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Gordon, A. (1994). It's Not Such a Wonderful Life: The Neurotic George Bailey. Am. J. Psychoanal., 54(3):219-233.

(1994). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 54(3):219-233

It's Not Such a Wonderful Life: The Neurotic George Bailey

Andrew Gordon, Ph.D.

You used to be so cocky. You were going to go out and conquer the world. You once called me a “warped, frustrated old man.” What are you but a warped, frustrated young man?

—Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) to George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) in It's a Wonderful Life

George Bailey is dancing right over that crack.

—A boy at the high school dance in It's a Wonderful Life

Frank Capra's film It's a Wonderful Life (1946) (Capra helped write the screenplay, directed, and produced it) is a sentimental American favorite, a Christmas fable shown ritualistically each holiday season, like the various film versions of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Capra's tale, like Dickens', shows the redemption of the central character through a fantastic device and celebrates the spirit of Christmas giving. When the family and friends of George Bailey, Capra's nice-guy hero, rally around him in the final scene and donate the money he needs to keep his business solvent, thereby saving him from financial ruin and suicide, the audience smiles through the tears. And I admit that I cry along with the rest of them.

Capra's film is not only a Christmas fairy tale but also a particularly American story, similar to Thornton Wilder's Our Town, using a fantastic device to celebrate the values of home, family, community, American small-town life, and, in Capra's case, the American small business. Wonderful Life is a nostalgic family chronicle covering twenty-six years of twentieth-century American history, from 1919 (the end of World War I) through 1945 (the end of World War II).

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