Family Facade In “Shadow of a Doubt”

In the 1943 Hitchcock film, Shadow of a Doubt, there is an exceedingly disturbing family dynamic concealed within the Newton’s average American lifestyle. The Newton family masquerades as a typical family to neighbors and audiences alike until their beloved Uncle Charlie shows up to unsettle the listlessness of young Charlie’s unsatisfactorily average life.

Young Charlie and Uncle Charlie are the most prominent example of a perverse relationship and unsettling family dynamic. Hitchcock portrays an uncomfortable intimacy and borderline incestuous relationship between an uncle and niece in order to put audiences on edge. This intimacy is felt by the audience through the actions of Uncle Charlie and the way Young Charlie reciprocates them. Uncle Charlie is always quick to embrace and hold his niece, however as the movie progresses the audience seems to find Uncle Charlie’s embrace more sinister in his grip, and Young Charlie’s reactions more uncomfortably hesitant. Critics utilize Uncle Charlie’s presentation of an emerald ring to Young Charlie as Hitchcock’s most noticeable reference to an incestuous familial relationship, deeming it as an “unholy matrimony” between the characters.

The incestuous relationship between Uncle Charlie and Young Charlie is not all that plagues this family. Joe is a despondent father figure within the household and is utterly forgotten amongst Uncle Charlie. Emma is in a fragile mental state and dependent upon her brother’s support for the notion of his murderous actions would literally break her as a person and so she can not see her brother’s mentally ill and misogynistic nature, even after his rampantly sexist jeremiad at dinner one evening. Even the Newton’s youngest daughter Anne is a participant in this unusual family dynamic, as she is intelligent and satirical beyond her years yet virtually ignored. Hitchcock conceals all these unhealthy familial relationships under the facade of an average American family hidden within the four walls of a quaint house. “In Shadow of a Doubt , the family with its glow (its halo) may seem like a warm bath, but all to readily it becomes a swamp of frustrated yearnings, breeding demons of female emancipation whose ferocity it is barely able to contain. The representative american family in short is the true horror of the film.”

McLaughlin, James. “All in the Family: Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.” In A Hitchcock Reader, 145-155. Second ed. Blackwell Publishing, 2009.

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