What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

*Illustration by Celia Jacobs.

Our Favorite Christmas Classic Is Really a Study in American Suicide

It’s a Wonderful Life Delivers a Haunting Treatise on the Religious, Legal, and Economic Implications of Taking One’s Life

Isn’t it a little odd that our most cherished Christmas film is about a man seeking to end his life by jumping off a bridge? Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life is full of traditional holiday themes like romance …

STORY

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) can be read through multiple prisms—as a Christmas movie, a family movie, a love story, an existential journey, and a celebration of the everyman. But Frank Capra’s movie invites audiences to consider it, first and foremost, as a small-town film.

The first image seen is a sign welcoming audiences: “YOU ARE NOW IN BEDFORD FALLS.” Even if initial audiences don’t know anything about this specific town, they “know” the community they about to enter: the American small town.

While we think of the small town …

Why George Bailey Is the American Jesus

Why George Bailey Is the American Jesus

Reflecting a Postwar Religious Revival, the Long-Suffering Hero Played by Jimmy Stewart Lives a Life of Self-Sacrifice and Resists Temptation

In the 15 years after World War II, a religious revival swept through America. Records were set for church attendance and new church construction, a succession of religious books made the best-seller list, and religious …

STORY

From the Gilded Age and until well into the Great Depression, Americans engaged in one of the most consequential debates in the country’s history: how best to address the economic inequities and societal problems …