Category Archives: Hitchcock Themes

A number of recurring subjects mark the films of Alfred Hitchcock and these may be central to the narrative or peripheral elements that are nonetheless distinctive features of the plot.

The Dysfunctional Family in Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt”

In Shadow of a Doubt, Alfred Hitchcock presents the theme of obsession, which is seen in many of his other films like Strangers on a Train, The Lodger, and Rear Window. Obsession is shown through the unhealthy dynamics of the Newton family, especially seen through the relationship between young Charlie and Uncle Charlie. From the beginning of the film, we see that Uncle Charlie and young Charlie are linked. For instance, they are both introduced into the movie in the same manner: introductory shots of Santa Rosa (where young Charlie lives) and Philadelphia (where Uncle Charlie lives), a camera shot of their bedrooms windows, and a scene of them lying in bed in the middle of the day. It immediately becomes apparent that young Charlie and Uncle Charlie have an inappropriate, almost incestuous, relationship with one another.  Young Charlie deems the two of them so close that she mentions how they are more like “twins” than uncle and niece. Mrs. Newton (Emma), who is young Charlie’s mother and Uncle Charlie’s sister, also has an obsession for Uncle Charlie. Emma’s obsession for her brother is so intense that it damages her relationships with her other family members like her husband. For example, Mr. Newton (Joe)’s newspaper, pillow, and chair are taken away from him by Emma to be given to Uncle Charlie. Also Uncle Charlie is seated at the head of the table (where Joe should be sitting) while Joe is forced to sit with the children during dinner. In fact, Uncle Charlie with the help of Emma and Young Charlie, replaces Joe Newton as the head of the family, demoting Joe to the status of a child as shown by him getting gifts at the same time as the young Newton children. Young Charlie and Emma’s obsession with Uncle Charlie results in them ignoring the oddities of Uncle Charlie’s abrupt arrival to Santa Rosa and Emma remains blissfully unaware of the true nature of her brother, “The Merry Widow Murderer”, throughout the entire film despite the multiple clues Uncle Charlie unconsciously reveals, like his monologue on how disgusting rich widows are. Through the theme of obsession, Hitchcock displays the dis-functional nature of many family relationships to the point where said relationships are destructive. Hitchcock portrays how what may appear perfect on the outside (Uncle Charlie and the Newton family) may actually be more like a cesspool.

McLaughlin, James. “All in the Family: Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.” A Hitchcock Reader, 145-155. 2nd ed. Blackwell Publishing, 2009.

Lust, Murder, and the Crime of Disbelief: an Analysis of the Newton Family

In Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, the outwardly normal Newton family is revealed to be deeply dysfunctional and in serious danger of falling apart. Though Hitchcock does explore this theme in other films, such as Strangers on a Train and Psycho, it is in Shadow of a Doubt that he makes the most direct commentary.

The most obvious problem with the Newton family exists between the two Charlies; specifically, the strongly implied incestuous relationship between uncle and niece. From the start of the film to Uncle Charlie’s death, the two are connected in an almost supernatural manner. When we first see both of them, for example, they are each lying on a bed in the same position, and Young Charlie soon after decides spontaneously to invite Uncle Charlie to stay with the Newtons for a while. Uncle Charlie, at the same time, leaves for the Newton’s house to evade the police. This kind of parallel thinking continues until the uncle falls from the train and breaks their psychic connection. This mental rapport the pair maintains sometimes extends into the physical, quite inappropriately: they often touch one another for too long, too much to be considered normal for family, and Uncle Charlie’s gift of the ring to Young Charlie is a blatant reference to marriage. Even when Uncle Charlie grabs his niece violently (“You’re hurting me!” she cries on two occasions), the camera angles suggest that the action could be part malevolent and part lusting, perhaps a peculiar fetish of the psychopathic uncle. The rest of the family, meanwhile, remains oblivious to their relationship.

Incest is not the only thing wrong with the Newtons. They grow apart from one another at every turn; the sexist father regularly ignores his younger daughter, Young Charlie, and even his wife on occasion, preferring instead to converse with his son and Uncle Charlie. The youngest daughter, on the other hand, has grown estranged of people and spends her days reading and learning, to the dismay of Mr. Newton. Nobody but the Charlies, however, notices anything wrong; their denial is both a symptom and a cause of their fragmentation and lack of communication. Their divide is so great that they cannot put together all the clues that point to Uncle Charlie’s true nature, and so they steadfastly oppose any notion of the insane uncle’s crimes. The Newtons, excluding Young Charlie, go so far as to obstruct the police, in a way criminalizing them as unknowing accessories.

McLaughlin, James. “All in the Family: Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.” A Hitchcock Reader, 145-155. 2nd ed. Blackwell Publishing, 2009.

The Unhealthy Family Dynamics of Shadow of a Doubt

      Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt features the Newton family, who at first glance appears to be an ideal happy, average family. However, beneath the surface, the Newtons experience a number of problems which they try to hide with their facade. Among Hitchcock’s dysfunctional families, the Newtons are probably the most outstanding.

The relationship between the heroine Charlie Newton and her sinister uncle Charlie is taken at face value by the other characters as nice and normal. However, critics have observed subtle incestuous undertones between the two. In his article “All in the Family,” James McLaughlin states that “Incest is a barely suppressed presence in the film…” At the beginning of the film they are both shown lying in bed in the exact same position, signifying their connection to one another. The film also depicts the pair as having a quasi-telepathic link, which is often associated with lovers. Perhaps the most blatant hint at incest would be the ring, originally a wedding ring, which Uncle Charlie gives our heroine when they meet. Hitchcock inserts this subtext into the film to convey an uncomfortable atmosphere to the scenes with the two Charlies and to exemplify the problematic family dynamics of the Newtons.

Uncle Charlie putting the ring on his niece’s finger

Hitchcock portrays the Newton’s facade as phony and unsatisfactory. Early on, Charlie displays dissatisfaction with her family, stating that she wishes to “cure her family,” in her opening scene. Her spirits are temporarily lifted when Uncle Charlie comes to visit, but are crushed when he brings a number of problems to the Newton household. The manners which the Newtons deal with these problems best exemplify the film’s criticism of how families with fake images react when this image is threatened. For example, there is the dinner scene where Uncle Charlie rants about how terrible rich widows are and how they deserve to die. While initially shocked, the Newtons then pretend that he had never said anything out of the ordinary. The family, with the exception of Charlie, chooses to be willfully ignorant of Uncle Charlie’s malevolence because they don’t want to give up their preferred happy image of Uncle Charlie. Even Charlie doesn’t reveal the truth about him after his death.

The maintenance of this facade and the refusal of the Newtons to confront their own problems is what causes much of the grief within Shadow of a Doubt. Because of this, the Newton household remains a “foul sty,” as Uncle Charlie put it.

McLaughlin, James. “All in the Family: Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.” In A Hitchcock Reader, Second Edition, 145–55. Blackwell Publishing, 2009.


Family in Shadow of A Doubt

Hitchcock loves to show and comment on families in his films.  But, Hitchcock in his film, Shadow of A Doubt,  also focuses on the “idea of disgust” in families(McLaughlin).  The relationship between the main character Charlie and her Uncle Charlie is very unnatural and almost sexual. This is not like the typical relationship between an uncle and a niece.  At one point in the film, Charlie says “We’re more than an uncle and niece, we’re sort of like twins”(McLaughlin).  Charlie, in fact, does not actually find anything wrong with her almost incestual relationship with her uncle until she starts to figure out that he is a murderer.  This shows that Hitchcock gravitated towards more dysfunctional families in his films. The kind of relationship we see in Shadow of a Doubt would never be deemed normal in our society.  Throughout many of his films, Hitchcock showed destructive and abnormal families that have haunted and intrigued audiences decades later.



Also, later in the film we see how Charlie’s father is not a strong family leader as is expected of most men.  No one really respects Joseph(the father) and everyone really not noticing or paying attention to him shows “the father’s inadequacy”.   When Uncle Charlie comes into town, he takes the father’s place and becomes head of the family, as shown in the dinner scene when Uncle Charlie is at the head of the table and Joseph is sitting with the other children.    Young Charlie,throughout this film, feels a need to cure her family, which tells the audience along with the actions of the characters themselves that this family is anything, but normal.  However, in the end Charlie does choose to stay with her family and try to have a normal/domestic life.  I believe that Hitchcock is trying to show here that no family is  perfect.  At that time, families in movies and in television seemed almost too perfect and “cookie-cutter”.  Hitchcock, I think, wanted to show that families in real life are not like this.  For example,  your father may not be the typical strong head of the family .  Families can have their own problems, but just because they aren’t perfect does not mean that they are dysfunctional.


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

Shadow of a Doubt

In Shadow of Doubt, there is evidence of the Electra Complex, which is basically the female version of Freud’s Oedipus Complex, between Charlie and Uncle Charlie.  At the very beginning of the film, Charlie and Uncle Charlie are introduced together lying in there beds in Santa Rosa and Philadelphia respectively, which can be read that they are lying in bed together.   It is also implied that they are thinking of each other (Charlie is thinking of her Uncle and decides to send him a telegram and the uncle decides to go visit the family in Santa Rosa), suggesting an incestuous relationship.

Charlie always talks about how similar they are and says that her and her uncle are like twins, indicating that their closeness is odd which adds to the audience’s discomfort viewing this relationship.  In addition to this, Uncle Charlie gives Charlie a ring and places it on her hand in a way that the audience can’t help but think of as a wedding or engagement ring.  As said in A Hitchcock Reader, in James McLaughlin’s “All in the Family,” Charlie emphasizes that her Uncle “heard” her and that there was a type of mental telepathy between the two (147).  Lastly, throughout the film the two characters always seem to be touching, again adding to the sense of an incestuous relationship.

McLaughlin, James. “All in the Family: Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.” A Hitchcock Reader, 145-155. 2nd ed. Blackwell Publishing, 2009.

Family in Shadow of a Doubt

Through the Newton family in Shadow of a Doubt, Hitchcock portrays that era’s idea of a “normal” family and its shortcomings. The father, Joseph Newton, and his relationships and interactions with his family are used to show flaws in the average family.

Charles, the young son of Joseph, never questions his father, unlike his two sisters, showing how males of that society accept the patriarchal hierarchy of the time. The younger sister, Ann, is shown chastising her father about how what he’s reading is immature, and not even she, as a young child, would read that. Charlie also points out her father’s flaws. She comments on his greed at the beginning of the film along with essentially telling him he does not appreciate his wife enough. He responds almost dismissively and treats her like a child. The two younger females disapproval of their father shows their overall disapproval of the patriarchal figure.

Their mother, however, “does not share her daughter’s perception of family life as stagnant and hardly aims to suppress the presence of her husband.” The mother, and her resignation to her husband, completes the arc of females at the time. While her daughters don’t accept the hierarchy, she does, which shows that as women mature and age they stop fighting the system and take a place under the husband. This arc is also shown at the end of the film when Charlie “gives up” and decides to be with Graham. Joseph’s interactions with his children and wife show that Hitchcock felt that women are put down by the men in their lives and the patriarchal family system. Because Joseph’s daughters are discontented, his role as father has not been fulfilled, but this is overlooked by the mother and son because they accept the system.

Uncle Charlie’s presence threatens Joseph’s standing as head-of-the-household. Uncle Charlie shows how the family would actually be better without their father when he hands out gifts to the family. This shows that he could better take care of the Newton family than Joseph does. Also when Uncle Charlie builds the house out of Josephs paper, he shows how the family’s “fragility is guaranteed by dad’s flimsy materials.” Overall, Hitchcock attacks the father figure of his time through the shortcomings of Joseph Newton.

McLaughlin, James. “All in the Family: Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.” A Hitchcock Reader, 145-155. 2nd ed. Blackwell Publishing, 2009.

Hitchcock and Freudian Analysis in “Strangers on a Train”

Partway through Strangers on a Train, I realized Hitchcock had intended for his villain to be gay. I realized that Bruno was displaying traits As Robin Wood states, according to “heterosexist mythology: one is probably gay if one shows traces of effeminacy, had a close relationship with one’s mother, or hates and murders women.” (Wood 336) The second of these traits was most obvious for Bruno. He wore ties with his name embroidered on them to please his mother, whether she knew he was wearing them or not. In the first scene that his mother is in, she has just finished giving him a manicure, which comes across as feminine and intimate. Bruno also seems to have an Oedipus complex: attraction to his mother and hatred for his father.

The first scene with Bruno and his mother. In this shot, Hitchcock positions them as he would a couple.

However, due to censorship of the time, Hitchcock could not have an openly gay character in the film. Instead, he leaves “clues” for the audience to pick up on so they may figure out his intentions. What this means is that if a viewer is able to realize Bruno’s homosexuality, he or she has just done simple psychoanalysis of a character. As this film followed Spellbound, a film with obvious basis in Freud’s theories, fans likely would have started analyzing friends and characters on their own. One could argue that Hitchcock trusted his fans to be able to see the clues he was leaving for them in Bruno’s behavior.

The Electra Complex

Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt encompasses many Freudian, as well as other psychological theories. One of the most prominent theories throughout the film was that of the Electra Complex. This theory is similar to the Oedipal Complex, except it is used when referring to the female psyche instead of the male. In the film, young Charlie and Uncle Charlie both have an unnatural interest with one another, which insinuates an uncomfortable sense of incest throughout the entirety of the film:


The relationship between young Charlie and Uncle Charlie grows exceedingly inappropriate throughout entirety of the film, especially in their physical contact with one another. The two characters always seem to be touching or in some sort of embrace throughout the film, which is undoubtedly inappropriate for an uncle/niece relationship, and makes the audience feel uncomfortable while watching. The two characters also obtain many similarities with one another, making their relationship all the more unnatural. For example, from the very beginning of the film, we see young Charlie and Uncle Charlie doing the exact same thing – laying in bed, with some sort of apparent sickness or apathy to what is happening around them:



This opening to the film can also be connected to the Electra Complex, because it can be loosely implied that the characters are “in bed with one another.”

In fact, one of the theories of James McLaughlin’s essay in A Hitchcock Reader is that both Charlies are so similar that they have a sort of telepathic connection with one another. McLaughlin writes that “[Charlie’s] uncle ‘heard’ her, that there is a kind of mental telepathy between them. She wanted him to come and, miraculously, he came” (147). This theory directly relates to the theory of the Electra Complex, and would prove the two character’s immoral infatuation with one another to indeed be true.

Freud and Spellbound

Though Hitchcock suspends disbelief in the Freudian theories, he does use Freudian psychoanalysis as a plot device and MacGuffin in Spellbound. “Psychoanalysis becomes a figure that Hitchcock employs to express his disapproval of certain kinds of attitudes and assumptions associated with its application, so as to bring out the real issues with which he is concerned.” (157)

The Oedipal complex comes into play to describe relations between characters. Constance quickly fills the role of the nurturing mother for Ballentine, and it soon goes from a motherly role to one of romance.  Dr. Brulov can be seen as a father figure and during Ballentine’s session with him even tells him to refer to him as his father figure for the analysis.  During the analysis, both Constance and Brulov can be seen watching over JB like parental figures.  Other roles come into play: guilt for the dead father, Doctor Edwardes, and fear of the bad father, Doctor Murchison, who has the power to punish.

Through the film, John Ballantine’s motivations are are driven by guilt, going into Freud’s theory of repressed memory.  Freud’s belief was that traumatic events, often events from childhood, are repressed by the unconscious mind and the trauma can be triggered by other events or imagery — in this case, the parallel line Ballantine views is a trigger for the memory of his brother’s death. JB’s trauma has caused amnesia, and we’re lead to believe that he is guilty of the murder of Edwards.  Psychoanalysis later reveals the memory is actually from childhood and Ballantine is innocent of killing Edwardes.


Hyde, Thomas. “The Moral Universe of Hitchcock’s Spellbound.” In A Hitchcock Reader, Second Edition, 156–63. Blackwell Publishing, 2009.

Freudian themes in Shadow of a Doubt

In Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, Hitchcock uses Sigmund Freud’s Electra Complex, similar to the Oedipus complex but for a female, to explain the family dynamic. The oldest daughter, in this case, has a strange infatuation with her uncle instead of her father. Young Charlie was named after her mother’s favorite person, her little brother. Young Charlie ends up being a lot like her Uncle, for example, in their personalities, sense of humor, and their mannner physically. Their relationship is strangely close and uncomfortable for the audience to watch, because they are suppose to be the typical American family. Instead there is a sense of incest, which is against all social and ethical norms in society. In James McLaughlin’s article, “All in the Family”, in the book A Hitchcock Reader, he states that,” In Shadow of a Doubt, the family with its glow (its halo) may seem like a warm bath, but it all too readily 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.” This quotation perfectly sums up Hitchcock’s reasoning behind the uncomfortable family dynamic in the film.