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Gender Roles in The Thin Man Essay

The period of the 1930s was an offshoot of the “roaring twenties” or the “jazz age”, a time when women gained a heightened sense of prominence in the society after the First World War saw young men leaving their homes and their work in response to the nation’s call to arms (Freedman, 1974, p. 374). Towards the end of the war and at the beginning of the 1930s, women became more in control of their liberty, proof of which is their newly recognized right to suffrage (Murphy, 1996, p. 52). They became regular members of the social workforce, thereby giving them a renewed sense of control over their lives.

The “flapper”—young women who defied the norms of what a conservative woman is by engaging in casual sex and wearing short skirts, among others—took the center stage, so to speak. As for men, such circumstances only brought them closer to the temptation of pleasing the opposite sex. This is clearly portrayed in the 1934 film The Thin Man. In the film, Nick Charles and his wife Nora represent the life of married couples whose lives are characterized primarily by the attitudes of the social elites—fun meant enjoying martinis and sleuthing.

In a way, the couple captures the gender roles of each partner during the 1930s. Nora was a wealthy heiress who had almost everything at her disposal. She was beautiful and seemed to have a passion for adventure owing largely to her living a life of liberty. She was the 1930s woman who saw life as the ultimate provider of adventure in all its daring forms. Nick was a handsome man and a retired private detective who previously investigated and solved murders. He was the 1930s man who was deeply entrenched with his passion for resolving issues no matter what it takes, much to the amusement of the female partner.

In fact, Nora was more than delighted upon knowing that Nick accepted the task of investigating the disappearance of his friend Clyde Wynant and the death of Clyde’s former girlfriend, Julia Wolfe. It leaves little room to speculate that Nora was indeed the typical 1930s woman who seized her liberty as if it would never run out, putting her self to risky situations together with her man. She portrayed the woman who embraced the “flapper” culture with open arms, spending her time drinking alcohol or romantically engaging her partner.

While she remained supportive of Nick like a female partner might usually commit herself into, she was on her own a liberal minded individual. For the most part, Nick played the role of the adventurous husband which perfectly complements Nora’s interest in the same. He was someone who lived every danger with such boldness. He was someone who sought the pleasure of his spouse—from accepting her request for him to take the case to completely allowing her to partake in his drinking sessions—no matter what the cost may be.

It goes to show that Nick was a man who shared entirely similar interests with his spouse and will gladly fulfill whatever it is that will make his woman happy. It was his role to please his woman. On the other hand, it was the woman’s role to act is if she was herself a man, fully absorbed in exactly the same interests as the husband’s. Here we see the approximate gender roles prevalent during the 1930s. Men and women had more similarities than differences as far as their inclinations are concerned. To a certain degree, there was no “woman”.

Woman drank, dressed and acted in an unconventional so that they may be desired by the opposite sex, and actively participated in fairly dangerous tasks. Her liberty stood at the very core of her character and this made her more appealing to every man. Towards the end of the film, Nick gives in to the implied gesture of Nora to spend the night together in the same bed. The scene is revealing insofar as it gives rise to the idea that women exerted a certain influence or power over men especially when it comes to passionate affairs.

The 1930s woman had too much liberty, in fact, that she can do anything she pleases and become pleased in the end. Nevertheless, the 1930s man still had a lot to do with her sources of pleasure. References Dyke, W. S. V. (Director). (1934). The Thin Man. United States: MGM. Freedman, E. B. (1974). The New Woman: Changing Views of Women in the 1920s. The Journal of American History, 61(2), 372-393. Murphy, M. (1996). ‘… And All That Jazz’: Changing Manners and Morals after World War I. Montana: The Magazine of Western History, 46(4), 50-63.


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