Exploring Gender Conventions in Film

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Exploring Gender Conventions in Film

The American melodrama film, Mildred Pierce, directed by Todd Haynes, was based on the 1941 novel, written by James Cain. Mildred Pierce explores the roles of gender and class during the economic hardships of the stock market crash and the depression. This novel is a very effective representation of the 1930's and 1940's turmoil. An interview with Todd Haynes titled, "Something That is Dangerous and Arousing and Transgressive," was done by Julia Leyda; and in that interview, Todd Haynes explains that women, “struggle with their embodiment, their identity, their social positions” (Leyda). James Cain created Mildred to be a woman who expressed many different attributes that women would not normally have during this time period and with the happening of the Great Depression. In his novel, Mildred represents a lower-middle-class woman who went through a divorce. Although she is a single parent in the beginning of the book, or as her friend Lucy calls it, a “grass widow,” she has the ambition to work and help Bert provide for their family. This book touches on a different aspect of gender expectations because during this time period many of the men did not have jobs and the women were the one's working and earning money. This is evident through her ex-husband Bert, and her new husband (later in the film), Monty. Neither of them had jobs, she refers to them as loafs, and she does all that she can to provide for them. Mildred is embarrassed by some of the job offerings she got and does not want to disappoint her self-aggrandizing daughter. As mentioned in chapter five, it is obvious that Mildred fears Veda. The novel reads: She was afraid of Veda, of her snobbery, her contempt, her unbreakable spirit. And she was afraid of something that seemed always lurking under Veda's bland, phony toniness: a cold, cruel, coarse desire to torture her mother, to humiliate her, above everything else, to hurt her. Mildred apparently yearned for warm affection from this child[...] but all she ever got was a stagy, affected counterfeit. (Cain 86) Mildred was constantly trying to impress Veda and her dreams of becoming rich, whereas in this family's present state, it was almost impossible. Mildred even had to break down and beat Veda because she had been so vicious toward her when all Mildred ever did was bust her ass to earn enough money for her children. And for a while, Mildred even kept work a secret so that her own children would not have to worry about their family falling apart and finding out that they were lower middle class. One really important part of this book was when Mildred stood up to Veda and said, “You may not realize it, but everything you have costs money, from the maid that you ordered to go traipsing with you to the pool, to your food, and everything else that you have” (Cain 85). Mildred has a strong will to keep her family strong, but at the same time she faces two weaknesses: sleeping with men, and having a strong devotion to please her daughter Veda, who lives in a fantasy wishing she were upper-class. It is odd because she resorts to sex when she encounters stress and her sexual life is her sense of freedom; but when it comes to her work life, she is constantly on the edge and she does not indulge in it. Work is often what causes the stress in her life. In addition, Monty has the same fantasy as Veda and in the end of the film we see Mildred being pushed away from both of them, and eventually they end up together. Throughout the whole novel, Veda and Monty represent the upper-class and Mildred admires Veda so much because she is a reminder that there is hope to get to a better state during the depression. At one point in the novel Mildred even tells Veda that everything good happens on account of her. Haynes focuses on gender and class as huge themes in this film and he states that: what's so fascinating about Mildred as a character is the way she has all of this potential for...
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