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Mildred Peirce Assignment

1. In her article, "The Genre", Jeanine Basinger says there are 3 main purposes of the Woman’s Film. Which purpose (choose one) do you think best describes the messages in Mildred Pierce? Explain why.

Jeanine Basinger's article, "The Genre" discusses 3 main purposes of the Woman's film. I believe the purpose that best describes the message in Mildred Pierce would be the purpose of choices. Mildred Pierce makes many choices that have a relation on what tends to happen in the next chain of events. The reason she makes these choices is to make her current situation better in any way possible. The ability to make a choice is the underlying message that the story makes. For example, Mildred is in a situation where she is jobless and does not have a husband who can support her. Therefore she steps out of her boundaries and takes a stand to find a job and eventually open a business. She does become successful but she has to give up on her personal life to become more successful and support her daughter. She chooses this lifestyle and has lives with the downfalls of the choices she made. In this case, she is dealing with the downfall of working very hard and not having much of a personal life. This suggests the fact that a woman has to choose from a bunch of choices.

2. Into which Women’s Film category (Molly Haskell's four categories) would you place Mildred Pierce? Why? (Use the Woman's Film Lecture notes for this question).

Molly Haskell discusses four categories in Women’s Film- sacrifice, affliction, choice, and competition. Mildred Peirce would definitely be considered in the sacrifice category, because the whole movie is about Mildred making sacrifices to satisfy her daughter Velds needs and wants. This was shown right in the beginning when Bert left Mildred because she cared more for her daughters then him. After having custody you were shown how hard Mildred worked to provide for her daughters, working as a waitress. To satisfy her eldest daughters needs, she quit her job and took the risk of opening up a restaurant so her daughter wouldn’t be ashamed. Secondly, she married a person that she didn’t love and risked her business, just so her daughter would stay next to her and have a mansion to live in. Furthermore, went to the extent of lying for her daughter that she murdered her husband instead of her daughter. All these examples portray that Mildred Peirce belongs in the sacrifice category.

3. Robin Morrison contends that Mildred cannot be seen as a “good mother” because she’s working outside the home – in what ways is she shown to be a “bad mother”? Please employ critical analysis and situate Mildred Pierce within a framework of socially constructed gendered expectations. In other words, how is Mildred Pierce expected to behave by social standards? How does she depart from those socially enacted rules of gender and what are the consequences of that departure?

Robin Morrison contends that Mildred cannot be seen as a “good mother” because she is busy working instead of spending time with her daughter. During this time frame it is unusual for a women to be working because it’s considered a “mans duty” and the women’s duty is to be a housewife. “If she is a working woman, she cannot properly take care of her children, but also if she is a mother, her business decisions are negatively affected by that role, and she lets consideration of her children cloud her judgment.” (Morrison, 1998, pg.3) This was clearly shown, when Mildred focused more on making her business a success rather than paying attention to her daughters. She eventually ended up losing both daughters and when she did decide be a housewife again, she had nothing left. She left her daughters behind, one died and the other turned into a liar, murderer, and worked as a cheap entertainer. The consequences of her deciding to work led her to be unsuccessful in her personal life and professional life.

4. Kathryn D’Alessandro describes how many of the visual images (ex: cinematography, lighting) in Mildred Pierce are reminiscent of film noir. Explain how. (You can refer to the 1940's FILM NOIR Lecture notes). Kathryn D’Alessandro describes in her article how many of the visual images in Mildred Pierce are very close to those in Film Noir. Mildred Peirce included many scenes that took place at night, had flashbacks, and voice over narration, which are characteristics that are associated with Film Noir. An example would be when Mildred was at the police station and she was telling about her story, it went back into a flashback. Also, the ending was miserable for Mildred, she lost both daughters but positive in the way Monty’s murder was solved and was reunited with Bert. This ending was another characteristic that made it similar to Film Noir.

5. Sybil DelGaudio defines the racial stereotype of the "Mammy" role in the "Mammy in Hollywood" article in your course reader (also available online). What character is shown as a racial stereotype in Mildred Pierce? How does she fit the Mammy role?

Sybil DelGaudio defines the racial stereotype of “Mammy” as an “image linked to either the slave-society image of surrogate materialism and domestic service, or the pernicious myth of black matriarchy.” (DelGaudio, 1983, pg.2) In Mildred’s Peirce, the character of Lottie, who plays Mildred’s maid fits into this racial stereotype. She is the only dark-skinned person in the movie, and is playing the role of a family maid, who does chores and takes care of Mildred’s Children. Lottie appears to not have a husband and children and is shown to be loyal devoted to Mildred the whole time. Lottie is just like a typical Mammy, who is dark skinned, lack of education, no family, caring and this is all shown in Mildred Peirce.


D’Alessandro, K. (2002). Linking Styles: Mildred Pierce. Audience Magazine

DelGaudio, S. (1983). The mammy in Hollywood film I’d walk a million miles for one of her smiles. Jump Cut, a Review of Contemporary Media, 28, 1-5.

Mildred Pierce [Motion picture]. (1945). Warner Bros.

Morrison, R. (1998). Mildred Pierce and His Girl Friday: Portrait of Working Women in the Pre-and Post-World War Period. Queen’s University Film Studies.

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