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Genre Analysis/Social Genre: Rebel Without A Cause

1296 words - 6 pages

The 1955 social drama “Rebel Without a Cause” is a powerful archetype of both its genre and the period of social upheaval that it portrays. Playing the lead role of Jim Stark, actor James Dean personifies the film’s central theme, a tortuous longing to belong and be loved, unconditionally.The Stark family, who’ve recently migrated to suburban Los Angeles, are seeking a fresh start and rehabilitation of their delinquent teenage son. Their aspirations echo the universal theme of yearning for acceptance. Even the family name is metaphor for their hollow portrayal of the mythical blissful nuclear family unit. It’s not the first time they have tried to stitch the ...view middle of the document...

It’s insightful of the misogynistic post-war values that Jim’s remark was met with acceptance and an offer of a surrogate father-figure.The social norms of the time held that the man was the head of the house and his word was final. This is exemplified by the parents of the other lead character, Jim’s love interest Judy. Her torment stems from trying to maintain an emotionally fulfilling relationship with her authoritarian father, who is increasingly uncomfortable with his daughter’s development into a young woman. In the opening scenes she recalls his reaction to her wearing lipstick saying, “He called me a dirty tramp! My own father.” Later he hits her across the face for kissing him on the cheek. After realizing his overreaction and trying to make amends, the father is consoled by his doting wife’s assurance that their daughter is just at a difficult age.A poignant reminder of the isolation with which all the characters are grappling, comes from the astronomer’s commentary at the planetarium. Reflecting on the Earth’s insignificance in the universe he witheringly remarks, “Through the infinite reaches of space, the problems of man seem trivial and naïve indeed, and man, existing alone, seems himself an episode of little consequence." Jim’s schoolmate Plato is frightened by the presentation, but Jim comforts him in a fatherly sense. His strength of character is quickly put to the test, as a gang of seniors provoke him into a knife fight. Despite winning, he agrees to a “Chickie run” in a further initiation of the new stag into the herd. After agreeing to take part, he asks his friend what “Chickie run” means, revealing his vulnerable side, beneath the tough façade. It is also perhaps a subtle dig at the ever-changing jargon of teenagers and further bid to connect with younger audiences.Jim’s crisis of social acceptance is compounded by troubles at home. Despite repeatedly pleas, Jim never gets a real answer when he asks his father, “What do you do when you have to be a man?” His emasculated father’s hopeless role model turns farcical when Jim returns from the cliff tragedy to find him wearing a frilly apron and picking up spilled food for fear his wife will see it. Jim confesses that he knew the inherent dangers he faced, but had to...

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