Last Updated 04 Jan 2023

Modding Humanity In The Novel The Stepford Wives By Ira Levin And The Film Get Out Directed By Jordan Peele

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There are many controversies in America that many people fail to acknowledge and one of them is the general awareness on social problems. That is because the issues with social problems vary within societies and across historical time periods. The novel “The Stepford Wives” by Ira Levin (1972) and the film “Get Out” directed by Jordan Peele (2017), use similar tactics to reveal metaphors and symbols which unpack several messages. These messages highlight the social problems of the second wave feminist movement of the 1970’s and the contemporary period of post racialism today. While Levin created a thriller novel to shed light on the frightening analogies that dramatized women’s issues, Peele produced a brilliant film to carefully address today’s dilemma concerning race.

Together, the book and the novel blend social commentary and the use of cinematic language to convey a central message while intertwining conspiracies that replace humans with different identities. Although both projects target different social issues the main goal is to spread general awareness and illuminates the importance behind what it means to be human.

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The film and the novel were both used to inform the general population about a given problem in time. The novel “The Stepford Wives” reflects the struggle woman faced in the 1970’s and the fixed roles woman were expected to follow in society and at home. We get a glimpse of this fixed role when Joanna invites Carol to her house for a cup of coffee and rejects the invitation explaining she must wax the floor while her husband Ted goes to the men’s association. Joanna questioned if she stayed home to do house chores every time he left and Carol responds, “There’s always something or other that has to be done, you know how it is. I have to finish the kitchen now. Good night” (9), leaving Joanna to observe Carol’s devotion to her house work and thinks out loud, “Her red hair was neat and gleaming; her thin nosed face looked thoughtful; her big purpled breast bobbed with her scrubbing” (9). This quote is implying Carol kept up with her sex appeal while she was working on her house chores.

The passage shows a visual picture of the role woman were trapped into, becoming either sexualizes or maternal figures for their husbands. We also learn about the men’s association and how women were not allowed to be a part of it by this quote: “Joanna and Bobbie talk about it- the antiquated, sexist, unfairness of it, the real injustice, in a town with no women’s organization, not even a league of Women Voters” (18-19). The author italicized the word injustice as a form of emphasis during the woman’s liberation movement of the 1970’s. This passage also informs the reader who the power holders and rule makers at that time in society were.

Peele uses a similar approach in “Get Out” when announcing social commentaries in relation to post racism. In the opening scene, Chris asks Rose if her parents know that he is black, she responds “no” and proceeds to say “first of all, my dad would’ve voted for Obama a third time if he could’ve” implying they are in a post racial era where racism has been resolved after the 2008 election of Barack Obama. At 18:20 Dean reassures the same message to Chris while he gives him a tour of the house. He quickly assumes Chris’ thoughts about the black maid and grounds keeper are a bit controversial to his beliefs and feels he owes Chris an explanation. While on the first half of the film we are painted a picture of the Armitage family as open minded white liberals, the constant reminder of Chris’ race not being an issue only makes Chris feel more different and uncomfortable about being there.

The use of cinematic language was a great way to bring awareness to an issue that needed a voice. In “Get Out” Peele uses many symbol and imagery throughout the film that takes the audience back to slavery. Some examples are the image of crops, tea, sugar and tobacco use in the film. We also are introduced to the Armitage family where we meet the grounds keeper and the family maid who are both black and are dressed in rather old fashion costumes that resemble a time of the past. These few clips are reminders that issues of the past are still linked to the present day. In another instance, the moment Missy uses hypnosis on Chris, we witness a metaphoric message and learn of the intentions the Armitage family have on Chris.

The image of Chris falling into a dark hole in this scene takes him to a place called “the sunken place” which signifies the intention to restrain Chris’ voice and mind. The word hypnosis means “the inducement or the gradual approach of sleep- which is defined as “the unconscious state or condition during which the activity of the nervous system is almost or entirely suspended, and recuperation of its power takes place”. In other words, the hypnotic state separates the mind from the body. This suggests the idea that black people are silenced by the system no matter how loud they speak concerning social issues. It is also a message for his individuality as a powerless bystander. We then see the involvement of trends and black culture adopted by white society though out the film.

The first instance happens when Dean says “it’s such a privilege to be able to experience another person’s culture” when talking about visiting Bali (16:56), we then see it consecutively in the scene that starts at 42:35 when the party begins. Chris is introduced to the Greene’s and the old man immediately assume Chris is into sports. Mr. Greene asks if Chris knows anything about golf. Chris collectively responds “no”, yet Mr. Greene feels it is relevant to mention that he personally knows Tiger, a professional golfer who happens to be black. We see it again when Chris is introduced to Nelson and Lisa. Without hesitation or permission, Lisa places her hands around Chris’s biceps and asks Rose “is it true, is it better?” in relation to his and Rose personal sex life, shedding light on the stereotype mentality that race dictates that answer. Finally, the last couple makes it clear that the decision of how black people are defined is somewhat of a white perspective when the old man comments “black is in fashion”.

The aim for the antagonists in both the novel and in the film is to encourage or force the protagonists to imitate a social standard even if that means they must kill that part of the protagonist that makes them distinct from the rest of their peers. Levin delivers the theory of behaviorism to describe the mentality of men in the 1970’s. This theory is the belief that a person does not create their own characteristics that makes them unique or special but rather the person creates his or her identity through their actions and behaviors. In the beginning of the novel Joanna and Bobby observe the devotion and dedication the women in Stepford have on their roles as housewives. It seemed a bit extreme but with their biologically human bodies and the lack of qualities that distinguished them from one another, it becomes a challenge for Joanna and Bobby to figure them out. Levin applied this idea of using biologically human bodies with no real characteristics to signify the magnitude of importance that individuality is for a woman in a society controlled by men who work to weaken or deny women human status.

The novel lets the reader understand that society wanted woman who were indistinguishable from their peers. That meant that if the women of the town became more affective wives and better mothers to their children, it was not considered a loss to convert them into robots from a behaviorist perspective. In the film “Get Out” we learn Hudson purchased Chris at the auction that Dean was holding at his home. Hudson will surgically take over Chris’ identity by implanting his brain into Chris’ body. Chris asks, “why black people?” and Hudson says, “who knows, some people want to be stronger, faster, cooler” (1:20:50) then explains he wants his body for something deeper. In this case Hudson wants his eyes after witnessing Chris’ skill as a photographer which is an essential characteristic of Chris’ identity. Hudson reassures Chris that he won’t be completely dead but will have limited consciousness while he lives in the sunken place. Similar to Georgina, Andrea and Walter, Chris’ existence will be as a passenger and he will remain unresponsive and inhuman. The scheme to take over black bodies and push the black mind behind to make room for the white mind only mirrors the idea of white people restraining the power of black people to benefit themselves.

The power of the novel and the film comes from critiquing the aspect of society that highlights the flaws of social issues that affect society. Any place built upon inequality will inevitably leave those on the outside without a voice and that is where Ira Levin and Jordan Peele cleverly used metaphors and symbols to spread awareness to the general public. While the novel and the film can be understood directly as commentaries on how society enslaves woman and blacks, the deeper message shows how human qualities can become quite inhuman when the possibility of losing power or control becomes a real life threat. However, in reality suburban wives are not really turned into robots but instead are seen to be pushed to put their family needs first which influences women to conform as homemakers and while “the sunken place” is only a description that suggests the disconnection of black identity. It is really up to minorities to hold onto self image because without self image, people are only a reflection of what others see.

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