This is a story that has been picked apart and analyzed by journalists, writers, bloggers, and just about everyone else, but I want to focus on the main character, George Bailey, because I believe he is the single-most identifiable protagonist the world has ever seen. And in breaking down the persona of George Bailey, we can better understand how we as writers can create and develop a sympathetic character who readers can readily identify with.
Of course much of this three-dimensional character's success can be attributed to Jimmy Stewart, the acting legend who brought him to life, but I am narrowing my list down to 8 things that make George Bailey the most lovable character:
1. His hunger for discoveryOne of the saddest aspects of It's A Wonderful Life is the fact that George Bailey never does get out of Bedford Falls to see the world. From the time he is a young boy working at Mr. Gower's drugstore, he dreams of travelling the globe and experiencing the many cultures the world has to offer. He has a restless, adventurous spirit (something that many of us who have lived overseas can easily identify with.) In today's modern world where we can cross continents in just a few hours, back in the late 1940's when the movie was filmed, traveling to other countries was considered a big deal and not for the faint of heart.
2. He respects his parentsOne of my favorite scenes in the movie is just after the family has eaten dinner on the night of his brother Harry's graduation. George is sitting at the table with his father and they are discussing him taking over the family business for a few years until his brother Harry can take over. His father gives him a healthy dose of wisdom and George answers with the following: "Pap, you want a shock? I think you're a great guy." He isn't afraid to show his love and admiration for his family.
3. He's willing to sacrifice time and time again
After his father dies and the family business is at risk of folding, the future of the entire town seems to hang in the balance. Understanding what losing his father's loan company will mean to the people of Bedford Falls, George gives up his dreams for his own future by standing up to the town bully, Mr. Potter, at a time when no one else seems to have the courage. In doing so, he saddles himself down with the life he never wanted in order to make a better one for others:
4. He has real friendshipsI love the fact that his two good friends are both regular Joes and very blue collar -- a cop and a cab driver. Though neither Bert nor Ernie make stellar salaries, they don't seem bothered by this fact; nor are they ashamed by their role to serve others. In fact, helping others is a central theme running through the entire story and the old saying "a man is known by the company he keeps" certainly applies to our protagonist:
5. He follows his conscienceAt a time in his life when everything seems to be going wrong financially, George is faced with the toughest decision of his life: does he accept Mr. Potter's generous offer and lower his standards for the position of his dreams or does he remain poor and stand by his convictions? Watch!
6. He has a sense of humorOne of the most endearing qualities of the character George Bailey is his innate gift of comedic timing. He doesn't take himself too seriously and enjoys the laughs and fun moments that are thrown his way. Not only that, but he also is the perpetrator of much of the humor in this film. His down-to-earth personality combines with tongue-in-cheek humor to give us an utterly lovable good guy:
7. He's not afraid to leadOn the day that George Bailey marries his sweetheart, Mary Hatch, there is a dreaded bank run in Bedford Falls and panic sets in. Instead of throwing in the towel and taking off on his honeymoon, he uses his smarts and the limited resources he has (his honeymoon funds) in order to prop up his loan business to keep things running. It takes guts and true leadership to come up with viable solutions at a time when everyone else is panicking:
8. He brings people togetherIf you haven't seen the movie yet, I would highly recommend it. But I have to warn you about the final scene. Probably the most poignant and best ending ever to any film (not to mention the tear-jerker factor) this story captures the joy of human relationships. What do I mean by that? Well, let's just say that George Bailey was given a wonderful gift on Christmas Eve--to see how much he'd touched the lives of those around him in such a positive way!
What is your favorite scene? Tell me about it in the comments section below!