The "New Woman" in Cecil B. DeMille's "The Cheat" Essay

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Cecil B. DeMille is regarded by many to be the founder of Hollywood, given that his 1914 film, The Squaw Man, was the first important full-length motion picture made in Hollywood. As Joel W. Finler considers, the film "accelerated the trend toward establishing California as the new home of movie-making" . However, it is in his depiction of the `new woman' that the director is both celebrated and derided. In many of his films, DeMille illustrates the rise of consumer culture that had begun in the latter half of the nineteenth century. During its escalation, goods took on a symbolic life while middle-class women attained the characteristics of commodities as they moved into the public sphere. Their movement can be put down to their "refusal…show more content…
In The Cheat, DeMille uses the notion of the `new women' to critique society in the era. While the film does not deny Edith the freedom that had come to be associated with the idea, it elucidates "[o]ne of the dangers of the modern urban culture [namely] the disappearance of traditional methods of knowing social status and presumed moralities associated with that status", a hazard which "meant [women's] decreased privatisation at the cost of their increased commodification" . Indeed, the early part of the film portrays an accurate depiction of society at the time, without overt prejudice or obsession with issues (which are dealt with in the narrative later). The society on show in DeMille's classic is one at the hands of an invasion by consumerism where, "[w]hether social activist or flapper, the `new woman' expected to function in both public and private spheres despite controversy regarding the nature of her role" . This movement came to be characterised by, "how expensive and fashionable...the garments [are] that the wife wears" . As Thorstein Veblen argues, "goods, especially clothing, were acting as a

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