Presence in Absence: D.W. Griffith's Patriarchal Paradise in His Trust and His Trust Fulfilled
Childress, Sarah Louise
In His Trust and His Trust Fulfilled, his first two-reeler for Biograph, D.W. Griffith produces a romantic vision of a strong patriarchal system that is self-sustaining, transmitted and re-inscribed by its faithful members. Griffith bases this vision in an allegorical antebellum plantation family, which allows him to illustrate the natural suitability of each member to their role within the family hierarchy. To demonstrate the stability of this patriarchy, he creates within the family a patriarchal presence strong enough to be maintained even in the absence of a white male figure. Griffith enacts this presence-in-absence structure through a triangulated arrangement that replicates the hierarchical organization of patriarchy. By re-inscribing the comparative assessments that establish the characters and rankings of individuals within this hierarchy, Griffith uses standards of presence and absence, completeness and lack, to characterize the system ideal and its correlated subordinates, as well as to construct the relationships between them within this triangulated arrangement. Griffith then uses a principle of three to inscribe this triangulation into the fabric of both films by placing the characters within the cinematic plane in a triangular positioning that reflects their rank within the patriarchal family. By using these devices, Griffith reaffirms traditional racial and gender roles, asserts the inherent stability of patriarchal ideologies and structures, and underscores the natural correspondence of each patriarchal member to their respective role. But these very same devices also reveal the inconsistency and conflict embedded within the structure Griffith uses to underwrite and stabilize his patriarchal system.