Gaslight: A Melodrama

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Ashley King
Professor Maloney
Philosophy 2450
April 29, 2013

Hysteria

In the film Gaslight we witness a young Paula unknowingly being driven to the point of insanity by her new husband Gregory. Gregory was using Paula to find her aunt’s missing jewels through a long drawn plan of moving into the home in which he had previously killed the aunt. Gregory had no interest in Paula, but was only using her to get close to the things he loved so much, the jewels. “In Gaslight we are given the perfect contradiction of the education and creation sought in remarriage comedy: in this melodrama the woman is meant to be decreated, tortured out of a mind altogether” (Cavell, 49). Gregory uses every means possible to convince his wife she is going crazy. We watch a progression of oppression and isolation happen between a man and a woman that is devastating to both Paula and the viewer. “In the claim of reason I call something like this ‘having a voice in your own history,’ and compare the ways in which one may be so denied (deny oneself) in philosophy and politics. This denial of speech is not the loss of speech, a form of aphasia, but a loss of reason, of mind, as such-say of the capacity to count, to make a difference.” Paula transforms from a character with a beautiful voice to a woman with no voice, or perhaps no meaning at all, when she becomes silenced by her husband’s manipulations.

The movie begins with Paula, a beautiful and talented young singer, being told by men that she must essentially forget what she is to become. We hear it first when she is leaving her aunts home and again we hear it from her voice teacher. The teacher states that “she is not invested in her singing and she might just want to give up singing if she is in love.” At this point we see both her voice and sense of freedom are taken away from her. “So not only individual men are destroying her mind, but the world of men, in its contradictions with itself, is destroying for her the idea...
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