A Faithful Adaptation Of The Hurst Novel Essay

A Faithful Adaptation Of The Hurst Novel Essay

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While Imitation of Life 's main story involves the fortunes and loves of a central female character, this story intersects with the racially charged trials and tribulations of an African-American woman and her light-skinned daughter. Both films offer the view that a white woman can improve her circumstances with enough guts, ingenuity, and physical attractiveness, but that African Americans, even those light enough to pass for white, are inherently unable to realize the rags-to-riches dream of the self-made person that infects Americans to this very day.
Stahl’s film, a faithful adaptation of the Hurst novel, centers on Bea Pullman (Claudette Colbert), a widow barely supporting herself and her three year old daughter, Jessie, by running her late husband’s maple syrup business. On a very busy morning, Delilah Johnson (Louise Beavers) and her four year old daughter, Peola (Sebie Hendricks), show up at Bea’s door answering an ad for a live in maid. The physical differences between Beavers’ Delilah and Colbert’s Bea are visually striking. In Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films, Donald Bogle writes, “Louise Beavers was a big-boned, robust woman with skin that was described as smooth as chocolate velvet, and eyes bright, large, and wondrously naive” (Bogle 62-63). Meanwhile, Colbert epitomizes western beauty standards. Carolyn M. West, author of “Mammy, Sapphire, and Jezebel: Historical Images of Black Women and Their Implications for Psychotherapy”, writes, “Women’s beauty image has historically been based on white standards, with greater value placed on blond hair, blue eyes, and fair skin” (West 460). Standing next to Delilah, Bea is practically engulfed by her size. The c...


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...ah Jane into the limo, as the camera lingers lovingly on her throwing a meaningful look at Steve and Susie that signals family life has finally won out over self actualization. The absence of color during Annie’s funeral presents an interesting contrast to the vivid colors throughout the rest of the film. Annie demands a spectacular funeral, one bordering on a parade, with “four white horses, and a band playin’.” The scene is consciously integrated, the only point in the film where whites and blacks are seen on equal ground. The skin color of the attendees becomes lost in the sea of black funeral garb while Annie’s white coffin stands prominently at the front of the church, located between her friends and God, between the white and black social binary. She has finally managed to transcend this reality and her funeral represents an ideal America, united and colorblind.

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