By juxtaposing a socio-political analysis of the film with an archetypal analysis, we can amplify such complex social dynamics. The depiction of these dynamics, and society’s unconscious emotions around them, becomes accessible, almost instinctive, to the audience through the use of archetypal images as narrative short cuts.
Katherine Hepburn plays the part of Tracy Lord, a part that had been specifically written for her in 1939, for the stage, by the playwright Philip Barry. Thus the character of Tracy Lord is as much a comment on Hepburn and the archetype she represents for the American audience as it is a comment on the modern, powerful, upper class woman that Tracy Lord, modeled after socialite Helen Hope Montgomery Scott, represents. There is a self-reflexive irony to the archetypal material in this film, as the inspiration for the film came from Barry’s interest in the phenomenon of gossip rags and their influence on his high society friends. It was a time of increased celebrity for the rich and powerful, where they became the objects of scrutiny and the archetypal figureheads of the culture. The making of the film from a play into a movie included a highly publicized investment by Howard Hughes for the sake of Hepburn’s then-floundering career.
Thus, both the Olympian energies of the social elite and of the Hollywood elite feed into representations of the on-screen characters. The film depicts, first, the archetypes that the various characters embody and, second, the impact upon these characters of being placed in archetypal roles by society at large — in this case ,through the manipulations of the tabloid Spy Magazine and its editor. The character of Tracy Lord embodies both of these realities. At the beginning of the film she is an Athena in her personal life, and a public symbol of Athena in the pantheon that the American Gods and Goddesses of high society had become, thanks to tabloid journalism. In addition, the shadow of Katherine Hepburn’s own archetypal energy looms large, both as the woman who hand-picked the director and screenwriter and had final say in cast selection, and as an amalgam of her previous film roles in which she was also cast as a strong, independent, young woman from the social elite.At the beginning of the film, Tracy Lord is completely engulfed by the Athena archetype. We know that she is divorced; we know from the opening scene that this first marriage ended with enmity; and we know from a tabloid image of Tracy with cupid pointing an arrow at her face that she is about to be married again. This marriage is essential if Tracy is to fulfill her role as a powerful socialite: to remain powerful within “society,” a woman must move from dynamic young woman to matriarch, and therefore she must become a bride. The primary emotional conflict of the film will prove to be not simply a choice of husbands. The conflict lies in a choice between a marriage in which she is required to remain rigidly unconscious within an Athena archetype that does not provide an initiation into libido-filled marriage, or a marriage that requires she become initiated in the ways of Aphrodite — initiated so that she can fulfill her social duties as a future symbol of Hera with her Zeusian equal, but also enjoy marriage as a fully integrated woman capable of embodying multiple archetypal energies as they become emotionally appropriate. This transformation from the Athena archetype requires repeated blows to Tracy’s armor before the loosening magic of Aphrodite can be attained.
athena. Tracy’s Athena nature is solidly established at the very beginning of the film. She is costumed in masculine-styled women’s clothes. Her tone of voice and way of speaking is bright, fast, and authoritative — just as Downing describes Athena with reference to Walter Otto: “He speaks of ‘the spirit of brightest vigilance which grasps with lightning speed what the instant requires,’ of ‘the bright-eyed intelligence capable of discerning the decisive element at every juncture and of supplying the most effective instrumentality’ ” (Downing 126).
In Scene Three, sister Dinah confirms Tracy’s Athena-like warrior nature when she says to their mother, “She’s sort of… Well, you know, hard, isn’t she?” To which her Mother Lord responds, “Tracy sets exceptionally high standards for herself, that’s all. And other people aren’t always quite apt to live up to them.”
Details of Tracy’s Athena nature become more greatly illuminated when ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven arrives on the scene. He accuses her of playing the role of a goddess: “She finds human imperfection unforgivable. When l discovered that my relationship to her was supposed to be not that of a loving husband and a good companion, but that of a kind of high priest to a virgin goddess… Then my drinks grew deeper and more frequent” (Scene 14). Here, Tracy is appropriately dressed in a white toga-like robe, her hair pulled up in a Grecian style, to echo the accusation that she fancies herself a pure and chaste goddess. Dexter claims that it is Tracy’s intolerance that was the ruin of their marriage, though he himself admits having had a “deep and gorgeous thirst” that kept him drunk and hostile for much of their short union. He owns his alcoholism, constantly referencing the work he has done to change. This admittance of fault defines, for the audience, the integrated psyche later expected of Tracy. During the argument she fights his words with smart, witty, Athena-like ease, but she is clearly impacted by Dexter’s castigations: “It’s a pity your own foot can’t slip a little sometime, but your sense of inner divinity wouldn’t allow that. This goddess must and shall remain intact. There are more of you than people realize. A special class of the American female ‘The Married Maidens.’ ”
Later, in the midst of her initiation into the Aphrodite archetype during Scene 21, Tracy will repeat with only slight alteration his earlier line that, “You’ll never be a first-class human being or a first-class woman until you’ve learned to have some regard for human frailty.”
The life choice she faces becomes clear when Tracy’s fiancé George Kittredge unwittingly reïterates for her all of the accusations that Dexter has just made, through Kittredge’s Hestian, senex-like attempt at wooing (Scene 15). So flustered by this obvious proof of her rigid archetypal stance, Tracy dives into the swimming pool, immersing herself in the unconscious in an attempt to dismiss the ego threat. When she reëmerges, she is presented with Dexter’s wedding gift, a model of the “True Love,” their honeymoon yacht. The miniature yacht is set in the pool beside her, almost as a clue to the way out of her dilemma. Love, or the power of Aphrodite, can act as a ship, to buoy her above the unconscious to the libido energy she needs.
Immediately following this scene, before she can push these new ideas back down, she encounters her father, Seth Lord, sitting with her mother on the patio. Tracy becomes Athena in all her glory. A father’s daughter, “Athene defines herself as Zeus’ inspired daughter. She takes on his attributes, is proud to be as dignified and as judicious as he, as brave and as commanding” (Downing 112). There is also a “latently incestuous element” (Downing 113) in their relationship, which can be seen in Tracy’s jealousy and anger towards her father for his Zeusian philandering.
She berates him, “How does your dancer friend talk, or does she purr? Sweet and low, I suppose: dulcet; very ladylike. You’ve got nerve to come back here in your best head-of-the-family manner and make stands and strike attitudes and criticize my fiancé and give orders and mess things up generally” (Scene 16). We see an echo of the conflict between Zeus and Athena over the battle of Troy, Athena’s jealous words about Zeus’ allegiance to Thetis. As such, we are prepared for Zeus to strike hard with words but also for the end result to be as Athena proclaims: “Yet time shall be when he calls me again his dear girl of the grey eyes” (Downing 113).
Seth Lord duly tells his daughter that she has “everything it takes to make a lovely woman except the one essential: an understanding heart. Without that you might just as well be made of bronze” (Scene 16). Tracy asks if he means that she thinks she is “some sort of a goddess or something,” and he replies, “If your ego wants it that way, yes.” It is the power of her father’s words that work to break her armor. For as she dwells in the Athena archetype, her father’s daughter, only her father’s words can truly do the damage necessary to move her towards change.
hera. For socialite Tracy Lord to become the archetypal symbol of Hera, regal in marriage, that she will need to be to remain successful in the eyes of society, she must find an equal. Ginette Paris, in a paper for The Dallas Conference presented in 1993, describes such equality in the marriage of Zeus and Hera: “Their marriage is the example of the lasting marriage, perfectly balanced in terms of origin, strength and power” (4). Tracy’s mate of choice, George Kittredge, though monetarily successful, is quickly revealed to be an inferior match in strength and power. The inferiority depicted in the actions and words of her fiancé are echoed by the low opinions of the other characters, who seem to universally dislike him. Kittredge is a social climber, a man of inferior background with narrow opinions. Their match would be more akin to Thetis and Peleus than to Zeus and Hera (Paris, Dallas 2). In Scene 14, Dexter objects to Tracy’s match with Kittredge, saying that he is beneath her in mind and spirit: “Kittredge is no great tower of strength. He’s just a tower. … To hardly know him is to know him well.”The Philadelphia Story was released the same year as The Grapes of Wrath. This was a time when the United States was very much enthralled with the romance of the working class, the Federal theater, and socialist ideals. To depict a self -made man — a man who had begun as a miner and through his own industry risen to the top — as pompous, mundane, and of suspect character is itself noteworthy. To then contrast that character with an earthy, charming, insightful socialite such as Dexter is uncharacteristic of the ethos of the time, yet speaks to the archetypal forces at play, forces that require these Philadelphia Olympians to be of true immortal mettle. This story begs for gods and goddesses, not mortals, no matter how heroic their deeds.
Only in the match of equal character and spirit, with the now sober Dexter, can Tracy find an equality that matches the sibling equality of Zeus and Hera (Paris, Dallas 4). The film reïterates the archetypal necessity of this brother-sister equality by emphasizing the fact that Tracy and Dexter “grew up together, you know” (Scene 11) several times. But though Dexter has become sober and attained a certain individuated consciousness that allows him to be more than any single archetype in intimate relationship, Tracy must also transform if the match is to achieve equality. For two human beings to meet in true union, they must be able to move fluidly through the full spectrum of emotions. Tracy’s Athena stance keeps her stagnant. She must be initiated into the archetype of Aphrodite in order to loosen her up, inspire libido, and give her the necessary emotional mobility a successful marriage requires. The public demands of her a Hera-like match, but Dexter, the only qualified Zeusian candidate, needs her to be a fully integrated human capable of conscious love.
aphrodite. Hermes, in the form of Macaulay Connor, facilitates Tracy’s initiation into the archetype of Aphrodite. Connor is a witty, sarcastic writer and journalist with an everyman attitude and a trickster temperament. Brought into the Lord household with a lie, he several times finds himself handling and pocketing valuables that are not his, and from the moment of his entry into Tracy’s world creates a loosening of ideas and values. In Pagan Grace, Ginette Paris describes Hermes energy: “Restless and intuitive, he must often dissemble or even steal information or perhaps lie about his identity to get to the bottom of the story. The true journalist, like Hermes, champions the democratic ideal; he reveals cover-ups and finds leaks in the system…and can sometimes topple entrenched power” (80).
Tracy is capable of impersonating Aphrodite, as she displays during her first interview with Connor. She changes her voice to something more feminine and fluid, wears a dress with ruffles, and acts with a pretense of feminine graciousness. However, every word and manner is calculated to weaken her guests. She speaks as if in a tennis match that she is winning (Scene 10). Later during a chance encounter in the public library, Tracy begins truly opening to Connor’s Hermes. Her voice genuinely softens for the first time. Her manor becomes complimentary and respectful. She begins to see the beauty in him through his writing talent (Scene 12). She lets her guard down for a moment, but soon snaps back into the more familiar stance of camaraderie that Athena prefers. Her armor has not yet been dented.
Her real initiation begins with champagne. Tracy begins to drink out of a confusion that comes from the confrontation with her father (Scene 18). Her Athena armor has been seriously compromised, which leaves her open to change. The film then incorporates a time ellipses that takes us from her first three glasses of champagne to her pre-nuptial ball hours later. The lighting has shifted from classic Hollywood fill-light to soft light. Kittredge and Tracy dance towards the camera to a medium close-up, creating a dreamy softness around Tracy matched by her voice and manner. She has shed her virgin goddess costume — not for the usual masculinized, pseudo-business suits of before, but for a gauzy satin dress with shimmering sequined details, her hair loose, long, feminine. Even before the real initiation has begun, she has been made ready for the ritual.
Tracy tells Kittredge a story about a Chinese poet who drowned trying to kiss the moon’s reflection in a pool of water: “He was drunk,” she concludes, as is she. The beginning of a rift in their relationship is revealed by Kittredge’s irritated response, and the film begins opening a gap between Tracy and her previously solid, unchangeable worldview. Aphrodite walks right in.
In the course of a playful conversation with Conner back at the house, Tracy’s Athena breaks down completely and her Aphrodite emerges (Scene 21). As Paris writes in Pagan Meditations, “Aphrodite will teach the flowing of energy. As the current of emotions begins to circulate in and between us, the tensions and defenses of the personality are dissolved; eyes, gestures, words, and breath soften and deepen” (15). Tracy becomes softer in both voice and words. Her body language becomes sexual as she looses the straight, towering posture of Athena and poses alluringly against pillars or hangs on Connor calling him “Mike” in an intimate way. The banter between them seems frivolous and flirty, but there is more to it than simply flirtation: “Aphrodite has, in common with Hermes, the god of communication, a taste for adventurous relationships and new challenges. The words of Hermes seduce and convince by the same ‘subjective’ qualities that give the word of Aphrodite its force of attraction and enchantment” (Paris, Pagan Meditations 49). This is Tracy’s initiation into Aphrodite as facilitated by Hermes. There are moments when her playfulness again falls into the familiar competitive edge of Athena (Scene 22), but Athena cannot sustain her here and, more, does not wish to remain in such a scene. By the conclusion of this flirtation, Aphrodite is fully ensconced within Tracy’s psyche, Tracy is fully ensconced within Connor’s arms, and a sort of mock version of Hephaestus catching Aphrodite in the act of adultery is played out by Kittredge (Scene 23) to insure that we know Aphrodite is now in full command.
But Tracy has merely shed one archetype for another. To become an equal partner to Dexter, she must integrate her natural Athena, the Aphrodite into which she has been initiated, and the Hera archetype she must play in the public eye. Only with the conflicts of the morning after the party — the morning on which she is supposed to marry Kittredge — is her transformation completed. She must traverse a final integration in which she fully owns her own responsibility for all of her actions, her drinking (Scene 25), her behavior with Conner (Scene 26), her failings in her previous marriage (Scene 27), as well as the dissolution of her engagement and her ultimate rejection of her fiancé (Scene 28).
This unfolding into consciousness happens in quick succession, but the final realization that she must own her actions comes with Dexter’s words: “You’ve been got out of jams before” (Scene 28). With the beginnings of Hera-like strength, Tracy decides to announce her own failure to the wedding guests: “I’ll say it. I won’t be got out of anything anymore.” At that moment, she becomes the full equal to Dexter and only then does the opening occur for him to propose to her. Tracy is now conscious of her own imperfections as well as his, and with the help of Aphrodite is able to see the beauty in him despite those imperfections. And yet she has not lost her natural Athena, as shown in her final interaction with her father as he folds her back into Zeus’ approving love and pride. Rather than loosing Athena, Tracy has added a flexibility that allows her to experience more than one feminine archetype, so that she can achieve a well-rounded emotional life.The film ends with tabloid photos of the couple’s wedding, first the personal human Dexter and Tracy shocked by the presence of a photographer, then the god and goddess in all their glory, Zeus and Hera kissing, seemingly conscious of their role as archetypal husband and wife (Scene 29). Again, we are reminded that these people live in the shadow of the public eye, which demands that they fulfill a symbolic role for the larger community. The final resolution of the film’s narrative indicates that Tracy’s Hera will now be able to hold court as the new Mrs. C. K. Dexter Haven, as Aphrodite has been integrated into the human Tracy, bringing her the libido she desperately needed.
For Katherine Hepburn, too, a transformation occurred. Her archetypal persona was fed Aphroditic energy through the role of Tracy Lord, allowing the audience to fall in love with her in a new way, resuscitating a career that would later net an unprecedented four Oscar Awards for Best Actress. For modern women of the time, the result is less clear. While the film could be read as a warning not to loose Aphrodite on the road to power, it also contains reasons to view this narrative as communicating a dominant distaste for the modern woman and what she represents. One could see in the narrative a chastisement of women hungry to join the larger world telling them that they are unattractive and unlovable in positions of power. For society on the whole, the film seems almost a herald to the cult of celebrity the tabloid press had increasingly begun to solidify into the phenomenon we experience today. It almost reveals the humanness behind the celebrities, but ultimately supports the fantasy that these people really are imbued with an archetypal magic that makes them larger than life. They are Olympian Gods, the perfect screens for our psychic projections. Any stumble along the way will be righted with the intervention of the greater pantheon.
•| REFERENCES |•
The Philadelphia Story. Dir. George Cukor. Prod. Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Screenplay by Donald Ogden Stewart and Waldo Salt (uncredited) from the play by Philip Barry. Perf. Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey, John Howard, Roland Young, John Halliday, Mary Nash, Virginia Weidler, Henry Daniell. MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures), released December 1940. 35mm black and white, 112 minutes.
Downing, Christine. The Goddess: Mythological Images of the Feminine. New York: The Continuum Publishing Co., 1996.
Paris, Ginette. Pagan Meditations. Dallas: Spring Publications, 1986.
————. Pagan Grace. Dallas: Spring Publications, 1990.
————. “Marriage, Intimacy, and Freedom.” Dallas, TX: The Dallas Conference, 1993.