Rebel Without A Cause: Individuality or Conformity?

For my Film and Society class, I wrote a film analysis over Rebel Without A Cause and what it means for the teenagers of the 1950s and the relationship with their parents. It’s an exceptionally great movie, mainly because of the legendary James Dean. I got a B-/C+ for the paper because it was a well-written paper, but failed in some aspects because more information was needed and that I should have focused outside of the parental dynamics and more into James Dean’s peers. What? I did what the prompt asked for with a clearly defined thesis supported by a plethora of evidence, and yet I get marked down for not stepping outside the paper’s requirements. Sometimes the teacher doesn’t know what they are talking about.

By Chris Huqueriza
November 7, 2008

What is the definition of a man? By many standards, a man has been defined as the breadwinner, the leader, the hunter, etc. Anything less would be bad. Man has been predominately been seen as the powerful gender with patriarchal structure through history. But the mid-20th century has seen the rise of feminism so the man power has been reduced or over sighted. The male figure in power has been diminished by the woman/ the mother. Nicholas Ray’s 1955 film, Rebel Without A Cause, demonstrates the weak male and the dominant female figure as both figures try to influence their son, James Stark (James Dean’s character). His character needs to decides what fate he will turn to as his family dynamics change him. For Jim Stark in Rebel Without A Cause, the influence of his domineering mother and his emasculated, conformist father helps decide whether Jim will face his fears by winning his individuality or conform like his father to the dominant mother’s influence.

Since birth, Jim Stark has always been influenced by his mother, Carol Stark, more so than his feeble father, Frank Stark. In Rebel Without A Cause, Carol’s actions are exacerbated in the beginning of the film during the prison visit with “he‘s a good boy.” She consoles him like her infant son as she makes excuses for his reckless, drunken behavior. On the other hand, Frank quarrels with her, yet is always defeated as she is the overpowering figure. The Freudian belief has rooted a man’s problem’s to be the mother-child relationship. The belief stems that the mother is the cause for the child’s actions, especially Jim’s juvenile tendencies.  And without a strong father figure to balance the mother, the child’s behavior is a direct result of the conflict. For Jim Stark, his juvenile actions are a result from the restlessness he felt over his father’s powerlessness.

Jim Stark’s father embodies his deepest fears as the weak figure who conformed to society and to his mother. The interaction between Jim and Frank exemplifies his fear. For example, when Jim asks his father “what do you do when you have to be a man?,” Frank replies with a defeatist answer; He answers by ignoring Jim’s bully and to laugh at the situation. Jim almost agrees with his father’s advice, until he sees his father’s impotency as Frank wears an apron picking up a broken object. Jim is disgusted as he sees his father weak and as a tool of conformity: overly rational and with no identity. Frank lost his power and his influence over Jim, as the mother gained the power over him. The scene climaxes with Jim rejecting his father and his conformist ways in the living room. Jim decides right then what his fate will be.

After a tumultuous battle with his parents, Jim decides to reject his parents and gain his individualism. His parents embody convention with the father weak and the mother domineering. He doesn’t want to live this way of life because it is domesticated and dysfunctional. His other option is to gain his manhood and his identity. To do this, Jim must remove his phobia of conformity by facing what his parents fear. His parents fear his recklessness and battling Jim’s bully. The movie presents this conflict with the “Chicken Race” with Jim literally facing death on a cliff. This scenario is an unregistered rite of passage that defies the conformity that Jim’s parents represent. He becomes an aimless rebel without any clear cause.

Throughout Rebel Without A Cause, Jim Stark faces the dilemma of conformity and individuality influenced by the family dynamics of his domineering mother and his emasculated father. Jim’s mother, Carol, overpowers Jim’s father in the prison scene as the more dominating figure. Jim’s father, Frank, represents conformity, non-identity, and castration, especially the father-son advice talk. Jim Stark knows he must prove himself to be a man by defying his parents and facing his fears to win his individuality in the “Chicken Race.” The definition of a man has changed for Jim as the family dynamics threaten his manhood. Jim Stark becomes a rebel that must defy what his parents represent: conformity and emasculation



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