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Martyring Veda: Mildred Pierce and Family Systems Theory

C. M. Gill
Vol. 44, No. 1-2, New Psychologies and Modern Assessments (Spring/Summer 2010), pp. 81-98
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Page Count: 18
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This essay re-considers the classic film Mildred Pierce using a new theoretical perspective: Family Systems Theory (FST). The essay begins by looking briefly at the film's existing critical commentary to point out its limitations; in particular, much of the scholarship fails to provide a clear understanding of the actions and motivation of the character typically considered the film's villain: Veda Pierce. This paper argues that once the viewer understands Veda and the other Pierces in terms of their roles and relationships within the Pierce family system, the tragedy presented within the film becomes more understandable, and the film's commentary on the postwar American family clearer. Utilizing FST's conceptions of differentiation of self, triangulation, and life-span development, the paper argues that Veda should not be viewed merely as villain or scapegoat, but rather as a martyr of the Pierce family system; indeed, this essay points out that the film makes clear that each member of the Pierce family shares his/her blame in the film's tragedies.

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