Linda Williams and Stella Dallas

Linda Williams focused her studies on the female spectator pleasure by analyzing melodrama classical Hollywood films. She uses the film Stella Dallas as a test case to support various concepts of feminist’s film theory including maternal sacrifice and identification. In the film we see a hardworking lower class mother sacrificing her relationship with her daughter as the daughter climbs the social ladder and marries into an elite upper class family.   In the crucial Final scene of the film, Laurie is getting married inside the family’s mansion while Stella stands alone outside the gates of the house observing the ceremony through a small window that was cracked open.

Williams also talks speaks to the dynamics of looking and identification within a film. The audience does not identify with a single character or viewpoint throughout the duration of the film. In Stella Dallas Viewers see the isolation and separation Stella faces as she watches her daughter depart her former role but we also are taken inside the house into the wedding, a privilege her own mother does not receive. Another example, is when they’re on the train and at the point when Stella decides to give up her daughter after overhearing her friends joke about Mrs. Dallas. Both Stella and her daughter heard the conversation and hoped the other hadn’t.

By viewing the film from multiple perspectives, Williams argues that the audiences is exposed to the desires of all the characters including Stella, her daughter, her daughters new husband, and even Helen. We as the audience are seen as the ideal mother because we see identify with all the conflicting points of view. At the final scene of Stella Dallas, the viewers identify with the loss that Stella has faced despite the films intention of convincing us that this action was necessary on her behalf.

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