like that, but even once is enough. She is in a hopeless situation and, as we realize at the end of the play, it is never going to end.

         Taking into consideration all of the above-examined films and literature we covered in class, I still believe that none would be fit to teach as positive models for relationships. Any relationship that follows the above examples would surely be doomed. However, if trying to get a good idea of how not to proceed and what not to do, these are perfect!

Lauren Lane

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