Hollywood Dreams and Biblical Stories

By Bernard Brandon Scott | Go to book overview

6 THE POOR YOU HAVE
ALWAYS WITH YOU

Only fools laugh at Horatio Alger, and his poor boys
who make good. The wiser man who thinks twice about
that sterling author will realize that Alger is to America
what Homer was to the Greeks.

Nathanael West and Boris Ingster (1940)

MYTH WORKS ITS MAGIC THROUGH ENDLESS repetition. It tells the same story over and over; the story is renewed and updated with new characters and new situations, so it appears different, but it is actually the same story solving an ever recurring conflict. The Western provides one important mythical source for expressing the American belief system. The tales for young boys written by Horatio Alger in the late nineteenth century are another source. He created a formulaic pattern that functions like a mantra, an aphorism of the American way, to give us a set of easily recognizable heroes: “impoverished boys who through hard work and virtue achieve great wealth and respect” (American Heritage Dictionary 1992, 45).

The appeal of Alger’s stories stems from a fundamental conflict in the American experience. Our founding document, the Declaration of Independence, confesses as a self-evident truth that all men are created equal. Even though the U.S. Constitution never mentions equality, its prominence in the Declaration has implanted a commitment to equality in our national psyche. By moving this notion to the center in his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln reinvented the nation: “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on

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Hollywood Dreams and Biblical Stories
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • 1 - A Flickering Light 1
  • 2 - From Graven Image to Dream Factory 19
  • 3 - The Hero 47
  • 4 - The Duke 69
  • 5 - Morally Alone 99
  • 6 - The Poor You Have Always with You 131
  • 7 - Loss of Innocence 157
  • 8 - From the Destruction of the Temple to Mad Max 193
  • 9 - Male and Female 219
  • 10 - I’M Dreaming of a White Christmas 259
  • Scripture and Ancient Source Index 289
  • Author and Subject Index 292
  • Film Index 296
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