Norma Rae- a Leadership Analysis

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“If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” Abigail Adams


The above stated lines very truly represent the spirit of Norma Rae and the power of women. The quotation highlights the two main points shown in the film; the strength and determination of women and the idea of equal representation for all. The film portrays the transformation of an oppressed woman, who was destined to be a follower, into a charismatic leader who bought about changes that benefited more than just a few. Norma Rae is based on the life of Crystal Lee Sutton. Crystal Lee Sutton, (formerly Crystal Lee Jordan) is an American union organizer and advocate who gained fame during the early 1970s. She was fired from her job at the J.P. Stevens plant in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina for trying to unionize its employees. She made $2.65 an hour folding towels. The Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union won the right to represent the workers at the plant on August 28, 1974. Jordan later became a paid organizer for the ACTWU. (Source -

The Film
The concept of “The Other” has always been an intriguing one. It deals with the issues related to the far-off, mysterious, different ones; perhaps one from the minority group. “The Other”, is a personification of the under-dog; a reflection of an unresolved mystery of a vastly discriminated against, seemingly alien sect which ought to be oppressed due to its timid, distant, less understood and submissive profile (Clemens et al, 2000). And, speaking of our 1979 movie, Norma Rae’s protagonist, a dull, ordinary-looking, lost in the hum-drum life of a mill-worker, she appears to be destined to a lifetime of ‘despondent drudgery’ (Clemens et al, 2000). Norma Rae comes across as an ordinary worker who must follow the O.P. Henley Textile Mill timings and just do her job without any questions asked. Her destiny appears to be one of a diligent slave, living life mechanically. Norma Rae (played by Sally Field) is a “slice of life” movie (Clemens et al, 2000). It is based on the real life incident of Crystal Lee Sutton who radically transformed into a rebel with a cause and successfully demonstrated that power is not based on title or status; it comes by connecting with people and standing up for what you believe in (Goleman et al, 2002). The movie clearly sends out the message that a strong will, determination and energy can surely move mountains. It substantiates the bonding between a mentor and his protégée, the importance of such a symbiotic relationship and how the follower can become a leader too by synergizing bonds (Bass et al, 1994). It is a live commentary on the inherent leadership potential lying latent in all of us and how circumstances possess the capacity to change us into a grand phenomenon which we are generally used to applauding from the far-off sidelines (Crainer, 1996). An aspect of such a pro-worker movie which surely cannot be ignored is its symbolism and a prevalence of a terribly melancholic strain of music which sets the stage for a dull, brooding watching of an environment which is pretty low in energy and confidence, with no markings of any kind of a positive vibration or a victory in sight. The film begins with the machine in the mill doing its job and still shots from Ms. Rae’s life from being an infant to a sad woman, one amongst the 800 mill-workers; a cog in the cotton mill machinery who is not living life, but simply surviving. This over-bearing scenario takes us back to the 1936 dark satire, Modern Times, where our little tramp, Charlie Chaplin enacting the role of a worker signals the harsh reality of workers being a replaceable part in the industrial set-up and the organization being the dominating entity. Workers are portrayed as being machines themselves making machines in...
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