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Mona Lisa Smile. Dir. by Mike Newell. Columbia Pictures, 2003.

In the movie, Mona Lisa Smile directed by Mike Newell, a new art history professor at Wellesley College teaches her female students alternatives to their seemingly preordained futures as wives and mothers. In this paper we will examine women’s roles in the 1950’s through Mona Lisa Smile and compare this film to actual experiences of Wellesley collage graduates.In 1953, a time when women’s roles were rigidly defined, free-spirited, art history professor Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts) begins teaching her dream job at Wellesley College. Wellesley is an all-female campus with a prestigious reputation for academic excellence, however, despite its name it is an environment where success is measured by ‘how well’ the students marry. Katherine, who recently left her husband (first strike against the non-conformist), taught liberal views that were out of place in this conservative ?50s college. Encouraging these women to strive for a more open-minded future, Watson challenges the administration and inspires her students to look beyond the image of what is, and consider the possibilities of what could be. Besides butting heads with college administrators who object to progressive ideas, she also pushes the conservative students who firmly believe a woman’s only role is to be a wife and mother.The girls were more interested in nabbing a good husband than achieving scholastic and intellectual growth. The main characters were; catty but well brought-up Betty (Kirsten Dunst), potential graduate student Joan (Julia Stilies), insecure Connie (Ginnifer Goodwyn) and campus slut Giselle (Maggie Gyllenhaal). All of the women in the film were defined by their relationsh…

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…essor of Italian in the movie).Mona Lisa Smile is like a medley of ’50s ideological disgraces: A school nurse gets fired for dispensing birth control, a teacher refers to Lucille Ball as a “communist”, Betty’s prayers are answered when she gets what every woman dreams of? a washer and dryer. The message that the film tried to deliver, a critical insight into ’50s culture, became mumbled in the drama of bad relationships. In the end, Watson’s unorthodox teaching style and emphasis on modern art influenced the faculty and earned her students’ respect. She represented the many “so called” free spirited, non-conformist, feminist, liberal women in the ?50s who pictured a different world among men.

Works Cited:

Burros, Marian. “Critique From 50’s Wellesley Grads.” The New York Times 29 Dec. 2003.

Mona Lisa Smile. Dir. by Mike Newell. Columbia Pictures, 2003.

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