What is at stake?
The main characters life and everything he owns is at stake.
Who is the central character?
George Bailey played by (James Stewart), is a savings and loan manager who is about to lose everything he owns to a greedy town banker who does not care about anyone. George is a loving and caring family man who views the world through rose colored glasses. He holds out hope despite the fact that his life is anything but perfect. It is only after losing everything and attempting suicide that his true story begins.
George Bailey is the perfect example of a person who is handed every conceivable obstacle imaginable and yet, at the worst moment of his life, he can still realize his own self-worth. Little does he know that he is about to embark on a journey of self-discovery.
Describe the character’s personal journey.
George Bailey begins his journey with a prayer. He is contemplating suicide because, throughout his lifetime, he has faced nothing but hardships and trials, although he is one of the most kind and generous men alive.
On this dark, cold and snowy Christmas eve, George has suffered for the very last time. Unbeknownst to George, he is about to encounter an stranger who will provide him with a different perspective of the life George has led.
George’s life is flashed before our eyes. He is a 12 year old young man growing up in a town called Bedford Falls in 1919. George, his little brother Harry and a group of friends are out sledding near a frozen pond. When his little brother slides down the hill and ends up in the icy water of the pond, George unthinkingly dives in after him, saving his little brother from certain death but at a cost; George loses his hearing in his left ear.
Next we see George working for Mr. Gower in the town drug store, running local deliveries and helping with customers, etc.. George flirts with a few girls as they come and go from the store. George is thought of as an arrogant boy; head full of knowledge and always speaking about his quest to leave Bedford Falls one day. Mary, a young girl from Bedford Falls, is secretly in love with George and, one day while shopping in the drug store, whispers in George’s ear that she will always love him til the day she dies. She doesn’t realize that she whispers into his deaf ear and her confession goes unnoticed.
George’s boss, Mr. Gower, asks George run a prescription to a customer. George had seen a telegram earlier that day, addressed to Mr. Gower, informing Mr. Gower of his son’s death. George notices that Mr. Gower is upset and had used the wrong medicine when mixing the prescription and doesn’t know what to do. George seeks out his father’s advice.
We see George listening in on a conversation between George’s father and the hateful Mr. Potter, who wishes nothing more than to put an end to the Building and Loan Association that his father manages. When Mr. Potter accuses George’s father of running a charity and is a complete failure, George speaks up to defend his father’s honor.
George runs back to the drug store to return the pills to Mr. Gower. Mr. Gower is upset that George didn’t deliver the pills and slaps George. George tells Mr. Gower why he didn’t deliver the pills, Mr. Gower feels bad and begins to cry. He hugs George and begs forgiveness for slapping George.
We move ahead to 1928. George is now a young man. He is following his dreams of getting out of Bedford Falls. He is getting ready to leave for Europe before heading to college. It is the last night before his big trip and it is also the evening of his little brother’s high school graduation.
George and his family sit around the family dining table talking about how Mr. Potter continues to harass his father at the Building and Loan. George’s father asks George if he would consider taking over his father’s position but George declines. He states he would go crazy if he had to stay in Bedford Falls.
That evening, after attending his brother’s graduation, George meets a very mature Mary at his brother’s graduation party. He takes her dancing and so begins his courtship of Mary; the same Mary that confessed her love for George many years before.
George’s courtship of Mary ends abruptly as his father suffers a stroke and passes away. George puts his dreams on hold as he volunteers to take over his father’s responsibilities. Mr. Potter wishes to gain control of the Building and Loan association but the town’s people vote George in as Executive Secretary, taking over for the position his father held.
George stays to take care of the family business while his little brother attends college. Once his little brother completes college, his little brother is supposed to come back and take over; thereby, freeing George from the burden to continue his pursuit of his dream.
George’s brother returns to Bedford Falls only to tell George he has found work with his new wife’s father and he has not intentions of staying to take over for George. George is distraught upon learning that he will be stuck in Bedford Falls. That evening, he holds a family reunion party at his home for his little brother. George wanders off to gather his thoughts and finds himself passing by Mary’s house. His mother had alerted Mary to George’s whereabouts prior to his passing by her house and Mary invites George in.
Mary’s mother dislikes George because he is not rich enough for her daughter and wishes her to marry another boy in town but Mary only has eyes for George. After a very awkward conversation between the George and Mary, the phone rings and interrupts the two of them. The other suitor is on the line and, after speaking with Mary for a few minutes, the suitor wishes to speak to George. He offers George a job as a means to get George away from Mary but George refuses.
George grabs Mary by the shoulders and begins shaking her, telling her he doesn’t want to get married. In the next moment he and Mary begin kissing as George realizes he is very much in love with Mary. We see George and Mary married and heading out on their honeymoon in the back of a taxi.
Their honeymoon does not even get started as Mary and George notice that several people are rushing to the Building and Loan to withdraw their money. His uncle Billy had been left to run the Building and Loan while George would be on his honeymoon, but his uncle Billy had handed over almost all the Building and Loan’s money to Mr. Potter who had called in the loan. There was little money to provide those demanding their money.
George and Mary had to cancel their plans as George had to use their honeymoon money to appease the worried customers. Later that day, George receives a call from his new wife declaring that they had become the owners of an old a dilapidated fixer-upper; the one house in town that George despised.
A few years later, George is approached by Mr. Potter and offered a position with Mr. Potter, handling his affairs in exchange George would be paid a handsome salary. George accepts and continues his life in Bedford Falls, fathering a few children with Mary, he settles into a peaceful life.
On Christmas Eve, 1945, George picks up the paper to see his brother face on the front page with the words, “President Decorates Harry Bailey,.” His brother has been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. George’s business partner, Uncle Billy, mistakenly hands over a deposit to Mr. Potter meant for the Building and Loan. Uncle Bailey was too busy bragging to Mr. Potter about Harry’s award that he absentmindedly folded up the large deposit into the newspaper paper and hands the paper over to Mr. Potter to read. Mr. Potter discovers Harry’s mistake and keeps the money with the intent of finally taking down the Building and Loan, forever.
Harry confesses his mistake to George and George becomes distraught over the repercussions. He believes this one mistake will most likely bankrupt the Building and Loan and possible put them both behind bars. George closes up the Building and Loan and returns to his home. His child is ill and it is Christmas Eve. George cannot take the thought of losing everything and placing his family in such dire straits.
George loses his temper and begins yelling at people. George is seen screaming into the phone at Mrs. Welch, his sick child’s teacher and accuses Mrs. Welch of making his child sick and then yells at Mr. Welch and offers to fight him. George leaves the house in a rage where he ends up at the local bar. Towns people are surprised to see him there and as he begins to drink heavily. He prays to God to show him a way out of this current predicament. Suddenly the husband of his sick child’s teacher approaches him and punches George in the jaw for yelling at his wife earlier. George tells the bartender, ‘That’s what you get for praying.” George realizes he has his insurance policy tucked into his coat pocket and believes that his wife and family would be saved if he were to die.
George wanders out of the bar, gets into his car and shortly after, crashes into a tree. George approaches the town bridge overlooking the icy waters below. Just before George jumps into the river, he sees an older man jump into the river. George jumps in the water to rescue the man.
George pulls the man from the water and the bridge toll keeper offers the two men the warmth of the tollhouse. Once inside, the suicidal man claims he jumped in to the water to save George. He claims to be George’s guardian angel and is trying to win back his wings by saving George.
George tells the angel that he wishes he had never been born and the angel grants his wish. The angel begins to show George his life if George didn’t exist.
George learns that the town would belong to the Potter’s. Mr. Gowen, the pharmacist, would have been sent to prison for murder. The Building and Loan would die after George’s father’s death. His uncle Billy would go insane after trying to manage the Building and Loan by himself. George would not have any children. George’s mother would be a lonely owner of a bed and breakfast, living on a meager salary. George discovers there in no Bailey Park and that the town would be without many of the houses it now has George wouldn’t be there to help finance them.
Finally, George seeks out Mary to find her working at the local library, sad and lonely. George approaches Mary but she does not recognize him and runs from him. It is at this moment that George realizes that he, in fact, has a wonderful life.
George’s wish is granted and he runs through town wishing everyone a Merry Christmas as he makes his way home. He understands that he faces going to jail but he also realizes it is a price to pay for all the wonderful things he had accomplished.
He reaches his home, kisses and embraces his children. Mary runs into his arms and tells him, “It’s a miracle.” He wanders downstairs to be greeted by all those he had helped over the years. They all come bearing donations to help him keep his job. George is finally happy with his life.
How is the character transformed?
George is transformed from a man who felt he had not accomplished anything in life into a man who realized he had importance. George always had the life he wanted but was too blinded by the things he didn’t accomplish to appreciate what he had.
What good reason does the character have not to act?
George could have remained in a state of self-pity and jumped to his death. The insurance policy would have taken care of his family and resolved the issue with the Building and Trust but it would have been a matter of time before his uncle Billy would have succumbed to Mr. Potter’s evil ways, his wife would be left alone to care for the children and the towns people would fall victim to Mr. Potter, as well. George had to act in order to be shown that his sacrifices were beneficial and appreciated by everyone around him.