Enola Holmes (2020) Characters’ Perfect Portrayal of Feminism and Patriarchy in Society During Victorian Era: A Literary Criticism Paper on Enola Holmes Movie

Compared to most coming-of-age movies, Enola Holmes—a movie adapted from a book by Nancy Springer—has a very rattling story of Enola, a sixteen-year-old girl as the main character and her adventure to find herself in the historical background of the Victorian Era—the 19th century. The suspenseful story in general leads to the choice of the movie as the main reference for this essay. Besides its discrepancy from other teenagers’ stories, this movie involves a great plot showing the condition during that era realistically. Each character also acts well to represent their role, not only as an individual but also as a part of society throughout the Victorian era. Through this literary criticism essay, the characters and society will be the main focus—the correlation between both as well as how each aspect affects each other.

There are many characters in this movie. The plot is not necessarily complicated, but each character plays a huge role that if one is left out, the plot will be impaired. For society itself, based on the setting of the story, it is widely known that in that era, women did not have the same chance to be involved in most things, especially in politics as much as men. Women were expected to be wives and mothers and were encouraged to prepare to be someone whom society wanted them to be. However, in the movie, Enola decides to stick to what she believes in; she does not let society tell her what to do or who she must be. Growing up, she is homeschooled by her mother—Eudoria—whom she loves so much and finds extraordinary. “She is not an ordinary mother. She didn’t teach me to string seashells or practice my embroidery. We did different things; reading, science, sports, all sorts of exercise, both physical and mental. Mother said we were free to do anything at Ferndell and be anyone.” (00:01:38-00:02:17). Other characters also help portray society during the 19th century since society always has a correlation with people since it is basically the people and both of them can affect each other.

The undeniable possibility of how society and characters in the movie affect each other is what initiates the idea for the research questions of this essay. The diversity in the character’s traits can create a change in society as well. Therefore, these questions came to mind; how do the characters, specifically Enola, define themselves along with their purpose in society at that moment? How are the patriarchy and feminism portrayed in the movie? In what way can the harmonious dynamic of society be achieved, which leads to gender equality in the middle of a patriarchal society?

         This essay will specifically use feminist theory as a part of the feminist activity, which aims to alter the world through women’s equality promotion (Tyson, 2015, p. 88). Women’s equality has become a very significant purpose to achieve in the story, which is fought by the characters, especially Eudora—since she fights for suffrage which later in the story is revealed. This is started by the discovery of the poster or invitation regarding the meeting which says, “Manchester National Society for Women’s Suffrage Public Meeting” (00:48:49). She also plants the feminist mindset in Enola by educating her on things that are considered not usual for girls, such as physical activities such as sport. Eudora encourages Enola to grow up as a brave girl without sticking to the idea of “femininity” which society expects her to have. Amidst being a woman in a patriarchal society, Enola keeps trying to find her true self. She goes through several phases which lead her to know herself more as the story progresses, showing the patriarchy or male dominance in society. That is why, equality is targeted to be achieved. Through revolutionary actions and efforts, a change can be made—the one that leads to gender equality. Therefore, the highlighted concepts of the essay would gravitate towards feminism, patriarchy, and gender equality and inequality.

         Each character has a reason for being involved in the story. Enola has a purpose to find her true self. Her mother leaves on Enola’s sixteenth birthday after teaching her so many things. “You’ll do very well on your own, Enola.” (00:01:14). Even though Enola is told that she will do just fine by herself, Enola begins to try to look for her mother. Another reason is that she does not want to be forced to go to Miss Harrison’s Finishing School for Young Ladies as Mycroft tells her to. Patriarchy is well portrayed, specifically through Mycroft’s character. Mycroft finds Eudoria’s book called, The Subjection of Women in John Stuart Mill and he says, “Oh My God! Feminism.” with a judgmental tone. “Perhaps she was mad, or senile. Though madness, in our family? I would doubt it.” (08:43-08:55). When he meets Enola for the first time after a long time, he is surprised. “My God. Look at you. You’re in such a mess. Where’s your hat and gloves?” (00:05:55-00:06:07). It shows that he expects Enola to dress just how a girl or woman is supposed to be based on societal standards. It is the same with Miss Harrison. She suggests Enola wear an amplifier because she thinks her body is “disappointing”. Enola’s reaction shows the feminist side of her, the disapproval towards the standard of clothing, “I won’t enjoy being imprisoned in those preposterous clothes.” (00:13:05-00:13:08). Clothes are supposed to make us feel more comfortable and confident. Nevertheless, during that era, women were expected to wear something which did not let them breathe easily so they would faint and be seen as too weak to be involved in a society with men’s dominance (Tyson, 2015, p. 87). Again, Enola shows her feminist side when she buys some clothes and wears them to help her disguise because she chooses to, not because she has to. “The corset: a symbol of repression to those who are forced to wear it. But for me, who chooses to wear it, the bust enhancer and the hip regulators will hide the fortune my mother has given me. And as they do so, they will make me look like that truly unlikely thing: a lady.” (00:38:57-00:39:17). It shows how society oppresses women to the point of forcing them to wear “restraining” clothes. They had no choice back then but to dress according to the “norm”. 

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