The Case of Mr. Pelham: Alpha Maleness, a Culture-Bound Syndrome

The Case of Mr. Pelham: Alpha Maleness, a Culture-Bound Syndrome

An essay by Karl-Edouard Pilet

For Prof. John Brad. Macdonald’s course entitled Literary Themes


                The deindustrialization of America fostered a deviation from certain values of manliness, such as men having the role of main financial providers of the family, having physical strength and having more importance than women in the workplace. Although men often adopted new gender roles, the characteristics of a man being productive, dispassionate and risk-taking were ideals emphasized in industrializing America.

                The Case of Mr. Pelham, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, depicts the inferiority of the original Albert Pelham to his double in regards to manliness, through the way the look-alike of Mr. Pelham is driven, the vulnerability of the conquered Mr. Pelham and through the dominance of the double of Mr. Pelham. This motion picture reveals western society ideologies of masculinity in the twentieth century.

                To begin with, the imposter has a greater work ethic than the initial Pelham. This is shown when Miss Clement remarks: “In fact I really didn’t expect you back today after all the work you turned out during lunch hour” (16:38). Moreover, the new version of Pelham is more career oriented. His acquaintance named Tom Mason, inquires into his new success: “The way things have been going, you must be in the millionaire bracket by now”(22:02). Mr. Pelham replies, “Um, possibly” (22:05).  Plus, with the acknowledgement of his progress, he soon asks, “By the way do you think I seem to have changed any since I started to get ahead?”(22:15). To which Mr. Mason observes, “You seem to have sort of taken a hold of things more or so. Maybe that wretched experience you had a year or so ago…When that fellow, who was trying to impersonate you went out of his mind right… Perhaps, that sort of settled you down or something. Take a grip on things” (20:30). Evidently, the carbon copy of Pelham is an opportunist and unscrupulously takes up the void left by the retreating and ailing Pelham.

                Secondly, Mr. Pelham’s instability is exposed when he describes to his doctor how he is affected by his new worries: “That night… I slept very badly… then overslept in the morning. I didn’t feel like going to the office then and call them and told them I wouldn’t be in until after lunch” (8:59).Clearly, he allows his worries to derail his work routine. Mr. Pelham’s weakness is also displayed when he acquiesces to the double’s taking over his livelihood by signing the documents dictated by the intruder. Later, his declining mental health is manifested as he describes his anxiety to his health professional: “I was at a complete loss” (10:56), “I felt jumpy, on edge” (11:25).

                Pelham’s lack of courage is demonstrated as he fails to take immediate action against his impersonator. He shares that he used escapism instead: “I decided to go to a picture or something…to see if I could get my mind of this for a while” (11:29). He seems unassertive as he fears confronting his double on the phone about appropriating his life. Mr. Pelham doesn’t resist the emergence of his new personality. In particular, the original accountant seems weaker than his double, as the original is concerned about his clothes being stolen and being robbed of his identity. This personality flaw is noticeable when Mr. Pelham expresses his fears: “I have the feeling that he’s trying to move in to my life to crowd in closer and closer to me. So that one day, he is where I was standing in my shoes, my clothes, my life and I am gone, vanished”(15:25).

                Finally, the clone of Mr. Pelham is in control. While the real Pelham displays erratic behaviour, the imposter is consistent with his habitual ways and therefore seems authentic. For instance, the original Pelham is pointed out as the phony because he is wearing a tie of a different style. Thus, Peterson verifies, “You haven’t got one like it. Much more you wouldn’t buy one” [insert citation]. Peterson (?) draws his conclusion from an expression of Mr. Pelham’s used by the imposter. Peterson declares, “You’re the real one alright. I’ve heard you say many times, sir. Just that way…” (20.44).

                The omnipotence of the new Pelham is revealed as the fallen Pelham wonders if he is a victim of “an agency more than human” [insert citation]. In this instance, the perplexed Pelham asks, “Tell me. What is it? Whom do you represent?”(21.36). The double responds, “Why, Mr. Pelham of course” (21.40). In the dialogue between the two look-alikes, the improved Pelham sustains his authority over the emasculated Pelham by confirming the latter’s worries of being mentally ill: “You’re mad, you know” (21.46).

                The short film The Case of Mr. Pelham illustrates the improvement of Albert Pelham as a man by means of showing the copy’s initiative to outclass his counterpart, demonstrating that the latter easily yields as he encounters any predicament. The film claims that the contemporary man will be victorious in the war of survival.

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