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Freedom by Subversion of Societal Expectations

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The theme of freedom seen and read within Thelma and Louise and Don Quixote acts as a tether between the audience and the characters. Thelma, Louise, Marcela and even Cervantes' freedom from societal and literary expectations relays a sense of freedom to the audience, allowing viewers / readers to live vicariously through these characters. Both stories acted as progressive narratives for their time, going against the social grain, and ended up being loved by many across generations. In Don Quixote, Cervantes provides his readers with a familiar outline, showing his talents in building the first true fictional narrative around it. His writing style progressed further, taking known plot lines and subverting them, commenting on societal expectations and actively turning away from what was expected of him as the author. Thelma and Louise also subverts the audience’s expectations of how the movie will unfold, and is also riddled with social commentary, specifically focusing on expectations of women. It is within these narratives’ subversions that the audience finds freedom; freedom from their own preconceptions about life and how they should live, and freedom from the judgements of other people.

Thelma and Louise starts off with a mix of both typical and atypical binary gendered characters. Thelma is a trapped housewife of an overbearing, (likely) unfaithful husband, who is longing to adventure out and feel free. Louise is a thick-skinned woman, less constrained by her environment as she is by her own perceptions of a harsh reality. The audience expects these women to break away and have wild, and yet innocent, fun. It is when Louise impulsively shoots Harlan that the audience is jarred out of their passive gaze, realizing that this movie is going to be very different. As things progress, the women change, becoming more suspicious, devious, and daring. They connect with their true identities as they avoid the law and strengthen their friendship.

Thelma is a passive passenger for most of the first half of the film, innocently flirting with Harlan in the bar, dancing without any fears, and blowing off Louise’s concerns. Louise is an active skeptic of nearly every situation and person. She protests Thelma’s desire to stop, ultimately persuaded by her friend’s innocent perspective - one she has lost but longs to have. Thelma continues to refuse her changing reality, as Louise continues to take charge and accept that the world is how it is. Louise concocts a plan as if she was prepared for any situation, thinking immediately to go on the run and pull out her savings; for her, although there is no incriminating proof, society has certain beliefs that will paint her as a nothing but a murderer.

In this first half of the film, Louise’s past experience of being raped and merely labeled a ‘whore’ is alluded to, but doesn’t overtake her character. It is clear that Louise taught herself to be self-reliant and practical in most ways. Clearly stuck in a toxic relationship, it is clear Louise hasn’t fully given up on the possibility of love; although it takes a good portion of the film for Louise to realize she deserves more than her relationship with Jimmy, she still finds peace in her decision to leave him. Her experience of rape has clearly impacted her outlook on life, but isn’t constantly referenced, nor even bluntly so until the last moments of the movie. This portrayal of a woman empowered by a painful experience is hardly ever seen or read; most rape survivors are pictured as victims, often unable to handle basic functions or come to terms with their realities. Louise’s character subtly subverts the audiences expectations, smoothly integrating a new perception of women into mainstream society.

Thelma starts as a very well known character; the type of woman an audience likely would expect to see. However, unlikely Louise, she is a clear statement of opposition to societal expectations. Her passive behavior takes a sharp, unexpected turn around two-thirds of the way through the film. Thelma is harshly shaken from her naiveté, when Louise realizes that JD took the opportunity to sleep with Thelma with the intent to steal her $6700 in savings (or really anything). It is only when Louise breaks down that Thelma’s true character is revealed. As reality sets in, Thelma devises her own plan to rob a convenience store, and fully commits to Louise’s plan to escape to Mexico. While the audience expected the women to drastically change, or learn something about themselves, it is unlikely anyone (especially first time viewers in the 1990s) expected them to embrace their criminal / anti-society natures. Beginning as a woman who could barely leave her dirtbag husband Darrell without a set of microwaveable meals, Thelma becomes a woman who would no longer hope for, or be tricked by, kindness and respect from Darrell. She is able to detach herself from him, completely aware of his involvement with the police, and her inability to ever return to a life with him.

Thelma and Louise come to recognize how resilient they are and how to embrace their vulnerabilities. The film comments on feminism, male/female relationships, and general self-identity. In Don Quixote, Cervantes expresses similar motifs through his novel. Chapters twelve through fourteen tell the tale of Marcela, who brilliantly defends herself against society’s perceptions of

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