March 30, 2012
American Beauty and the Developmental Tasks
Erik Erikson suggested a theory that all humans must face specific obstacles at certain points in their lives. These obstacles are known as developmental tasks. In order to develop properly one must overcome these obstacles. As an adolescent one must face the obstacles of identity versus role confusion, as a young adult on must face the obstacles of intimacy versus isolation, and as an adult one must face the obstacle of generativity versus stagnation. The film American Beauty portrays the consequences of failing to overcome these developmental obstacles. It revolves around middle-aged Lester Burnham and his struggle with the desire to be young again. Lester, however, is not the only character struggling with proper development. His wife, Carolyn Burnham, and his neighbor, Col. Frank Fitts, both have major issues regarding developmental tasks. All three of these characters express an obvious sense of discontent with their lives, but none realize, until it is too late, that they have created their own unhappiness. Lester Burnham is the focus character in American Beauty. Lester finds that his marriage is unfulfilling sexually and emotionally. His relationship with his daughter is nonexistent and his job is facing termination. He lives in a ‘cookie-cutter,’ suburban neighborhood, simply going through the motions, day after day. He feels that his life has come to a halt; he feels ever moment go by as if he is numb to the world. To him and to his family, Lester is a failure, Lester is stagnating. Lester continues this façade that he calls life until he sets his eyes on Angela Hayes. Angela is a friend of Jane’s; she is blonde and is a stereotypical, teenage girl. In the film Lester lusts after this girl, but this not meant to be sexual. This is to represent that Lester longs for this girl’s youth. Lester feels that his life has become meaningless because of his...