Mad Speculation – Betty Draper
Elizabeth Hofstadt followed the rules – she grew up in an upper-middle class home, graduated from a tony liberal arts college, and spent a few months modelling until her good looks attracted the attention of a man who was supposed to take care of her for the rest of her life. She fell in love and married him. They settled in the suburbs where she baked ham for dinner and smoked the day away while her children played with dry cleaning bags. For a treat she would pack little Sally and Bobby into the sedan and take them to the community center where they would “watch them fill the pool.” Her husband Don once asked, “Who could not be happy with all this?”
Betty wasn’t happy.
Like real women before her suburban life trapped Betty in an endless malaise straight out of a John Cheever story. Cheever was not the first to depict a housewife’s life in the doldrums. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, author of “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892), suffered from the same illness which afflicts Betty. Gilman discovered that her illness left her when she was away from her home and children and returned when she did. Betty briefly escapes her Yellow Wallpaper on a trip to Italy with her husband and quickly regains her sour disposition once she returns to Ossining.
Betty’s picture perfect world falls apart when her husband Don’s serial infidelity “embarrass[es]her” for the last time.
In “The Grown-Ups” [3.12] she severs their relationship with the declaration, “I don’t love you.” Unfortunately Betty moves from one marriage to another without stopping to find her own identity. Henry Francis cannot fix Betty’s problems because she cannot recognize or articulate them. She makes food her vice, and “reducing” her penance for having one. We can hardly blame Bobby for trading away his mother’s sandwich for a bag of candy in “Field Trip” [7.3]. How was he to know she might want to eat something?
Betty takes out her frustrations on her children leaving Bobby with constant stomach aches and Sally desperate to escape her mother’s emotional chill.
Sally will spend the rest of her life trying not to become her mother as she looks more like her every day.
Betty lacks Joan’s confidence and Peggy’s ability to forget the past and move forward. She does not have the wherewithal to carve out a career for herself like her friend Francine does. She deserves the “Ah Hah” moment that comes with reading The Feminine Mystique. Instead, she is more likely to condemn the upcoming Women’s Liberation Movement as unfeminine and radical. Sally will benefit from the gains of a movement that her mother will view with suspicion. I hope Betty finds her own voice and a sense of independence and fulfillment. I fear, however, that she will live out her life in a soulless castle while her hair grows harder and her heart does the same. Betty should have stayed in Italy.