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Trauma Studies, Gender Performativity and The Return of the Repressed in Nappily Ever After: Text Analysis

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Image is everything? It may. Clothes are everything. They may. What about our hair? These are the questions that were raised while I was watching the romantic comedy on Netflix, ‘Nappily ever after. Nappily, not happy because the main character discovers true happiness only after a nap; an eyes-opening sleep that changed her view on life and perfection.

The main plot of the movie seems quite commonplace. Violet Jones (Sanaa Lathan) has a perfect life: perfect job, perfect boyfriend, and most of all, perfect hair. But one life-changing situation makes her realize that she was not living the life she was longing for. Under all this simple action, the subtext of the movie is much more interesting. (Netflix, web)

From the very beginning, we met Violet waking up from her sleep, starting to fix her make-up, and her hair, only to return to bed so her boyfriend can find himself next to a perfect woman. This looked quite exaggerated to me. Why would she do that? Furthermore, in the movie, we find out that her mother implied this obsession to her from childhood to adulthood. The idea that a woman with hair like hers (the specific afro-American hair) cannot be taken seriously in a world dominated by white beauty standards. (Hollywood Reporter, web)

The mother transformed the whole process of flat-ironing the hair into a traumatic one. Violet was supposed to stand hours of ironing, brushing, and avoiding water no matter what. She could not have fun, enjoy herself or do activities that may ruin her perfect hair. (Netflix, com) This falls into trauma studies. We have a character who has been subject to a psychological trauma that shaped her adult life. She was not allowed to accept her hair, a symbol of her race and identity, and had to adapt herself to a society where she could survive only by wearing a mask. Paulette (Lynn Whitfield), the mother, has the same obsession and views that were transmitted to her daughter, and, for her, everything resumes to looking perfect.

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Violet and Paulette’s behavior can also be seen from the point of view of gender performativity. The mother expects her daughter to be feminine, to act like a lady, and most of all, to look like one. She teaches her how to dress, how to make up, and how to arrange her hair which is the defining element for her. She criticizes her daughter when she tries something different and goes through trauma when Violet gets drunk and shaves her hair. This is the most cathartic episode of the movie when after a girl destroys her hair she goes through different changes (fake hair, short blond hair) and it culminates with drunkenness that will end up with her shaving all her hair. The morning after finds Violet struggling with the new situation. She feels lost, imperfect, and not capable of showing off her new hairdo. She does not feel feminine anymore and starts to hide. (Netflix, com)

Will (Liriq Bent) and his daughter Zoe (Daria Johns) will represent a turning point in Violet’s life. They will teach her how to accept herself and wear her hair with pride. Their relationship will be more of a spiritual kind with teachings that eventually will lead to the woman’s awakening. We can say that Violet goes through the return of the repressed. She has been repressing all her life her true self eventually returned when she is middle-aged as a middle-aged crisis. The jump in the pool at the engagement party is also a sign of Violet’s prohibited childhood memory that now is returning to her as an act of self-acceptance and self-confidence despite her mother’s view on it. (Wikipedia, web) She realizes that she has been faking all the time and that she wants something else.

Violet’s first boyfriend, Clint (Ricky Whittle), is also a supporter of gender performativity. He expects his girlfriend to be as feminine as possible, but rejects her when she is trying to be herself. His statement about their relationship, that he felt as going to the first date for two years, makes her realize that trying too much to be perfect only results in looking fake and unnatural. She returns again to him after leaving Will only to strengthen up the image that she lived in a world full of stereotypes. He supposedly accepts her as she is, but asks her to change her hair at a party. This episode awakens something in Violet that will lead to her full detachment of him and the returning to her dream to live her life, not the lives of the others.

On the other hand, Violet’s father is one of her supporters, encouraging her to be herself, her best self. Richard (Ernie Hudson) and his wife are in bad terms since he quit his job and started a career in modeling. (Wikipedia, web) He is the best example for her to do what she likes and what makes her happy. The father figure in this movie is an important key in her decision to live her life, not the mother.

The movie is full of dramatic moments that shaped the character of Violet Jones. A struggling African-American woman that does not find her place in a world where the image is everything. From her childhood through adulthood she has been taught to act as someone else, the thing that will eventually drive her to an identity crisis. Who is Violet Jones? We may never find out, but she does by the end of the movie.

Works Cited

  1. https://www.netflix.com/search?q=happily&jbv=80189630&jbp=0&jbr=0
  2. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/nappily-ever-review-1148103
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nappily_Ever_After
  4. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0365545/fullcredits (for actors names)

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Trauma Studies, Gender Performativity and The Return of the Repressed in Nappily Ever After: Text Analysis. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/trauma-studies-gender-performativity-and-the-return-of-the-repressed-in-nappily-ever-after-text-analysis/
“Trauma Studies, Gender Performativity and The Return of the Repressed in Nappily Ever After: Text Analysis.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/trauma-studies-gender-performativity-and-the-return-of-the-repressed-in-nappily-ever-after-text-analysis/
Trauma Studies, Gender Performativity and The Return of the Repressed in Nappily Ever After: Text Analysis. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/trauma-studies-gender-performativity-and-the-return-of-the-repressed-in-nappily-ever-after-text-analysis/> [Accessed 29 Nov. 2022].
Trauma Studies, Gender Performativity and The Return of the Repressed in Nappily Ever After: Text Analysis [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2022 Nov 29]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/trauma-studies-gender-performativity-and-the-return-of-the-repressed-in-nappily-ever-after-text-analysis/
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