Saturday, April 18, 2015

Blogging From A to Z - P is for Potter

Welcome to the It's A Wonderful Blog's Blogging From A to Z April (2015) Challenge. For this challenge, I will post every day in April (except for Sundays) about topics related to the Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart film, It's a Wonderful Life.

Henry F. Potter
Henry F. Potter is introduced as “the richest and meanest man in the county.”

He is never referred to by his first name. He is always “Mr. Potter,” “Henry F. Potter,” or just plain “Potter. This serves to dehumanize him and distance him from the audience. This simple detail prevents us from getting close to him or gaining any empathy for him.

Not that we want to. He is a 1940s-era Ebenezer Scrooge. He counts his money. He swindles. He forecloses on his customers for the flimsiest of reasons.

He is also a jealous man. As Peter Bailey tells his son George, “He’s jealous of everybody who has something we can’t have. Jealous of us mostly, I guess.”

Potter rides this fine line between opulently rich and skin-flint. Huge paintings of himself decorate both his office and the bank lobby. There are many fancy decorations and beautifully ornate woodwork decorating his home and office.

Yet he still rides around in a horse and carriage. Granted, it is a very ornate carriage. But almost everyone else has cars. In fact, besides Potter’s carriage, the only other horse-drawn vehicle we see is a flat wagon that passes the luggage company when George gets his suitcase that Mr. Gower bought him.

Historically, the rich were typically the first people to purchase automobiles. The carriage makes him stand out from the crowd. And maybe that’s the point.

When George isn’t there to stop him, Potter’s power runs rampant.

The welcoming Bedford Falls sign vs. the cold, matter-of-fact Pottersville sign.
Peter and George Bailey both make references to the fact that Potter owns almost everything in Bedford Falls. The Bailey Building and Loan is the only thing keeping the community together. It also prevents Potter from taking over the entire town.

Without George around to save the Building and Loan, Potter is able to gain that control. It is not clear when this happens, but during the Pottersville sequence, we learn from the police officer that the Building and Loan “went out of business years ago.” Ma Bailey later confirms this fact.

With Potter in control of everything, he renames the town and stamps it with his name. It’s like a constant reminder to the residents of who is really in charge of the town.

Pottersville is seedy. It is lined with bars and dance clubs of questionable repute. The residents are angry and confrontational, and typically drunk. The entire town has a dangerous, darker, repressed yet unsettled feel to it.

Potter's Field:
The Biblical significance of Potter’s Field cannot be ignored.

The name of Potter’s Field is a Biblical reference to death found in the gospel of Matthew. Feeling guilty about his role in Jesus’ crucifixion, Judas attempts to return the money he was paid for betraying Christ to the priests and elders. He then committed suicide.

Martini's old house in Potter's Field.
The priests and elders, however, knew they could not take the money back because it was blood money. Instead, they used the money “to buy the potter’s field, and they made it into a cemetery for foreigners. That is why the field is still called the Field of Blood. (Matthew 27:7-8).

In It’s a Wonderful Life, Potter’s Field is Potter’s housing developments. The homes are of poor quality, referred to at one point as a shack.

Potter’s Field symbolizes “what would have happened to the working class and their values had George not been there to negotiate between their needs and Potter’s greed” (Schultz 49).

George Bailey serves as the salvation for the residents of Potter’s Field by providing them a means to get out of the ghetto and into a home of their own.

We see this when Martini and his family move to Bailey Park. Martini is proud to tell his neighbor, “I own my own house. No more we live like pigs in thisa Potter’s Field.”
Bailey Park
Clearly, the living conditions are not ideal in Potter’s Field.

There is an interesting contrast here, as well. Potter’s Field is a Biblical reference to death and blood money and indigence. In direct contrast, Bailey Park uses the word “park,” which brings up visions of idyllic, beautiful and serene open spaces. The word also brings to mind children having fun and playing together. There is a sense of pleasure connected to the word “park.” The contrast is very intentional.

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