This article analyzes William Faulkner’s 1951 prose drama hybrid narrative Requiem for a Nun as an adaptation of two “women’s films” that he worked on as a Hollywood screenwriter in the 1940s, The Damned Don’t Cry (completed in 1941, released in 1950) and Mildred Pierce (completed in 1944, released in 1945). These melodramatic films explore themes of maternal sacrifice and reproduce a formula wherein female transgression beyond the strict boundaries of the home and the nuclear family is met with severe punishment. At the advent of the Cold War, Faulkner witnessed the repurposing of these films’ tropes in new Hollywood melodramas where the American family was upheld as a key component of national strength and integrity in combating the threat of Communist infiltration. Following this ideology, women were urged to embrace normative gender roles as wives and mothers in a system of “domestic containment.” In Requiem for a Nun Faulkner returned to the themes of the woman’s film in his own Hollywood-inspired melodrama. Far from creating an “homage,” however, Faulkner drew on the drive for social conformity inherent in the genre but redeployed its tropes in a subversive fashion to launch a strong critique of the aggressive Cold War domestic imperative. By doing so he anticipated the direction some Hollywood family melodramas would take in the 1950s, particularly the films of the director Douglas Sirk that similarly employed autocritical techniques to undermine Cold War domestic norms.
Ben Robbins; William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun and Cold War Hollywood Melodrama. Genre 1 December 2017; 50 (3): 343–370. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-4210919
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