BEAUTY AND THE BEAST:
THE NARRATTVIZATTON OF FEMALE IDENTITY IN HITCHCOCK
Janet Schwartzberg Robinson
B.A., University of Colorado at Boulder, 1989
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
1995 by Janet Schwartzberg Robinson
All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Master of Arts
Janet Schwartzberg Robinson
has been approved
Robinson, Janet Schwartzberg (M.A., English)
Beauty and the Beast: The Narrativization of Female Identity in Hitchcock
Thesis directed by Assistant Professor Susan E. Linville
Historically, the narrative and visual arts have propagated the social
construction of gender in. culture, and film is no exception. Through the centuries
female identity, no less than male, has been shaped by cultural influences. Yet,
because men have predominantly been the artists, female identity has been shaped
by the masculine imagination. The forms that female identity have taken range
greatly, but as men have been the creators, womens identities have been defined
in relation to men rather than on their own terms. The consequence of this
treatment of female identity is that women always signify meaning for men, but
have been proscribed from making meaning for themselves. Hence, women are
never really represented in Hitchcock, but rather women characters either
represent a male fantasy (either the beautiful, unattainable woman or the selfless
wife) or male threat, in which women represent the destruction of phallic power,
in short, beauty or the beast.
This thesis shows how the narrativization of female identity within the
films of Alfred Hitchcock reflects and perpetuates a virtually transhistorical
pattern of gender construction, wherein women are the means to mens
epistemological and ontological quests. This thesis contextualizes its readings of
Hitchcock in relation to literary texts extending back to ancient Greek tragedy,
through Italian Renaissance poetry, and into the Romantic novel. Simultaneously,
this thesis challenges current film theorists in their readings of Hitchcock while
historicizing the films in the context of post-war America and the politics of
female identity during the 1950s. The first chapter uses Sophocles Theban
trilogy as a point of departure to discuss North by Northwest (1959) and
Notorious (1946); the second chapter considers Petrarchs love sonnets as a
prelude to analyzing Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), and Mamie (1964);
and the last chapter examines Mary Shelleys Frankenstein in reference to
Strangers on a Train (1951) and Psvcho (1960).
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
Susan E. Linville
1. THE NOTORIOUS TUNNEL OF LOVE...............1
2. THE SECRETS IN HER PURSE..................30
3. MONEY, MATRIMONY, AND MONSTERS.............63
There are no women in Hitchcocks films. Hitchcocks films define, stifle,
veil, and destroy female identities (and bodies) in many ways. Hence, women are
never really represented in Hitchcock, but rather women characters either
represent a male fantasy, in which women represent either the beautiful,
unattainable woman or the selfless wife, or a male threat, in which women
represent the destruction of phallic power in short, beauty or the beast.
Historically, the narrative and visual arts have propagated the social
construction of gender in culture. Through the centuries female identity, no less
than male, has been shaped by such cultural influences. Yet, because men have
predominantly been the artists, female identity has been shaped by the masculine
imagination. The forms that female identity have taken range greatly, but as men
have been the creators, womens identities have been defined in relation to men
rather than on their own terms. The consequence of this treatment of female
identity is that women always signify meaning for men, but have been proscribed
from making meaning for themselves.
At times, the blatant sexism of Hitchcock forces us to surmise that
Hitchcock himself criticizes the traditional role of male power and the subjugation
of women. However, if Hitchcock were critical enough to be outraged by this
behavior, why do so many of his films capitalize on the subjugation of women?
Why is every plot twist at the expense of womens integrity, power, and intellect?
Why do most of Hitchcocks female actors look so much alike and fall into the
category of the "perfect" 1950s woman movie star? Although Hitchcock is self-
conscious in his treatment of women, and in some ways criticizes the traditional
male and female roles, the narratives, once played out, reveal that Hitchcocks
misogyny prevails over his attempt to criticize the sexual oppression of women. To
men, female sexuality holds the secrets of origins, life, death, birth, and sexual
desire. Historically, men have attempted to explain these enigmas through poetry,
novels, plays, art, music, and more recently film. The theme of the man who
creates a human life out of dust, clay, or ivory is not uncommon in Western
culture. However, it is the woman who creates life in her body, and this powerful
act has led men both to fear and desire the female body and female sexuality.
This fear and desire are so powerful that woman can scarcely elude them. In
traditional narrative, primarily written by men, women cannot escape their bodies
and the power that their bodies hold over men. Thus, female identity is defined
by her enigmatic body that men desire, to explain.
While men search for truth through the body of woman, female identity
bears meaning only in relation to this male quest. As much feminist theory
reveals, female identity as Other to man is well-established within the texts of
Western culture. This Othering pattern, which is both social and psychological,
creates the very design of narrative in which the male protagonist sets out on a
mythic quest for self. The very work of narrative thus maps sexual difference
because it defines the protagonists as male, and those left behind in the home as
female. Private sexuality is thus connected to the organization of the public
The main goal of my thesis is to show how the narrativization of female
identity within the texts of Alfred Hitchcock reflects and perpetuates a virtually
transhistorical pattern of the social construction of gender and its influence. By
contexualizing my readings of Hitchcock in relation to literary texts, I develop an
interdisciplinary study that ties principal forms of literature, including drama,
poetry, and the novel to film. Thus, framed within a transhistorical pattern, my
analysis reaches beyond much current film criticism and answers questions that
were virtually unasked by previous Hitchcock critics.
The first chapter uses Sophocles Theban trilogy as a point of departure to
discuss North by Northwest (1959) and Notorious (1946); the second chapter
considers Petrarchs love sonnets as a prelude to analyzing Rear Window (1954),
Vertigo (1958), and Mamie (1964); and the last chapter examines Mary Shelleys
Frankenstein in reference to Strangers on a Train (1951) and Psycho (1960).
Hence, my research extends back to the ancient Greek tragedies, through Italian
Renaissance poetry, and into the Romantic novel, while simultaneously
challenging current film theorists in their readings of Hitchcock. My research is
also historicized in the context of post-war America and the politics of female
identity during the 1950s, the time in which many of Hitchcocks best-known
films were produced.
The first chapter explores how Notorious and North by Northwests
narratives map sexual difference. By first laying the foundation of the mythic
male quest, paradigmatically represented in the Theban trilogy, and then
illustrating how the quest shapes the selected cinematic texts, this chapter exposes
the positioning of woman as static "tunnel," or channel by which men are able to
pursue their own identity quests. In her book Alice Does/nt. Teresa De Laureds
discusses how narrative maps sexual difference. De Lauretis argument facilitates
my discussion on the narrative pattern represented in the Theban trilogy and its
resurfacing in Hitchcock.
The private/public dynamic of the two films reveals a type of conflictual
narrative for women in which in order to fulfill their public duty, they must break
their private political and sexual code. The films also signify the political agenda
of post-war America in which traditional roles for men and women are defined by
male breadwinners and female housewives. Hence, the traditional role for men
allows for the male hero to search for self in narrative, whereas the female role
prohibits any active pursuit of self. The man wields power in both the public and
private domains, and women, as childbearers, wield no power in either domain.
Robert Corbers contribution to Hitchcock criticism serves to historicize my
argument on the post-war gender politics of the film. Although he offers a male
homosexual perspective of Hitchcock, Corber acknowledges that the very same
elements of patriarchy that work to oppress homosexuals, oppress women.
Much criticism examines the significance of "the gaze" in cinematic texts,
and many have concluded that men control the gaze, and women are the object of
the gaze. This notion is perhaps true, but in many of Hitchcocks films the theory
of the gaze becomes complex. In Notorious. Ingrid Bergman plays the role of a
female spy. Thus, her control of the gaze is crucial in the narratives
advancement, as well as in its plot structure. Yet, what is more crucial here than
the control of the gaze is the purpose of her gaze. If it serves the government,
then she wields some control; if she wishes to see for herself, she loses control.
Modleski, in her discussion of Notorious, asserts that "man remains in sole
control of the gaze" and thereby controls power and knowledge that vision
represents in film. However, Notorious does not entirely support her claim.
Through my analysis of the film, I argue that Alicia becomes the channel through
with the government can see. But if her sight would offer a knowledge that would
serve herself, her sight is impaired, distorted, or blurred. We see this impairment
of vision in the beginning of the film when she is drunk, and we see it in the end
of the film when she is unable to see herself out of the mansion to save her life.
In both situations, Devlin must see for her; he must save her and he does. By
becoming the woman that needs to-be-saved, Alicia fulfills the male mythic quest
in which the man discovers himself through his rescue "of the girl."
The second chapter focuses on how the cinematic screen itself creates a
veil that simultaneously reveals and conceals the image of woman. The larger-
than-life male fantasy of the woman to-be-looked-at, to be uncovered, to be
explored, and to be controlled for the pleasure of the scopophilic male gaze
renders woman as Other to man. She is thus incapable of breaking away from her
symbolic status that makes meaning for men in order to make meaning for herself.
The three films discussed in this chapter, Rear Window. Vertigo, and Mamie all
position their male protagonists on a search for truth. I argue that each mans
search for truth, which appears to be the search of the truth about the female
protagonist, is in actuality the search for self.
This pattern for constructing the male self through woman can be traced
back to an exemplary model in Petrarch. Recent criticism, primarily by Giuseppe
Mazzotta and Aldo Scaglione, shows that Petrarchs construction of Laura, his
unrequited love object, is actually the construction of the self. Thus, the veiled
woman, who seemingly hides the mysteries of birth, death, origins, and sexuality,
becomes a channel by which men search to find the truth of themselves.
Laura Mulveys discussion of Vertigo. Mary Ann Doanes analysis of the
"veiled" woman, and Elaine Showalters discussion of the "veiled" woman in
relation to Freuds theory, all support my argument that Hitchcocks women, who
represent the quintessential to-be-looked-at 1950s beautiful woman must create a
mystery to be solved for men the mystery of female sexuality. The beauty of
the woman to-be-looked-at becomes a veil in itself; her hair, her make-up, her
overall look work to conceal and reveal the mystery of female sexuality. Yet, this
metaphoric veil emphasizes surface rather than depth. Furthermore, I illustrate
how the beautiful woman must also be the dangerous woman, the mysterious
woman, and the guilty woman in order to satisfy the voyeuristic desire of the male
The third chapter discusses the guilty woman who has broken the
patriarchal seal that constricts women to the traditional roles in which they only
gain identity through others, mainly as wife and mother. In both Strangers on a
Train and Psycho, the woman who is brutally murdered has attempted to disrupt
the social order through her bid to gain the power of the phallus through economic
and sexual means. The consequence of this attempt is not only to be labeled as
guilty, but also to be viewed as monstrous. The women are deemed monstrous
because they are desiring subjects rather than desired objects, have jobs, and are
financially independent (or have the power to gain money from the men in their
lives). Their bodies, seen first as powerful, are soon filmed as monstrous, as we
see them slashed to death or strangled.
While I agree with Barbara Creeds argument concerning the monstrous-
feminine the castrating woman -- and Linda Williams discussion of how the
female body represents the true horror in horror films, I contest the arguments of
Robin Wood, Leland Pogue, and Robert Corber in concern with the identity of the
monstrous woman and her inevitable destruction. Both Wood and Pogue refuse to
see the films on feminist terms, and both offer rather misogynist readings.
The destruction of the monstrous woman, who has potential power, can be
traced to Mary Shelleys Frankenstein. Although much has been written on the
male monsters identity, not much has been said about the destruction of the
female monster -- the promised companion for the male monster. The female
monsters destruction represents the male fear of a female sexuality that is not
constrained to a designated mate. Peter Brooks, in his book Body Work.
incompletely reads the creation and destruction of the female monster. However,
Shelleys text reveals that Frankensteins fear of the female monster goes beyond
his fear that the monsters will create a race of monsters, but that the female
monster will desire men as sexual partners. The destruction marks the
preservation of socially constructed gender identities and thus sustains the future
peace "of the existence of the whole human race" (159). The absence of female
identities from Western culture exemplifies the overwhelming threat of the female
body, her reproductive powers, and her sexuality: she alone would be able to
destroy the future of the human race, and thereby destroy a culture that depends
on the restraint of female identity.
THE NOTORIOUS TUNNEL OF LOVE
In the last scene of Alfred Hitchcocks film North by Northwest (1959),
Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) reaches out his hand for his new bride Eve Kandall
(Eva Marie Saint) in order to pull her up to the top bunk of the train bed. The
moment she gets on the top bunk the scene cuts, and we see one of Hitchcocks
more notorious images: a swiftly moving train penetrate a tunnel. At first, the
viewer perceives the image as simply a blatant sexual metaphor; however, on
further reflection the train metaphor begins to take on additional meaning as an
image that, in its summative relation to the film as a whole, illustrates how sexual
difference is narrativized. Teresa De Lauretis suggests that the very "work of
narrative is the mapping of sexual difference" (121): the moving train is thus
masculine, the static tunnel feminine. The image of the train going through the
tunnel symbolizes the male hero "who crosses the boundary and penetrates the
space of the other" (119), in this case the symbolic tunnel, "womb" or "woman."
Hence, the image emphasizes that mans search for truth marks sexual difference;
female identity is shaped by her static position of Other to man.
The narrative pattern that maps a mans journey through a symbolic womb
as part of his experience of rebirth into a new sense of identity is a virtually
transhistorical element of narrative in Western culture. This mythic male journey
can be traced back to Sophocles Theban trilogy, which outlines a beginning of the
"mythical-textual mechanics [where] the hero must be male . [and] the obstacle
[is] . female and indeed, simply the womb" (De Lauretis 118-119). The
narrative is dependent on the symbolic womb for the man to travel through, and
this symbolic womb is always by definition a woman. Thus, mans rebirth
necessitates a woman but denies that woman any rebirth of her own: she appears
in the narrative only to provide meaning for the mans story, not her own. This
narrative paradigm thereby creates a problematic identity for women: their
identity is always as mother, sister, wife as other, but never as self. By first
laying the foundation of the mythic male quest as seen in the Theban trilogy, and
then illustrating how it is manifested within the cinematic texts of Hitchcocks
North bv Northwest and Notorious (1946), this chapter examines the positioning
of woman as static "tunnel" or channel through which men are able to pursue their
own identity quests.
Oedipus masculine quest for self-knowledge, where women are obstacles
that must be penetrated, creates a mythic pattern. Private and public spheres
collide in Oedipus search and together create a model for narrative in which, as
De Lauretis explains, "the pleasure of the text is . Oedipal pleasure (to denude,
to know, to learn the origin and the end)" (107). The narrative becomes an
"unveiling of the truth," for the male hero and vicariously for the spectator or
reader. Historically, as Elaine Showalter discusses in Sexual Anarchy, "what lies
behind the veil is the specter of female sexuality" (146). If the veil obfuscates
female sexuality, then self-knowledge for men can be found by entering the
symbolic feminine tunnel of discovery -- at the risk of being sucked into a vortex
or funnel of self-annihilation.
Oedipus becomes king because he solves the riddle of the Sphinx.
According to De Lauretis: "by his victory over the Sphinx, Oedipus has crossed
the boundary and thus established his status as hero" (119). Yet his status of hero
involves a further search for truth, both private and public. Oedipus the King
begins with the scene in which Oedipus addresses the people of his kingdom to
listen to their concerns. A "deadly pestilence" has fallen on Thebes, and Oedipus
vows to "learn there by what act or word [he] could save the city" (113). By this
vow, Oedipus search for the truth of the plague of the city will turn into a search
for self-knowledge, a private sexual knowledge: and what he discovers is the fact
that he has unknowingly slept with his own mother. Sexual identity is at the core
of his search for self-knowledge; it is central to the discovery of the states
problem, and its discovery results in the death of the woman: his wife/mother
The murder or suicide of women repeats itself as part of the pattern in the
Oedipal myth, in which not only Jocasta kills herself, but the Sphinx and Antigone
commit suicide as well. Upon the discovery of Oedipus identity, Jocasta rages
into the house, "tearing her hair with both hands," and then "she groan[s] and
curse[s] the bed" (166) and hangs herself. In contrast, Oedipus upon the same
discovery does not wish to kill himself. Instead, he begs a messenger to "Give
me a sword ... to find this wife no wife, this mothers womb" (166). In hatred,
he seeks to destroy the womb in which he was sowed; in self-hatred Jocasta
wishes to destroy herself, her sexual self who was capable of such a guilty act.
Women become both the subject and the object of hatred in a narrative pattern of
unequal punishment. In this case, the woman dies and the man dashes out his
eyes in order to blind himself to his crime; that is, to block the gaze that led to his
incestuous sexual desire. Just as Oedipus is indirectly responsible for the death of
the Sphinx, he is implicated too in Jocastas death. Furthermore, by eliminating
the women, Oedipus lives on as an immortalized tragic hero.
The positioning of woman as static can be seen in Sophocles Antigone,
where the earth symbolizes woman. Mans sexuality is compared to the
penetration of the earth when Creon says of Haemons engagement to Antigone:
"there are other furrows for his plow" (201). The earth is both female and static,
the plow both male and active. The woman is referred to as expendable and
interchangeable: all women are the same. Furthermore, Antigones fate is not that
of marriage, but of death: "O tomb, O marriage chamber," she cries out before
Because woman is confined to the private sphere, there is no opportunity
for quest into the public sphere of politics, self-identity, and in turn power and
immortality. Modleski argues: "Most of all, Antigone offends because she leaves
the private sphere, to which as a woman (and therefore a slave) she is confined, in
order to take up a public role" (65). Antigone must act within the public sphere
in order to protect private sphere values, values she embodies.
In order for women to gain any access to power, especially within their
own domain -- i.e., the family -- they must break the social code that defines their
identity as constrained to the private sphere. This type of conflictual narrative,
according to Modleski, "functions not to integrate the individual into the social
order, but to express womens experience of lived contradiction in patriarchy"
(65). The contradiction remains problematic in the construction of the identity of
female heroines in Western narrative. The only way for a woman to become a
heroine is to take an active role, yet in taking any active role whether private or
public, the woman has betrayed her place within the cultural construction of
In contrast, male protagonists can be heroes, enjoy rebirth and self-
actualization, and in the process remain within their role as leader in the private
and public spheres. The implications of this argument necessarily lead to the
conclusion that our cultural tradition, designed to create male heroes and female
victims to-be-saved, will under no circumstances allow these roles to be reversed.
The pattern places woman in an inescapable position of instability and lack; not
only does woman lack the phallus, the symbol of power inscribed by the law, but
she also lacks the ability to initiate her own search for self-knowledge, which is
essential in becoming a true heroine.
In both North by Northwest and Notorious it appears that the women are
able to initiate a search because both women, Eve and Alicia, are American spies.
By taking on an investigative role it would seem that the two women would be
aligned with Oedipus in his search for truth. However, the woman as spy in the
films does not engage in a female search for self-knowledge or truth. The male
characters maintain control of the symbolic phallus, the instrument of power, and
use the women as channels by which they gain information for their own search.
The man, according to De Lauretis, must "create and recreate himself out of an
abstract or purely symbolic other -- the womb, the earth, the grave, the woman"
(121), all of which are interpreted as mere spaces and virtually identical. Her fate
then is inextricably tied to male desire and male identity; her body, symbolized as
womb, earth, or grave, signifies the life and death cycle that allows male rebirth
and rejuvenation, but offers woman nothing.
This process of exploitation positions woman as static in the sense that she
cannot move toward self-actualization but instead serves as the Other that
completes the male Oedipal triangle: self, mother, other. The women thus are
objectified and therefore vulnerable to fulfill male desire, both sexual and
political. Although the audience identifies with Alicia as the protagonist of
Notorious, perhaps more so than with Devlin, this audience allegiance does not
place her within a subjective position in which she is able to follow the mythic
path of the hero toward rebirth. Rather the films progression moves toward a
more limited role for Alicia in which she loses her active position as spy and must
be saved by Devlin, thus fulfilling his search for self instead of hers. The spy
role does not fare the same for women as for men. For both Alicia and Eve,
being a spy does not just require keeping their "eyes and ears open," but their legs
as well. Womens identities are tied to their sexuality and their bodies regardless
of the role they play.
In North by Northwest. Thornhill must work through his pre-Oedipal
relationship with his mother in order to pass out of the Oedipal phase and transfer
his desire for his mother to his desire for Eve; thus, the narrative is Thornhills
story. His name not only alludes to the thorny vines that Jesus wore in death, but
also those he wore in his resurrection. Similarly, through his recreation of self,
Thornhill is able to resurrect himself from his old life in his unnatural relationship
with his mother, into a new "adult" life in his relationship to Eve. The woman
thus serves to mark his sexual awakening and rebirth.
He calls his mother "dear," has a date with her to go to the theater, and, as
Robert Coiber points out, "his devotion to her is indirectly responsible for his
kidnapping" (195). The Soviets mistake him for Kaplan when he flags down the
valet in order to send his mother a telegram, and thus, according to Corber "his
kidnapping is not random and arbitrary but serves as punishment for his
continuing dependence" (195). Thornhills mistaken identity initiates his mythic
search for self, and in turn for sexual identity. As the tunnel image illustrates, the
only way for him to find his sexual identity is to enter in and pass through a
symbolic "womb" or woman, in short, the "tunnel of love."
We see Thornhills development throughout the film, and specifically in the
scene when he finds Eve in her hotel room, after he has realized that she had
purposely given him misinformation about meeting Kaplan. Eve tells Thornhill
that she will only have dinner with him if he gets his suit cleaned. As she begins
to help him take off his clothes, he says: "When I was a little boy, I wouldnt
even let my mother undress me." She replies: "Well, youre a big boy now."
This conversation takes on conflicting meaning because the dialogue takes place
during foreplay. His reference to his mother seems inappropriate in this sexually-
charged scene, and it also implies that he has not fully severed himself from his
mother, nor is he really yet "a big boy." It is not until the end of the film that his
identity becomes solidified. His role as hero and ultimately husband grants him
full inscription into the symbolic order, and this inscription occurs concurrently
with the image of the train penetrating the tunnel. He thus proves he has the
phallus and is reconciled with the Law.
Like Antigone, Eve cannot perform her patriotic, public duty without
violating the private sexual code. This dilemma is represented by Eves name,
which symbolizes our first mother, the fallen woman (almost literally fallen in the
climactic scene where she hangs off the side of Mount Rushmore), who is "saved
and redeemed" by Thornhill. As Corber points out in his analysis of the postwar
gender politics of the film: it is not Eves role as spy that truly represents her
patriotic duty; rather, "Thornhill enables her to perform her true patriotic duty by
returning her to the private sphere" by the end of the film (202).
Eve becomes a government agent because, as she says, "maybe it was the
first time anyone asked me to do anything worthwhile." This statement signifies
the lack of meaning offered to women in the private sphere when men refuse the
heterosexual social contract. It also implies that the only thing worthwhile or
empowering for women is to exploit themselves sexually.
Eves dialogue mirrors the political climate of the time. In 1953, when
Playboy hit the stands, the role for men inched away from the suburban security
of marriage and kids, to the fun life of living single. Barbara Ehrenreichs article
"Playboy Joins the Battle of the Sexes" suggests that Playboy was "exhorting its
readers to resist marriage and enjoy the pleasures the female has to offer without
becoming emotionally involved or of course financially involved" (47). Not only
did Playboys rhetoric offer a critique of marriage and a strategy for male
liberation as Ehrenreich describes, but it also nationally condoned the sale of
printed images of the female nude. The magazine created a new kind of
prostitution for women, one that emphasized "the look" over "the touch." The
use of womans body is at the heart of this argument, because in the public sphere
Eve, like the Playboy bunnies, uses her body and her desirability as a valuable
commodity of exchange. As Thornhill comments: "I bet you paid a fortune for
this little sculpture. . Shes worth every penny. Take it from me, she puts her
heart into her work -- in fact, her whole body."
Eve also tells Thornhill, "men like you . dont believe in marriage."
Eves statement assumes that if she had been married, the "worthwhile" activities
that she would have been engaged in, instead of spying, would have been
marriage and mothering. The disruptiveness of the new liberated male, according
to Ehrenreich, would be that "Hundreds of thousands of women would have been
left without breadwinners or stranded in court fighting for alimony settlements"
(50). With men fighting for their own liberation, women once again are reduced
to depending either on men or on their bodies for money.
Eves body also maps the narrative for Thornhill and Vandamm, the films
villain. Like the biblical Eve, who is held responsible for Adams fall from
grace, both Thornhill and Vandamm "fall" because of Eves seductive powers:
Thornhill falls into role as spy and ultimately husband, and Vandamm falls from
his position of power.
Eves body thus becomes the only valuable commodity the government has
to offer the enemy. The scene where Thornhill offers Vandamm free exit from
the United States "for the girl," clearly exemplifies Eves body as instrumental in
moving the film toward plot resolution. Vandamm replies, "what makes you think
Id trade her in for a little piece of mind." The implication is that women are
only to be valued for their bodies: they are exploited equally in both the public
and private spheres.
Antigones fate exemplifies this public and private exploitation in which the
exchange of women constitutes female identity. Because Antigone was not
exchanged through marriage, her death was her only marriage; she says, "No
marriage-bed, no marriage-song for me, and since no wedding, so no child to
rear" (212). Thus, her identity is fragmented: she has no husband, she has no
child, and therefore she cannot be identified as mother or wife. Her only identity
is as daughter to Oedipus, and as sister to Eteocles and Polyneices, and it is these
familial relationships that have brought her a public death. Antigones "marriage"
is thus an entombment, a public death tied to the violation of private procreative
functions. However, by the end of the play Antigones death becomes a symbol
for the "sorrows of men"; her death is the catalyst for Haemons death, and his
the catalyst for Eurydices death, and thus the play is dually tragic. Her dead
body maps this tragedy and creates meaning for Creon, the character, who like
Oedipus, does not kill himself when faced with self-knowledge, a knowledge that
includes his responsibility in his sons death: "you have gone away through my
fault, not your own" (223).
Although Creon does not experience rebirth, he does come to self-
realization by the end of the play. The Chorus tells Creon: "You have learned
justice, though it comes too late" (223). And Creon replies: "Yes, I have learned
in sorrow" (223). Creon, who finally understands the meaning of justice, has
arrived at his knowledge through the death of Antigone, for her death initiates
Haemons and Eurydices death. To Creon, the meaning of the tragic events, that
are partially caused by his desire to make sure that "no woman rules me while I
live, does not include Antigones struggle, martyrdom, or marriage with death.
Rather, Creon perceives the tragedy through his own loss, that of his son and his
In Notorious. Alicias body becomes her most valuable commodity, and the
use of her body thus becomes central to the narrative. At the beginning of the
film, as Modleski points out, Alicia "is wearing a bold striped blouse with a bared
midriff. . and, she exudes a kind of animal sexuality that is in keeping with her
attire" (61). Yet, her bared midriff, like her reference to herself as mother, and
her being helped down the stairs to the car (because she is drunk), ironically
simulates the trip a pregnant woman makes to the hospital a trip re-enacted at
the films end. The result is a maternal discourse which predicts and mimes
Alicias inevitable fate. Her animal sexuality is tamed, thus contradicting Devlins
remark about a womans inability to "change her spots." Alicia is able to change
from sexually promiscuous to angelic wife-to-be. Alicias sexual exploitation for
the patriarchy offers her redemption of a sort, and, as Modleski points out, "by
the end of the film . when Alicia is on the verge of dying, she is etherialized
and spiritualized until she becomes practically bodiless" (61); that is, both mother-
to-be and re-virginized: the Virgin Mother.
This angelic transformation may be explained by the mythic pattern that
Freud also inscribes within his psychological development theories where the end
of a girls journey through the Oedipal phase and into womanhood "if successful,
will bring her to the place where the boy will find her like Sleeping Beauty,
awaiting him, Prince Charming" (qtd. in De Lauretis, Alice Does/nt 133). The
mythic pattern according to De Lauretis "finds a simple chain of two functions,
open at both ends, and thus endlessly repeatable: entry into a closed space, and
emergence from it" (118). This space "open at both ends" reminds us of the
tunnel image in North by Northwest, and therefore reveals the vaginal image as
static in which the man has mobility in and out of the closed space, but the
woman does not: she is the closed space.
Devlin is offered the opportunity to pass through the symbolic tunnel as he
enters into the Sebastion mansion in order to rescue Alicia from her "Sleeping
Beauty" poisoned state, and in the end marry her in order to make her an "honest
woman." Thus, both Oedipal phases work out as the woman "awaits the boy,"
the boy also "has been promised, by the social contract. . that he will find
woman waiting at the end of his journey" (De Lauretis 133).
The transformation that Alicia goes through is necessary because if she
marries Devlin, she will be a wife and eventually a mother. And as Marianne
Hirsch points out, "The active, angry, rebellious woman cannot be a mother; the
mother can neither be active or rebellious" (33). The reason for the replacement
of Alicias animal sexuality with vulnerability is not only necessarily to align her
with the position of Other in the patriarchy, but also to satisfy Devlins Oedipal
development, which requires that the "itinerary of the females journey, mapped
from the very start on the territory of her own body . fulfills] his desire"
(133). As Alicia fulfills her role as Other to Devlin, she must relinquish all
power that she derived from her active sexuality.
From the beginning of the film, Alicia does not wish necessarily to
perform any patriotic duty. On the contrary, she agrees to sleep with Alex
Sebastion because Devlin, whom she loves, doesnt insist she refuse. Alicias
decision is based on self-hatred. When she realizes that Devlin isnt going to ask
her to marry him or tell her not to take the job, she goes on in an uninterrupted
monologue: "just fishing for a little bird call from my dream man ... so ugly a
fate . down the drain with Alicia; thats where she belongs . [and finally
after a drink] when do I go to work for Uncle Sam." And even though later in
the film Devlin says, "A man doesnt tell a woman what to do, she tells herself,"
we realize the limited alternatives for a woman who finds herself wedged between
the Law and the culture that prohibits female desire: "women can be forced to
have sex or be denied it, as Antigone is" (Kaschak 81).
As Alicia is aligned with Antigone, Alex Sebastion falls even more clearly
into the unresolved Oedipal role, established by his relationship with his mother.
In Lacanian terms, Alexs marriage to Alicia initiates his Oedipal triangle because
his desire for mother transforms into his desire for Other, or for a woman love
interest. He has been living with his domineering Nazi mother, and they have a
relationship that seems more like a twisted marriage than mother/son bond.
After Devlin and Alicia get caught snooping around the wine cellar, Alex
returns. The camera shot aligns the viewer with Alexs gaze when he sees the key
has been put back on his key chain. At this moment, he realizes his private
sexual error: he has married a government agent. He also realizes his public
error: he has betrayed his Nazi comrades. Like Oedipus, who shrieks "they will
never see the crime I have committed or have done upon me" (166), Alex also
seeks to hide his crime by killing his wife. His two errors are both fatal mistakes
that illuminate his identity and predicate his downfall.
Alex subsequently goes to his mothers room for support and direction in a
symbolic return to the womb. The Oedipal pattern of blindness/sight and
interconnected familial relationships appears in the mothers dialogue: "It is easy
to see now. I knew but I didnt see. They picked her because of her father."
Alex says, "I must have been insane, mad to believe in her with her clinging
kisses," which emphasizes that the sexual woman is also a deadly woman. The
mother responds, "We are protected by the enormity of your stupidity." This
remark pinpoints the weakness of men when it comes to fulfilling their own
desire, the weakness to see beyond their own status of hero, and to really "see"
the consequences of their actions. Male weakness is also echoed in Devlins
comment at the end of the film when he tells Alicia, as she lies in bed almost
dead, "I couldnt see straight; I was a fat-headed guy full of pain." Both men are
thus aligned with Oedipus in their blindness, and thus their "inability to see the
value of anyone" but themselves (Kaschak 75).
Oddly enough, the men, whose "blindness" causes the plot crisis, never
suffer as much as the women. Alicia, like Antigone, must suffer for the sins of
her father. Her father kills himself quietly in his cell, but Alicia must exploit
herself sexually and thereby compromise her integrity at the risk of her life. As
Hirsch says, in an analysis of Antigone in her book The Mother/Daughter Plot:
Having her actions reduced to either loyalty to the
family or obedience to the state locks [Antigone] into
a vacillation between two institutions which are, in
fact, irredeemably patriarchal and from which the
only escape is the execution/suicide she eventually
Alicia too is caught between her initial loyalty to her father (she does not testify
against him) and the U.S. government, two patriarchal alternatives, and in turn
she is offered no choice of a life for herself. Like Antigone, she becomes an
extension of her father. After Devlin informs her that her father is dead, she tells
him how she felt when she found out what her father was: "it was as if something
had happened to me and not to him." And, when she goes undercover into the
"family circle" of her fathers Nazi friends, she simultaneously becomes an
extension of the government because she becomes the one called upon to "see" for
them. Yet Alicia differs from Antigone because, as Hirsch points out, "Antigone
will not be an object of exchange" (33), whereas Alicia consents to sleeping with
the enemy in order to further the governments quest for knowledge. This
knowledge will not, however, benefit Alicia. Hence, Alicias identity is always in
relation to male identity, either through the government or through her father.
Phallic power is thus placed within the male control, and as many
feminist film critics point out, the mastery of this control in film is inscribed in
"the gaze." Modleski discusses the duality of Alicias character, her status as
both object of the gaze and spy. A problematic element of Modleskis argument
lies in her equation of Alicias point of view with the disablement of her vision.
Modleski states, "Not only does the film disembody the sexual woman, it also
continually impairs her vision . thus ensuring that man remains in sole control
of the gaze and hence the knowledge ahd power with which vision is always
associated in the cinema" (61). I agree that there are scenes where Alicias vision
is blurred or impaired; however, there are also scenes in which Alicias vision is
superhuman. For example, when Alicia goes to dinner at Alexs house, one of
the guests named Hupka makes a commotion over a bottle of wine. The camera
angle aligns the viewer within Alicias point of view. She looks at the wine bottle
and it is too far away to see. The camera then zooms in so that the audience can
see the label on the wine. But, because the shot represents Alicias point of view
our new information is also considered to be Alicias information. The same
camera technique is used when Alex throws his keys on the dresser. Again, the
view represents Alicias gaze and the camera zooms up from across the room in
order to show us a close-up of the key which has UNICA inscribed on it. This
close-up becomes part of Alicias knowledge even though it would have been
physically impossible for her to have been able to see the key. We know she has
seen it because she then risks stealing it from Alexs key chain.
I disagree then with Modleskis suggestion that the "man remains in sole
control of the gaze." However, I am not proposing that Hitchcock has placed
woman in control of the gaze in order to resist patriarchy and gain power for
woman. Modleski speculates that Alicias "situation in which woman becomes a
Mata Hari, making love for the papers. . is extremely threatening to men
because it involves women exploiting their sexuality to gain knowledge and
power" (61). Yet, the idea of knowledge and power becomes more complicated
when we ask, "who is she gaining knowledge and power for?" She is not on the
Oedipal quest for self-knowledge to understand her own private sexual secret or to
discover her identity. Her search is for the government, for the state. The
knowledge she gains only serves to endanger her safety, not push her closer to
self-revelation. Just as Antigone in Oedipus at Colonus serves Oedipus because he
is blind "my daughters eyes serve for my own" (113) -- Alicias sight serves
the FBI, not herself. Alicia can serve only as an apparatus for sight, much in the
same way as the camera serves a film audience: it is really the director who is in
control. The governments control of all necessary surveillance apparatuses is
illustrated in the scene in which Devlin uses the recording of Alicias own
expression of patriotism to press her into service. Alicia becomes the channel
through which the government can see; she is the "static" tunnel by which men
serve themselves. This static position aligns her with the ending shot in North by
Northwest, where the train passes through the tunnel. This alignment of images
reveals the sexual implications of Alicias service to the government.
Like the recording, Alicias body becomes an apparatus that serves the
government interests. And like Antigones, Alicias mission is to "serve ... to
provide both sight and sustenance, yet still she is viewed as weaker than
[Oedipus]" (Kaschak 62). This inequity correlates with Alicias situation: she is
the woman who risks everything but is still weaker than Devlin. She needs him to
go to the wine cellar; "Im no mastermind, she claims. Yet, it turns out it is his
mistake that almost costs her her life because he is the one who drops the marked
wine bottle, thus implicating them both. Hence, Alicia is reduced to an
expendable pawn that the government controls. Modleski discusses this pawn
metaphor as it is illustrated within the film: Alicia walks across the black and
white tiled floor of Alexs mansion, as if on a giant chess board.
The moment after Alicia realizes she is being poisoned, her vision blurs.
Modleski observes that "as she walks toward the silhouetted figures of Mother and
Alex, [they] merge into a single shadow" (61). However, just before the blurring
of her vision Alicia looks at the mother. The camera angle again represents
Alicias gaze as it zooms in for a close-up of the mothers ominous expression.
Alicia then looks at Alex in a similar shot. Alicias vision blurs only after the two
extreme close-ups that represent the knowledge that she is being poisoned. Thus,
she does gain the knowledge of being poisoned; the close-ups serve to symbolize
her knowledge. The next logical step would be escape, but Alicia is unable to see
straight, and she collapses.
As long as the knowledge continues to place woman in the position as a
valued object of exchange or to "see for others," her vision will remain intact, but
as soon as she attempts to gain self-knowledge or "see for herself," her mastery of
the gaze becomes precarious. Unlike Oedipus, who puts out his eyes after the full
realization of his identity, a womans vision is impaired at the moment before self-
actualization, because in a masculinist society, woman is not able to wield the
symbolism of the phallus, the full power of the law. In Notorious. Alicia needs
Devlin to rescue her because her vision blurs and disables her from realizing her
Unlike Modleski, I believe that Alicia does have some control of the gaze,
but she does not have phallic power. The symbolism in the film serves to
establish my idea that although Alicia appears to be in control of phallic power
represented by her ability "to see," the power plays in the film are fully owned by
the men. Wine bottles appear frequently in the film, and can be seen as phallic
symbols that represent male power throughout the film. The film begins with
Alicia pouring wine, and she is also drunk. Although Devlin is drinking, he
remains in complete control while Alicia stumbles, staggers, and slurs her words.
Devlins phallic power is represented when he shows the policeman his FBI badge
in order to avoid a ticket, and knocks Alicia unconscious in their fight in the car.
Another significant wine bottle is the bottle of champagne that Devlin buys for a
romantic dinner with Alicia. Once he discovers the plans for Alicias "pretty
job," he gets distracted and leaves the bottle on the table of Prescotts office.
That scene begins and ends with a close-up of the wine bottle, and the end shot
blends into the mise-en-scene of Alicias apartment. Here, the bottle symbolizes
Devlins sexuality; the reason he forgot the bottle is the reason they do not
consummate their relationship. The reason is the sexual nature of her job. After
Alicia accepts the job, she looks at the dinner, that symbolizes their sexual
passion, and says: "Its all cold now." Thus, the wine bottle represents phallic
"sexual" power that symbolizes either lack of sexual control or impotency.
The pivotal wine bottle is the one that hides the Nazis secrets: the bottle
that cases the uranium ore. Wine bottles not only cause murder, but also reveal
that Alicia is a government agent; that is, the bottles also represent phallic
"political" power. Because Hupka made a commotion over the wine bottle,
Devlin and Alicia plan to investigate the wine cellar during Alexs party. While
in the wine cellar, Devlin inadvertently causes a bottle to drop off the shelf. This
accident simultaneously gives the government the information it seeks and places
Alicia in grave danger. Devlins cavalier attitude is revealed by his comment to
Alicia as she paces about the wine cellar in fear: "just pretend youre a janitor;
janitors arent frightened." The remark signifies his phallic control and power
that places him outside of danger and at the same time threatens Alicias life.
Indeed, Devlins lack of janitorial skills, or more pointedly, domestic skills,
results in Alexs ability to discover the traces of his presence in the wine cellar.
And in the final scene of the film, Devlins knowledge of the contents of the wine
bottle enables his escape because he can threaten Alex that he will tell his Nazi
comrades of Alexs betrayal.
In contrast, Alicias response to Devlin when he asks her to get the wine
bottle is, "they all look the same to me." With all of her investigative skills, she
does not have the ability to recognize phallic power or to gain self-knowledge.
Devlin is the one who discovers the "vintage sand," and Devlin also wields this
knowledge. The end of the film illustrates Devlins complete control of phallic
power and Alicias lack: she cant even keep her head up. Alicia is a pawn in a
mans game in which she bears meaning for both the United States and the Nazis,
but cannot make meaning for herself. She is not even interested in the vintage
sand; she is more interested in Devlins upcoming transfer to Spain. Hence,
Alicia is more concerned with the private than the public. This orientation not
only reflects her weakness as a spy, but also her inability to recognize the
implications of the uranium ore; that is, atomic destruction capable of killing
hundreds of thousands of people. To her, both power structures look the same
and use her in similar ways. And indeed, if the wine bottles also represents the
biological phallus (the penis), to Alicia, in spite of her numerous sexual conquests,
they all look the same.
Phallic control signifies entrance into the symbolic order in which the
subject may wield the power associated with the Name-of-the-Father. Entering
into the symbolic order does not seem to require acquiescence to governmental
control. Instead, in both films, the two couples escape both the US government
and the enemy in order to begin a private life. But this is an arrangement shown
to be in the countrys best interest. The enemy might be seen as the
Doppelganger for the government, but the similarity is more apparent than real.
Although both power structures seem equally threatening to Alicia and Devlin, the
United States government, in contrast to the Nazis, has an interest in seeing the
two married by the end of the narrative. The possible marriage at the films end
symbolizes the political climate of post-war America, in which women were
pushed back into the home after working for the war-effort, and men were again
positioned as patriarchs.
Unlike Alicia, Devlin sees not only for the government, but also for
himself. This ability, in turn, grants him self-actualization. In the scene just
before Devlin runs over to save Alicia from Alex and his mother, he drops by his
boss hotel room. He finds Prescott lying in bed eating caviar and crackers: he
lacks any concern for Alicia and the danger she has been placed in by his hand.
Devlins concern for Alicias safety seems to place him outside of the law and
thus in opposition to both the Nazis and the government, but in fact his concern
forces Devlin to initiate his Oedipal quest, his search for his sexual identity as
husband and patriarch. According to Corber, "Devlins desire for Alicia is
grounded in a rescue fantasy that stages an Oedipal scenario, guaranteeing that he
will internalize the Law-of-the-Father and assume his rightful place in the
Symbolic order" (206). Devlins private sexuality is thus connected to the
organization of the public sphere which, according to Corber, in postwar society,
depends on the traditional role of woman as mother, and father as breadwinner.
The film thus contradicts the surface message that, according to Corber,
"seems to suggest that the personal should remain separate from the political. .
that the political threatens to disrupt the personal" (203). The implication of this
contradiction is that although it appears that women can wield the power of the
phallus, the goal of the narrative is to return them to the private sphere in which
they may only bear meaning for men, rather than make meaning for themselves.
The Name-of-the-Father exists solely in the public sphere as it signifies the power
of culture and society, not of marriage and mothering.
In North by Northwest. Thornhill proves he has phallic power by his
ability to control the gaze, to "see" everything, and all in a matter of minutes.
While sitting comfortably on a wall of Vandamms mansion, Thornhill is able to
"see and hear" Vandamm and Leonards revealing conversation and also to see
Eve in her room. Eve, on the other hand, cannot see or hear anyone. Even when
Thornhill throws a rock at her window, and she walks out on her ledge to see
what it is, she looks around and retreats back into the room. As viewers, we
assume that she thinks the noise is nothing. Yet her lack of perception is amazing
considering the fact that she is in the process of packing to escape with a Soviet
spy after faking the murder of an American agent with whom she had sex! It
would appear that the government has not chosen Eve for her ability to keep her
"eyes and ears open." Thornhill, during this same scene, also witnesses
Vandamms acknowledgement that the microfilm is in the statuette that he bought
at the auction, information that has been the purpose of Eves investigative search;
that is, the McGuffin. Thus, in a sense the real "tragedy" in this mythic quest is
Eves sexual exploitation, because it turns out that its all for nothing, at least for
the state. But it definitely fulfills a purpose for Eves private life because her
spying enables her to find what she was looking for in the first place: a husband.
Eves situation is not unlike many young women in her time who went to college,
not to gain an education, but rather to get an "MRS" degree.
In the same scene, Thornhill overhears Leonards and Vandamms
revealing discussion. Vandamm confesses to Leonard that it will be difficult to
"say goodbye to [his] right arm," meaning Leonard. And Leonard replies, "In
your case youre going to wish you had cut it off sooner." Leonard, whose
character creates an interesting homosexual twist to the triad among him,
Vandamm, and Eve, in his comment also implies Vandamms castration.
Vandamms sexual desire for Eve will cause his eventual castration in an Oedipal
sense: loss of power. Just as Oedipus was blind to the fact that he was sleeping
with his mother, Vandamm is blind to his sleeping with a government agent. Both
are like Alex in their blindness, their fatal error; and both, once shown the truth,
release the state from its plague and must live in the future separated from society.
When the camera cuts, from Eve hanging off the side of the cliff, to the
bedroom compartment on the train, Eves clothes change as well. On the train,
she wears a white dress. Like Alicia she has been transformed by "marriage."
But like Antigones marriage, marriage in post-war society for women might be
considered a death of the self. Once confined to the private space, they will be
blinded and dead to the public. As the tunnel image illustrates, men are able to
enter into the dark, confined space of the tunnel and exit out the other end into a
new journey; whereas women remain in place, the place that veils the secrets of
life and death for men, in other words, the womb.
Just as Antigones body represents the earth, Mt. Rushmore, a mountain
on which the faces of the patriarchs are carved into the earth, takes on additional
meaning in North by Northwest. Thornhill terms Eve "a little piece of sculpture,"
which not only refers to womans body as glorified in art, but also to womans
body as sculpted from the earth for purposes of aesthetic pleasure. The carved
faces of the presidents also symbolize "the furrows that have been plowed"; thus,
a landscape, representative of a womans body, has been raped and transformed
for the commemoration of the American government. As the chase across the top
of the mountain gains intensity, the audience knows that ultimately Thornhill will
save Eve. The narrativization of this pattern in which womans body maps the
narrative quest and ends when the man "gets the girl" reveals a root of the
marginalization of female power. Regardless of the genre Sophocles tragedies
or Hitchcocks romances if woman is always something to be conquered,
plowed, or saved, she forever remains the narrative vehicle by which man serves
THE SECRETS IN HER PURSE
Gustave Courbet, L'Origine du mnnde. 1866.
Courbets painting was displayed behind a green veil.
The image of woman projected on the screen in a movie theater creates
only an illusion of woman. In most cases, what the audience really sees is a
larger-than-life male fantasy of the woman to-be-looked-at, to be uncovered, to be
explored, and to be controlled for the pleasure of the scopophilic male gaze. The
overwhelming desire by men to use reason and logic to reveal self-knowledge has
historically rendered woman represented only as Other to man. In this chapter, I
will examine the image of woman in order to reveal the construct of the "veiled"
woman in literature and film. The traditional male search for what is concealed
by the veil shapes the narratives of the three Hitchcock films under discussion:
Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), and Mamie (1964).
In a well-known essay, Laura Mulvey employs Lacanian theory in order to
discuss the image of woman as the symbol of castration for men. Woman
represents the "lack" of the phallus, and thus she is deemed Other. The meaning
that she bears, the symbol of castration, threatens male power and the symbolic
order in which the male derives this power: the phallus signifies social,
economic, and sexual domination and control. The problem with this discourse is
that woman is, as Mulvey states, "still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not
maker of meaning" ("Visual Pleasure" 747). But what meaning does woman
really represent? How does castration translate into real life or fictionalized film?
It appears that the image of woman on the cinematic screen bears many meanings
even if she cannot make meaning for herself.
In each of the three Hitchcock films, the female screen counterpart to the
male protagonist symbolizes the mystery of feminine sexuality and the eroticism
that this mystery generates. Mulvey points out, by quoting Boetticher, that "What
counts is what the heroine provokes, or rather what she represents. ... In
herself the woman has not the slightest importance" (19). We shall first consider
how the male protagonists attempt to control and gain pleasure from the image of
woman, and then consider the consequences of their actions.
In all three of Hitchcocks films, the male protagonist wishes to change the
female character to his liking. In Rear Window. Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) wants
Lisa (Grace Kelly) to be less perfect; he says: "Shes too perfect.... [If she
would] just go anywhere, do anything and love it." By this remark, Jeffries
narcissistically means go anywhere, do anything, and love what he loves. In
Vertigo. Scottie (Jimmy Stewart) wants to change the way Judy Barton (Kim
Novak) looks so that she looks more like the "perfect" object of desire:
Madeleine. Scottie forces Judy to buy new clothes, the clothes that Madeleine
wore. The suit cant just be a grey suit, it has to be Madeleines suit. Judys hair
cant just be ash blonde, but it has to be in the exact Madeleine-style. As the
woman in the dress shop says, "You certainly do know what you want sir." And
in Mamie. Mark Ruttland (Sean Connery) wishes to correct Mamie Edgars
(Tippi Hedren) psychological problems. Mark wants Mamies identity to change
from frigid thief to loving wife. After he blackmails her into marrying him, he
teaches her about proper wifely behavior. As they walk down the stairs, Mark in
a suit, Mamie in a robe, Mark says: "This is the drill dear: wife follows
husband to front door, gives and or gets kiss, stands pensively as he drives away,
and a wistful little wave is optional." Even though Mark is being sarcastic, this
behavior is what he really desires from her. The men have thus actively
appropriated the womens space by usurping their individuality; the men deprive
the women of choice: how to live, how to look, and how to behave.
The dynamic between the male and female characters of these three films
is similar: the man searches to answer a mystery, the mystery of feminine
sexuality or, as we shall discover, the mystery of the self. The women all wish to
be loved. Lisa wants Jeffries to love her; shell do just about anything (she still
reaches for her fashion magazine the minute he falls asleep.) Judy wants Scottie
to love her; shell do anything. And Mamie wants her mother to love her; she
remains "decent" and in the end apparently replaces the lack of her mothers love
with Marks love.
Although the men claim to love the women, each mans idea of love is
frightening. Jeffries wont accept Lisa for who she really is; he desires her to
leave her profession and follow him on his travels as a photo-journalist. Scottie
wont accept Judy for who she really is; he sadistically dresses her like a doll, like
a woman who never really existed, and the film ends with her death. And Mark
wont accept Mamie for who she really is; he forces her to come to terms with
her past and become the beautiful wife at his side.
Yet, in the films it is always the womans behavior that is under scrutiny,
placed swiftly under the microscope or camera lens for analysis. Freuds essays
on the theories of sexuality serve to illuminate this idea. To Freud, woman is an
enigma; woman holds the truths of conception, birth, origin, and the sustaining of
life. Womans sexuality created even a larger problem for Freud:
The erotic life ... of women partly owing to the
stunting effect of civilized conditions and partly
owing to their conventional secretiveness and
insincerity is still veiled in impenetrable obscurity.
(qtd. in Showalter, Sexual Anarchy 144)
Virtually transhistorical, men in Western culture have tried to obtain and control
the truth that lies behind the "veil" which obscures their vision of female
sexuality. "The sexual life of an adult woman is a dark continent," says Freud,
implying both that womens sexuality represents an unknowable and that mens
sexuality is knowable and understandable. Within this patriarchal reference men
have displaced their own mystery onto the bodies of women. From Durers
woodcut of a perspective painter (see figure), to Freuds Dora, men escape the
eyes of the scientific and psychoanalytic gaze by making women the subject of
I-igitre l. Albrecht Diirers draftsman, woodcut from i. n.-ar.tng da Ma-
sting (Nurcmburg, 1525), B. 149. Courtesy Kupferstichkabinc::. Sta.ulichc Mu-
sccn Preussischcr Kulturbcsitz. West Berlin.
As women have always been the subject of scientific and psychological
examination, similarly, they have also been the subject in art, a media that also
involves the male gaze. In Sexual Anarchy. Elaine Showaiter establishes the
significance of the historic veiled woman in Western art: "veiling was associated
with female sexuality and with the veil of the hymen. (The word veil literally
means membrane)" (145). It can be argued that a womans appearance i.e.,
her make up, hair, or clothes separate the womans body from the male
spectator, and thus function analogously to "veil" the woman, for what lies behind
her external appearance is her sexuality. Mary Ann Doane discusses the idea of
the veiled woman in her book Femmes Fatales, where she states, "In the discourse
of metaphysics, the function of the veil is to make truth profound, to ensure that
there is a depth which lurks behind the surface of things (54-55).
The use of the veil in literature can be traced back as far as Petrarch, and
even further. Known for his much-imitated sequence of love sonnets, Petrarch
depicts a saga of unrequited love that became the Renaissance lyric model.
Through his poetry, his love object, Lauras body, becomes fragmented into
images of her face, her hair, her eyes, etc. Thus, Petrarch, too, is in search of
what lurks behind the surface of woman. Recent criticism of Petrarch suggests
that he incorporated the veiled woman in his poetry in order to attain self-
knowledge. Giuseppe Mazzottas essay on Petrarchs Canzoniere discusses
Petrarchs impulse to "find significant bonds between the self and what the self is
not" (65). Mazzotta explores Petrarchs use of space and temporal dislocation in
poems that compare Laura to Narcissus. Mazzottas argument reveals Petrarchs
self-projection of his attempt to construct his self through the language of his
poetry and thereby through Laura.
Mazzotta explicates one poem in which a womans nakedness is obfuscated
by a veil, thereby "veiling" the self: Petrarchs self (68). The poem meditates on
the myth of Diana and Acteon, in which Acteon sees Diana bathing naked in the
water. This scene is compared to one in which a mountain shepherdess washes
her veil in the water, the sight of which pleases Petrarch. Mazzottas translation
renders the poem as follows:
Not so much did Diana please her lover when, by a
similar chance, he saw her all naked amid the icy
waters, as did the cruel mountain shepherdess please
me, set to wash a pretty veil that keeps her lovely
blonde head from the breeze; so that she made me,
even now when the sky is burning, all tremble with a
chill of love. (66)
Mazzotta recognizes "a chain of metaphoric dislocations form the erotic scene," in
which Petrarch is able to domesticate the scene of the myth and thus protect
himself from the tragic outcome of the myth itself' (66). But what is of crucial
importance in order to establish Hitchcocks similarity to the Italian poet is the
moment when Petrarch constructs the self. It is within the last lines; for if we
look at the beginning of the poem the main focus point is on Diana. This focus is
then displaced on the shepherdess, on Laura, the "lovely blond," and finally to
himself, the "me" in the poem. Mazzotta sees this shift back to the self as an
attempt to construct the self. Similarly, in the three films, the male protagonists
attempt to construct the self through the female protagonists. In short, as they
step closer to discovering the mysteries of the narrative, they inch closer to a
meaning that serves the self. Moreover, Mazzotta points out that it is the veil that
makes the difference between Petrarchs poem and the myth. This veil can be
seen to shelter Petrarch from the danger of the myth because it covers her
nakedness, and thus Petrarch is not guilty of voyeurism to the same degree as
Acteon. An important point, emphasized in Mazzottas essay, is: "The poets
deliberate attempt to construct the self, to set up analogies by which the self is
constituted, is obfuscated by the veil" (68). Therefore, when Petrarch desires to
see the truth that lies behind the veil, he really is searching for the truth of his
self. It is impossible to know whether Hitchcock intended to construct himself
within his own films, but we can examine his male protagonists as the characters
in the film with whom men -- Hitchcock included will most likely identify.
The theory that Petrarch constructed the masculine self through his poems
is also supported by Aldo Scaglione. He also goes one step further in describing
Petrarchs relationship with his creation of the poetic Laura: "The woman was
not taken into account because the poet was inventing an abstract form of self-
discovery ... it is inappropriate to search for the historical physical identity of a
. . Laura . since [she was] nothing but objectified, symbolic extensions of the
poets self' (130). The mystery of what is behind the veil is really the mystery of
the male speaker, or the one who controls the world of the poem.
To go one step further with the historic implications of the veil, the
language of the poem can also be seen as a veil covering the "true meaning"
behind the words. Accordingly, Mazzotta discovers through his inquiry of the
symbol of the veil that
desire is always cloaked under false names, that each
name is a mask for the restless instability of desire .
. Language betrays desire, both in the sense that it
reveals desire, is its spy, and because language bears
an essential otherness to the desire that generates it.
Thus, it is the language on the page itself that becomes a veil that obscures or
covers the many levels of meaning. If we were only able to see beneath the veil,
the true meaning(s) of any text would presumably be clear. James Mirollo
connects Petrarchs use of the veiled woman specifically to poetry: He states, "As
a metaphor for poetry, the veil would then suggest the potential of the love lyric
for conveying the complexities of both art and being, but also the danger of
becoming absorbed in and enclosed by its own metaphoric folds" (104). This
concept can be fruitfully extended and applied to the cinematic image on the
screen and to the screen itself, for these can also be viewed, like language, as a
veil that conveys the complexities of both art and being.
Unfortunately, like Petrarch, the male protagonists in the three films search
for truth at the expense of women, for they work toward their own truth and
appropriate it without acknowledging the existence of womens search for truth.
If women embody the truth, the mysteries of birth, life, and death, then they are
able only to symbolize truth, rather than to search actively for their separate truth.
Unfortunately, the patriarchal veil of history, once lifted, reveals that misogynistic
attitudes toward women were not and are not part of isolated moments. As we
see in the modernist theories of Freud, the woman is still "veiled in impenetrable
obscurity." Freuds theories are considerably indebted to the Renaissance period.
As Juliana Schiesari points out, Freud drew heavily on Renaissance material in
elaborating his most cherished principles; "psychoanalysis has since its inception
been involved in rereading the Renaissance" (26), yet Freud is blind to some of
the ways in which he perpetuates Renaissance gender values.
Freuds veil, which appears to block fully the male gaze from the power of
femininity, solicits the gaze by revealing and concealing, by provoking the gaze at
the same time. The gaze is thus dually self-empowering and self-endangering.
For men, female sexuality translates into facing castration: discovering womens
lack of phallus. But, for women, the veil has prevented them from becoming
anything for themselves because they are constrained to signifying meaning for
In the cinema, then, the active male gaze wishes to control the passive
feminine image. As Mulvey asserts, "The male unconscious has two avenues of
escape from this castration anxiety: preoccupation with the re-enactment of the
original trauma (investigating the woman, demystify her mystery) ... or else the
complete disavowal of castration by the substitution of a fetish object" ("Visual
Pleasure" 21). Parenthetically, Mulvey points out the importance of the womans
mystery. For, if the woman does not pose any mystery and therefore is not
"veiled," the male gaze becomes bored and searches for another object of desire
or, as we have seen in our discussion of the three films, the man desires to change
the image of the woman to his liking.
Rear Window not only offers an excellent illustration of the male gaze
and the "veiled woman, but also serves to include the discussion of intradiegetic
voyeurism and voyeurism on the part of the members of the film audience.
Jeffries has broken his leg and is confined to a wheelchair in his apartment. From
his window, he is able to see into all of the windows across the common ground.
Mulvey states that Jeffries "enforced inactivity, binding him to his seat as a
spectator, puts him squarely in the fantasy position of the cinema audience"
("Visual Pleasure" 755). Jeffries names the subjects of his voyeurism and begins
to narrativize their lives. Miss Torso is a beautiful blonde dancer who never
closes her curtains when she changes her clothes. Miss Lonelyhearts pitifully sets
a candlelight dinner for two and offers a drink to an invisible date. The Salesman
creates the plot twist because Jeffries suspects that he has killed his "nagging," ill
Beautiful Lisa is, remarkably, no match for Jeffries desire to look out the
window; her proximity makes her less desirable than the distance of, for example,
Miss Torso. Lisa, who is in the fashion business and whose clothes are exquisite,
is surely to-be-looked-at if not by Jeffries, then by the audience. As Christian
Metz argues, "The voyeur is very careful to maintain a gulf, an empty space,
between the object and the eye, the object and his own body: his look fastens the
object at the right distance" (742). If the image comes too close -- Lisa standing
in her nightgown in his living room then the voyeur loses control. As Doane
argues, "Proximity reduces her value. She can seduce only from a distance. Or
behind a veil" (60). Once the image comes close enough to affect the mans
physical being, the control is lost and thus the safety of the scopic pleasure is
Doane also argues that "the classical cinema is the opposite of
psychoanalysis in that it depends on the axiom that the visible equals the
knowable, the truth resides in the image" (45). Jeffries who desperately wants to
know the "truth" about The Salesman or any of the other subjects of his Peeping
Tom exploits, derives pleasure from the looking itself, for seeing may offer some
truth. That is why he dons the binoculars and then the zoom lens camera: the
less obscured the vision, the closer he thinks he is to the truth.
However, "seeing" and therefore "knowing" becomes a paradox because
once the mystery is solved, the image made clear, the gaze must find another
mystery to unravel. The "truth" that the image or woman possesses is not the
"truth" of woman or about life, birth, and death, but closer to a truth that reveals
a male obsession with the process of discovering "truth," and the reward for
"knowing" is power. And possibly, as Showalter suggests, "the problem of
unveiling the female sex, which [men] find to be itself a veil, [is] perhaps ... the
anxiety that its final unveiling would reveal that there is nothing to unveil" (147).
There is no way to explain everything. And without explanation, men are in a
position of lack, of not knowing, and this ignorance creates anxiety.
The only way Lisa can gain Jeffries attention is to close the blinds,
blinding him from the pleasure of his voyeurism. As she closes the blinds, she
lets him know that she wants his close attention and shes not going to move
across the common grounds to get it; she says, "not if I have to move into an
apartment across the way and do the dance of the seven veils every hour." Lisa
must pose a mystery for Jeffries; in order to be mysterious she projects herself as
"veiled." Furthermore, Lisas statement reveals the threat of her sexuality, which
is the threat of castration for men. The dance of the seven veils alludes to
Salome, whom Showalter identifies as the most prominent fin de siecle veiled
woman. Salome is
the symbolic incarnation of undying Lust, the
Goddess of immortal Hysteria, the accursed Beauty
exalted above all other beauties ... the monstrous
Beast. . poisoning . everything that approaches
her, everything that sees her, everything that she
touches . [and] who holds the decapitated head
casually by her side. (149)
Thus the dance of the veils poses the mystery of female sexuality, and what lies
behind the veil is the Medusa-like threat of castration in the form of decapitation.
Salome is the lustful sexual goddess who threatens mens dominant power: she
demands the decapitation of John the Baptist. Because women are defined only as
Other to men, this potency is transformed into guilt: womens guilt for desiring
In Rear Window. Lisa must ultimately become the victim of Jeffries
voyeurism in order to gain his lost attention, and thus she must become guilty. So
she breaks and enters into the Salesmans apartment, simultaneously seducing
Jeffries and aiding him in his search for the truth about the Salesman. As Mulvey
astutely points out, "When [Lisa] crosses the barrier between his room and the
block opposite, their relationship is re-bom erotically" ("Visual Pleasure" 755).
And Jeffries, in describing his excitement declares, "You shouldve seen her!"
A close observation of this film also reveals that what Lisa looks for in the
Salesmans apartment is another womans alligator purse; she wants to find out
(for Jeffries) what is inside. As many Hitchcock critics have pointed out, a
womans purse takes on a symbolic meaning, that of displaced female genitalia,
and therefore, female sexuality. (This symbolism is even more pronounced in
Mamie.] Concurrently, the alligator purse is the key to the truth of the murder,
or rather I should say it is not the purse but what is inside the purse that counts,
and in this case it is the dead womans wedding ring which can also be
considered a vaginal symbol.
In Vertigo. Scottie, the retired detective, suffers from vertigo, which
serves the villain Galvin Ellsters plan perfectly. He uses Scottie as a witness of
his wifes faked suicide; Galvin actually murders her. Part of the plan is for
Scottie to follow around Galvins "wife" and figure out her mystery: where does
Kim Novaks character (Madeleine/Judy) signifies the veiled woman: a
woman whose "truth" must be revealed. Although she wears no actual veil or
mask, her appearance itself, makeup, hair color, clothes, etc., creates an
obscuring shell that conceals her true identity. In "A Phantasmagoria of the
Female Body, Mulvey discusses the photographs of Cindy Sherman. Her
observations articulate appearance as mask:
Make-up, high heels, hair, clothes are all carefully
put on and done. ... An overinsistence on
surface starts to suggest that it might be masking
something or other that should be hidden from sight,
and a hint of another space starts to lurk inside a too
plausible facade. (141)
Doane concurs that "womanliness is a mask which can be worn or removed" (25).
The desire for man then is to take part in the removal of the womans mask so
that he can usurp the discovery for himself. Moreover her veil, the mask of her
identity, makes her guilty as well. Her beautiful appearance is the deceptive
weapon she uses to trap Scottie into Ellsters plot. And in this film, feminine
deception is punishable by death.
Scottie falls in love with only an image of a woman. The woman, as
Mulvey asserts, makes Scotties voyeurism blatant: "he falls in love with a
woman he follows and spies without speaking to" (24). Madeleine symbolizes the
ultimate beauty in woman; she is perfect in every way including her make-up,
high heels, hair, and clothes as well as her manners, voice and speech. Because
Madeleine does not really exist (she is really Judy Barton, a lower class working
woman from Kansas), Scottie has fallen in love merely with her surface. Kim
Novaks face itself becomes the veil that hides the truth, Scotties truth, the truth
of what really happened at the tower. Doane states that in the past the veil has
functioned "to ensure that there is depth which lurks behind the surface of things"
(55). Yet, in the cinema what the veil appears to make "profound is, in fact, a
surface. The function for the veil here is to transform the surface of the face into
a depth, an end in itself' (Doane 55). In Vertigo then, Madeleine/Judys surface
(her face, her hair, her clothes) symbolizes her "truth," rather than any inner
"truth" she might hold.
The narrative of Vertigo relies on the knowledge that men wish to unveil
women, and in turn figure them out. Judy portrays Madeleine as a woman who
has lost her self; she thus needs finding. Gavin, "Madeleines" husband, knows
that Scottie will be drawn to unraveling Madeleines mystery, not just because he
was a former detective, but because he knows he will not be able to resist
Madeleine/Judys beauty that evokes such intense mystery. In Lacanian terms
Madeleine has reverted back to the "pre-mirror stage" where she cannot
distinguish her identity from what surrounds her. In this case she can also be
compared to the audience who also, according to Mulvey, literally "forgets the
world ... (I forgot who I am and where I was)," a disorientation that is
analogous to orgasm ("Visual Pleasure" 18). Madeleine thinks she is the dead
woman Carlotta. Scottie, who represents the law and reason, attempts to lift the
veil of mystery obscuring the "truth" about Madeleine. Yet, he has really
projected his own self on to Madeleine, as if she were his mirror-image, in order
to lift the veil that hides only himself. Moreover, if Madeline did not appear
mysterious, Scotties interest would be lost: there would be nothing to discover or
what he would discover is nothing; that is, lack. We see this lack of mystery in
his relationship with Midge; she poses no mystery; she receives no sexual interest.
Similarly, the seduction would be lost if the woman in a striptease walked out
onto the stage already naked. The eroticism relies on the excitement of lifting the
Although Hitchcock may be self-conscious in his portrayal of Scotties
obsession with a womans surface rather than depth, his misogyny is revealed in
the films conclusion. Judys death, which is caused by her fear of an
approaching nun, offers an ironic twist that proscribes women from redemption,
and further marks their idenities with guilt. If Hitchcock is posing an
epistimelogical question that asks, "What do men really know about women?" then
it appears his question is merely rhetorical. Hitchcock does not desire to "know"
anything about women, but rather he is more interested in the threat that this lack
of knowledge poses for men. This point is illustrated in the frenetic unraveling of
Scotties character, where by the end of the film he has lost himself, and his sense
of reality. Yet, the woman, in this case Madeleine/Judy, is once again blamed for
the "fall" of man.
Vertigo also illustrates mans use of reason and logic in attempting to lift
the womans veil. Scottie takes Madeleine to the national park where trees from
the 10th century still exist. As the couple stand amidst the overwhelming power
of nature, Scottie seeks to use his power of reason to understand Madeleines
problem. She looks at the tree and verbalizes her fear of death and her own
insignificance in life. She says to the tree, as if in a trance: "It was only a
moment for you; you took no notice," as she considers her own life span.
Meanwhile Scottie relies on reason, as does the camera. He tells her the scientific
name of the tree, and the camera pulls in for a close-up of a tree that has been cut
down for the benefit of tourists. The tree is marked with historical dates that not
only illustrate Western history -- the battle of Hastings, the signing of the Magna
Carta but also European exploration and colonization, or in other words, the
discovery of America. Helene Cixous points out the significance of European
colonization in connection to Freuds phallocentric symbol of womans body as a
dark continent for men to colonize and invade (247). Scottie symbolizes the
colonizer as he further explores Madeleines mystery and metaphorically stakes his
claim. Just like the European imperialists, Scottie wishes to "civilize" Judy
Barton by reconstructing her appearance from uncultured to sophisticated for his
Throughout the film, there are echoes of the power that men once had in
the good ole days of San Francisco. Gavin mentions the "freedom" of a San
Francisco that he thinks is disappearing fast, and the book store curator Pop,
recalls the "power and the freedom" that men once had. Pop remembers the story
of Carlotta Valdez: "He threw her away. He kept the child and threw her away.
You know men could do that in those days." In fact, it doesnt appear that things
have changed much when considering Gavins behavior. He kept the money and
threw his wife away. As many feminists have noted, womans situation parallels
that of those who were colonized in key ways; both people have been easily
expendable and oppressed by the patriarchy. The Native Americans, colonized by
the Europeans, were either killed or forced off their land; even today many Native
Americans live on reservations without running water, heat, or fertile land. Gavin
reveals another form of oppression when he tells Scottie why Madeleine was never
told of Carlotta Valdez: "her grandmother took her own life -- was insane -- her
blood is in Madeleine." Keeping Madeleine ignorant of her own past was
supposed to protect her from danger. The same is true for oppressed people as
they find that their own histories are erased from their education, ostensibly so
that they can assimilate more easily. Yet, in the process, they not only lose their
culture, but their identity as well. Similarly, Madeleine has lost her identity, or,
in actuality, she has replaced her identity with someone elses.
In the following scene, as they stand on the sandy oceanside, with powerful
waves crashing in the background, Scottie says, "I have to know." Madeline
continues to speak of the dream that she has (which as we find out later is all
fabrication). But Scottie persists in his belief that if he can figure out her
mysterious dream and what it all means, then she can destroy it and everything
will be fine. Their ensuing discussion, which leads up to a very melodramatic
kiss with crashing waves, could be said to represent mans conquest as he
struggles to find the answer to his own existence.
Scottie: If I could just find the key, the beginning
and put it together.
Madeleine: Explain it away, there is no way to explain it. If Im
mad then there would be a way to explain it.
In the scene at the stables, feeling some satisfaction in bringing her to the physical
site of her dream, Scottie says, "See, theres an answer for everything."
But at whose expense? Madeleines perception that she has to be mad in
order for things to make sense does not just serve to further the plot. It also
articulates the position of women who have always had to bear the burden of
meaning for men. And if perhaps men are unable to figure it out, then Freuds
woman, whose sexuality is "veiled in impenetrable obscurity" must be mad.
Showalter discusses the extreme of this situation when she cites the influx of
surgical clitoridectomies as the cure for feminine psychological "diseases" in the
1860s: "Baker Brown performed clitoridectomies in his busy London clinic on
scores of clients, including five women whose madness consisted of wanting
divorces; in each case the woman returned to her husband subdued" (130).
Gavins deceptive plan reflects the idea that woman is an enigma whose puzzle is
pieced together with uneven pieces. It is Gavin who is really mad; he plans the
elaborate murder of his wife, perhaps because she wanted a divorce. Thus he
would lose everything since all their money was hers. Yet, he projects his
madness onto the image of his wife; he creates Madeleine as mad. The success of
his plan reflects the tendency in our culture to trust the man wearing a suit who
sits behind a big desk and to expect eccentric or "mad" behavior from his wife
who has nothing to do but shop and drive around the city.
After "Madeleine" dies, Scottie himself suffers extreme psychological
despair. One of the most interesting scenes in the film entails an expressionistic
and rather psychedelic dream. The importance of the dream is that Scottie
actually lives out a part of Madeleines dream. However, Madeleine never
appears in the dream itself, and Scottie thus takes center stage. The symbols of
Madeleines mystery are distorted and frightening as the bouquet turns into
swirling animated colors and the necklace is shown with a pulsating red light and
complementary nightmarish music. But then Scottie appears in Madeleines
dream. As the viewers piece together the dream, we remember Madeleine saying
at different times: "I stood alone on the green, searching for something. At the
end of the corridor was nothing but darkness and an open grave. Looking down,
its my grave."
Scotties dream follows this pattern. He walks down the path to Carlottas
grave and it is open. The sequential point-of-view shot takes us into the darkness
of the grave and it cuts to Scotties decapitated head with vertigo-like lines and
colors in the background, which create a falling effect. Thus, what he searches
for through her is the mystery of his own death, his own displaced castration
through decapitation, and his ultimate end. His castration could possibly be at the
hand of Madeleine herself because she threatens his phallic power: her death
subjects him to be placed under psychological scrutiny, a position that aligns him
with women, in addition to throwing him into a state of depression where he can
no longer brandish control. The final sequence of the dream is Scotties body
falling face down onto the Spanish roof tiles, the scene of Madeleines (and
Judys) death. The rest of the film, then, is his own search to live out his own
words to Madeleine as she attempts to piece together the fragments of her dream:
"finish your dream, destroy it."
The film thus relies on the rationale that if you live out a dream then the
dream is destroyed. In this film, by living out Madeleines fictionalized dream,
Judy ends up dead in reality. Although Judys death creates a marvelous surprise
ending for Hitchcocks film, the scene that leads up to it is horrifying. Scottie
sadistically yells at Judy and physically forces her up the stairs. In the last scene
of the film, he stands teetering at the top of the bell tower looking down at Judys
mangled body. Scottie has gone over the edge, or rather he is on the edge
between life and death, and we wonder whether he will be able to survive.
Although Scottie suffers, he has indirectly caused Judys death because of his own
obsession with truth and his anger at being manipulated so easily. His male ego is
truly at stake here because his whole career as a detective is humiliated by his
being duped. It is thus Scotties identity that is at the heart of the narrative, not
Madeleines or Judys. Scottie never married, never had a family, and thus his
identity, defined by his work, is destroyed.
Madeleines appearance is important to Scottie because he perceives her
identity as enmeshed in his: she is the Other that defines him. As Mulvey
astutely points out, once the mystery of Madeleine is gone (the moment in the film
when we know Judy really was Madeleine), Scottie "forces her to conform in
every detail to the actual physical appearance of his fetish" ("Visual Pleasure" 24).
In the film, Scottie changes the way plain unmysterious "open book" Judy looks,
so that she exactly resembles the mysterious "veiled" Madeleine. There is even a
shocking moment in the film when Scottie begs her to change her brown hair to
Madeleine-blonde; he states, "It cant matter to you." Here the womans
importance is diminished to nothingness: womens identities are easily
interchangeable, and they exist for men, not for themselves. Why indeed would a
woman care about the color of her hair! The point is that the woman in the film
serves the exact purpose that Mulvey outlines as active scopophilia; here "the
spectators own fascination is revealed as illicit voyeurism as the narrative content
enacts the processes and pleasures that he himself is exercising and enjoying"
(24). Thus, the pleasure of voyeurism and scopophilia for men relies on the
notion that a womans to-be-looked-at-ness will reveal for the male spectator the
mystery of himself, his own reflection.
While the female member of the audience may once again have to sit
through violence against women on the screen, the male audience member,
according to Mulvey, may perhaps enjoy the control that Scottie has over Judy
because he appropriates some of that control. According to Mulvey, the male
member of the audience is able to identify with the male protagonist: "he projects
his look onto that of his like, his screen surrogate, so that the power of the male
protagonist" gives him "the power of the erotic look" and a "satisfying sense of
omnipotence" ("Visual Pleasure" 20). Thus, the male member of the audience
projects himself onto, for example, Scotties look, and simultaneously Scottie
projects himself onto Madeleine in order to find the truth of himself. The actual
movie screen could be said to serve as the "veil" for the male audience member,
as he attempts to gain control and pleasure from the images that reveal and
In Mamie, the lifting of the veil involves uncovering the reason for
Mamies psychological problems or, according to the film, "the sexual aberrations
of the criminal female." The film begins with a close-up shot of a woman with
dark hair carrying a yellow purse. The camera focuses on the purse itself. The
main woman character Mamie (Tippi Hedren), thus from the outset appears to
have a secret in her purse. As I have previously mentioned, the purse itself
symbolizes displaced feminine genitalia, and thus the image tells us that the film
will focus on figuring out the secret of Mamies purse, her sexuality. As we shall
see, it is the male protagonists job throughout the film to figure out Mamies
secret: open up her purse and see whats inside, unveil her mystery.
The purse also establishes her guilt. Not only does Mamie conceal the
stolen money in her purse, but she also takes out her many identification cards
thus letting the audience know that her identity is ambiguous. She also changes
her physical appearance by dyeing her hair. Hence, like Madeleine, her physical
appearance becomes a veil that obsfucates her secret. The cause of her lack of
identity is her childhood. Mamies mother was a prostitute and Mamie, without
remembering the deed, is guilty of killing one of the sailors that came to her
house. Mamies guilt thus connects to the threatening power of women castrators;
she bashes in his head with a fireplace poker. The message for men is that sexual
prowess is threatening and punishable. Mamies mother tells the story of how she
conceived Mamie. At age fifteen she had sex with a boy so that he would give
her his sweater because as she says: "I never had anything of my own." Thus,
women are dually inscribed as castrated and castrators; she cannot obtain the
phallic economic power to own and control things, and yet she threatens to take
away the power from those who have it.
Mark Ruttland (Sean Connery) signifies phallic power through his social
status and economic strength. Mamie steals money from him and he catches her.
He also falls in love with her. Or at least he falls in love with the idea of her
mystery; he never really knows her. He only knows what she signifies for him:
Mark asks Mamie (then under the alias Mary Taylor) to come in to work
on a Saturday. In his office he discloses his interest in zoology. Mamie looks at
the framed picture of a fierce wild cat bearing its teeth. Mark replies that it is his
jaguarundi, Sophie, that he has trained. What, asks Mamie, did you train it to
do? "To trust me," replies Mark. He then discusses with her his interest in the
instinctual behavior of predators and adds that "lady animals figure very largely as
predators." This conversation mirrors the films plot as Mamie represents the
dangerous animal to be trapped, and Mark plays the role of the scientist who must
uncover the mysteries of nature and simultaneously tame her. Mamie thus
becomes his "case" study, his project, or as Mamie suggests, his "new
homework." Showalters discussion illuminates the idea of woman as case study
in the context of psychoanalysis:
they open the woman as a substitute for self-
knowledge, both maintaining the illusion of their own
invulnerability and destroying the terrifying female
reminder of their impotence and uncertainty. They
gain control over an elusive and threatening
femininity by turning the woman into a "case" to be
opened and shut. (134)
Mark reveals his curiosity and his reason for trapping her when he states, "I
thought it might be interesting to keep you around." Just as Madeleine was to
Scottie, so Mamie too becomes a symbol of Pandoras box, if only the men could
find the key.
Showalters discussion further connects the Hitchcock scenario to Freuds
own attempt to lift the veil of Dora. Although Mamie is characterized as a thief,
it can be shown that Mark may be just as guilty, a status reinforced by Mamies
quip, "You Freud, me Jane?" Showalter exposes Freuds discussion of his
attempt to solve the mystery of Doras hysterical problems: "Freud imagined
himself as a burglar, picking her locks, breaking and entering into her psyche
against her will" (137). Mark too takes on this Freudian role as he tries to
analyze Mamies nightmare by trying to unlock her childhood memories -- like
Scottie, Mark believes that if Mamie finishes her dream, that begins with the three
taps of the sailors hand on the window, then everything will be fine, or in other
words "in sight," and knowable. But as we know from the end of Vertigo,
finishing the dream does not always bring a happy ending.
Just as Doras "Pandoras box held the secrets of female sexuality"
(Showalter 137), so too does Mamies. Mamies comment, "Oh men. You say
no thanks to one of them, and bingo! youre a candidate for the funny farm,"
links an uncontrollable female sexuality to a madness that must be "cured." In
Mamies case, her secret puts under the microscope not only the reasons for her
own frigidity but also for her mothers promiscuity. This detail is quite alarming
when it is juxtaposed with Marks own sexuality and the audiences perception of
it. Both womens sexual histories are displayed and judged, while Marks is not.
Mamie tries to kill herself after the "rape" incident on the boat, but this act
merely reflects her unstable psychological state; it does not imply Marks sexual
crime specifically. Even though he most certainly rapes Mamie on their
honeymoon, his behavior is never brought into question directly either by Mamie
or the films narrative. Mamie does try to refute Marks argument that she is the
one with the problem when she says, "Im sick? Well take a look at yourself old
dear." But Marks reply, "Well, I never said I was perfect," merely dismisses his
own problem his pathological fixation on a woman who cringes at his touch.
By the end of the scene, the film narrative makes it clear that it is Mamie who is
sick as she cries into Marks arms: "Help me! Somebody help me!"
In the scene on the boat, they get into a fight. Mamie has made it quite
clear that she does not want him to touch her. He calls her Mrs. Ruttland, which
signifies his need to take on her space, his growing need to colonize her feminine
landscape his need to "rut" her "land." The "rut" Mark furrows into Mamie
recalls both an earth image and a sexual image, but also conjures up the image of
the huge ship docked at the end of Mamies mothers narrow street where she
lives in Baltimore. The recurring shot reminds us throughout the film of mans
ability to transform nature and of the sailors search for pleasure while briefly
docked. The connection once again links Western colonialization to sexual
Mamie, in fear of Mark, runs into the sleeping cabin and closes the door.
Mark runs in and pushes it open. The argument ensues:
Mamie: If you dont want to go to bed, then out!
Mark: But, I do want to go to bed Mamie. I very
much want to go to bed.
He steps closer to her and she screams, "NO!" He places both of his hands on
the straps of her nightgown and rips it off exposing her naked. He apologizes and
as he wraps his own robe around her it seems as if Mamie is lost, in a trance
perhaps. She does not blink or respond to his passionate kiss. She just stares
ahead, quite like a Madeleine black-out sequence. The camera stays in one place,
but the bed seems to move up behind Mamie and suddenly she is lying down.
The camera then takes a point-of-view from Mamies perspective on Marks two
eyes, (which recall the vicious jaguarundi of the photo on his desk). The camera
moves closer and closer until it is so close that his skin blurs. The camera pans to
the circular porthole and the audiences gaze penetrates the glass of the window
suggesting sexual penetration, and the feminine symbol of the powerful and
enigmatic ocean comes clearly into view. Again, I assert that this is a rape; Mark
even identifies himself as a "sexual blackmailer." The only punishment Mark
receives is Mamies response: she jumps into the ships swimming pool to drown
herself, unsuccessfully. After they return from the honeymoon, this conflict is
never brought up again, and the end of the movie offers sympathy toward Marks
character: he has finally helped her to figure out her mystery.
But, at what cost? As Doane suggests, woman is excluded from a
discourse that is about her. This notion is emphasized in Marks statement to
Mamie: "I dont think youre capable of judging what you need, or from whom
you need it." Thus, she is always inscribed into a role that needs figuring out by
a man; she can never figure it out for herself: "In other words, the woman can
never ask her own ontological question" ("Masquerade" Note 1). The problem
with this refers back to the idea that even when men take it upon themselves to
figure out women and to "know" them in a biblical sense, they really are
attempting to know themselves. Jeffries, Mark, and Scottie are much like Freud
who really "revealed ... his own need to be in control, to be certain, coherent,
logical and confident" (Showalter 137). As men continue to gain pleasure in the
act of lifting the veil that conceals the mystery of women, women will remain
While men continually desire to discover the truth in order to reveal and
solve lifes mysteries, women are left embodying the truth; they are able to
symbolize what men seek, yet lack the power (and the phallus) needed to obtain
the truth. The male power gained through usurpation of female identity through
language can again be shown by glancing back at Petrarch and at Laura.
Petrarchs poetic accolades include his "laurels" and his "laurel wreath," both
signifying Lauras name, and thereby signifying the status achieved by the writer
whose phallic pen penetrates and transforms the identity of woman turning it into
his crown. Accordingly, we are able to see the power of literature and film:
there is an atrocious truth in fiction.
MONEY, MATRIMONY, AND MONSTERS
Illustration design by Todd Radom.
When one of Hitchcocks women breaks the patriarchal order that
constricts her to the traditional role in. which she can only gain her identity
through others, mainly as wife and mother, she becomes a guilty woman. The
consequence of her attempt is not only to be labeled guilty, but to be viewed as
monstrous. She is deemed monstrous because she is a desiring subject rather than
a desired object, she has a job, and she has access to economic power. Her body,
seen first as powerful, is soon filmed as monstrous, as we see her slashed to death
or strangled. Yet, she is not merely a monstrous victim; she can also be seen as a
castrating woman because she gains her power by cutting off the power of the
men in her life.
Psycho and Strangers on a Train are both films that portray women who
have attempted to disrupt the social order through their bids to gain the power of
the phallus through economic means, and in both films, these women are brutally
murdered. In Psycho. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals $40,000 from her boss
client in order to marry the man she loves. In Strangers. Miriam Haines (Laura
Elliot) has a job and threatens to use the law against her husband Guy Haines
(Farley Granger) in order to get what she desires. In fact, both women break the
social order by deciding for themselves whom they will marry. Norman Bates
mother is also killed because she chooses a man: she takes on a lover and builds
a business. Although she is physically absent from the film, she serves as a
driving force of the narrative and of her sons monstrous behavior.
Levi-Strauss theory on the cultural "exchange of women" helps explain the
reason why Marions and Miriams acts disrupt the social order. In his study of
kinship systems, Levi-Strauss describes the social and economic structure of
primitive societies. Two important aspects of the kinship system that affect
women specifically are marriage and the incest taboo. Levi-Strauss explains how
the two elements fit together in the system. By prohibiting sexual partnership in
the family, culture ensures that daughters will always be married off to another
family. Marriage allows two families to be permanently connected and therefore
bound in a partnership of work and family: they will hunt together, garden
together, and cook together in relationships that create the economic system of the
society. The economics thus depend on exchanging women to the right families:
those families with whom the men wish to be partners. In this system, marriage
is more of a business transaction than a joining together in love. Although
arranged marriages exist infrequently today, the remnants of the old kinship
system that depends on the exchange of women still shadows the relationships
between men and women, and womans ability to have full rights to herself in a
patriarchal economic/social system. Without rights to herself, her body, and thus
her sexuality, woman remains unable to make meaning for herself, a fact that is
reflected in narratives bom out of Western culture.
In an influential article that addresses Levi-Strauss theory, feminist Gayle
Rubin criticizes this argument on kinship systems and connects it to the more
modem psychoanalytical arguments of Freud. The parallels that she draws
between the two are relevant to my argument in two crucial ways. First, she
claims that "sex/gender systems are not ahistorical emanations of the human mind;
they are products of historical human activity" (204). The historicity of the kinship
systems shows a cultural evolution in which "the kinds of relationships of
sexuality established in the dim human past still dominate our sexual lives, our
ideas about men and women, and the way we raise our children" (199). The
ideology of kinship systems of the past that relied economically and politically on
the exchange of women still exists within our own society today despite the fact
that traditions "lack the functional load they once carried" (199). In other words,
even though marriages are no longer the sole decisions of men, the foundation of
the institution of marriage remains the same and is imbued with the same implicit
theory of sex oppression. As Rubin points out, the father still "gives away" the
bride at modem day weddings. The oppression experienced by women in culture
is bom out of the organization of societies that at the most general level, "the
social organization of sex rests upon gender, obligatory heterosexuality, and the
constraint of female sexuality" (179). Second, Rubin connects the implications of
Levi-Strauss theory of gender as a social construction based on the sexual
division of labor to Freuds theory of gender identity. Freud explains the
psychological construction of gender by proposing developmental phases that
illustrate how gender identity manifests itself within the psyches of little boys and
girls as they become men and women in society. As Rubin asserts, "This fit
between Levi-Strauss and Freud is by implication an argument that our sex/gender
system is still organized by the principles outlined by Levi-Strauss, despite the
entirely nonmodem character of his data base" (198). Hence, Freuds theories
explain the psychological consequence and manifestation of the cultural
construction of gender.
The social construction of gender and its political, psychological, and
sexual implications have shaped Western culture and enforced the idea that women
should be confined to the domestic arena, and that if she refuses to comply with
this cultural contract she is then murdered. Peter Brooks discussion on the
historical implications of the nanativization of the human body in literature and
art in his book Body Work traces this virtually transhistorical pattern of the
narrativization of female identity. In his chapter on Mary Shelleys Frankenstein.
Brooks discusses the issue of the creation of the female monster in relation to the
identity of the male monster. Brooks argument concerning the male and female
monsters sexuality and reproductive power serves to illuminate my discussion of
the social construction of gender and its implications.
Although a great deal has been written on the monster in Frankenstein.
very little has been written about the female monster who is destroyed at
Frankensteins hands. Yet, the mutilated body of the female monster claims its
own significance within the context of this classical narrative. Brooks states that
both the Monster and Frankenstein "assume that [the Monster] is sexually
functional" (219). Parenthetically Brooks adds, "there would otherwise be no
need for Frankenstein to destroy the female monster" (219). However, Brooks
has negated the idea that perhaps Frankensteins fear of the female monster goes
beyond the "propagated curse," the threat of the Monster and his female
companion creating a race of monsters, and also includes his fear of the female
monsters sexual desire and the directions it might take. As Shelleys text reveals,
a primary reason that Frankenstein destroys the female monster is because he fears
that she will "refuse to comply with a compact made before her creation" (158).
The monster demands a female monster, "a creature of another sex, but as
hideous as myself' (139). Frankenstein complies, and they make a deal: "I
consent to your demand, on your solemn oath to quit Europe forever, and every
other place in the neighborhood of man, as soon as I shall deliver into your hands
a female who will accompany you in your exile" (141). The idea of a "compact
made before her creation" counterpoints exactly the contracts made before the
births of female children that occur within the kinship system. Like a father who
searches out a family in order to gain a husband for his daughter, Frankenstein
has made a contract with his monster for the exchange of a woman.
This contract for the exchange of a woman is not the only one in the novel.
Frankenstein himself has been promised Elizabeths hand in marriage from a very
young age: "she presented Elizabeth to me as her promised gift" (35). Levi-
Strauss highlights the nature of "the gift of women, and Rubin comments,
"marriages are the most basic form of gift exchange, in which it is women who
are the most precious gifts" (173). It is also notable that both Frankensteins
relationship with Elizabeth and the monsters with the female monster are
incestuous because Frankenstein and Elizabeth grow up virtually as brother and
sister, and both monsters share the same "father." Therefore, it is not surprising
that under the auspices of the kinship system both relationships are doomed.
There is a further example that involves the DeLacey family, the family
saga framed within the monsters tale. Felix DeLacey is promised Safies hand in
marriage because he helped her father while he was in prison. The father offered
promises of reward and wealth, but "Felix rejected his offers with contempt, yet
when he saw the lovely Safie . [he] could not help owning to his own mind
that the captive possessed a treasure which would fully reward his toil and hazard"
(118). Thus, the father promises Safies hand in marriage to Felix.
These three examples emphasize the inscription of the exchange of women
in our culture and in our literature. Moreover, the first example of the contract
made for the female monster also illustrates the consequences for women if they
decide to refuse the social contract of their exchange. Frankenstein fears that the
female monster will "become a thinking and reasoning animal" who might "turn
with disgust from [the male monster] to the superior beauty of man" (158). This
statement implies that the female monster would turn with sexual disgust from the
monster and sexually desire the more finely formed bodies of men. This action is
what Frankenstein fears because it represents a female sexuality that is not
constrained and implies a threat of male rape; that is, a symbolic castration of
male sexual dominance. Frankenstein thus fears female intelligence and female
sexual desire especially in a woman whose body would be larger and stronger than
any mans body. When he destroys the female monster, he simultaneously
destroys the possibility of a superior woman who would refuse to be an object of
exchange and who may be able to dominate man intellectually and sexually and
thus be capable of destroying the socially constructed gender identities that
constrict her to a more submissive role. Contrary to Brooks statement that there
would be no reason to destroy the female monster if the male monster were not
sexually functional, Frankenstein realized the threat of female sexuality regardless
of the male monsters sexual capability, and then "tore to pieces" the body of the
The implications of the destruction of the female monster also illustrate the
gender hierarchy: sexual difference exists even in monsters. The female monster
does not horrify Frankenstein because she is hideous, as the male monster does;
she horrifies because she may embody a sexual appetite that strays from her
designated mate. This potential could not only break the pact between
Frankenstein and the male monster, but could also break the unwritten rules of the
kinship system on which our culture is based. Hence, the implications of the
female monsters sexuality contradict the very fabric that holds our cultural system
intact. For the men who rule the system, this uncontrollable female sexuality
poses a serious threat to a way of life that has become part of the identities of
both men and women, and in turn has kept men in power. Thus, those women
who pose such a threat must be destroyed because they represent a monstrous
defect in the predetermined identity of woman.
Barbara Creed discusses the idea of what she calls the monstrous-
feminine. She coined the term in order to emphasize the differences between the
horrific in the female monster and the horrific in the male monster. To Creed the
difference is significant: "As with all other stereotypes of the feminine, from
virgin to whore, she is defined in terms of her sexuality" (3). This assessment
strikes a chord of truth, as we have seen that the female monsters potential
sexuality is the very reason she is found horrific and the reason she is destroyed.
In the case of Frankenstein, the female monsters body, and thereby potential for
destruction is ultimately exchanged (not in marriage but in death) for the peace "of
the existence of the whole human race" (159). As we shall see in the two
Hitchcock films, both women are also destroyed because they pose the threat of a
powerful female sexuality and the potential to destroy the economic structure of
the patriarchy because they refuse to be the objects of exchange. In fact, they
dont need to be exchanged because they actively take control of money and are
therefore independent rather than dependent. Hence, their destruction symbolizes
the restoration of social order.
In Strangers on a Train the four main characters Guy Haines, Bruno
Antony (Robert Walker), Ann Morton (Ruth Roman) and Miriam Haines create
dichotomies between the "moral" and the "immoral": Guy and Ann are moral;
Bruno and Miriam are immoral. Through the course of the film, good ultimately
triumphs over evil as both Miriam and Bruno are killed. Yet, the good and evil
in the film are not as clear-cut as the 1950s audience may have hoped for. Both
Bruno and Miriam represent a threat to the social order during this post-war
period: Bruno represents the homosexual threat, and Miriam represents the
woman who refuses to be constrained to the domestic sphere. In contrast Guy and
Ann represent the status quo in which Guy strives to be the breadwinner and Ann
the housewife. I will explore the nature of the threat that Bruno and Miriam
represent, and in so doing reveal the complexities of the good and evil dichotomy,
in which for women (and homosexuals) "good" isnt always so good, and "evil"
isnt necessarily without its merits.
Right from the start of the film Bruno takes on the feminine role in the
relationship that develops between him and Guy. His effeminacy not only serves
to characterize him as homosexual, but also inscribes him into a female position
where he is located outside the law. Bruno is shown to desire Guy more than any
woman in the film, except for his mother. When they first meet, Bruno tells Guy
why he wears his tie pin: "I have to do it to please her," he says referring to his
mother (Marion Lome).
Thus, right from the onset, the film hints at an unnatural relationship
between Bruno, who is a grown man, and his mother. However, the viewer is
still shocked by how far their abnormal relationship extends. In a scene at the
Antonys oversized mansion, the camera focuses on a pair of feminine looking
hands being manicured. The scene depicts Bruno having his nails manicured by
his mother. Not only does the manicure mark his emasculation, but it also places
his mother in the position as an accessory to murder because she, in fact, is
preparing Brunos hands for the strangulation of Guys pregnant wife Miriam. In
this scene, there are many clues that the unnatural relationship between mother
and son is extreme and potentially dangerous. The mother calls him a "naughty
boy," for thinking about blowing up the White House. Bruno kisses his mothers
hand as a lover might kiss his beloved. The father is outside the duo of the
mother and Bruno, as the child might stand apart from the triad of the family,
from his mother and father. This moment represents the Oedipal crisis in which
Bruno has managed to push the father aside in order to gain his mothers desire.
"I hate him, Bruno says in reference to his father, thereby illustrating the crisis:
he must break off his identification with his mother and identify with his father in
order to continue the proper formation of normal male identity. This Oedipal
trajectory continues to set up the plot as Brunos motive for murdering Miriam is
really a manipulation to further his plan for the murder of his father.
Brunos "incestuous" relationship with his mother also signifies the break
in the accepted cultural construction of gender definition and the sexual division of
labor. In psychoanalytic terms, the young boy identifies with the mother because
she stays at home and is the primary care giver. The young boy is only able to
gain the power of the phallus if he properly passes through the Oedipal phase and
identifies with the father. This process brings him into the Symbolic order that
allows him access to language and therefore political power. Bruno has not
properly passed through his Oedipal phase; he stays at home with his mother and
hates his father. Therefore, he has not gained access to phallic power and thus he
wishes to do so by killing his father and replacing him. Furthermore, because he
has not passed through the "normal" process that constructs gender, Bruno appears
effeminate, more like a woman than a man. Yet, as Levi-Strauss suggests, "The
prohibition of incest is less a rule prohibiting marriage with the mother, sister, or
daughter, than a rule obliging the mother, sister, or daughter to be given to
others" (as quoted by Rubin, 173). The incest taboo thus represents an economic
rule more than a moral one.
Rubin explains that in culturally historical terms, "the incest taboo
presupposes a prior, less articulate taboo on homosexuality. . Gender is not
only an identification with one sex; it also entails that sexual desire be directed
toward the other sex. . The suppression of the homosexual component of
human sexuality, and by corollary, the oppression of homosexuals, is therefore a
product of the same system whose rules and relations oppress women" (180).
Strangers suggests that female sexuality and its containment is at the heart of the
film, and implies that Brunos homosexuality is not only being used by Hitchcock
to represent the threat to subvert the federal government the Law of the Father -
- but also to show the connection between the effeminate man and the desiring
woman, and their inscribed roles as outside the law. This connection also
illustrates the misogynist ideology of the society in which, when men are like
women, they are in some sense immoral and thereby monstrous.
Brunos effeminateness poses a threat to society because he represents, in
essence, a distorted image of his mother. He has reversed the origins of man: the
woman should reflect the image of the man -- made from the mans rib or body --
rather than the man reflecting the image of a woman. He is, metaphorically
speaking, the product of the potential threat of the female monster in
Frankenstein. If the threat of her sexuality were partially based on the idea that
she might have sex with (or rape) men, then her offspring would be half female
monster/half man. This possibility implies the threat inherent in the monstrous
mother and the further threat inherent in her children to a system in which, as
Rubin states, "the preferred female sexuality would be one which responded to the
desire of others, rather than one which actively desired and sought a response"
(182). The threat of female sexuality thus is assigned not just to the actively
sexual woman, but to the mother as well. "The power of the mother," Linda
Williams states, "is not her own mutilation, but the power to mutilate and
transform the vulnerable man" (570). Thus, it is not only Brunos attraction to
men that makes him a threat, but also his excessive closeness to his mother, the
image of woman that serves to threaten the patriarchal social contract.
Bruno is also connected to the female image through his economic status.
He wears a silk robe, in contrast to Guys cotton. He walks like a woman,
manicures his nails, reads the society pages, and lives off an older man. "I never
do anything," he says. He lives the life of a wealthy wife without children. Yet,
the dependent wife, on the other hand, would be able to do something, or one
thing: to bear children. Of course, Brunos body lacks the ability to create, and
instead he becomes the destroyer.
In the film, it is Miriam who is pregnant, and Miriams body that is
destroyed. Miriam also has a real job; she works at a record store, a job that
suggests her control of the audible. She wears glasses, an object that reflects her
control of the gaze. She also acts on her own sexual desire. She has slept around
and is pregnant with another mans baby. She positions herself as the subject of
desire; for example, when she sees Guy, she says seductively, "Youre handsomer
than ever," as she runs her hand down the length of his lapel. Corber, who
stresses the films 1950s context, asserts that "The desiring female subject
signifies plentitude rather than lack and therefore threatens the male subject with
castration" (78). Guy is undermined by Miriam, not so much because she is
sleeping with other men, but because he is unable to control her or her desires.
Corber asserts that the stability of American society was dependent not on "gay
men and women who were employed by the federal government and passed [as
heterosexuals] so much as [on] those American women who positioned themselves
as subject rather than as objects of desire" (78). By positioning herself as subject,
Miriam refuses to be the object of exchange or the object of desire; she is a
desiring subject and her potential power threatens to unravel the fabric of society.
Miriams appetite is connected to her hunger for money and power.
Although I agree with Corbers statement that "the film seems to suggest that the
stability of American society depends on the female subject restricting her
sexuality to the privatized space of the nuclear family" (78), it limits womans
resistance against patriarchy to sexual terms. Corber fails to see any threat of
women that may extend beyond their sexuality. He therefore overlooks womens
resistance to the social contract on economic terms.
Miriam uses her pregnancy against Guy in her attempt to gain access to his
success, his new economic status. When Guy walks into the record store where
Miriam works, we hear Miriams voice counting out change, which she then gives
to a woman customer. Not only does this action highlight Miriams potential
access to economic power, but it also shows that she might exchange this power
with other women. She asks Guy directly, "Did you bring the money. Lawyers
are expensive." According to Guy, the divorce is Miriams idea. Thus, Miriam
breaks the stereotype that it is usually the husband who leaves the wife for another
woman, usually leaving the wife with children and no money or job skills.
Similarly, her actions correlate to the threat of the female monster who would
break the stereotype that men are the ones who have affairs when theyre married
both Miriams and the female monsters active sexuality threaten to destroy the
double standard that allows men, not women, sexual freedom. Miriam already
has a job, and she uses the divorce to gain power over and money from Guy.
Once she realizes Guys economic potential, she changes her mind about the
divorce. "Im going to Washington," she proclaims. She doesnt ask for
permission, nor does she play a passive role in the marriage relationship; she
expresses her desires both sexually and economically. Miriam also has a plan to
get what she wants: "I can be very pathetic as the deserted little mother in the
courtroom." She thus uses the traditional role of the helpless woman against him.
Although Miriams actions show strength, it also represents the limitations
for women in their attempts to gain access to the law and to economic power like
Guys or the senators. Women cannot gain access through meaningful work, but
instead must be manipulative. Mary Ann Doane remarks that discourses of the
imbrications of knowledge and sexuality "ally women with deception,
secretiveness, a kind of anti-knowledge" (Femmes Fatales 3). Thus, the only way
Miriam can win in the courtroom or ever "go to Washington" is through
manipulation. She represents the kind of woman who would sleep her way to the
top, but in reality that is the only choice offered women at this time if they do not
happen to be bom with money, as Ann Morton is. Even with money, Ann lacks
any real power. In the scene when Guy is told about Miriams murder, she says,
"Father has something to tell you." Father thus represents the law and the head
of the household: he is the one to deliver any important news even though the
information is about Anns life. Furthermore, this point again aligns Bruno with
women rather than men. He has never held a job, and intends to gain access to
his fathers wealth not through hard work, but by a deceptive murder plan. And
the only way "homosexual" Bruno will get to Washington is on his trip to "blow
up the Whitehouse."
Let us not forget the double standard in the film either. Guy is also
"sleeping his way to the top" through his relationship with Ann Morton, and thus
hopes to "go to Washington." Yet, Guy is redeemed in the film. In contrast,
Miriam is "beyond redemption" and hence is murdered. Robin Woods
characterization of Miriam neglects to see this imbalance. He describes Miriam as
"hard, mean, slovenly, at once contemptible and pathetic in her limitations" (172).
He then defines Miriam as a symbol of the world that has tarnished Guy:
Miriams represents "the world from which Guy is struggling to escape:
contaminated by that world ... he cannot free himself cleanly as he wants"
(173). Miriam thus not only represents the contaminated world of selfish desire,
but also is, in part, blamed for Guys corruption. She is the monstrous woman
who is guilty for the corruption of the men around her, and in fact she is partially
blamed for her own murder. "She was a tramp," says Barbara (Patricia
Hitchcock), as if this statement offers a justification for the murder. And even
though the senator responds, "she was a human being," he misses the point. "She
was a woman," is more accurate in the context of this film, and women who
disregard the social contract of sexual and economic constraint have broken the
law. In Strangers, the punishment for breaking the law is the death penalty.
Miriams murder serves to symbolize meaning for both Guy and Bruno. Gayle
Rubin asserts that, "If it is women who are being transacted then it is the men
who give and take them who are linked, the woman being a conduit of a
relationship rather than a partner to it" (174). Thus, the murdered woman
becomes a symbol of guilt for the murderer rather than bearing a meaning created
from her life. Her murder represents the immoral relationship between Guy and
Bruno, not only because they are linked through the crime, but also because the
crime bonds them in a way that implies a sexual connection between them. This
connection is illustrated in the scene after Bruno murders Miriam, and he appears
at Guys apartment to tell him the news. In this scene a large metal gate between
them casts dark shadowed bars across Brunos face; he is already a criminal.
When the police come looking for Guy, Guy jumps behind the gate beside Bruno;
it is at this precise moment that Miriams murder serves to connect them as
"partners." As they begin to argue about the murder, Bruno leans very close to
Guys face, and in this moment they are seemingly in a position to embrace and
perhaps kiss. The moment passes and they resume their conversation, but the
image remains. They are connected in more than one way, and their connection
is bonded through their relationship to Miriam.
Miriams sexual desire, which also connects Bruno to Guy, is illustrated
through her appetite. She licks an ice cream cone, letting her tongue swirl around
the tip while she watches Bruno watch her. She has the power of the gaze: she
knows when someone is watching her and in turn negates his voyeurism. She
knows hes looking at her, but by her return look she reflects the objectification
and matches it with her own desire. As Barbara Creed states: "Like that of a
bird, womans appetite is deceptive. . Woman as monstrous is associated with
bodily appetite, cruel eyes, a pecking beak" (144). One of her male companions
comments on Miriams appetite, "I never saw a girl eat so much in all my life."
Miriam says that she wants to satisfy her craving, and her two male companions
incompletely read this comment as sexual craving. However, her appetite is
doubly inscribed with her sexual appetite and the fact that she is pregnant. The
two desires are connected because her sexual appetite has led to her pregnancy.
But her pregnancy also aligns her to the image of mother, and in this case she can
be seen as connected to Brunos mother.
Bruno is sexually attracted to Miriam, and his desire is one reason he
follows her. Moreover, Brunos sexually charged scene with his own mother
suggests that his sexual attraction to Miriam is also distorted. Although Brunos
mother appears to be silly and powerless, Bruno fears her relationship to his
father. Through the castrating father, Brunos mother symbolizes the castrating
mother. "Now get changed before your father gets home," says Mrs. Antony.
Bruno slapping his hand on the table retorts, "I am sick and tired of bowing and
scraping to the king. By association, Mrs. Antony is the queen, and in her
powerlessness against her husband she continues to enforce the castrating power of
the father against Bruno. The conversation that Mr. and Mrs. Antony have while
Bruno is on the phone with Guy implies that it is possible that if Mrs. Antony
gives in to the power of the father then Bruno could be committed to an
institution: "If its the last thing I do, Im going to have that boy taken care of.
Its necessary to put him under restraint," says Mr. Antony. The course of the
narrative reveals that Mr. Antony does not succeed in placing Bruno under
restraint, and this outcome reflects Mrs. Antonys power in the family, and this
power is linked to Miriams murder.
Many critics have argued that the series of scenes, in which Bruno stalks
Miriam to murder her, connotes sexual symbolism. The symbolic images have
been read as sexually reciprocal, that both man and woman desire sexual union.
However, there are degrees of desire; there are dangers in assuming that every
woman who desires and/or enjoys sex, will necessarily sleep with anyone at
anytime. Female sexuality is oversimplified when women are categorized into one
of two positions: the virgin or the whore. In the film, Miriam may represent a
desiring subject, but she does not openly reciprocate any desure for the
consummation of her playful flirtation in this scene.
The sexual arousal and foreplay that begin as voyeurism at the bus stop
and progress when Bruno hits the bell at the fair and further accelerate when he
sings with Miriam on the merry-go-round, climax the moment he kills her. In
contrast to Woods view of the murder scene as "a sexual culmination for both
victim and killer" (173), the scene is actually a metaphoric rape. The scene,
filmed through Brunos perspective, depicts Brunos heightened sexual arousal as
he follows Miriam through the fair. Although Miriam reciprocates the look, there
is no evidence that she is as aroused as Bruno. In the Tunnel of Love, she
displays behavior that she is not sufficiently "ready" by pushing off one of her
male companions and screaming out "Make him stop! Stop it!" This initial male
force paves the way for Brunos own domination of Miriam. When Bruno
approaches Miriam, he says "Is your name Miriam?" and she replies "Why, yes."
This dialogue reveals a point of introduction where things start in a sexual
relationship, not where they end. Miriam is hardly ready for sexual intercourse at
this time, and therefore when Bruno grabs her throat, she is at once surprised and
horrified. She even tries to ask him how he knows her name, but Brunos hands
Bruno, in contrast, is prepared for what is going to happen. He has been
thinking of the sex/murder ever since he began watching her back at the bus stop
in front of her house. He is sufficiently warmed up for the act, and thus he takes
her by force. We must read this scene as a rape instead of mutual sexual
culmination because the interconnectedness of the symbolism of sex and violence
is too strong. The scene takes place on a sort of lovers lane where we see
couples making out in the grass. In order to get to this "love" spot, they must
pass through the Tunnel of Love, which symbolizes the vagina. The murder
scene depicts Bruno and Miriam struggling together in exertion, mirroring the
couples on the lawn, that ends with Miriam lying calmly on her back in the grass.
The murder becomes a rape that symbolizes that rape really isnt about sex, but
about violence against women. This scene, as we shall see, is a forerunner to the
shower/murder scene in Psycho, which also is read as a rape rather than mutual
sexual culmination, and also suggests a perverse directorial influence that ensures
that scenes depicting violence against women are sexually-charged.
Notably, Bruno foreshadows Norman Bates "with his close relationship
with a crazy mother," as Robin Wood suggests (173). However, I would add that
Brunos other connection to Norman is that Bruno paves the way as the monstrous
effeminate man who kills when he is sexually aroused by a woman. In the
murder scenes, both Bruno and Norman are guilty of voyeurism and eroticizing