By: Evan Edelstein  | 

‘It’s a Wonderful Life:’ George Bailey and the Struggle of Finals

In the midst of reading week and finals, it might feel like success is contingent on a letter grade. A semester-long struggle to take notes, keep up with lectures and do homework comes down to watering eyes falling over a laptop keyboard. During reading week, success is judged by productivity and ability. It is in this chamber that the grueling beast of anxiety stalks, and it is during this time that I wonder why I’m not outside in the snow, but rather watching it through the cold windows. This atmosphere contributes to the student body feeling more stressed and anxious. 

Many students find themselves struggling with a lack of self-esteem during this time. The consequences of not thinking positively about the worth of one’s own life are captured in the film “It's a Wonderful Life” (1946). Although the movie is technically a “Christmas film,” by watching it without a religious lens, we can find a healthy and important message about self-worth — a message worth tuning in to. 

“It’s a Wonderful Life” — though suffering from outdated portrayals of its minority and female characters — should be watched because it empowers us to think about the positive contributions we have made over our lives, bolsters our self-worth and hopefully helps keep that creeping monster of anxiety at bay. The film centers around George Bailey, a generous and caring citizen of Bedford Falls, CT. When poverty strikes him and his town, he wants to take his own life to provide for them. But George is interrupted by an angel named Clarence who shows George how important he has been to the existence of his town and the prosperity of his family. Clarence brings George back to reality, and armed with his newfound sense of self-worth, George steps away from the edge of the bridge. 

George’s resolve to stand his ground and uphold tzedek u’mishpat, righteousness and justice, even if it means sacrificing his own opportunities, is inspirational. Clarence’s trust in God is a model for divine devotion that should resonate with all of us. For me, the most significant message of the film is that everyone has value, even if it’s not always obvious what that value is. Although perhaps not as extreme as George’s suicidal thoughts, during finals we might also fall into the trap of negative self-worth. The stress of tests, papers and projects weighs down on us and might lead us to think we aren't smart or good enough. 

But it shouldn’t take an angel to see your own self-worth; if you want to know how valuable you are, just ask the people around you, and in return, remember to tell your friends and loved ones how much they matter to you, especially during finals. Try and maximize your interaction with people so that you remember how much you mean to each other. Take study breaks with others, maybe even watch a movie. Make mealtimes a chance to hang out. Cut back on the time spent subjected to the fourth floor’s oppressive silence, treating yourself to some “social studying.” Take a cue from George Bailey and spare a moment to appreciate the things that really matter in life. While you may think every second of studying is critical, taking some time to invest in yourself will lead to a happier you. During finals, a time defined by pass and fail, we would be wise to heed Clarence’s parting advice to George: “No man is a failure who has friends.”

Photo Caption: Theatrical release poster
Photo credit: RKO Pictures