Assignment Two: The Genre Analysis The Birth of a Nation

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Chris Hall

English 2089

Dr. Bailie


Assignment Two: The Genre Analysis

The Birth of a Nation was a silent film that came out in 1915. The film was directed by D.W. Griffith and was originally called The Clansman. The film was a about the Civil War and covered things such as the assassination of President Lincoln. In the film Griffith depicts the South as the “good guys. The Birth of a Nation is a powerful story of its time and was centered on two families. The southern family was one the family that people were suppossded to feel bad for throughout the movie. They were named the Cameron’s. The Cameron’s were shown as the well put together family in the beginning of the movie. The northern family, the Stoneman’s had problems with the family that were socially unacceptable at the time the movie was released in 1915. The father of the Stoneman’s and a powerful man from the north had to walk with a cane because he was turing into a cripple. Being a cripple was a way to show that the north wasn’t as great as people thought and that they weren’t the good guys during the civil war. Also being cripple at this time was a sign of weakness and Griffith wanted people to realize that when they were watching his film. Another thing that was wrong with Mr. Stoneman was that he wasn’t married at the time. It was another way to say that the Camerons, who represented the south, had a perfect family and the northern family didn’t. Too make it even worse at this time Griffith had Mr. Stoneman get a relationship with a maid of his that was half African American and half white. They referred to this maid as a mulatto, which is how they referred to mixed white and black ancestry. These were just some of the little things so that Griffith could get his point across that the south were supposed to be the good guys in his film.

The audience he was trying to optain from the film The Birth of a Nation were white people from the south. More specifically successful white males from the south because Griffith also takes a few shots at women in his this film. Back at this time women this film came out women didn’t even have the right to vote. During any intense sitation in the film that involved women, they came off a really pathetic and didn’t even know what to do. During the movie an African American man asks Flora Cameron, the pet sister to marry him. Flora Cameron gets terrified and climbs up a giant hill to try and get away from the man, who didn’t seem to want to harm her. She couldn’t handle the thought of marrying an African American man and when he followed her up the mountain she jumped off the cliff and killed herself. The pet sister seemed really unstable throughout the movie and was just an off character. This wasn’t the only scene when Griffith wanted women to seem pathetic. Silas Lynch was going to force a marriage between him and Elsie Stoneman and she fainted to get out of it. There was no fight from the women in this film other than the African American maid who was pretty assertive. Griffith wanted the audience to know what he thought about women and that they couldn’t really think on their own or anything. White males from the south were the only people Griffith didn’t take a shot at during the film.

When this film came out white people were the dominate figures in American society. They were the ones who went to college and brought in all of the money for the family that they supported. Also they were the only ones that were allowed to vote and chose who lead the United States of America. African Americans and even white women didn’t have a say at this time. This was the main audience that Griffith tried to reach. Griffith wanted to try and persuade these white males that the “Old South” was the way America should be and it was a better time back then. In the film Griffith made the black militia come off as unproffesional and evil. It showed them raiding the Cameron’s household, knocking out Mr. Cameron, and setting their house on fire. Then right before they were down inside of the house the Confederate soldiers come in and save the day. The Confederate soldiers put out the fire and saved the Cameron women. Griffith was saying that African Americans were a drain on society and that they were better off in the fields working for the white plantation owners. The only way anyone could see African America people as a drain on society and “worthless” is because they weren’t given the opportunity to do well. Du Bois wrote in his essay “The Striving of the Negro People” about how they weren’t given a fair opportunity. Du Bois wrote about how “scientist” said that African Americans just couldn’t be smarter than white males. Du Bois proved this wrong by graduating from Harvard and becoming a history professor at a prestigious college. He was giving the opportunity unlike other African Americasn and Du Bois made the most of it. Not only were African American deprived of education, but they were at the bottom of the social class and couldn’t gain wealth. Almost none of them could inherit wealth because their ancestors were slaves and didn’t own anything. To be successful in America African Americans had to build their own wealth and find a way to get out of oppression from the white people bringing them down.

The views of American society back in 1915 were very different than the views that we have today, and would be considered socially unacceptable today. They way women and African Americans were viewed are pathetic. Even from the southern males prospective the northern people were twisted. Neither women nor African American could vote and white males controlled the whole society. Southern males had an arrogant attitude and were still bitter about the Civil War. The scene when the Ku Klux Klan comes in and saves the day was the most powerful scene to me in the movie. The Ku Klux Klan today is known as a racist group of people that thought they were better than everyone they committed acts of terror against. The view of southern white males back in 1915 was that they were the good guys. It was pretty shocking to see a movie actually depict the Ku Klux Klan as the “heroes”. The clan was led by Ben Cameron in the film after he was inspired by the idea of African American getting scared by white people wearing white sheets. When Elsie Stoneman finds out he is the leader of the Ku Klux Klan she is disgusted with him. In the film Silas Lynch and the black militia had taken control of the town. Silas Lynch was the mulatto partner to Mr. Stoneman. He was elected the lieutenant governor and had the black militia take over the town. During this scene it showed on the white people in their homes. They looked terrified and Griffith wanted his audience to view them as the victims during and after the Civil War. The Ku Klux Klan rides into the town and saves the day. They drive the black militia away and save Elsie Stoneman from Silas Lynch. Lynch had Elsie captured and was going to force her to marry him. After they drive the militia from the town, they go save the Camerons from the hut they were trapped in. The militia was there trying to capture them. The film shows the KKK as the heroes to this film and Griffith wanted the audience to know that. During the next Election Day the African American people were going to go out and vote, but the Ku Klux Klan had stopped them so they hide in their houses. During the end of the film it shows the group of the Stoneman and Camerons under a picture of Jesus Christ. The quote “Dare we dream of a golden day when the bestial War shall rule no more? But instead – the gentle Prince in the Hall of Brotherly Love in the City of Peace” appears at the end of the film. The Civil War was long over when the film came out and it seems like people still haven’t gotten over it. The quote ironically talks about peace and brotherhood but the whole film wasn’t about that. Griffith wanted the African Americans to be down and shown the Ku Klux Klan as the heroes.

The film The Birth of a Nation did a good job at showing how the discourse community of early 20th century American thought about race and how society was. The film was supposed to appeal to white males, especially the educated ones from the south. It seems like they had a bitter and arrogant attitude. Thinking that the KKK were the heroes showed that people in 1915 still haven’t gotten used to the fact African Americans were free people. You really get a good idea on how people thought about certain issues back in 1915 and that is the real this film still gets talked about for 100 years later.

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