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STAIN: The Metaphor Behind The Title

Stain represents the layers of conflict and choices that impact both Jean’s and Bernice’s lives, collectively as well as individually. In the broader sense, it is a metaphor for the emotional, sometimes physical and psychological baggage we all carry.

In its simplest and most direct relation to the screenplay, Stain is the stained glass which represents Jean’s son Josiah. It is the bond between a mother and her son. The stained glass was a present he sent to her. It gives her hope when she looks at it, hope that her son is alive, and hope for his safe return. It is that hope that drives Jean to continue each day, working several menial jobs to provide for her remaining five children. While Josiah is the unseen third character in the film, the stained glass as a representation of him is crucial to Jean’s emotional and psychological well-being, and when it falls from the window and breaks, she simply repairs it with tape, a sign that Josiah is still with her The break is also symbolic of Josiah’s actual death. It falls a second time, shortly after her visit with Bernice, and it is at this time when Jean is notified of his death. The broken glass only tests Jean’s resolve to keep Josiah and their bond intact, and Jean is able to move forward, one day at a time.

The title also represents those stains which exist within every family. For Jean, her father’s infidelity and the resulting love child are her stains. Her father was a person she idolized. The youngest, she was witness to the effects of his affair within her family. Her mother was a devoted wife, tending to her husband as best she could. In Jean’s eyes, they were the perfect couple, the perfect marriage, the perfect family. After the affair the family deteriorated. Jean’s mother was afflicted with chronic illness and Jean’s own choices led to behavior resulting in an unplanned pregnancy as a teen. This child was Josiah. While her parents remained married, life was never the same. Jean cared for both her mother and her son, but even with someone to call her own, Josiah wasn’t born out of love and also became a resulting stain for Jean. Her pregnancy caused further tension between her and her father. His desire to have his daughter attend college and live a better life than his was never realized, and Jean continued a cycle of trying to fill the void of a father’s love, resulting in the births of her remaining five children.

Jean wanted her children and holds no regrets, but providing for so many proves hard. At the height of the Vietnam War, something Jean does not believe in, her oldest Josiah is drafted after graduating high school. Had she made better choices, had she been able to better provide, would her son be in college instead of Vietnam? Her second oldest son wishes to follow in Josiah’s footsteps. Can she prevent him from becoming another stain?

Jean’s relationships with her family have never been easy, but it was her father’s other life which proved most difficult. At a time when both white and black were fighting for Civil Rights, miscegenation was still illegal in many states and greatly discouraged by both races. While working in the Civil Rights movement, James Jackson, Jean’s father, met and fell in love with a white freedom worker. Their affair led to the birth of a daughter, Bernice. The two remained in the small town, and, though the affair eventually ended, it was no secret of Bernice’s lineage. Jean was confronted daily by gossip and rumors. She resented Bernice for what she represented, for the actions of her mother and how they affected Jean’s family. For Jean, Bernice’s presence was a physical manifestation of the stain her father created, and it was a stain that could not be changed or removed.

Bernice shares the stain of her father. Unlike Bernice, her mother was the only family she had. Like Jean, however, she was also the subject of gossip and ridicule. Of the two Bernice was fortunate. She was able to attend college and find love. Engaged to be married, by all accounts she has achieved what the classic idealized woman was thought to be. With a college education Bernice has a good job and is able to comfortably provide for herself. She lives a relatively middle class existence and her fiancé is a good man. Unfortunately he is not the man she truly loves.

Bernice is her mother’s daughter in all respects. She finds herself having an office-related affair. Much like her mother, the man is married, and much like her mother he’s of another race: in this case, he’s white. The affair is sexual in nature, which raises concerns for Bernice as she doesn’t know whether this man or her fiancé is the father of her unborn child. The prospect of having a child that’s not the result of her intended union scares her. What frightens her even more is the possibility that her fiancé will break the engagement should he find out about the affair, coupled with the fact that her adulterous boyfriend will not leave his wife and children, especially in the racially charged aftermath following the major assassination of Dr. King. She would be left to fend for herself and her child, alone and without support. She could also potentially lose her job.

While these are things out of her control, the one thing she feels she can do is understand her relationship with her estranged half-sister. Bernice is significantly younger and the two didn’t grow up knowing each other, but in recent years circumstances have allowed them to re-enter each other’s’ lives. Theirs is a complex and rocky relationship at best, complicated by Jean’s understandable pain and hurt surrounding her father’s affair with Bernice’s mother. Bernice sees Jean as family and wants nothing more than to have a healthy relationship with this woman. Jean refuses to let go, holding Bernice responsible for something she didn’t do. The anger and frustration Jean has built up manifests in her own contribution to gossip and hate-filled rhetoric aimed at Bernice. She attacks her for not only being a bastard child but sullies Bernice’s mother’s reputation, equating her with being a whore. Bernice grows up hearing the rumors and gossip and works against them to forge a relationship with her sister, leaving these issues in the past. Now, as she nears full-term in her own pregnancy, Bernice is faced with possibly repeating her own mother’s story.

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