For Judy, lipstick has both pleasurable and painful connotations. Her conflict with her father stems from her wearing it and his rejection of it. “He looks at me like I m the ugliest thing in the world,” she tells an officer. Her desire to get her father s attention with lipstick is characteristic of the Electra complex she has for him. Instead of showing his approval, however, he smears it off her lips and calls her a tramp. Conversely, he tells her that she is too old to kiss him. “I don t want to stop,” she says, and when she kisses him on the lips, he slaps her. According to Fink, whereas a father s “No!” “functions for a man as a limit to his range of emotion and pleasures, [it] is an elective partner for a woman, her relationship to it allowing her to step beyond the boundaries set by language and beyond the pittance of pleasure language allows. An endpoint for men, [ No! ] serves as an open door for women” (107). But his resistance to her affection closes the door to the symbolic world that Judy seeks from her father.
If Jim and Judy’s parents are difficult to deal with, at least they are home with their children. Neither of Plato s parents is ever seen. Referring to Plato s mother, Plato s housemaid says, “Seems like she s always going away somewhere.” About his father, she remarks that they “haven t seen him now in a long time.” The only attention Plato receives from his father is a monthly child-support cheque. Plato s shooting of the puppies is an act of the imaginative, as puppies are eventually abandoned by their mother and never know their father. Even Jim s offer to give Plato his jacket (”It s warm.”) is subject to Plato s scrutiny of, and contempt for, any paternal gesture of kindness.
The search for the father proves to be a learning experience for Jim, Judy, Plato, and Jim s parents. Nicholas Ray seems to be saying that in order for their children to move from the imaginary to the symbolic, fathers must be up to the challenge of offering guidance. Rebel without a Cause has as much to say today as it did in the 1950s. It typifies the ineptitude of fathers to act as responsible adults and their unwillingness to accept their teen-aged children into an adult world. Ray also seems to be saying that once an adult, one must let go of his or her childhood. Those who cannot make the transformation often pay for it at an immeasurable cost. Those who make it through the threshold of adulthood try to make meaning of a fragmented society and a universe that holds little value for them.