The Philadelphia Story

The Philadelphia Story Summary and Analysis of Part 3: The Goddess


Realizing that Mike has left the room, the couple drops their act and Tracy scolds Dexter for saying embarrassing things in front of the “spy.” “Dexter, what are you trying to make me out as?” she asks him, and he asks her why she is marrying George. Tracy confidently tells Dexter that George grew up poor and has had to fight for everything. “Kittredge is no great tower of strength, Tracy. He’s just a tower,” says Dexter, drolly, before suggesting that George is beneath her. This offends Tracy, who insists that George is “a good man and a great man.” Dexter clarifies: his skepticism about George is not simply about class and wealth, but about personality, and he believes that George does not measure up to Tracy. He then warns Tracy that if she marries George, it will be for life, as George will not give her an out. “I won’t require one,” she retorts. Dexter goes on to dissect Tracy’s character, diagnosing her as thinking she’s some kind of goddess, which makes her unable to judge people’s characters. “Your so-called strength, your prejudice against weakness, your blank intolerance,” he says to her, before dismissively calling her a “Married Maiden,” who doesn’t forgive natural human weakness. As Tracy begs Dexter to stop, tears filling her eyes, George wanders in. Tracy walks away, and Dexter asks George to fix him a drink.

The scene shifts and we see Tracy at the swimming pool. She dives into the pool as George opens a wedding gift from Dexter. It is a small model boat, and George skeptically brings it over to Tracy. Tracy admires the model and tells George that it is a boat that Dexter “designed and built practically” for their honeymoon. She becomes momentarily nostalgic for the boat, but quickly remembers that the boat developed dry rot. Climbing out of the pool, Tracy tells George she wants to be “useful” to the world. George has other plans, however, and tells Tracy that he wants to build her an “ivory tower” to live in. This proposition seems to upset Tracy, and she abruptly leaves. As Tracy changes, George launches into a monologue about their imminent marriage saying, “We’re going to represent something, Tracy, you and I in our home, something straight, sound, and fine. Then perhaps your friend Mr. Haven will be somewhat less condescending.”

Having changed into a dress, Tracy asks George about whether he’s actually jealous of Dexter, whether he minds that Dexter was once her “lord and master.” George tells Tracy that he doesn’t believe that Dexter ever was her lord and master, and that he doesn’t think anyone ever will be. “That’s the wonderful thing about you, Tracy: you’re like some marvelous, distant queen.” This seems to upset Tracy, who insists, “I don’t want to be worshipped. I want to be loved.” George tries to tell Tracy that of course he will love her, that that goes without saying, but she still seems dissatisfied. After George leaves, Tracy stares at the model sailboat floating in the pool. The scene shifts and we see Tracy walking through the yard in the evening. She spies her mother and father walking together and looking lovingly at one another. When Mrs. Lord spots Tracy, she informs her daughter, “Your Uncle Willie’s guest of honor. You mustn’t be late!” Mr. Lord makes a joke about George, and Tracy remarks sarcastically about how amusing it is to see her parents with their arms around one another.

Mr. Lord says that he finds it distasteful that the two newspaper people are there, and insists that they can publish what they want, but that he wants to tell Mike and Liz that they know their true identities. Mr. Lord offers to tell Mike and Liz himself and Tracy mocks him for the indiscreet affair with the dancer he had that landed them in this tabloid mess in the first place. Tracy grows more and more upset, saying, “You've got a heck of a nerve to come back here in your best-head-of-the-family manner and make stands and strike attitudes and criticize my fiancé and give orders and mess things up generally…” Mrs. Lord tells Tracy to stop criticizing her father, urging her that her father’s affairs are his own business. Praising his wife, Mr. Lord says, “What most wives fail to realize is that their husband's philandering has nothing whatever to do with them.” This makes Tracy all the more upset, and Mr. Lord launches into a discussion of why men cheat. In his eyes, men cheat because they are going in search of their own lost youth, but when a man has a loyal and warm-hearted daughter, he is less inclined to do so. Tracy smiles ruefully as her father informs her that a man needs a daughter who provides him with “foolish, unquestioning, uncritical affection,” and tells her that she possesses none of these things.

In Mr. Lord’s estimation, Tracy lacks an “understanding heart,” which prevents her from being a “lovely woman.” This final statement hurts Tracy’s feelings and she becomes angry and upset. When she calls him a coward, he says, “…Better that than a prig or a perennial spinster, however many marriages.” As her father walks away, Tracy is distraught and says to herself, “What’s the matter with everyone all at once, anyhow?” As Mr. and Mrs. Lord enter the house, Uncle Willie emerges from another room where he has been napping. Mr. Lord informs him that they are going to tell the journalists their real identities. Dinah enters, and then Tracy. When Uncle Willie offers Tracy a drink, she sarcastically remarks that “prigs” don’t drink, looking slyly at her father. Just then, Mike and Liz walk in and tell the family they have something they want to announce. After Uncle Willie makes a lecherous comment to Liz, Mike tries to speak, but Mr. Lord interrupts him to inform the reporters that he is the real Mr. Lord and that he knows the reporters’ true identities.

As everyone hurries off to dinner, Mike and Tracy are left alone. Mike walks over to Tracy and asks her what’s wrong. She laughs ruefully, wondering why everyone is criticizing her. Mike says his goodbyes as Tracy reminds him: “With the rich and mighty, always a little patience.” When Mike is gone, Tracy downs three drinks one right after the other. The scene shifts to a party. Tracy and George dance and George tells Tracy that it’s after 4 and they’re going home after this dance. Tracy is visibly intoxicated, and Mike wanders out onto the terrace and asks Tracy for a dance. As George goes to fetch Tracy’s wrap, Mike and Tracy begin to dance and Mike asks, “Let’s go have another drink, or would Kittredge spank?” When Mike asks Tracy about the fact that everyone likes George Kittredge except Dexter, Tracy looks upset and agrees to go get another glass of wine with him. They run into Mrs. Lord who comments on Tracy’s tipsily romantic attitude. As Mrs. Lord, Mike, and Tracy set out towards the bar, they run into George, who insists that they go home immediately, even though Tracy wants another drink. George then becomes upset with how attentive Mike is being towards Tracy, and ushers his fiancée off. “The course of true love,” Mrs. Lord says to Mike, who quips, “Gathers no moss.”

Mike walks up to the bar and orders a bottle of champagne. He takes the bottle and goes outside, where he finds a car and orders the driver to take him to Dexter’s mansion. The driver obeys, thinking that Mike is Dexter. At Dexter’s mansion, Mike bellows “C.K. Dexter Haven!” over and over again until Dexter answers the door, groggy-eyed and wearing pajamas. Confused, he invites Mike inside, and Mike—who is quite drunk—goes on a tangent about Cinderella, and the fact that “champagne is a great leveleler.” The men go into the other room, where Mike drinks more and stares at Dexter uncomfortably. After a moment, Mike finds his book on Dexter’s shelf. Abruptly, Mike points at Dexter and asks, “Are you still in love with her?” Taken aback, Dexter says he is not, but Mike tells him that Liz thinks he still loves Tracy. Hiccuping, Mike continues, wondering how Dexter could have been married to Tracy and still known so little about her.

“You know Tracy’s no ordinary woman, and you said some things this afternoon I resented,” says Mike, again pointing at Dexter, who looks amused. Mike tells Dexter that he doesn’t like the way Dexter was referring to Tracy, and says, “She’s sort of like a queen, a radiant, glorious queen. You can’t treat her like other women.” When Dexter brings up George, Mike becomes incredibly angry, railing against Tracy’s fiancé and the fact that he can’t appreciate Tracy. “That fake man of the people, he isn’t even smart!” Mike turns his anger towards Dexter, and tries to get him to tell him why they’re all at this wedding together. Dexter tries to tell him that he wants to get even with his ex-bride, but Mike tells Dexter that Sidney Kidd is using him, just like he uses everybody. As Mike begins to outline some of Sidney Kidd’s corruptive acts, Dexter gets an idea: they can use some of this information to blackmail Sidney. “Kidd is holding a dirty piece on Tracy’s father, this might stop him,” Dexter tells Mike, as Mike realizes that that blackmail is how Sidney roped all of them into working on the story of Tracy’s wedding. Mike agrees to help Dexter write a piece exposing Sidney.


In this section of the film, we see that Tracy seems to disdain the privilege she was born into. When Dexter asks her why she is marrying George, she tells him that George is everything that the arrogant Dexter is not, that he was raised poor and so has had to fight for everything. As if this is reason enough to marry someone, she then tells Dexter that she loves George more than she ever even began to love him. In Tracy’s eyes, George’s self-made-ness and poor background are appealing. In contrast with the rarefied world of wealth into which she (and Dexter) were born, George tends to know the value of things, because he had to work for them. While Tracy is at once a proud and privileged socialite who has no trouble asking for the finer things, her love of George belies a certain disdain for her social position, a desire to be more average and understand what it means to come from a humbler background.

Thus we see that part of the reason Tracy’s marriage to Dexter didn’t work out is because he comes from the same privileged lap of luxury as Tracy. In her eyes, Dexter is all the more contemptible because he has never had to work for anything, and to her mind he is little more than a drunk. In choosing to marry someone like George Kittredge—even though George is perhaps a bit of a bore—Tracy is broadcasting to her ex-husband that she doesn’t want to be with someone who came from as much privilege as herself. Her marriage to George symbolizes Tracy’s desire to get away from her upbringing, and Dexter is as much a part of this upbringing as anyone else. Dexter calls out the engagement as just another way to get back at him, but Tracy holds firm to her conviction that George is perfect for her, “a great man and a good man.”

It is in this portion of the movie that Dexter makes a curious and pointed accusation towards Tracy, telling her that she has no tolerance for “human frailty,” which disqualifies her from ever being a “first class human being” or a “first class woman.” This diagnosis is somewhat contradictory, as he just told her that she is marrying a man who is beneath her, George. His accusation is pointed and explicit. While much of the dialogue in the film is ironic and subtle, in this moment the camera frames each of the ex-spouses straight on, and they drop their knowing smirks for a rawer emotionality and a straightforward communication. Dexter scolds Tracy because she was unable to accept his flaws—mainly, it seems, his heavy drinking—and he attributes this to her belief that she is a goddess, somehow above the normal standards of the human condition. For the first moment in the film, both Dexter and Tracy, such experts at light-handed sparring, are disarmed by their own emotions, and must confront their own demons while looking directly into one another’s eyes.

Dexter’s assessment of Tracy stands in direct contrast with George’s adoring assessment. While Dexter suggests that Tracy’s imperiousness, independence, and high standards are what limit her and prevent her from being herself, George suggests that it is these qualities that make her such a special woman, and informs her that he wants to put her on a pedestal. When Dexter makes bold pronouncements about Tracy’s character, she becomes upset and her eyes well up with tears. It is as though his words sting because they hit on some truth that Tracy feels within herself; Dexter can see that she has a hard time making intimate connections because of her desire to be above everyone else. In the very next scene, when George extols as virtues the exact qualities that Dexter had identified as flaws, Tracy becomes uncharacteristically sad and vulnerable, and informs George that she doesn’t want to be worshipped, but loved. George and Dexter contrast with one another not only in who they are and where they come from, but also in how they choose to love Tracy. While Dexter treats Tracy as an equal and demands that they love each other for their respective qualities, George views Tracy as something to aspire to, an unattainably high standard, an ideal.

Indeed, it is in this section of the film that the sexism of Dexter, George, and Mr. Lord gets put on full display. Just as Dexter scolded Tracy for having impossibly high standards and putting herself on a pedestal (for what seems to be little more than her resentment of his heavy drinking), her own father, an admitted adulterer, levels the same accusations against her, even going so far as to blame his affair on her status as a “prig.” When Tracy questions him about his infidelity to her mother, Mr. Lord informs his daughter that it is a man’s prerogative to cheat if the women in his life are letting him down and not providing him with “foolish, unquestioning, uncritical affection.” In Mr. Lord’s eyes, his affair was the result of not having a daughter who was docile and unquestioning enough. He thus blames the women in his life for his own deceitful actions and criticizes her for her strength of character. Tracy’s conviction that Mr. Lord’s indiscretions are his own responsibility and ought not to be blamed on others seems, in context, quite reasonable, but her father suggests that his mistakes are her responsibility. He even goes so far as to suggest that her strength and her inability to show men “uncritical affection” will keep her a “spinster” all her life, “however many marriages." In placing the blame for their own actions on Tracy—and more specifically, Tracy’s strength and force of character—Dexter and Mr. Lord exhibit a sexist point of view that is authentic to the time the film was made. Tracy must grapple with the demand that she temper her force of character, while also standing up for and believing in herself.