“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” —Clarence
Ah, It’s a Wonderful Life. The film that has graced many a cozy living room since 1946. It is a much beloved and familiar tale. George Bailey grows up dreaming of his future away from the sleepy old town of Bedford Falls. As life would have it though, George never gets to leave, always hindered by some crisis that demands his attention, such as saving the family bank or challenging the money-hungry Mr. Potter. Depressed and feeling like a failure, he walks to a bridge, intending to commit suicide, only to be confronted by Clarence, an angel sent to save his life. Clarence shows George what the little town would be like had he never been born, and George realizes the great value of his own life. While on the surface, the classic heartwarming film presents a simple but powerful message about the value of each and every life, underneath there is another story which often goes unnoticed.
George Bailey, for seventy-two years now, has stuck around with his family to remind us that to be a hero we does not have to find a grand adventure but can change the world from one little house in a little known town like Bedford Falls. First and foremost, he has a good heart and desires to do good in the world, and because of that desire, George grows up looking out for others. He has a true servant’s heart and it drastically affects the people around him. He saves the bank from closing on his wedding day. He offers housing to those without much income. He saves his brother’s life and Mr. Gower’s reputation.
But even given all of these wonderful acts, George Bailey is the real hero precisely because he stuck around against all of his desires to go out and see the world. After all of the fighting is done, after all of the revolutionaries have gone out to change the world, fought, won, triumphed, where are they going to go? Think of what Bedford Falls would have actually looked like if he had left and Mr. Potter had gotten his way. Pottersville is obviously not Bedford Falls because it has been drawn into the world of change and culture wars. But the home is not a place for war, the home is a place of rest and life. So George Bailey remains at home to fight a war that goes unrecognized. He champions the power of the homestead. He makes a true home and a true town a reality, so that when all the warriors return, they will have something they recognize and can finally rest.
Dietrich Balsbaugh is a junior studying English and mathematics.