Analysis of William's Essay and other Scholarship on Mildred Pierce (Research Paper Sample)
In her essay “Mildred Pierce and the second World War” Linda Williams argues that the film “reflects and represents the contradictions of its historical moment” (p.21). She develops this point over the following pages and writes on p.25:
[like] the wartime and post-war gothics, Mildred Pierce is better able to reflect the problems encountered by women under patriarchal rule precisely because it does not reflect the specific historical conditions that made this criticism possible in the first place.
Through a close reading and analysis of Williams’s essay and other scholarship on the film, and making reference to scenes and themes in the film, explain and analyse Williams’s argument.
Analysis of William’s Essay and other Scholarship on Mildred Pierce
The City and State
Analysis of William’s Essay and other Scholarship on Mildred Pierce
During 1945, people still valued the traditional values of a patriarchal system. The films revealed significant family social values and beliefs. They showed the ideological cornerstone of the traditional society. For instance, marriages were the only institution that legitimized reproduction and sexuality. Women had the obligation of upbringing the children. From feminist perspective, traditional practices of family institutions were oppressive to females. This model of the family where the male was the ruler was the legitimate model of the patriarchic society. Thus, the symbolism of the family institution in historical films helped to retain the legitimate family values. However, Mildred Piece, a historical film that came into light in 1945, fails to show the reflection and repression of women in a real historical moment. The film fails to show the problems that women encountered under the patriarchal rule. The purpose of this paper is to analyze Williams’s essay, Mildred Piece and the Second World War and other scholarship on the film.
The key representation of “woman as a woman” and a “subject in her own right” has not been portrayed in this film (Williams, 1996, 12). The traditional woman who used to provide and protect her family when the man went to war is dominantly absent in this movie. Instead, the film focuses specifically on the images of a woman in popular culture. According to Williams, the film tries to establish a link between the traditional female image and the working women of the 1940s. However, this historical moment does not come out accurately. The movie results not only in distortion of representation, but also in inaccurate depiction of the historical and cultural authenticity. While viewing the context of feminism in this film, it is easier to contradict between the current feminist enlightenment and the historical suppression. This is because the film shows little or no difference between the characteristic of the historical woman.
Williams argues that Mildred Piece only represents an “evolution of the maternal Melodrama” and characterizes the woman as strong and in control of the maternal drama. The film is about the tale of female success and supportive female relationship. For instance, although Mildred goes through a tragic life, she is happy in the end. Besides, despite the film’s ideological representation of showing the shifting of women from a workplace to home, it values female achievement. An example is when Mildred and her initial husband, Bert Pierce, reunite (Mulvey, Silverman, Lauretis & Creed, 2005, 32). This final episode balances the themes of tragedy and resignation in the middle of the narrative with the theme of victory, which shows that the historical women were in control of their relationship. This contradicts the traditional family values where women ought to have been punished for destroying the patriarchal system.
The women’s influence and power are articulated in the films, both through visual and iconography style. It is often the images of a woman that dominate the sceneries, both because of her sexual power and male’s attraction towards her. The dress code reveals her exotic appearance and defines her moral transformation (Kellner, 2008, 8). Mildred Pierce, for instance, dresses up in more manly clothes at the beginning of the film, but changes to clothes that reveal her gorgeous and attractive legs. Her daughter, Veda, is a representation of the mother’s generation, which contradicts the difficult changes experienced by women during this time. The wartime decade, however, provided little opportunities for American women, and their lives were still dominated by men. Yet, this film does not recognize the existence of this segregation nor its historical importance. McLaughlin (1997) argues that it is debatable whether this film involving a villainous mother, captured in the “snares” of a wicked daughter, can be recognized as a historical movie.
In Mildred Pierce, the absence of history parallels the death of men as the patriarchal figures. The film portrays all male characters as weak and reckless, with the exception of the police officers. Williams (1996) argues that it is the present tense of the male framing. The character that Mildred cast reduces any suspicion about her association with the tragedy she causes. The police offers are in no doubt about Mildred’s innocence. The blame goes to Veda, who dominates the film as monstrous and narcissistic daughter. At the end of the film, the revealing of Mildred as the real cause surprises that viewers, and as well reflects the judgment of men as poor. It contradicts the skills that men have obtained from the Second World War. For instance, the movie was launched in the same day the United States defeated the Japanese and became the world super powers (Kellner, 2008, 10). Yet, how could it be that Mildred can carry a gun, and without detection?
Williams points out that the demands of wartime and the great depression could force women to find jobs in order to support their families. In the film, Mildred is experiencing embarrassment when working as a waitress. Besides, the working class women are a source of humiliation to her. However, her actions are sort of good things that all Americans did to “pull their families together” during the war (Williams, 1996, 19). Therefore, the absence of symbols of war denies the film a chance to raise the issues encountered by women, and mothers during the wartime. The film focuses on contemporary issues such as the materialistic spoiling of a child and the impacts of excessive mother love. Mildred Piece moves the historical center of the film from the World War II and narrows to the topic of women’s employment and impacts of Great Depression. Although the military war is absent in this film, its impacts on American business and women are reflected. Women such as Mildred fear the Great Depression and expel the patriarchal order in order to become entrepreneurial mothers.
In contrast, Cook in his article, Duplicity in Mildred Pierce, describes how the film reveals the importance of traditional family set-up. Most of the art work highlights the causes of the erosion of the patriarchal order. Cook argues that this film has revealed the historical uncertainty and duplicity. This is signified in the relationship between Veda and her mother: she is part of Mildred’s body. Mildred says, “Veda is part of my flesh,” and she loves her more than Kay (Williams, 1996, 26). The film then indicates this phantasm of Mildred’s body as the real cause of excess sexual exposure and the erosion of the patriarchal order. For instance, Bert, Mildred’s first husband, accuses her of influencing Veda to adopt bad behaviors. Besides, Mildred sleeps with Monte, the “rich boy’ as a way of accessing his wealth. On the other hand, Veda pretends to be pregnant in order to win payoff from a wealth family. Although the film cast Mildred as innocent, she is the source of the tragic life. The analogy of this film is that material wealth dominated the historical women and Mildred body’s was the location of duplicity (Cook, 2005).
The message hidden in the body of the film is unmasked in the end. The problem is solved by dispelling the duplicity and ambiguity of the symbolic order portrayed by the patriarchy family in the film (Cook, 2005). The film shows how a family without a traditional set up can result in instability and the importance of a patriarchal family. Bert and Mildred separate at the beginning of the film because of the wife inability to respect her husband, which makes the family experience bad encounters. The film reflects this life as ‘abnormal’ (Mulvey, Silverman, Lauretis & Creed, 2005, 36). At the end of the film, Bert and Mildred walk into the light of a new understanding of the importance of a patriarchal family. According to University of Groningen (2012), the movie shows that women cannot run the family without the authority of the men, and they can only result in a classic position of oppression. Thus, the film is a reminder of what women must sacrifice for the sake of success of the patriarchal order.
Cook also argues that the movie exposes the negative things against patriarchal law in order to show the transition process of the historical woman. The film articulates how Mildred denies her castration by becoming the head of the family, and building up a successful business in the face of the Great Depression. She pursues the territory of men by investing in property. This was the responsibility of the man, which she proves that women are also capable of controlling. Although she uses sexual relationship as a tool to extend into the world of business, the film praises her contributions toward rebuilding of the economy. The evasion of the traditional family law produces a situation in which business is more important than the family. Mildred is willing to divorce Bert in order to have tied relationships, which are coupled to sexual relationships.
Another author who contrasts Williams’s works is Lisa McLaughlin in her article Class Difference and Indifference in Feminist Media Studies. The author argues that the melodramatic sections of the movie represent the historical accounts of feminism, but in a contradictory manner. She points out that Mildred defies the patriarchal family and attempts to return to the era of matriarchy where women commanded states and homes. At the beginning, after she expels Bert, she seems strong, honest, si...
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