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The events described in the novel Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain take place in California in the pre-Depression period and end in California during the World War II. Mildred Pierce is the main character, a housewife who raises two daughters Veda and Ray. However, Veda is her obsession, and Mildred does her best in order to make her daughter happy, in spite that Veda is abusive and deceptive to her mother. Mildred divorces her husband and becomes a waitress in order to support her family.

Novel Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain

Mildred sacrifices her image and reputation by working as a waitress in order to pay for Veda’s music lessons. Soon Mildred begins to date an attorney and former partner of her husband. Eventually she achieves success in the restaurant business. However, her personal life is different, as she betrays Wally and starts a relationship with a prestigious local man Monty. Veda supports mother’s choice constantly, as she wants to become rich and affluent. Mildred is happy with Monty, but their happiness is not everlasting, as in the period of the Great Depression Monty faces hard times.

Veda follows her mother’s example and demands money out of a rich family stating that she is pregnant. Mildred argues with Veda, and the daughter disowns her mother. Mildred is a broken-hearted mother, and she tries to return her daughter. However, soon Veda returns home, and betrays her mother with Monty, Mildred’s lover and Veda’s stepfather. As a conclusion of the story, Mildred divorces Monty, filled with betrayal of her daughter and the beloved man.

It is evident that Mildred Pierce is about destiny of a woman, who makes mistakes in her life because of she loves her daughter madly. As a result, she is punished by betrayal of her daughter and her beloved man, leaving her absolutely devastated, lonely and unhappy. The main characters of Mildred Pierce novel are Mildred and Veda, as all events are connected to them.

Mildred plays a role of mother, housewife, wife, lover and business woman in this novel. She is intelligent, attractive and successful at restaurant business. However, her major weakness is love for her spoilt and selfish daughter and for the men. She is punished for this unconditional love by both of them, as they soon betray her. Mildred always suffers from her daughter’s abuse and selfishness. It is evident that Mildred’s maternal love for Veda is a blind obsession. One can understand her motherly love. However, she is a strong woman and she is able to change the bitter situation to avoid loneliness and betrayal. Painful relationships bring her no satisfaction but only disappointment.

One can notice that Mildred does not live her life but rather is dedicated to her daughter Veda. The consequence of so much devotion to her daughter is a fatal ending. Moreover, deep sorrow, slaving away, sacrifice and Mildred’s regular sins are the results of her blind love to her daughter.

Veda is a Mildred’s daughter, who has very a beautiful appearance but an ugly soul. She is selfish and arrogant. Without a doubt, she is talented at playing piano and singing. She behaves as a proprietor of her mother, and uses all ways possible to get what she wants. She makes her mother suffer, feel guilt and pain, and finally betrays her. Veda receives pleasure from making her mother suffer. Deception, seduction and playing in a real life are her main ways of achieving goals.

In the majority of cases, reading a novel and watching a novel-based movie are absolutely different experiences. In fact, some events and important moments are missed in a movie. Without a doubt, more people prefer to watch a movie on a big screen rather than to read a book. Mildred Pierce was produced as a movie in 1945. It was a long process of writing a detailed screen adaptation. However, there are differences between James Cain’s 1941 novel and Mildred Pierce 1945 movie.

Mildred Pierce as a novel depicts a lot of contradictory events at that time, which is why Hollywood set standards using the Production Code. Thus, the producers avoided offensive situations and plots.

  • One of the most evident differences is that Bert and Mildred Pierce got married because Mildred was pregnant in a novel. At the pre-Depression period, it was an outrageous situation to be pregnant before marriage. The American audience did not respect loose or disreputable women, and premarital sex was unaccepted at that time; that this why this fact is omitted in a movie. However, to my mind this fact is important because it reveals the real ugly nature of Veda and her easy-going life.
  • The second omission in a movie is remembering about the abortion, which is called operation in a movie. To my mind, the director had to depict it in a movie, as it would prove that such negative phenomenon existed even at that time. However, American society wanted to see only positive and noble events, and that is what the director showed. Despite the fact that Veda’s pregnancy was a part of her game to gain money and was unreal, producers of a movie did not mention such notions as premarital pregnancy and abortion.
  • The third omission in the screenplay was the Veda’s sexual relationships with Monty, who was her step-father. In the novel, Mildred found them in bed together. The Hollywood Production Code was against any sexual message and an easy-going sexual behavior. However, the omission of the novel’s details was harmful to a movie, as it did not reveal the main message of an author completely. James M. Cain wanted to show a woman as a sinner. The author criticized the main characters’ behavior and completely succeeded in doing so. Regarding a movie, it revealed the women’s sins only partially.

Moreover, Mildred character in Cain’s novel enjoyed the physical relationship with her husband Wally and her lover Monty. However, a movie did not show this because it was unacceptable and steered away. Producers concentrated their attention on the romantic dates rather than sex scenes. They also had chosen an older actress for the role of Mildred. In the novel, she is young and does not care about her social status.

Lastly, it is necessary to mention that both the novel and the movie concentrated on Mildred’s relationship with her daughter. Both artworks depicted blind mother’s love and maternal obsession with the daughter. However, mother’s feelings were depicted so bright and sensitive in the movie as it was done in the novel.

The most interesting fact is that in the novel, the author described Mildred as a person who was successful in business and interested in politics. By contrast, the movie depicted more stereotypical perception of women based on the old standards. As a result, Mildred was presented as a woman who was not interested in politics and other masculine affairs. It is evident that James M. Cain described a new image of a woman, which was absolutely different from the old-fashioned standards. Contrary, the movie showed a woman that the society wanted to see. Without a doubt, the changes in gender aspect were admitted by James M. Cain but omitted by movie producers.


In conclusion, it is necessary to say that there are many differences between a novel Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain and a movie. It is evident that only the names of characters coincide in both works. The message of the novel is not revealed in the movie, because that time had many taboos. To my mind, one should choose reading a novel instead of watching a movie, as it is deeper and shows the hidden problems of the pre-Depression time. Besides, the author reveals the entity of a woman, her positive and negative sides in the context of her roles in the family and in the society.

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