Week 2 Day 2 Discussion Question 6

Marina Heung argues that “Imitation of Life … promote[s] certain ideologies about woman’s place in relation to gender, class, and race. Yet the film might be less worthy of this analysis if it did not offer the possibility of a subversive reading that provides a corrective to, although it may not undermine, the dominant ideologies of the film.” In “What’s the Matter with Sara Jane,” Heung offers an “alternative reading [that] reveals Sara Jane, rather than Lora or Annie, to be the center of disturbance in this film” (31).  Are you persuaded by Heung’s analysis?  In your view, are there other subversive features in the film?

One thought on “Week 2 Day 2 Discussion Question 6

  • February 21, 2022 at 1:06 pm

    Throughout the film, I was very intrigued by Sara Jane’s character and remember questioning her every move because in almost every scene she always seemed to be wanting to leave, cause conflict or act rudely/shockingly in the faces of authority. Ever since she was a little girl, Sara Jane clearly dealt with troubles trying to grapple with and understand her identity as a white-passing, half-black character. Marina Heung is very convincing with her analysis of Sara Jane’s complex identity, writing that “A subversive reading of the film, therefore, sees Sara Jane in a posture of justified rebellion against her mother’s powerlessness and servility” (32). We see scenes of Sara Jane’s “justified rebellion” whenever she yells at her mother’s face and feels contempt towards her for being black, thus making it harder for Sara Jane to feel accepted and pass as simply white. We see this when Sara Jane runs away from her school when she’s little, and then again when she grows older and starts to become arguably more clever with her acts of rebellion (swaying in front of Lora and her guests when she brings out their food and decides to speaks with an accent). I wondered if Sara Jane’s decision to dance at nightclubs stemmed from Sara Jane’s deep yearning to embrace her white identity while completely shutting out and repressing her black identity. It’s almost as though she wanted to emulate Lora (primary figure of the beautiful, admirable white working woman) and her life revolving around the theater as a way to give herself hope to make a new life for herself. Lora was able to accomplish this.

    Heung continues, quoting D.N. Rodowick: “‘The forward thrust of narrative is not accomplished through external conflict and the accumulation of signification actions, but rather through the internalization of conflict in a crisis of identification” (32). The film is a melodrama that builds on each character’s emotional turmoils; it’s interesting to note, however, that the male characters do not seem to be shown dealing with such “crises.” Steve, Mr. Loomis, etc are all represented as clean, upper-class (?), socially and emotionally secure male figures who are (usually) simply wanting to be seen with Lora. Another subversive feature in the film could be Susie’s relationship to Steve and her claims that she’s in love with him (her mother’s lover). Heung calls Susie’s claim an “error in sexual identification” (33), and I’m curious to know if Susie’s case could be a representation of/form of penis envy.

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