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The Long Walk Home

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Ashley Moody

on 14 December 2013

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Transcript of The Long Walk Home

What is Expected?

Brief Synopsis
The Long Walk Home takes place in Montgomery, Alabama during the time of the bus boycott which began with Rosa Parks. The movie highlights the relationship between a maid and her employer during a time when gender roles were expected to be upheld. Odessa Cotter, played by Whoopi Goldberg, is a maid in the era when Blacks were not seen as equal and were fighting to break through gender and racial ideologies. Odessa’s employer, Miriam Thompson played by Sissy Spacek, must take time to reevaluate her role as a White woman and wife. It is clearly evident in the movie that in these times, women- whether Black or White- were expected to know their place and act accordingly. Interestingly, the film highlights the changes Odessa makes in her roles as a Black woman, and mother. The struggles Odessa must go through not only help in her personal battle between being a mother and adhering to her roles in society, but her struggles soon become Miriam Thompson’s struggles as well. Husband of Miriam, Norman Thompson, also goes through internal battles of what is expected of him as a White man, while adjusting to his wife’s reevaluation period. During the course of the movie, Miriam Thompson begins to realize her place in society for herself, and not based on what is considered normal actions for a White woman. As Miriam realizes the sacrifices Odessa makes for her family, she realizes the sacrifice she must make for Odessa and the entire Black community as well.
What is Expected?
Factors of Socially Structured Gender Roles
Social facts such as the expectataions of society to dislike Blacks if you are White, are constructing society’s roles in this film. There are various scenes in the film where it is apparent that outside factors influence the way a person carries themselves. Again, there were certain ways that Blacks were expected to act in front of Whites, and the expectations of Whites forced Blacks into a certain role in their presence. This is apparent when Selma attempts to ride the bus during the boycott. Selma seems confident in her decision to ride the bus when no one else was, until she was in the presence of the three young white men. As soon as they are in her presence, she completely changes her demeanor, doesn’t make eye contact and her body mannerisms reflect that of someone with no confidence. Interestingly, the external forces of a Black woman to act a certain way come from the mannerisms and attitudes of Whites who felt they were superior. The following scene here depicts the belittling of Selma, Odessa’s daughter, and what could possibly happen to a Black woman for not submitting to a White male. The young men in this particular scene represent what White men in this community feel they represent to their community. Women, especially Black women, were expected to stay in their expected gender roles, and if they attempted to break these expected roles, there would be obvious punishment. Not only did Selma the consequences of breaking her gender role expectations, but her brother also. It was ironic that even though he was younger than Selma, his role in their family as a young man is to protect his sister regardless of the fact that he is younger.
Miriam Breaks Role
Towards the end of the movie there is an obvious shift in what Miriam portrays as her expected role in society. At one point in the movie, Miriam explains that she married Norman, and that means she is expected to live as he does. It is ironic that there is not even a question of compromising as a married couple, but the even Miriam herself explains that her role as a woman is to follow the lead of the husband. At first, Miriam shows signs of being in tune with her role in society, and what is expected of her as a woman. She accepts that her place is in the home, and that Norman is expected to be the provider. This scene, this particular point in the movie represents a shift in the way Miriam views her role in society as a White woman, and especially Norman’s wife. At this particular point in the movie, Miriam breaks free from what is expected as a wife. Norman, his actions still constructed by what society feels should be seen from a White male. Despite aspects of biological determinism that previously constructed the way Miriam viewed herself and her role in society. Due to her biological disposition, Miriam is expected to maintain her place in the home, and not outstep her boundaries in the marriage. Discourse analysis is also apparent when Miriam decides to join the Boycott movement and begin driving for the Blacks who were not taking the bus, or able to drive themselves. This visualization of Miriam becoming a part of the Bus Boycott that symbolizes the breakout from her expected role and behavior in society.

The Long Walk Home
After watching the movie, it is apparent that there has been a slight change in the gender roles per race. At the beginning of the movie, there were was an apparent divide amongst social expectations of women, both Black and White. Not only was the racial, gender divide displayed throughout the movie, but also the social divide between women of different incomes. The expected roles of the women in this movie were distinctively different among one socioeconomic class to the next. Miriam was expected to remain in the home, and be pleasantly submissive to her husband. On the other hand, Odessa was not seen the same way by her husband. Due to the lack of sufficient income Odessa knew her role as woman of the house included taking care of the household, and also work outside of the house. In the White community, the male is seen as the only appropriate means of a family generating income. It interesting to see how the same sex can be assigned different roles in their own homes and community based on race and economic status. The director emphasizes the role of the white woman, and uses this structure of ideologies to also emphasize the multiple roles of the Black female in the era of the Civil Rights Movement.
The Long Walk Home
What is Expected?
Norman and Society
Roles are Broken
Miriam Joins the Movement
Directed by: Richard Pearce
Odessa Cotter is an exemplary character in this film, and her role in the film is important in comparing gender roles in the film. Throughout the movie, it is evident what type of things are expected of Odessa as a woman of color. There are certain things that are automatically expected of her that would not necessarily be expected of Miriam. Odessa must fight between the struggle of being a mom, or allowing the boycott to take away her life. Gender ideologies are apparent in not only what is expected of Odessa, but also in what is expected of Miriam as a White woman and wife. As a Black woman, women are expected to be servants and act in a submissive matter towards all whites. Odessa wants to do what she can to make sure that her children are well taken care of, but that she also maintains her position in the Thompson household. Division of Labor is clearly evident in the roles that Odessa plays in her own home vs the role she plays in the home of the Thompsons. It is clear that she must maintain the head of the house in her home, doing the cooking and cleaning. However, even though this is also her role in the Thompson house, it is evident that to the Thompsons, she holds a different type of position. The demeanor of Odessa Cotter changes as she goes from role of mother and caretaker to maid. It is ironic in a sense, that she is doing the same role in both households, but seen on a completely different social status in each household.

Miriam is expected to uphold herself to high standards due to the fact that she is a White woman. Her husband, Norman, does expect his wife to have morals that fit into the lifestyle that he is trying to live. As a White woman, there are expectations and roles to be held based on stratification. There is an obvious social status split based on both gender and race in the movie. The director’s decision to place emphasis on the relationship between Miriam and her husband allows the audience to see that she also faces gender role expectations in her own social realm. Miriam faces the challenge of deciding between doing what is right, and being submissive to her husband as she is expected. The White women in this movie are responsible for making sure the household is taken care, and are expected to maintain home life by utilizing services from the maids. Miriam is at first submissive to her husband’s demands, but eventually decides to go outside of her cultural and societal norms to do what she knows is the right thing. The second half of the movie, Miriam is told by her husband what he expects of her role, because it would like to give an outward. Norman makes it clear to Miriam that he pays the bills, and that he make all final decisions; which shows that there is stratification within the family also.
Norman feels as a white man, he must uphold a certain image to both his brother, and society. Tucker Thompson, is the epitome of what type of mentality a man is supposed to have about separation of Blacks in this time period. Tucker is completely open with anyone about his feelings towards the Black members of society, and what their role should be. White men were seen as superior to white women and blacks. White men were the ones with authority, and any other members of society were expected to obey their wishes. An example of this would be the scene at the park when Odessa was asked to leave the Whites only park. Odessa was expected, because she was a female and Black, to answer to a White man who was obviously younger than her. Due to the fact that he was a White male, he expected a certain type of response and demeanor from Odessa. It was ironic that Miriam had the power, greater than Odessa who is also a women, to obtain a personal apology from the police officer. Even though Miriam carried more weight in power than Odessa, she was still obviously considered to be below the status of her husband. Norman explains to Miriam, after finding out about the rides she provided Odessa, that he was obligated to uphold the image society expected from him as a White male. He , in so many words, explained to Miriam that he had expectations he needed to live up to as a White male, and that he must either become a member of City Council, or the Klan.
Please begin watching at 3:45. Norman displays his feelings of his role in society.
The following clip should be
watched from 1:30 on. This
scene depicts social and
gender roles expected in this
Alabama community.
this clip does contain some
offensive language*****
During the course of the movie, Miriam struggles to understand her role in Odessa’s life, as much as the role Odessa plays in hers. At this point in time, White women are seen as the backbone of the home life, yet Black women are taking care of their homes. In the movie, it is interesting to see how Miriam views her role in the house as the care taker, yet most of her days are spent with friends, or in the beauty parlor while Odessa handles all duties which are expected to be performed by women. The expectations of Miriam’s role were performed efficiently by Odessa, yet throughout the movie the Black community fights to be seen and treated as equal. Ironically, the roles of Black maids in the movie show to be an important factor in the structure of the White families featured. These women are with the families, cooking and caring for the children every day of the week. The Black maids portrayed in the movie are handling the roles of wives and mothers, but not receiving the appropriate gratitude. This highlights the difference in gender role expectations based on race. The White women are expected to make sure the house is taken care, and present themselves in a manner that is both appealing and submissive to their husbands. As the director envelopes the audience in the expected roles of each female character, it constructs the expectations of each male character in the movie. It seems safe to assume that whatever the women is not supposed to be, such as provider, income maker and decision maker, the male is expected to do.
A Conclusive Look
Gender roles of both men and women work together to construct a society. Without these roles being upheld by each sex, there would be no background structure of society. Each role expectation displayed during the movie for both male and female set the overall tone of environment for biological determinism. Based on each character’s natural place in the socioeconomic ladder, the gender ideology of each was determined. Each character’s role in the community was predetermined based on sexual ideologies. Stratification was evident based on each character’s obligation to present themselves in a manner that society deemed appropriate. Based on what society structures as the appropriate behaviors for each sex, including racial divide, the characters in the movie were upheld to those gender role characteristics. At the point of the movie in which the Bus Boycott activities peaked, the gender roles of almost all the characters begin to shift. Miriam begins to realize the impact a change in her expected behaviors can have on her entire society. Again, this brings us back to the theory that each sex’s behavioral expectations can shape a society. A deviance from what is considered a social norm has an effect on the society as a whole. Throughout this film, slowly but surely, the behaviors deemed appropriate by this Southern community change based on the actions of those involved in the Boycott. This is evident at the end of the film when Miriam stands up to her husband and brother-in-law. The end result of Miriam deviating from her normal, expected behaviors was the first step towards change in the community.
A Brief Synopsis
Mary Catherine: An Interesting Observation
Please watch from to 35 and again from 6:20 to 6:55.
As children, we look to our family members, especially our parents, to understand our accepted behaviors. I found it interesting that Mary Catherine seemed to look up to Odessa, and not her mother, for guidance on appropriate behaviors. Throughout the movie, it was evident that as a Black female, Odessa had double the gender roles to fulfill. It was evident that Miriam depended on Odessa to complete the nurturing tasks she was expected to make sure were completed. It is ironic to me that the role of the White woman was not to directly handle the duties of the role of nurturer. Instead, it was expected that the White female in this society would be only responsible for appropriately assigning these duties to the Black female(s) in her household. This does, however, leave the Black female with the responsibility of two households, and also the responsibility of molding the actions of those to whom she provided care. At several points in the movie, the audience can see that Miriam’s daughter, Mary Catherine, did in fact look to Odessa for modeling her behavior. Even as a young girl, Mary Catherine is able to decipher her role in this society. It is ironic that Mary Catherine models herself after the Black women she is being care for by; especially Odessa. The role of the Black female had multiple behavioral roles, including nurturer to children not their own. The movie clearly depicts the struggles Odessa experiencing, and her daily stresses of upholding multiple expectations based on gender/racial roles.
Tucker: White Male Prototype
Tucker Thompson displays himself in this film as the epitome of how a White male in this era should act. Going back to the consistency of gender role generating community structure, the character of Tucker played an important role in constructing the expectations of the community. At times, it seems as though Norman felt pulled between doing what his heart stated was right, or living up to the role of White male. Tucker was adamant on displaying himself as the alpha male, and that society’s views on the appropriate social status for Blacks and Whites should not be tainted with. Tucker truly believed that the expected behavior roles of Black men and women should not change in order to keep society structured to discriminate against those of color. It was interesting to see the internal struggle that Norman Thompson felt day to day, and how he displayed some opinions in attempt to save face with his brother and the White community. At several points in the story, Tucker attempts to get Norman to put his wife, Miriam, in her place. Tucker confronts Norman about holding up to his expectations and keeping his wife in the place of a woman. Tucker insists that it is a bad look on Norman’s part to have a wife whom he cannot control, and who also takes part in the advancement of Blacks in the community.
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