All That Heaven Allows as a Criticism of Social Conformity

All That Heaven Allows is a melodrama from the 50’s about a woman named Cary, who, after the death of her husband, becomes romantically interested in a man who gardens at her house. The gardener, Ron Kirby, lives simply in a small house and enjoys cultivating trees. He is somewhat of a non-conformist, in that he does not consider important the things that much of the culture did at the time. Cary’s interest in Ron evolves into a relationship that is the topic of much gossip throughout her town.¬†Rumors spread that there was an affair between Cary and Ron even before Cary’s husband died, which is certainly not true. Because of the social ostracism Cary faces, she eventually breaks off the relationship. The relationship is rekindled when Ron slips and injures himself – Cary returns to care for him and decides to stay with him.

All That Heaven Allows can be interpreted as a criticism of social conformity in the 1950’s. Ron Kirby embodies the self-actualized man whose principles are different than those prevalent in that time. Ron lives simply and enjoys nature, and has a distinct view of what is important and what isn’t. When the town begins to gossip about the relationship between Ron and Cary, Ron tells Cary that what they say is not important – the feelings that the two share are. The plot of the film is centered on Cary’s decision between conforming to the conventions of the era out of fear of social ostracism and being with somebody that makes her happy. The film criticizes the superficiality of the social norms of the era and asserts that true happiness and self-actualization come from within, rather than from what is dictated by society.


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