Graduation Year


Graduation Month


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

School or Department



English – Creative Writing

Faculty Mentor Department


Faculty Mentor

Dr. Kathleen Kane


femme fatale, film noir, Eve, feminism, Double Indemnity, Out of the Past

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Religion


Film noir stereotypes female characters through the archetype of the femme fatale: the fatal woman or the fatal wife. However, critics are currently re-examining the femme fatale. For example, in the second paragraph of Film Noir’s Progressive Portrayal of Women, Stephanie Blaser and John Blaser write “even when [film noir] depicts women as dangerous and worthy of destruction, [it] also shows that women are confined by the roles traditionally open to them.” With Blaser and Blaser’s understanding of the double nature of the femme fatale in mind, can one say that the femme fatale generates fear of feminism? Can one read her as a martyr and a heroine? I will examine facets of the femme fatale in modern and classic iterations, while contextualizing women’s historical roles in society.

Historically, the femme fatale originated as a response to World War II. As Gary Morris notes in the last paragraph of “High Gallows: Revisiting Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past,” “[she] embodies post-war fears that women, having contributed mightily to the war effort and moved into ‘men’s work,’ might abandon the domestic sphere entirely... and even the most powerful men around her can’t comprehend or control the violent forces she represents.” Additionally, the essay will focus on Phyllis in Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, Kathie in Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past, and Evelyn in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. To include a literary dimension, I will also provide a close reading of Velma in Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler. To comprehend the femme fatale and her relationship to women’s roles in Western society, these women must be placed in a broader, historical spectrum. Transhistorical examination of the femme fatale will be achieved by examining one of the most prominent characters in Judeo-Christian society, Eve. The close reading of this proto-femme fatale will specifically examine her role in Genesis and Milton’s Paradise Lost. Closely reading the femme fatale is important because it contextualizes modern women’s roles, both locally and globally, and aids in the drive towards gender equality.

Honors College Research Project




© Copyright 2015 Danielle L. Barnes-Smith