Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn), the divorced daughter of a wealthy Philadelphia Main Line family, is about to be married again to a rising politician. Her father has recently been caught out in an extramarital affair with a dancer. The day before the wedding, Tracy’s ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) unexpectedly shows up and tells Tracy that he has struck a deal with a notorious scandal sheet: if she will allow them to publish a story on her wedding, they will refrain from publishing a story about her father’s affair. The fiercely proud and private Tracy is revolted, but realizes that a story on her wedding will hurt only herself while a story about her father will hurt all her family, particularly her mother. She agrees to the deal, and shortly Macauley “Mike” Connor (Jimmy Stewart), a reporter, and Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey), a photographer, are presented to the family as friends of a relative and installed in the house.
Over the next 24 hours, Tracy’s interactions with her father, her ex-husband, her fiancé, and Mike help her to confront and integrate aspects of her animus and choose the right mate. At the same time, the responses of these men to the beautiful yet difficult Tracy reflect some of the different ways, both positive and negative, that men deal with the anima.
In Jungian terms, “the shadow” refers to those parts of the self that each person unconsciously represses and denies. Perhaps the most powerful and confusing aspect of the shadow is the contrasexual self: the anima or feminine shadow in men, and the animus or masculine shadow in women. The anima and the animus provide a compensatory function for the conscious personality. If the conscious ego is one-sided in some way, the psyche will tend to compensate. In Western society, men are encouraged to suppress their so-called “feminine” traits while women are not supposed to demonstrate “masculine” traits. Thus, our conscious gender identity is balanced by an unconscious shadow self that holds those traits we think of as belonging to the opposite sex.
The anima or animus is conditioned by and represents the totality of the individual person’s experience with the opposite sex. Emotions about the opposite sex tend to cluster around the contrasexual self. Fathers have a huge impact on a woman’s animus, as mothers do on a man’s anima. Societal rules about gender also contribute greatly to the contrasexual selves. We have no way of knowing whether these contrasexual selves would even exist in a society that doesn’t polarize “masculine” vs. “feminine” traits, but they certainly did in 1940s America.In waking life, people mostly experience their contrasexual selves through projection onto people of the opposite sex. Projection means to see a denied or repressed aspect of one’s own personality in another person. This is one way that the ego protects itself from knowledge of the shadow: it’s not my problem; it’s all the fault of that other person! But it means that we do not see the true face of the person who carries a projection for us. Everyone, inevitably, projects at least part of their anima or animus onto others — as if we all go around making certain members of the opposite sex wear the mask that we ourselves have made for them. But then we forget that we made the mask, and think that the mask is the other person’s real face. But projection is not all bad; it is how people first encounter what is in their own unconscious minds, and if one can recognize a projection it can become a valuable tool for self-knowledge.
We can be so disconnected from our shadow selves, says Jung, that the anima or animus often “behaves as if it were a law unto itself, interfering in the life of the individual” (Storr, 2) in ways that are sometimes helpful, sometimes disturbing or destructive, and sometimes profoundly spiritual. We do not control these contra sexual selves: they do what they want, which is often the opposite of what we consciously think we want. Both men and women can be taken over by these inner selves if they are not conscious of what is happening. Possession is the opposite of integration, the conscious process through which we recognize our projections as part of ourselves. People who get possessed by their shadow side often behave in overly emotional and harsh ways.
Our shadow selves are not all bad. Men tend to be focused, logical, and goal-oriented; the anima helps soften this focused view of the world so that men learn how to value the process of life in addition to the goal. (Filmmakers for years often photographed the female character who was the recepient of the man’s anima projection — what Jung called an “anima woman” — through a lens slightly blurred with gel, which softened her features and gave her a misty, otherworldly appearance. Quite appropriate.) The anima helps a man get in touch with eros, heartfelt passion; she connects him to his feelings and helps him to know what he truly values. She blurs his sight to dim his conscious mind, which helps him connect more to what is in his unconscious. This allows him to connect to others in relationship and to express his creative side.
Unfortunately, the anima is anything but straightforward; instead, she leads the man through a labyrinth of unspecified promises, sudden reversals, unexpected dead-ends, and long passages where he gropes in the dark with only the thin thread of her echoing, seductive voice to follow. As she is in life, so she is in the movies: John Beebe tells us that “the anima in film is much like the anima anywhere else: a confusing, deceptive presence with the capacity to engender inner transformation” (208).
Men sense that this teasing presence is the guide to the treasure of what is valuable in life. Yet, as they are usually taught to give preference to a “masculine” linear, goal-oriented approach to living, they can end up resenting and even hating the anima for making everything so difficult. Their projections of the anima onto women are therefore often polarized. On the one hand, they see her as a loving source of comfort; on the other, as a demanding bitch. She can seem to them to be a pure virgin one minute and a shameless whore the next. These are all masks of the anima, and Tracy Lord wears them all in turn.The animus plays a very different role for women. Masculine traits contained in the animus, says Emma Jung in Animus & Anima, have to do with logos, the power of logical thought that helps the woman use her mind and willpower to accomplish deeds (3). The feminine unfocuses, while the masculine focuses, sight. Its “eyes on the prize” quality gives a woman more drive. The animus also acts as a psychopomp or spiritual guide for women, leading them to contemplate impersonal issues.
A man, if he wants to become a whole person, writes Jung, has to learn to value the feminine, to raise it up to a place of importance in his life (Storr, 23). But the opposite is not true for a woman who has been taught by society to value the masculine above the feminine. Before she can integrate the gifts of the animus, she too must learn to value her feminine traits. If she does not — if she buys into Western society’s teachings that the masculine is better — the animus has a chance to take her over. When this happens, it puts a spoke in the wheel of all her relationships. As Jung says, it “can interpose itself in a disturbing way between oneself and other people, between oneself and life in general” (ibid., 14).
And so it does for Tracy Lord.The film opens with a silent vignette showing the end of Tracy’s first marriage. Dexter strides out of the house, face set, carrying suitcases; Tracy follows him with his golf clubs, but throws them on the ground and breaks one. In turn, Dexter throws her to the ground and leaves. First scenes in movies usually reveal what the movie is going to be about. In this one we learn that Dexter’s “baggage” — and Tracy’s reaction to it — is the problem in the marriage.
We next encounter Tracy in a long scene in which her young sister Diana wanders through several rooms of the family mansion looking for Tracy, calling her name and wailing, “Where are you?” Diana has a brief exchange with their mother in which they agree that Tracy’s behavior towards her father is “stinking.” When Tracy is finally located, she is trying to solve a puzzle. The audience senses that Tracy is lost or in a quandary, and that this has something to do with her father.
Tracy is also wearing trousers, another clue. At this point in her development, Tracy Lord is a perfect example of an animus-possessed woman. Tracy acts more like a man than a woman. She spouts judgments without thinking, lays down the law to everyone around her, and comes across as “hard” even to her mother and sister. A woman possessed by the animus tends to make sweeping generalizations and spout dogma; her conversation consists of opinions adopted from others, not ideas she herself has thought deeply about. To reflect and consider what one feels and intuits before expressing a view is a feminine trait. But the animus-possessed woman does not reflect. She ends up sounding, as John Sanford tells us in The Invisible Partners: How the Male and Female in Each of Us Affects Our Relationships, like a group of “uneducated and uninformed men sitting around the cracker barrel expressing their opinions on politics or religion” (43).
A better metaphor for today might be that she sounds like a radio talk show host.
The source of this harsh voice in Tracy is not hard to track down. We soon find out that Tracy has forbidden her father to attend her wedding — forbidden him, in fact, to come home at all. But her father Seth (John Halliday) shows up anyway, the evening before the wedding, and he and Tracy face off, each hurling bitter accusations at the other.
The animus-possessed woman is irritating to most people. But if she comes up against a man who is unconscious of his own feminine shadow, she acts as a torch to his bonfire. She provokes this man to become possessed in turn by his own inner feminine self: “No man can converse with an animus for five minutes without becoming the victim of his own anima,” notes Jung (Storr, 111). This inevitably leads to confrontation because “the anima/animus relationship is always full of ‘animosity’” (Storr, 112). Such charged exchanges never lead to mutual understanding; they are far more likely to have the opposite effect. For when they argue the anima and animus do not care about relationship; they each want to be right.
Seth Lord has devalued the feminine, both his own anima and the women in his life. He openly cheats on his wife and offers no apology for it; in a perfect depiction of the shadow at work, he puts the blame for his philandering on Tracy. She reacts in a typical animus-possessed way, with sarcasm, and — bam! — Seth’s anima takes over. He berates Tracy for her treatment of him, accusing her of behaving like a jealous woman. His voice is strident, almost shrill: “When a man is possessed by the anima he…ceases to be objective or related, and his objective stance is eroded by peevishness,” notes Sanford (35).
And so it is with Seth.In Seth we see the origin of Tracy’s problem. Her animus’ voice sounds remarkably like him. The father-image that Tracy has grown up with is judgmental, weak, passive-aggressive, and whiny. Her uncle Willie is no better. Can we wonder that Tracy feels compelled to act as the “man” of the family to protect her mother and sister?
Seth does say one insightful thing when he tells Tracy, “You have everything it takes to make a lovely woman except the one essential: an understanding heart. And without that you might just as well be made of bronze.” Despite his anger, Seth instinctively knows that the answer to Tracy’s problem is for her to act from her own feeling, not the false logic of the animus. This remark haunts her, as the truth always does.
Tracy’s fiancé George is also a weak man who sees beautiful, upper-class Tracy as a valuable object to be attained as proof of his own rising status. To George, Tracy is the ideal woman — ideal as in unattainable, not real. He projects the mask of the virgin goddess onto her:
george : You know, we’re gonna represent something, Tracy, you and I in our home: something straight, sound, and fine. Then perhaps your friend Mr. Haven will be somewhat less condescending.
tracy : George, you — You don’t really mind him, do you? I mean, the fact of him… I mean… that he ever was my lord and master? That we ever were…
george : I don’t believe he ever was, Tracy. Not really. I don’t believe that anyone ever was — or ever will be. That’s the wonderful thing about you, Tracy.
tracy : What? How?
george : Well… You’re like some marvelous, distant — well, queen, I guess. You’re so cool and fine and — and always so much your own. There’s a kind of beautiful purity about you, Tracy, like, like a statue…
A statue is not a real woman, only an image of a woman. When a man idealizes a woman in this way, she has to be kept on a pedestal. If the man ever once sees her true self, the illusion of the projection will be shattered, which threatens his defenses against seeing his own shadow. In reaction, he may blame the woman for not being “the person I thought you were.” Or he may switch from one polarized view of the anima to the opposite. This is exactly what George does when he accuses Tracy of sleeping with Mike. His virgin goddess all too easily becomes a slut.
Animus-possessed women endure a constant stream of criticism from this internalized image of the judgmental man. They often become perfectionists as a result. Such a woman is easily seduced by a man who puts her on a pedestal; that way she can pretend that she is as ideal as he thinks she is. This is a trap, as she cannot ever fall off the pedestal for even a moment.
After all, whispers the negative animus inside, if she were perfect, she would never fall! This is why Tracy cannot admit that she has any flaws, and why she is so hard on the faults of others. Her intolerance of their faults is founded in her fear of admitting her own.
But she lowers her defenses when she reads a book of stories written by Mike Macauley, the reporter she has prepared herself to resent. His sensitivity towards his characters touches her, and they connect as she discovers some fellow-feeling with him.
tracy : You talk so big and tough, and then you write like this. Which is which?
mike : Both, I guess.
tracy : No, no. I believe you put the toughness on to save your skin.
mike : You think so?
tracy : Yes. I know a little about that.
mike : You do?
tracy [with a slight smile] : Quite a lot.
Here Mike gets a rare glimpse of Tracy’s true self, a self not armored with the rigid opinions of the negative animus but a woman capable of making an emotional connection with another. She takes on a positive form of the anima, the tender and protective mother, when she offers Mike a cottage to write in. Although he turns her down, Mike now projects a positive anima image onto Tracy: “She’s like a queen, a radiant queen, and you can’t treat her like other women!” he exclaims to Dexter.
And this projection is the beginning of Tracy’s salvation.The animus-possessed and perfectionist woman cannot extricate herself from this state entirely through the exercise of her rational mind alone, no matter how well she is educated to recognize the condition. The catalyst that will finally free her is the inner constellation or emergence of a positive animus figure. As the animus always seems to come from somewhere else, this constellation usually occurs as the result of a powerful and positive experience with a loving man.
In Tracy’s case, this happens when Mike, doubly intoxicated with wine and her presence, looks into her eyes and bursts out: “Tracy, you’re wonderful. There’s a magnificence in you — a magnificence that comes out of your eyes, in your voice, in the way you stand there, in the way you walk. You’re lit from within, Tracy!”
Tracy, overwhelmed, asks, “I don’t seem to you made of bronze?”
At once he says, “No! You’re made out of flesh and blood.”
She is no statue to him.
But this is only the first step in the right direction. C.G. Jung warns us that, “Wherever an impassioned, almost magical, relationship exists between the sexes, it is invariably a question of a projected soul-image” (Storr, 104). Emma Jung adds that projections of this power are often mutual (11), and, indeed, Tracy immediately projects her own newly constellated positive animus onto Mike. She is literally carried away by this as she tells Mike to “put me in your pocket” and Mike grabs her and runs with her off into the garden (a nice cinematic metaphor).
They return from this blissful state only to encounter Dexter Haven, the once and future king of Tracy’s heart. Although the love they shared was real, neither was ready for marriage. Dexter did not yet have the power to constellate a positive animus image in Tracy and overcome Seth’s legacy. His imperfections soon proved too much for her to bear, as we find out in the scene by the swimming pool:
dexter : Of course, Mr. Connor, she’s a girl who’s generous to a fault. Except to other people’s faults. For instance, she never had any understanding of my deep and gorgeous thirst.
tracy : That was your problem.
dexter : Granted. But you took on that problem with me when you took me, Red. You were no helpmate there. You were a scold.
tracy : It was disgusting. It made you so unattractive.
dexter : A weakness, sure, and strength is her religion, Mr. Connor. She finds human imperfection unforgiveable. And when I gradually 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, that’s all.
tracy : I never considered you as that, nor myself.
dexter : You did without knowing it.
Dexter has grown up in the two years since the divorce, no doubt as a result of his battle with alcoholism (we are told he’s spent time in a sanatorium in South America). He owns that the alcoholism was his problem, not anyone else’s, but Tracy’s attitude was the opposite of helpful. She never showed him her tender and protective side. He also recognizes that she really did want to be placed on a pedestal at that point in her life.
But Tracy has begun to wake up. She doesn’t want to be on the pedestal any more, and she’s beginning to admit to her own imperfections. She hears the truth when Dexter echoes Seth and tells her, “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. It’s a pity your own foot can’t slip a little sometime.” And she takes his advice: she gets drunk and dances all night.
In this drunken state, she confesses tearily to Dexter, “I’m such an unholy mess of a girl.” Dexter’s response is amused, but kind. He will not reflect her animus’ harsh judgments on herself. Then Tracy falls into her moment of mad infatuation with Mike, which is abruptly brought to an end when Tracy dives into the swimming pool: Mike tells Dexter that “as soon as she hit the water, the wine hit her.” As Mike carries the happily drunk Tracy into the house, she crows to Dexter, “My feet are made of clay! Made of clay! Did you know?” Her foot has slipped, and she wants Dexter to know it.
The next morning, Tracy has forgotten her fall off the pedestal. But George, Mike, and Dexter between them force her to remember, and this time she decides to own up to her faults. When George makes it clear that he is willing to put her right back up on top of that lonely height if she will promise never to fall off it again, she smiles, shakes her head, and says she rather liked being imperfect, and “a lot of things I always thought were terribly important I find now are the other way around.” She will not force that side of herself into the shadow any more.
If that is so, George says, he won’t marry her. As soon as Tracy refuses to carry his anima projection any longer, it rebounds into George and he becomes what Edward Edinger in Ego & Archetype calls “the anima-possessed man who says in effect, ‘Be what I tell you to be, or I will withdraw from you.'” (15).
Tracy calls his bluff, and George leaves.At this point, the wedding march sounds and everyone gasps. Tracy’s parents tell her that they will deal with the guests. Mike, still carried away by his moment in the moonlight with Tracy, proposes. But Tracy turns him down with her thanks, saying, “No, Mike. Thanks, but, hn-nn. Nope. Because I don’t think Liz would like it. And I’m not sure you would. And I’m even a little doubtful about myself. But I am beholden to you, Mike. I’m most beholden.” Tracy is grateful to Mike for constellating a positive animus image in her. But she instinctively knows that a relationship based solely on projection will not work: “The object [of anima projection] will scarcely be able to meet the demands of the soul-image indefinitely,” writes Jung (Storr, 104).
And so Tracy turns Mike down.
She also turns her parents down. She wants to take full responsibility for her actions now, and she will make the announcement to the guests that the wedding is off. But she can’t find the right words. The animus no longer controls her, yet she still needs the logos, the power of words and deeds. In a telling moment, she turns to Dexter for help.
And Dexter responds.
The anima “demands from a man his greatest, and if he has it in him she will receive it” (ibid., 110). As soon as Tracy asks it of him, Dexter takes over. He tells her to say that the wedding is still on — the wedding that they missed before when Tracy and Dexter eloped. Tracy is delighted and surprised, but she can’t quite believe it.
tracy : Oh Dexter, you’re not doing it just to soften the blow?
dexter : No.
tracy : Nor to save my face?
dexter : Oh, it’s a nice little face.
tracy : Oh, Dexter. I’ll be yar now, I promise to be yar.
dexter : Be whatever you like. You’re my redhead.
Dexter does not want to conquer her or put her on a pedestal and worship her. He wants her to be herself. He sees her flaws and loves her anyway. And just as Tracy gets what she needs from Dexter, so Dexter gets what he needs from her. Beebe tells us that “part of the comedy of Katharine Hepburn is that she can usually only say no, so that when she finally says ‘yes,’ we know it stands as an affirmation of an independent woman’s actual being” (210).
Now that Tracy is no longer animus-possessed, even her harshest critic responds positively to her:
tracy : How do I look?
seth lord : Like a queen. Like a goddess.
tracy : And do you know how I feel?
seth lord : How?
tracy : Like a human. Like a human being.
seth lord : Do you know how I feel?
tracy : How?
seth lord : Proud.
We are left to wonder just how Seth, Mike, and George have been changed by this encounter with the anima. But as Tracy and Dexter stand up to make their vows to each other, we are certain that these two have come to a new understanding of the role of their inner selves in their relationship. They have learned how to give their contrasexual selves just enough power to serve as the source of gifts otherwise hidden — Dexter can count on the inspiration of the anima and Tracy on the insight of the animus — without giving those inner selves the right to control them. The seas of true love will continue to have their storms and flat calms, but these two seasoned sailors will negotiate both with new skill.
•| REFERENCES |•
Beebe, John. “The Anima in Film.” Jung & Film: Post-Jungian Takes on the Moving Image. Eds. Christopher Hauke and Ian Alister. Hove, Great Britain: Brunner-Routledge, 2001.
Edinger, Edward F. Ego & Archetype: Individuation and the Religious Function of the Psyche. Boston: Shambala, 1992.
Jung, Emma. Animus & Anima. Putnum, CN: Spring, 1957.
Sanford, John. The Invisible Partners: How the Male and Female in Each of Us Affects Our Relationships. New York: Paulist, 1980.
Storr, Anthony, ed. The Essential Jung. New York: MJF Books, 1983.
Cultural mythologist Jody Gentian Bower worked as a science writer and editor for three decades before earning her Ph.D. in Mythological Studies with a Depth Psychology Emphasis from Pacifica Graduate Institute in 2012. She now teaches and lectures about archetypal and mythological motifs in modern culture. She is the author of Jane Eyre’s Sisters: How Women Live and Write the Heroine Story, a nonfiction book that examines the motifs and characters of the “wandering heroine” story that has been told by women authors — and male authors including Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and J.R.R. Tolkien — for centuries. Dr. Bower has been a science fiction and fantasy fan since adolescence. She also loves movies. She is convinced that shifts in social consciousness can be seen in works of popular culture well before scholars become aware of them. You can read more about her book as well as read her blog on archetypes and myths in films on her website http://jodybower.com.