In every work of cinematic art, we can witness a social context in which events are taking place and characters are interacting. Often there are progressive forces at work, as well as regressive ones at play. While most works of fine film portray psychological change, social change may also be revealed. In this section, we aim to bring to light some of the social forces and influences at play in House of Eliott, and how they influenced events and the lives of the characters in the story.
Rise of Common Man
The 20th century saw the rise of the common man, as he was able to gain the rights, privileges, and opportunities of people of only enjoyed by the higher classes of the past. In other words, the average person came into his own during the century. We see this emerging in the story as well. For example, we see HofE developing high fashion clothing for the middle class; we see energetic, young, working class people like Grace enter the market; we see Bea and Evie themselves aspire to build a business through their entrepreneurial efforts. Each are forms of the emergence of the Common Man. Events in the story demonstrating this phenomenon include the following:
- Bea realizes the absurdity of developing a horrid costume for the upper class Lady Latner, and begins to see as Evie has the utility of designing more for the middle class and masses of society.
- House of Eliott begins to design more for the masses.
- House of Eliot develops a line of clothing for Sears, the greatest producer of cataloged goods for the average person.
- Evie's willingness to design for the masses shows that she is no snob, and is open to the emerging wave of the common man.
- Jack too is addressing issues facing the working class. He is in tune with the emerging aspirations of the worker who seeks fairness and justice in work. It is both the struggle and glory days of the rise of the worker class and worker rights.
Rise of Women
During this time, we see the beginnings of the rise of woman in the workplace, as well as their ability to make contributions, even build companies outside the normal marriage role expected of women of an earlier time. We also see forces that try to retard the rise of women in the workplace and elsewhere, hoping to maintain their traditional roles. Here are some indicators in the story.
- From the very beginning, Bea and Evie aspired to make a go of it on their own, unfettered by traditional views of women in business.
- Also from the beginning, Lydia tried to keep Bea and Evie in traditional women’s role of marriage, family, and certainly not starting their own enterprise.
- When Evie rises while working at Partini, the reactionary aunt Lydia is not pleased, as she only wanted Evie to have a basic job, and get married; not be successful at it. She does not appreciate such independence in women.
- Evie is entrepreneurial in that she tries to catch the emerging trends in society in her designs and in their sales. This is certainly not a traditional role for women. Evie is thus a pioneer. Even Evie’s intense desire to start a design business and have it be successful is indication of great changes for women in the workplace.
- We see how Bea and Evie deal with money matters, including finance in their business, an area normally given to men.
- We also see how aggressive they are in dealing with challenging situations, including the devious tactics of Arthur, Saroyan, and Victor Stride. These are aggressive actions that are in step with the emerging power of women at that time (first third of the 20th century).
- They are not just aping men. They are also bringing positive values to the workplace that woman seem to have uniquely, such as a higher level of compassion and understanding in dealing with co-workers, and a generally softer, more amenable, and engaging qualities.
- Also, note how women are now more free to go as they please; to visit dress couturiers; to make decisions with their own and their husband’s money, and so forth.
- Women now are also free to be deceiving and aggressive as their male counterparts, as we see in the person of Grace.
Evolution of Work
We see the evolution of the workplace in the story. Women are out of the home and working. They are also starting and maintaining their own businesses. We also see an interest in the well-being of the employee on the part of management, even as social forces compel companies and organizations to give greater attention to workers’ health and rights. Here are some examples:
- We see how Jack is in tune with the emerging aspirations of the worker who seeks fairness and justice in work. It is the glory days of the rise of the worker class and worker rights.
- We see marches for worker’s rights, as well as new legislature being passed in their name.
- We see how the government is concerned with overworking workers (which they perceived at HofE, but which proved not to be the case).
- After visiting Jack’s parents, Bea becomes far more aware of the need to value the employee. She takes a keen interest in several workers’ situations, including that of Agnes and Tillie.
Consciously or subconsciously, values change in society. At this time a number of personal, business, and social values are in the process of changing. Among them are:
- Belief in the active role of women to engage in business, including staring their own business
- New views of the role of the worker as not just a mere pawn in a larger game, but someone to be valued.
- The rise of the common man. That any person can rise to the top; that he or she can attain and enjoy that which was only available to the upper classes in previous centuries. That rights of the upper classes should now be enjoyed by the classes below.
- There is a can-do attitude that anyone can make it in society; though it is mostly in the US, since the British still maintain a high degree of classism.
- We see how the upper classes are slowly beginning to adopt more tolerance to the classes below them; though there are many exceptions (like Lydia and some of the HofE upper class clientele), who are the conservative, trailing edge who often lose out as the new energies and forms come to the fore.
- Respecting the wealthy and aristocracy is continuing to break down, as each and every person is valued more equally.
- Though the middle and lower classes are emerging, we still see that values have not kept up. An example are Grace and Cotter, who though they are riding the movement towards tolerating entrepreneurship from the lower classes, engage in shenanigans, as the necessary values have not been developed. (We see this clearly in the gangsterism of America during that time.)
- The belief in the importance of reputation and propriety (as advocated by Lydia) and others is breaking down. In fact, we see through Lydia’s son Arthur that he the embodiment of hypocrisy. The upper classes are losing the respect of the lower, as the higher demonstrates questionable behavior, even though outwardly they espouse respectability, propriety, etc.
- Reputation is becoming less important than a person or institutions real behavior. We see this when Bea and Evie work at Partini and Duroqu, who show that they have questionable values. The author’s of the story are bringing out the social hypocrisy that the lower classes are starting to perceive above them. Whereas the lower classes deferred to the upper in the past, they are now beginning to hold them accountable. Real, not espoused integrity is beginning to spread through society.
- We see how Bea is upset with her father for not educating her and her sister. They and the society are now valuing the need for knowledge, skill, and education to enable upward mobility.
- We see the breakdown of the class system, and the valuing of the middle classes more than before. We even see increased integration of the classes, and their valuing one another’s traits. E.g., middle class aspires for the education of the upper. The upper is beginning to value the energy, creativity, and influence of the classes below them.
- We see how much more readily the classes intersect in the story. Jack is moving amongst the most influential, even as his sister works with people on the street or the poor in Africa.
- We see how certain universal values are always helpful for accomplishment and fulfillment, including good will, goodness, generosity, self-givingness, affection, forgiveness, bravery, fortitude, skill, creativity, insight, intuition, etc. etc.
In every social development, there is usually a pioneer who moves things forward for society. That individual is a representative of the aspirations of the society – whether it is conscious or subconscious. In the story, we see how several characters are pioneers in their domain.
- We see how Evie is the driving force in her domain who is tune with the demands of a changing society. We see how she wants to move to a wider audience -- the professional working woman. Thus, she is a pioneer, now catching the wave of emerging change in society.
- Jack is also a pioneer in his advocacy of worker’s rights, including workman’s compensation. We also see the pioneering film work he does when he uses actual footage of an event (a strike) in his successful German film.