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An Argument Worth Rehearsing

2 Comments 19 June 2010

I went to Santa Monica, California after Christmas.  A friend of mine was visiting a mentor and they talked art and painted all week while I read and wrote, and tried to figure out if I was, after all, a writer.  I do love California and think  I could move there tomorrow.  It is absolutely beautiful.

While I was there, my friend and I saw an indie film called An Education.  It was fantastic.  I had heard nothing of it back in the South and went home to still hear or see nothing more until the Oscar buzz began and the film was nominated for Best Actress, Best Adapted Screen Play and Best Picture.  I watched it again a few nights ago, only this time, I watched it with my teenage daughter and once again,  it left me thinking.

In the film, Carey Mulligan, the lead actress plays a young British girl coming of age in the 1950’s.  I won’t go into the storyline, you can get that from the link above.  However, the themes are as timeless as they are in most coming of age tales, but the beauty and simplicity with which they are told are magnificent.  The story was poignant for me, not only because of my almost sixteen-year-old daughter, but because of the issues addressed throughout the film that relate to women of any age.

One of those issues, the underlying issue itself, is Jenny’s (Mulligan’s character) disillusionment with the life that seems inevitable for all women.  She has given her young life, literally, to pursuing all of the correct things and working diligently towards an education that will land her an Oxford scholarship, yet this all seems but a means to an end that she finds empty and meaningless.  The only promise that all of this holds is but a life of subservience and monotony.  Jenny longs for culture, learning, the arts and to see a world full of beauty and be a part of it all.

Those who are the authorities in Jenny’s life, her parents, her teachers and her administrators have no room for her questions, her wondering and they simply want Jenny to follow the status-quo.  There is no room for being unique, no room for dreams or for passions.  It is this shutting down of who Jenny longs to be that makes her ripe for the deception of the antagonist in the movie, an older man who leads her astray, promising her all that she longs for and does not have.

In 0ne of my favorite scenes of the movie, Mulligan is called in to see the forboding Headmistress, played by the intimidable Emma Thompson, the scenario plays like this:

HEADMISTRESS:  Nobody does anything worth doing without a degree.

JENNY:  And nobody does anything worth doing with one, either. No woman, anyway.

HEADMISTRESS:  So what I do isn’t worth doing.Or what Miss Stubbs does, or Mrs Wilson, or any of us here.
Jenny doesn’t say anything. The headmistress takes her silence as an admission of defeat.
HEADMISTRESS:  Because none of us would be here without our degrees, you realise that, don’t you? And yes, of course studying is hard, and boring, and…
Jenny can’t contain herself any longer.
JENNY:  Boring!
JENNY:  Studying is hard and boring. Teaching is hard and boring. So you’re telling me to be bored, and then bored, and then finally bored again, this time for the rest of my life. This whole stupid country is bored. There’s no life in it, or colour in it, or fun in it. It’s probably just as well that the Russians are going to drop a nuclear bomb on us any day now. So my choice is either to do something hard and boring, OR to marry my… my Jew, and go to Paris and Rome and listen to jazz and read and eat good food in nice restaurants and have fun. It’s not enough to educate us any more, Mrs Walters. You’ve got to tell us why you’re doing it. (italics mine)
Jenny stands up.
JENNY: I don’t wish to be impertinent, Mrs Walters. But it is an argument worth rehearsing. You never know. Someone else might want to know what the point of it all is, one day.
She leaves the office.

As I said, the film is rich with topics to discuss, but from this scenario imparticular I found myself asking these questions:  Do I know why I do what I do?  Do I know why I encourage my daughter towards “An Education?”   What is the point of it all?  How much of what we do and push our children to do is about us fulfilling our dreams?  How much of what we expect of them is about cultural expectations and has nothing to do with who they are, their gifts and their passions?  Are we considering whether or not their education promotes who they are and what they will do for the rest of their lives or is it a means to an end that will leave them disillusioned?

I’m just sayin’…it’s an argument worth reheasing because they may want to know the point of it all.  Go rent or buy An Educationand watch it with your daughter or son if you have one. I would love to know what you think.

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2 Comments so far

  1. Oh, dear friend, you hit it with this one- I have a niece with a brand, spanking new college degree- NO job… would she be in the same place if she had a marketable skill? No- I think she would have a big, fat pay check.

    • Jorja says:

      Ridgely, wouldn’t it be amazing if we each learned the skill that we are gifted to do and then pursued it with our whole heart! WOW!

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things to make you wonder~

“I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wondering awed about on a splintered wreck I've come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them...” Annie Dillard

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