Frank Capra’s film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which was released in 1939, is set in the 1930s in Washington DC and depicts real life situations taking place in America. It is a story about the deeds an average citizen of America can do when he has mind to do it. It is a story of courage, hope, defeat, and triumph; it challenges the insights and questions about morals of Americans. Jefferson Smith (real name is Jimmy Stewart) is the protagonist of the film. He is the leader of boy rangers and represents the image of an idealistic, honest, patriotic, and naive American. Smith is lucky to be elected to fill the position of the departed Washington senator and he assumes the post with eagerness and enthusiasm. As opposed to corrupt and money hungry senators such as Senator Paine, Smith has big plans to make reforms for the benefit of his people. However, fellow senators are against his proposals and, consequently, they ridicule and humiliate him. Nevertheless, Smith continues his quest for changes of the state of things in Washington. He begins by buying a piece of land in his home town to improve the life of rangers. Unknown to Smith, this land purchase directly conflicts with a plan aimed at destroying him led by Paine. The team accuses Smith of attempting to sell the U.S. government a piece of land that he already owned. Despite the fact that this is untrue, Smith finds himself trapped and on the edge of expulsion. The secretary of Paine, Clarissa Saunders, however, comes to his rescue and the two unite their efforts to fight the system. Smith persistently battles against Taylor on the Senate’s floor till the victorious end.
This paper presents a discussion and analysis of how class conflicts and the American Dream are represented in the film Mr. Smith goes to Washington and my point of view on the way the film portrays this fundamental American ideal.
A Discussion and Analysis of how class conflicts and the American Dream are represented in the film
The director of the film did a great job portraying how class from which people come from can affect their concept of American dream. Smith, who is a leader of a boy scout, is considered as a low class citizen compared to his counterparts in the Senate. Despite the fact that Smith has good plans to reform Washington, rich high class fellow senators and influential people like Taylor are against these ideas. They do everything possible to ruin Smith by falsely implicating him in crimes that he never committed. Despite their attempts, Smith’s dream to see an improved America (Washington) with better services, social amenities, equality as well as freedom of speech does not fade. He fights his opponents until he eventually emerges triumphant.
The film portrays the good and evil that exists in the American society. Though Smith is not a skilled politician, he has a good heart, strong morals, and good plans. Taylor is not a skilled politician either, but he is a publisher of newspapers who controls politicians. Taylor signifies the modern day evil that takes place in America. He works behind the curtains to manipulate and influence things for his own interest. He finds nothing wrong in destroying the reputation of Smith for his personal gain. Taylor uses the power he has to control people’s minds.
There is also a depiction of the war between David and Goliath which demonstrates the conflicts between various classes in the United States. Though Smith has very little money and power, he is against Taylor (Goliath), who has all the resources to destroy him. However, because Smith knows he is fighting for a worthy cause, he does not stop defending what is right. Taylor is a rich and powerful man who uses the newspapers to influence the opinion of the public to his own advantage. He also has Senator Paine and numerous other congressmen on his side to help him attack and belie Smith. This clearly shows how rich and powerful citizens in the United States use their money and power to frustrate the efforts of ordinary low class citizens who have good intentions for America.
In addition, the disparity in social class becomes evident in the film when Taylor owns a huge newspaper company which can print numerous papers at once and distribute them in massive quantities. Smith, on the other hand, uses the help of children who operate a minute printing press and must use bicycles to distribute newspapers. The greed and evilness of the rich and powerful is seen when Taylor and his group attack the children in order to discourage them from distributing the papers.
Mr. Smith goes to Washington is indeed a true depiction of the corruption, greed, and wickedness existing amongst the high and mighty in America, who does everything possible to retain their power and wealth. At the same time, this film also gives people hope that there exist strong-willed persons of character such as Smith who are ready to fight against the evils that prevent the American dream from coming true.
How I Relate Individually To the Way the Film Portrays Class Conflicts and the American Dream
Personally, I was indirectly related to a similar story because my uncle has been involved in a court dispute with a powerful businessman in California since 2008. It is alleged that the businessman acquired the same piece of land that my uncle owns, claiming that he bought it. In fact, this man started developing it. Though my uncle has the original title deeds confirming that he is the owner, the court ruled in the businessman’s favor. I believe that the businessman used his power and money to manipulate the decisions of judges.
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