View this PageEdit this PageUploads to this PageHistory of this PageHomeRecent ChangesSearchHelp Guide

Categories of analysis: clip 2




clip 2- The Stoneman Household

time: 16:14 - 19:45
shots: 111-134

filmic technique

  • cutting short of shot 134, where shooting script has Stoneman placing his hand on Lydia's bared shoulder
  • question of why this has been cut: attempt to keep film less prurient, after-the-fact excision, or an issue of restoration and film damage
  • possible comment from David Shepherd- issue of why various edits were made
  • 'uncut' Library of Congress version: does it contain this scene?

  • use of contiguous spaces: Griffith maintains elements of the theatrical model, yet modifies creatively on them
  • establishes two parallel spaces, and intercuts without using formal entrances and exits
  • transiting between the two scenes also conveys the influence of one sphere on another: the impinging of cross-racial romance on national governance

  • the domestic situation of an (implied) interracial affair is portrayed as the motivating force behind Stoneman's political machinations
  • Lydia as the racial/sexual force intervening into current of political events: "The great leader's weakness that is to blight a nation"



racial representation

  • representation of mulattos and sexuality: miscegenation as obsessive target of fear, blame for Dixon and Griffith
  • mulatto as a degenerate symbol of the sexual union of black and white, 'jungle fever'
  • the suggested illicit tie between Stoneman and Lydia Brown– the housekeeper– is counterpoised against legitimate and healthy cross-sectional associations: the marriages between Northern and Southern elites

  • Lydia Brown adopts the airs and gestures of white Southern womanhood, but portrayed as a travesty of true gentility
  • Lydia attempts to force the black maid into a position of servitude: conflicted racial identity
  • danger of pride, haughtiness in the mulatto: does not want to defer to Sumner's orders
  • feigns sexual mistreatment at the hands of Sumner: framed as a mockery of the actual threats of rapine to white womanhood

  • "the library, which his daughter never visits"- Elsie Stoneman– as the virginal white maiden– is exempted from the taint of her father's sins, and even the site of those sins



literary origins


  • comparison to literary treatments of the relationship between Lydia and Stoneman: more or less revealing of sexual ties, prurience?

  • comparison between the gestural acting and Dixon's characterization of Lydia as an animal
  • Dixon's persistent references to Black women as "leopardess," a scheming and insidious sexual force
  • use of a still where Lydia is licking her fingers, in a feline-like, cozening fashion
  • Old Testament reference: "... Nor can the leopard change its spots"

  • eastern music, exotic dress: emphasizing the radical difference of the Other
  • visual suggestions of mesmerism; uncontrolled states of rage, rapture



historical representation

  • historical interpretations of the roles of Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens (Austin Stoneman), and their political differences
  • division between Stoneman and Stevens: Stevens (House leader) advocated Reconstruction policies which were more extreme than what
Sumner (Senate leader) was willing to approve

  • Eric Foner in Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution talks briefly on pp. 229-232 about the similarities and differences of Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner. Stevens "was a master of Congressional infighting, parliamentary tactics, and blunt speaking,...more willing to seize immediate political advantages, and to compromise when necessary." Sumner was less of a political infighter and more rhetorician. He, unlike Stevens, had connections with moral reform circles, especially abolitionists who considered him their politician. Both, however, were committed to black suffrage "long before any conceivable political benefit derived from its advocacy."

  • issue of confiscation: occupying the plantation lands and dividing them among white yeoman farmers and black freedmen

  • There does seem to be some difference between the two here (Foner, 235-9). Both advocated a land distribution policy, but Steven seemed more intent of breaking the power of the planter class; thus, he backed the confiscation of plantations. Sumner never viewed emancipation or reconstruction in terms of class. For example, while he advocated against segregation of rail cars, he thought it perfectly acceptable to have second and third class cars. In short, the division between the two men seems to be their attitudes towards class issues. I wonder if, in the film, Stoneman's nickname "The Great Commoner" is an allusion to Dixon's recognition on some level of this class-based advocacy.

  • also wanted to take further steps for black suffrage, and to bar the landed aristocracy from the polls
  • these more radical policies precipitated Stevens' vilification in the South, and the portrayal of him in the film as a vindictive zealot bent on legislating the South into submission

  • conflation of sexual and economic rape: Sumner keeps his distance from the lascivious maid, while Stoneman's union with her supposedly causes him to plow salt over the Southern way of life
  • the South characterized as female, and the punitive postbellum policies are framed as the rape of that gentrified way of life

  • accurate appearance/costumery of the actors playing Stoneman and Sumner
  • Griffith's modeling of the representations after period engravings
  • Stoneman immediately identifiable as Stevens due to his club foot and black wig, despite the perfunctory change of name
  • Stevens as a Massachusetts senator beaten by a Southerner on the Congress floor: consistent visual suggestion that his walking is labored



back to Clip 2