The hit Netflix series Stranger Things takes place in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana in the 1980’s. When Will Byers goes missing, his friends set out to investigate what happened. Nancy Wheeler is the older sister of Will’s best friend, Mike. At the start of the series, Nancy could care less about Mike and the disappearance of his friend. She even despises that she is not allowed to go out with her friends because of the disappearance, claiming that Will is just lost. At the end of the second episode, her best friend Barb goes missing. When she realizes this in the beginning of the following episode, she begins to investigate. She forms an alliance with Jonathan Byers, Will’s older brother, to investigate the mysterious disappearances.
As the series progresses, we see an extreme shift in Nancy’s character. At the start of the series, she has a rocky relationship with her family. She never tells her mom anything and she always fights with Mike. She keeps secrets. Towards the end of the series, she begins to open up more. She tells her mom when she discovers that Barb is missing. She helps Mike when he is in trouble because she now knows how it feels to have a friend go missing.
Feminist Criticism: The Male Gaze
The male gaze states that women in the media are the objects of gaze rather than the possessors. This is because it is assumed that heterosexual males are the default targeted audience in most cases. Typically, this concept is seen in advertisements, but it can also be seen in movies and TV. It states that women are the objects of male pleasure.
We can see Nancy as the object of the male gaze within the show. At the beginning of the series, she is dating Steve Harrington. The two seem to be infatuated with each other. In the second episode, the two become intimate with each other during a party at Steve’s house. However, they have no idea that Jonathan is in the woods outside of the house with his camera. As Nancy is taking her top off, Jonathan is taking pictures of her. This is an example of how the viewer is presumed to be male and how Nancy is the object of Jonathan’s gaze, as well the object of the audience’s gaze.
We also see the male gaze in play after Jonathan and Nancy team up. When Nancy begins ignoring Steve, he decides to show up at her house and try to sneak in her window. However, he sees her in her room with Jonathan and he gets angry. He and his friends start spray painting slurs and rude comments about her all over town. When Nancy and Jonathan are out getting supplies to fight the creature that took Will and Barb, they see these comments. Jonathan and Steve then fight over Nancy. This shows that they see Nancy as a prize to be won.
Narratology: Propp’s Morphology
Vladimir Propp compiled a list of 31 functions that could possibly be in a hero’s story. He concluded that not all stories contain every single one of these functions. All stories, however, are created by selecting items from the list. Nancy Wheeler’s story uses 12 of these items.
Nancy meets the criteria for the first 3 items in this list. The first item states that a member of the family leaves home. Although Barb is not a member of Nancy’s family, she is Nancy’s best friend and the person she is closest to. The second item on the list occurs when the hero is prohibited from doing something. Nancy is not allowed to leave the house after dark since Will disappeared. Related to the second object on the list, the third object is when the prohibition is violated. Nancy convinces her mom to let her leave the house by telling her she will be attending the assembly for Will at school, but she and Barb go to a party at Steve’s house instead.
Nancy also meets the criteria for numbers 8 and 9. Number 8a states that a family member desires to have something. Nancy’s mom really wants a better relationship with her family. She wishes that her children would talk to her. Number 9 is when the desire is made known and the hero is approached with a request. During the third episode, when Nancy comes home from Steve’s house, her mom begs her to just talk to her.
Numbers 14 through 16 and number 18 also apply. Number 14 is when the hero gains a magical agent. Although not a magical agent, Nancy gains the help of Jonathan when she discovers that Barb is missing and that the creature that took Will might have taken Barb as well. Number 15 is when the hero is led to the whereabouts of an object of the search. At the end of the fifth episode, Nancy crawls through a tree trunk and ends up in the upside down, which is an alternate dimension where the creature lives. Number 16 is when the hero and the villain join in direct combat. Nancy and Jonathan devise a plan to fight the Demogorgon, which is the name that Mike and his friends gave the creature. They lure the Demogorgon to them and then they implement their plan to kill it. Number 18 is when the villain is defeated. Nancy and Jonathan believe that they have killed the Demogorgon because they set it on fire and it disappeared.
Numbers 21, 25, and 26 are the final three objects in this list that apply to Nancy. Number 21 is when the hero is pursued. Nancy and the rest of the heroes must run from the members of the Hawkins Laboratory, who created the Demogorgon. Since Nancy and everyone else knows too much, they want to eliminate them. Number 25 is when a difficult task is proposed to the hero. Nancy and the rest of the gang must find out where Barb and Will are and how to get there. Number 26 is when the task is resolved. Nancy and her friends figure out that Barb and Will are in the upside down, and Will’s mother and Chief Hopper go off to look for them.
The plot of a story is made up by selecting items from Propp’s list. The story of Stranger Things as a whole could probably meet more of the criteria than what is listed above. However, Nancy is the main focus of this post, so these are the most important objects to include.