Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Stepford Wives

The novelist Ira Levin can claim credit for two novels -- the other being Rosemary's Baby -- that were the basis of classic horror/sci-fi films of the '60's and '70's. With Stepford, Levin tunes in on many of the issues of the day -- urban flight to the suburbs, feminism, and the pressures of conformity -- without in any way making it an "issues" novel -- it's been called a "satirical thriller," and that probably comes as close as any other phrase to describing his subtle yet sardonic portrait of an independent woman in a suburb filled with women who don't just act robotically, but are in fact robots. built deep in the bowels of the mysterious "Men's Club."

The fascination with the idea of human automata or robots goes back to the earliest days of modern technology. In the early 1800's, Henri Maillardet built astonishing automata, including one which could write poetry and draw. This figure, amazingly, was found in a state of disrepair after having been damaged in a fire; on its being restored and wound up, it made a number of drawings, including one one under which it wrote "Ecrit par L'Automate de Maillardet" -- Written by the Automaton of Maillardet -- in a sense, it identified itself.

The quest in more modern times has been to create a robot which is as similar in its outward capabilities as a human being, and yet most of its fictional and film incarnations have been hostile rather than kind: cyborgs such as the Terminator, organic humanoids such as the Replicants in Ridley Scott's Bladerunner, or the Borg of Star Trek, whose famous taglines are "resistance is futile," and "you will be assimilated." Friendly robots have not fared so well; the best, such as Robin Williams' Bicentennial Man, have been vaguely pathetic in their never-ending quest to reach a humanity that is denied them.

Levin's genius -- and the genius of the 1974 film version, starring Katharine Ross -- to imagine robots who are nothing if not built to please -- men, that is -- but whose ultimate significance to the women they replace is a total loss of identity, followed by a death that will never be reported in the Stepford Chronicle.  They're entirely technological, but in other respects much like their organic counterparts in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

There are a few interesting differences between the book and the film, most significantly its ending, a fade-to-black that suggests that the knife goes in a rather different place. The book also introduces a black couple new to Stepford, Ruthanne (a children's book author) and her husband, Royal. It's a feint -- sexism trumps race, and while Ruthanne is useful to the book's last pages (it's through her eyes that we see Joanna's replacement), there's a strong implication that she, too, will soon be Stepfordized.
As an aside, the novel explicitly mentions the urban legend about the Abraham Lincoln animatronic (designed by Disney engineers for the 1964 World's Fair) going 'crazy.' It didn't, but a frequently posted online video shows that it had other, equally bizarre, troubles. The adventuresome might also check out the TV sequels, Revenge of the Stepford Wives and The Stepford Children -- for even more animatronic weirdness.

20 comments:

  1. The Stepford wives was an interesting book to say the least. It is a mix between sic-fi/horror. It is a book based in a small suburb where the women always look nice, clean and do what "they should". When Joanna and her family move into the town she soon begins to notice that somethings off. These perfecting looking wives are not wives at all, they are robots. I was surprised at how much i actually enjoyed the book. I did not feel like i was forcing myself to read it instead i actually enjoyed it. After watching the movie in class, the comparisons were high in number. What i found interesting though is that the scenes that were the same in the movie and the book were almost exactly how i had imagined it to be when reading. The Stepford Wives takes a odd approach to sexism, one most people would not think of. However, it does an amazing job at really bringing sexism to the attention of the audience. Overall i enjoyed both the book and movie to much of my surprise. I look forward to seeing what else we read and being able to see how dar off or similar they will compare to this sic-fi but more horror book.
    (Gabrielle Demers)

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  2. Stepford Wives by Ira Levin is definitely one of the creepiest books which I have ever read. The idea that husbands are willing to kill their wives and replace them with robots is psychotic and disturbing. After moving to Stepford, the men in the Men’s Association collect data on their wives over the course of four months in order to create robot doppelgangers of them, and then they dispose of their wives. The women are obsessed with housework, look all prim and proper, and have no individual personality whatsoever. You would think that the men would grow tired of this, but they seem not to. I actually preferred the book over the 1974 movie version. I was actually kind of disappointed that there were quite a few differences, such as the ending, the psychiatrist character, and the character who wrote the children’s book. I found the book to be much creepier and much faster moving than the movie, which dragged for me. At some points I thought the men were getting creative on how they were collecting their data. For example, when they were collecting their voice recordings, the men said it was for “police reasons.” However, you would think that the women would have noticed that only they were doing this, not the men. I could not decide which ending for Joanne, the main character, was scarier. In the book Joanne was running in a snowstorm when she was found by three men who brought her to her best friend Bobby’s house in order to prove to her that Bobby bleeds, and that the women are not robots. The chapter ends with Bobby, who had already been turned into a robot, telling Joanne to come to the sink so that she could show her that she bleeds; she did this while holding a knife. Joanne is not heard from again so the story suggests that she was killed by her “best friend,” the one person she trusted and bonded with the most. On the other hand, the movie has her running in a rain storm to the Men’s Association. Diz is there and chases her into a room in which the Joanne robot strangles her. This book was different, and I actually had a hard time putting it down at some points, wondering what was going to happen next. Was Joanne going to escape? Were the men going to get away with their sick and twisted plan? Unfortunately, the men did and Joanne died.(Amanda Lussier)

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  3. Even though "The Stepford Wives’" main theme was very creepy, I felt very intrigued by this uniqueness and couldn’t stop reading/watching. Maybe this was because Ira Levin was portraying themes that are still very prevalent in life today. Even though many are fighting for more equal rights and less stereotypes between genders, the issues are definitely still present. I found it very interesting how the film started with the family in the city seeing a lady carry a mannequin across the street. This is almost foreshadowing what life will be like in Stepford. This lady could have been metaphorically carrying her future (robot) self. It also shows how living in Stepford can really change a person. When they saw the naked mannequin the parents told the young girls to cover their eyes, but when a robot (similar to a mannequin) is their mother they are expected to love it. The feminist movements today are because many women like Joanna realized the inequalities in society and were able to verbalize these dislikes and come together to work towards a change. It is clear that many people are getting tired of just following the path of society and have realized that they deserve things just as much as the other sex does. This movie shows that the common response “I’m fine” may not always be a good thing and people shouldn’t have to say “I’m fine” when they are really not. Even though Joanna’s fight for change didn’t turn out in her favor, society today is definitely moving in the right direction in this respect because many people have come together to achieve this goal rather than just one person in the minority.

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  4. "The Stepford Wives" was a sketchy movie. It started to sketch me out when one of the wives was hit by a car and she nor her husband or "the paramedics" acted normal. They acted like nothing was wrong and just threw her into the back of the ambulance then continued to drive the opposite direction of the hospital. I liked the movie because it was twisted and unpredictable. I thought all the men were just going to sleep with each others wives but instead they replaced their wives. I don't know why they would want a robot over an actual person. Emotion is more important than compliance.

    Cherie Smith

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  5. The Stepford Wives was a good insightful thriller. Overall I enjoyed the film and it's plot as well as the feminism theme. The metaphorical use of the animatronic women to symbolize the stripping of rights was powerful. These women have Ideas and hopes as well as aspirations. Bobby never wanted to be just a house wife and Joanna desperately wants a career in photography. Neither of these women are striving to live solely for their husband. They want to live for themselves and attend to their own dreams.These things make them individuals but Stepford and its inequality is seeing them as blank useless slates. They aren't seen as people but as trash to just be thrown in the garbage. These women are lacking the basic respect that all human beings deserve that shows how feminism is important. This movie highlights, in an extremely sense, how the inequality of gender affects women. We are stripped of oneness of individuality in order to please the men. This feministic theme and metaphor were incredibly powerful and lent itself to a great movie.

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  6. The Stepford Wives was an interesting book about a town called Stepford CT. In this book a family moves to Stepford from New York City, which in and of itself is a big change. The little town of Stepford is a small, tight knit, community on the outside, but as you get more involved in the community you discover that something isn’t right. The men of the town have all taken over and they drug the women and then replace them with robots. Once they have been turned into robots they do whatever the men want them to do, they are the “perfect” wives. Near the end, when Joanna’s best friend is turned into a robot, she sees a psychiatrist to help her. This psychiatrist seems to believe that Joanna is telling the (crazy) truth and tells her to leave Stepford with the kids as soon as possible. Joanna goes home to collect the kids and leave, but the kids are gone. Her husband doesn’t answer where they are, just that they are safe. She goes to find them and she gets captured and turned into a robot too. The movie ends with a scene of her and all the other wives in the grocery store, all pleasant, and emotionless. I thought that this movie was kind of creepy, but also entertaining. It captivated me, and I was really rooting for Joanna to get out. Unfortunately there wasn’t a happy ending to this book. (Elizabeth Cook)

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  7. Stepford Wives was a psychoanalytical film asking the question what would happen if housewives were replaced with robots. I believe this fun is a periodic piece that is no longer relevant to our society. The author Ira Levin was commenting on the women in the 1970s, particularly those who lived in suburbia. At the time, these women were isolated in their own neighborhoods. There only interests were cleaning, cooking, and socializing with other nearby housewives. There personality as housewives already seemed to mimic that of a robot. But of course this was also the time there was a counter movement and such characters like Joanna and Bobby who aren't naturally like a housewives. So the men clubs relied on these pod women who would willingly accept the submissive housewife role. However, I don't believe this could happen today in suburbia. In my sociology class we've learned that because there is wasn't much for a suburban to do, they occupied themselves with housework. Now, women have less time with work (they can even work from home) and leading their own lives with social organization and charity work. If there were a Stepford Wife today in a neighborhood, everyone would immediately know that's a robot because no women today would have all the time in the world to clean.
    The film overall was creepy, it's a movie I don't think I would've personally would have watched on my own. I thought it was a dark concept to have men replace their loved ones who has individuality with someone who does whatever they are told. (Cindy Xon)

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  8. I enjoyed the Stepford Wives film better than the book. The book was more entertaining to watch than the book was to read. This was my favorite film that we've watched all semester. It was about housewives and their lifestyle as a housewife. I found the wives weird and creepy but that's because, as Cindy Xon, the response above, they were representing robot housewives. i liked it because it showed how men view women, and see their value in their life. They cook and clean. Do all the household duties with no help from a man. Reminded me of a 2015 version of the 1960's. i enjoyed this movie/book because will there be women robots, or robots at all in the future??

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  9. The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin was a very creep but interesting book. It describes the women as very traditional house wives that cook and clean and take care of their husbands. While the husbands go about everyday life without helping their wives. Little did the women know that they were getting killed and were being replaced with robots.I thought it was crazy but also very intriguing that the men were willing to kill and replace, their wives with robots. It actually also reminded me of modern time. I was brought up that the women take care of the house and their husbands and the men work. I have to admit this is probably one of my favorite books so far from all the books we have read this semester. (Jesenia Martinez)

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  10. Honestly, this book was one of the creepiest books I've ever read, in a very psychological way. Ira Levin pulls it off clearly too, it's a very well-crafted book. Levin has this creepy capacity to put you in the place of the main character, Joanna. You feel her anxiety, her doubt and her fear. You are as extremely confused by the situation as Joanna is. The tension and suspense is tied so perfectly from beginning to end. I must say, the book is scarier than the original movie, even though the movie does provides more background and explanation as to how the murderous bits would actually work. The ending itself was a little different than the film version, but the effect is the same. In conclusion, the book is really about men's desires, or per say Levin's interpretation of them. That they would be enthusiastic to sacrifice their wife's identity, her presence, to make her a mindless “barbie” that did what they pleased. The men in this book are truly perplexing beings, but even more frightening is that this is a doubt shared by all women. At a young age, we girls are taught to doubt ourselves, our physical appearance, our mind, our talent or even the love of others. As a girl, who is raised in a society where everything tells you that you have to be good-looking, you have to be talented, and in particular you have to be perfect or you’re nothing. This book surely taps into that mantra. The sensitivity that every girl has that, "I'm not good enough" trails that up with "at least I'm me" and that is where the dread of this book lies. (Rosmina Gonzalez)

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  11. In the "Stepford Wives" I can honestly say it was one of the creepiest books or movie I have either read and watched. The fact that men would basically kill their wives to turn them into Robots. They want their wives to be perfect and do all the housework for when they get home it will be all nice. The wives even now make themselves get all dolled up to please their husbands as well. The first woman that noticed all the women and her friend were changing drastically was Joanna. I feel as I really enjoyed reading and watching because it kept me always interested. I love how there were bits and pieces toward the beginning that were foreshadowing that kept me wanting know what happens at the end. I think that I enjoyed this so much because it proves how no one is perfect and no one can be perfect.

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  12. This book and movie was quite strange. I agree with many of the other comments that it was very creepy, yet interesting. I never wanted to stop reading it. One thing that was especially strange is how each husband acted. I can not wrap my head around the idea of a man willing to kill their wife in order to have a robot one that is perfect. Aren't they with their wives because they love them and think they are already perfect? In my own opinion, I would never give up my love one for a robot no matter how "perfect" they are. The ideas in this story reflect on how life use to be. Back in the day, the women stayed home to take care of the house and children while the man went to work. Today, the roles are equal; each family is different. Sometimes, the women goes to work and the man stays home, or they both work and split the domestic responsibilities. I feel as if the author is trying to say that life is better when the wife stays home while the man goes and makes the money (in my opinion). Another theory I have is the exact opposite of that idea. Maybe Levin is trying to say that when women are kept to domestic work and do not do anything else besides wait on the men hand and foot, they are acting like robots. Those are just my ideas of how this story can be analyzed. Overall, even thought this novel was incredibly creepy, it was very intriguing!

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  13. The “Stepford Wives” was one of the strangest books I have read and movies I have watched. This movie was disturbing due to the fact that the husbands would want them killed and have a robot instead. The men seemed to not appreciate their wives and could not accept them for their flaws. They wanted that perfect wife that only comes in a dream not reality. I really enjoyed the film though, it kept me interested and showed that no one is perfect, everyone has flaws and the messaged it gives should be seen by everyone mostly women. Women today think they need all this make up to look good when in reality they don’t. (Kelsey Wood)

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  14. The Stepford Wives was an interesting story. It is interesting because Joanna does like the neighborhood that they have moved to with perfect housewives. She becomes friends with a couple of the housewives who end up changing their behavior. This could maybe be due to Joanna. The women in the Stepford are being replaced by robots. This is interesting because just imagine living somewhere and being replaced by others that are robots and not real humans. I couldn’t imagine that. I agree to what Kelsey said in the point that women think that they need to wear makeup to look good everyday but they don't.

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  15. The Stepford Wives is an unconventional story of some eye opening characters and themes. The thought of being replaced by a robot is a large part of a societal issue now. Though we have seen the theme before, it doesn’t quite compare to the replacement of housewives. I found the piece to be very intriguing and well written. This concept can also be related to maybe the power struggle of the matriarchy vs. patriarchy. By showing these seems between the struggle of man and woman, the author rather conveys the fear of woman in society at this current point in time.

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  16. The Stepford Wives was without doubt my favorite novel from this semester! Just like many other novels we read this semester it is a satire. I admire it's creepiness and effort to mock conservative American males and educate readers what Gender Inequality is. How women should remain silent and clueless and if not they must understand the consequences.

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  17. The Stepford Wives is a satire and science fiction novel, and one of my favorites from the semester. Joanna and her husband, Walter move their family to Stepford, Connecticut, which was known as the ideal suburban place to live. Joanna meets a friend, Bobbie, and together they figure out the secrets of Stepford. All the wives, have been replaced by robots to cook, clean, and be the perfect house wife for their husbands. (Amanda Belluscio)

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  18. The Stepford Wives film quickly captured my attention from the beginning. As Johana and her family move out to a suburb, you can sense a weird atmosphere and Johana senses it as well as she does not look excited about moving into Stepford. We begin to sense something strange in how Carol's reaction and how Walter stays late at night with the Men's association. By the end we do find out that all the Stepford wives are actually robots, just as Johana had imagined. As the men convert their wives into robots, it brings up a powerful theme which is how men exploit women for the sake of the men's needs. Another important theme that stuck out a lot as well was how women are only seen as domestic housekeepers who need to conform to this way of living. Overall, it was an interesting film that combined a sense of fantasy with elements of universal themes. (Kathy Mateos)

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  19. I really enjoyed the Stepford Wives, I feel like it was more of a normal movie that we have watched this semester. The idea of the perfect woman is sought out for all men, and back in the 70's the ideal woman was probably just like the Robots in Stepford. My favorite character in the movie was Johana, and it kind of upset me that in the end, she just went down without much of a fight. I like how the whole movie set up the idea of some kind of myserious thing happening to all the women, but they don't figure out right away that the women are all robots. (Brad Auger)

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  20. The novel "Stepford Wives" by Ira Levin is a super creepy book. First of all, a robot as a wife!? CREEPY!! can you imagine?! ugh.
    Throughout this we touch upon themes like how men exploit women for the sake of the men's needs, what an ideal woman would be (to a man) and the fact that women are only good for domestic purposes like the joke we all know "cool story babe, now go make me a sandwich" or the "why aren't you in the kitchen?" or "shouldn't you be doing some laundry or something?" talk about rude. Women are so good for so many purposes, not just domestic (all though we cover that pretty darn well).
    overall, it was enjoyable but still creepy.. (K.Overly)

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