American Beauty and the Crucible

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Paired Text Study: American Beauty and The Crucible

"American Beauty and The Crucible are both powerful critiques of American society at different periods in history." In what ways are the representations of the characters and the worlds of the text a product of the composers' socio-cultural and historical contexts and what, if any, parallels can be drawn between them?

Both American Beauty and The Crucible are texts written to emphasize flaws within the American society at different periods in history. American Beauty, which was created at the end of the 20th century when there was an increasing dissatisfaction with the American Dream, depicts Alan Ball and Sam Mendes', the composers, contemporary opinions of Western society and is an illustration of how the American Dream is often a façade for dysfunctional relationships. The Crucible, which is set in 1692, during the instable times of the Salem Witch trials was written as an allegory by Arthur Miller, and demonstrates the similarities between the situation in Salem and McCarthyism in the 1950's.

American Beauty was produced at a time when people were beginning to realize that the American Dream is full of unfulfilled desires, repressed dreams and shattered hopes. Alan Ball and Sam Mendes highlight the flaws of this vision through characters in the text. Lester Burnham, the main protagonist of the text, is not content with his suburban life. "Look at me, jerking off in the shower — this will be the high point of my day. It's all downhill from here." He has a respectable occupation as a magazine executive and a family he once enjoyed the company of however he feels that his he lives a meaningless existence, "in a way, I am dead already." His only daughter Jane has issues with her body image and wishes her father would take interest in her life. "I need a father who's a role model, not some horny geek-boy who's gonna spray his shorts every time I bring a girlfriend home from school." And his wife is stuck in a loveless marriage and doesn't allow her husband to touch her. "Our marriage is just for show. A commercial for how normal we are when we're anything but." The Burnham's are an example of the American Dream failing to satisfy people's true needs.

The producers of the text want us to see that true beauty lies in the ordinary aspects of life and often goes unrecognised. Angela Hays is obsessed with her image and thrives of the fact people think she is beautiful. "I don't think that there's anything worse than being ordinary. The makers want us to recognize this as Angela's major character flaw and understand that there is nothing wrong with being ordinary. Through Angela the producers illuminate the theme of beauty being in the ordinary and they encourage us to look closer at the modest things in life. Jane Burnham has a low sense of self-worth, "We'll always be freaks and we'll never be like other people." and believes that having a breast enhancement will make her a more attractive and agreeable human being. Jane's character allows us to appreciate that beauty is not about looks but about how you view yourself and how having somebody believe in you can give you the power to believe in yourself. Carolyn Burnham feels pressured by society to "maintain an image of success at all times." She feels that if she makes a mistake she is a failure. When Carolyn does not succeed in selling a house, she cries and then slaps herself for being emotional. Carolyn allows us to see that emotion is a beautiful part of life in all its forms. The producers exaggerate the aspects of the characters personalities that they see as flaws in American society in order to show us that true beauty is not the archetypical beauty seen in a young blond model but the exact opposite of that found in the simple treasures of ordinary life. The text allows us to understand that the American Dream is meaningless if you are not happy within yourself and to be happy we must see the beauty in the...
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