Leah Kuenzi's Blog

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Cowboy Hats and Power in “Coal Miner’s Daughter” March 23, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — lkuenzi @ 6:39 pm

In Coal Miner’s Daughter, the life of country music superstar Loretta Lynn is chronicled, primarily notable for her “rags-to-riches” transformation and her unusually early age of marriage to a much older man. The film struggles to reconcile several issues of power and independent agency, most pointedly portrayed in the somewhat dysfunctional marriage of Doolittle and Loretta Lynn. From an impoverished upbringing in rural Kentucky as the daughter of a coal miner, to a very young wife and mother, to finding uncommon success as a female country music artist, Loretta Lynn must struggle for her own autonomy in the context of an oppressive and abusive relationship.

The film uses the image of cowboy hats as a means to signify the ownership of power and the transference of power between various characters. The first time that Loretta Lynn is seen wearing her white cowboy hat is when Doolittle takes her picture in the living room of their home. He places the hat on her head; thus signifying that he has the power over her: he has primarily been in charge of her music career so far, facilitating gigs and getting her name out to the locals. Later, when Loretta Lynn first appears on the Grand Ole Opry, he secures the cowboy hat on her head. Although she has chosen to put it on, he makes sure that it will remain as a symbol of his power over her. However, a shift occurs thereafter in the image of the cowboy hat. After the moment at the Grand Ole Opry, Loretta Lynn uses the cowboy hat to her own advantage to signify a shift in power over Doolittle: she defies his control of her destiny. After performing at the Opry, Loretta Lynn tosses her cowboy hat to Doolittle at a diner with Patsy Cline, and in the next breath reminds him that he is: “just a tax deduction.” When she finds Doolittle in the car with another woman, she removes his cowboy hat from the head of the woman he was fooling around with, representing her regaining control of her husband and not allowing him to stray. Finally, after getting in a fight with Doolittle in a parking lot, she throws his cowboy hat out of the window as her car speeds off. Although Loretta Lynn had to fight against her husband to have power over her own life, she did so through the image of the cowboy hat, and came out on top of the power hierarchy in the end.

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