The Analysis Of George Cukor’s Romantic Comedy “The Philadelphia Story”

If you ask someone to describe the feeling of love, they are likely to give a recent account. We have been influenced by romantic literature, professor interpretations and the notion of a magical series of moments in love. Though most people see love-stories in terms of trust and dedication, they are actually social commentary on the mechanisms that lead to avarice, self-fulfillment, and a desire for power. Love-stories are not true romances, as they contain satire.

George Cukor’s romantic comedies The Philadelphia Story (1940), and The Philadelphia Story (1941) are, in a way, comprehensive comments on the peculiarities human desire. The movie is considered a classic “remarriage” film, a genre created by philosopher Stanley Cavell. The analysis based upon Cavell’s ideas on love elaborates the idea that true love has as its object reality. Cavell writes that the key to mutual love is being aware of one another’s needs. He summarizes the fact that affection is not perfection-seeking, but rather is dependent on judgement and is attentive to one’s true self.

The Philadelphia Story makes this point well. Several scenes in the story show the flaws of Tracy and Dexter’s marriage. Dexter wants Tracy to learn from her past mistakes and not make them again. The reasons Tracy divorced Dexter seemed reasonable at first, but as the film progresses we learn how they both played a role in destroying the other’s character. Tracy’s demands and accusations encouraged Dexter to be an alcoholic. When they weren’t met, Dexter became more addicted. Cavell writes that when Tracy pointed out that Dexter’s drinking problem was hers, he responded “Granted.” However, when you got married to me you became responsible for this problem. Red, you were not a help-meet. You were a critic'” (Cavell 164).

Dexter says to Tracy exasperatedly that she has never listened to her problems, but continues to scold Tracy. It’s easier to wish someone well than to truly be compassionate. Similarly, it’s easier to divorce your spouse than to wait for him to sort out his problems. The comedy “Re-marriage” aims at showing the character’s ability to change their nature and not simply adopt a passive attitude. Cavell writes, ”Importance” is a word that is important to Dexter. As he links Tracy being unable to recall the events of the night in which she became drunk to the fact that she cannot tolerate human weakness.

He mocks Tracy’s upper-class snobbery by contrasting two different adjectives meaning “first class”. Tracy, although raised in a first-class environment, frequently fails to differentiate between what being a decent person means and what it is to be acceptable by the elite. A dull father and the absence of a mother could have contributed to this. Tracy weeps after she ponders Dexter’s words and reminisces about her former marriage. In order to truly be happy and to reciprocate Dexter’s love, Tracy must learn to accept the difficulties that life brings. Tracy and Dexter grow closer when they realize that love for each other is built on understanding the flaws of others. Cavill says that Tracy must learn to accept herself and her fallibility. She can then accept life’s highs and lows.

Cavill’s analysis of The Philadelphia Story sheds some light on how the heart works. He shows that real love comes from facing downfalls and pressures in life and learning to grow. Cavill writes about how Tracy threatened to sink True Love, if Dexter accepted another woman as a passenger. He also describes that Dexter grabbed the person who spoke badly of Tracy and told them that they “still have a wife in me until today” (Cavill 151). The words of these characters have much more power than the rest. Dexter has the ability to manipulate situations using his words, just as Tracy can. George appears to Tracy just before their wedding and they discuss the previous evening. Tracy translates George’s message as a wife “Behave naturally” (Cavill 141). Dexter corrects Tracy in a sly manner by saying, “Behave yourself normally” (Cavill140).

Dexter says that Tracy doesn’t need to follow the social standards of how to treat her husband, but should instead be confident. This is especially true in 1940s when women were not given much respect and were considered housewives. Dexter is quick to respond to George’s attempt to mock Tracy by criticizing his patriarchal society beliefs about the proper attitude for a female. Dexter’s and Tracy’s relationship is authentic, even though they may not always agree on certain issues. They accept the challenges that reality throws their way. Cavell believes that remarriage movies require a transformation of the female character. Tracy’s transformation occurs during the swimming scene, when she becomes aware of her flaws. When Dexter worries about her, she says “Darkly, sire,” Not wounded, but dead.”” (Cavill 141). Tracy’s “rebirth”, which is a rebirth, leads her to discover that she has bad assertiveness. Her first marriage ended because she possessed ‘goddess like’ qualities. Tracy’s rebirth makes her human again and frees her from being locked up in an ivory-tower.

The Philadelphia Story ends with her relinquishing her title, Tracy Lord. This is a sign that she’s been freed from all power issues. Cavell is of the opinion that both men and woman have equal spiritual rights in remarriage movies. Cavell uses Milton’s analogy of love to explain how no one would want to destroy their marriage. They just want to fix whatever is causing the strain. Cavell says that to find true love, you must first understand the depth of your problems. You also need to be patient to maintain strong relationships.


  • camdynelliott

    Camdyn Elliott is a 35-year-old educational blogger and school teacher. She has been writing about education for nearly a decade, and her work has been featured on sites like The Huffington Post and The New York Times. Camdyn is the founder of the education blog Education Week, and she is also the author of the book "How to Teach Like a Pro: A Guide to Effective Teaching Methods for College and Career Students."

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