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Imagination and the affirmation of the ordinary : words and deeds in the films of Frank Capra Bremner, Lori

Abstract

This study examines four films by Frank Capra, "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" (1936), "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939), "Meet John Doe" (1941), and "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946). By discussing these films, the study examines the relation between the good man and community as it appears in the American romantic tradition. Characteristic of this tradition is a strong interest in the relation between the individual experience of the grand dream and the everyday life of the community. This tradition understands the attempt to reconcile grand dreaming with the mundane practices of collective life as leading to both individual happiness and the well being of the community. Given this, our task is to understand how this work is conceived within the narrative structure of these films. By drawing on the writings of Blum, Frye, Emerson, and Rousseau, Chapter One reconstructs a quarrel between imagination ('idealism') and pragmatism ('realism') as it appears in the above named films. The progress of this quarrel serves to underscore the vicissitudes Capra's good man encounters in his attempt to realize the sublime within the ordinary, waking life of the collective. Chapter Two follows the work of Oakeshott, Taylor, Arendt, and Cavell to develop the relationship between the exercise of imagination, community, and the pursuit of happiness as it appears in a detailed reading of "It's a Wonderful Life." Chapter Three gives broad readings to "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," and "Meet John Doe" as illustrations of the good man's attempt to locate grand dreaming amid a world of conflicting values, competing claims and irreconcilable images of perfect community.

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