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Posted July 12, 2010 to photo album "Movie Mothers"
To coincide with the release of The Kids Are All Right, Nick Dawson looks at the trials, tribulations and triumphs of mothers on the big screen over the course of film history.
Slide 4: Stella Dallas (1937)
Olive Higgins Prouty’s 1923 novel Stella Dallas was written after the author’s daughter tragically died at the age of just 3, and she channeled her emotion into a narrative about a mother who would do anything for her daughter. Of the three film adaptations of Prouty’s work, King Vidor’s 1937 version starring Barbara Stanwyck is the most famous and acclaimed. Stanwyck’s working class Stella marries rich Stephen Dallas, but when their marriage disintegrates, she dedicates herself to giving her daughter, Laurel, the best possible life. (As in so many films about what it is to be a mother, sacrifice is a central part of the narrative.) However, when Laurel becomes friends with snobby, affluent kids, Stella realizes that her being a part of her daughter’s life is actually holding her back. In her essay “Stella Dallas and the Maternal Melodrama,” Linda Williams writes about the heart-wrenching moment in which Stella makes the unthinkable decision to “sacrifice her only connection to her daughter in order to propel her into an upper-class world of surrogate family unity. Such are the mixed messages – of joy in pain, of pleasure in sacrifice – that typically resolve the melodramatic conflicts in “the women’s film.”