The Grand Illusion Free Sample

Leading up to the start of WWII, France and Germany were at war, in what was known as “The Phone War.” The film, The Grand Illusion (1937), which is often heralded as one of the greatest films of all time, attempts to present this historical event and address the socioeconomic trends in European society at that time and how this war initiated them to change.  The occupation of Paris signaled that all of France would soon be occupied and that any efforts to resist Germany would have to be conducted in French territories off of the European continent using the navy and whatever other forces were available.  However, the lack of will on the part of the French government meant that this would not happen under the current regime. There were multiple steps that could have been taken by the French government that may have prevented the Germans from attacking all together.  Whatever one’s position on this argument, it doesn’t change the fact that Germany’s invasion of France in 1940 lead to the end of “The Phone War” and the initial start of WWII in Europe.

The relationship between de Boeldieu and von Rauffenstein directly confronts the illusion of aristocracy verses the reality that is national culture.  Renoir on the other hand represents the decline of Aristocracy, as he is well aware there is an emerging social order represented by the war that makes aristocracy and the ideals to which de Boeldieu and von Rauffenstein remain devout.  This can be seen in how Renoir feels that class and national politics are no longer relevant to one another but the other two men see the duty to serve in their nation’s army as their obligation as aristocrats.  The conflict concerning social class arises in the opening scene when the similarities in social class shared between de Boeldieu and von Rauffenstein is mad relevant to the audience through their conversation.  The two men go back and forth between English, French, and German as not to let the common folk realize they are talking about them, and it is revealed that the two men travel within the same social circle as they mention familiar names of friends.

The ultimate irony of this conflict can be seen in the end when Renoir turns out to be correct in his views that the emerging social structure has made the old code followed by these opposing heroes null and void, when Boeldieu gives von Rauffenstein no choice but kill him in sacrifice for his escaped comrades.  The relationship shared between the two men comes to its climactic end when after Boieldieu buys time for Marechal and Rosenthol to escape he and von Rauffenstein speak in English, a private conversation only the two of them can understand.  Von Rauffenstein says, “I beg you, man to man, come back!” and BOIELDIEU responds “It’s impossible.”  This moment reveals and finalizes the true nature of the relationship they shared.

The complexity involved in Rosenthol’s character is very telling because he represents the new age of elitism ushering in to take the place of the old French Aristocracy.  There is a scene where the prisoners are shown within the compound drilling and an old woman outside the compound sees them and then says to herself “Poor boys.”  Immediately the camera cuts to the officers within the compound who are preparing to put on a play by designing costumes.  This dynamic of power is separating the officers, from civilians and civilians from those French and Jewish soldiers captured in the camp is most apparently relevant in the simple free or regulated actions of the individuals.  Boildieu looks upon this incident and states “On one side children playing as soldiers, and the on the other, soldiers playing as children.”  In the context of this phrase the word ‘children’ is used as a derogatory word he refers to the captives as children because he views them as too beneath him to be men, but also refers his own soldiers as behaving like children because with their privilege and higher class rank they behave childishly.  These images reveal the true nature of the social fabric which all of the men are interwoven within and Rosenthol further reveals its complexities when he points out how many members of the French aristocracy very rarely own land anymore, whereas his family owns three castles.  Identifying Rosenthol, a Jew, as a representative of the new wave rich class pushing out the old French aristocracy is one of the key themes of the film and it’s used to close the scene.  Once Rosnethol reveals he is wealthy, the relationship he shares with Marechal become evermore significant because while they are both from different economic classes, they sympathize with one another more so than they do with Boeldieu who better relates to von Rauffenstein due to their affiliation with the aristocracies of their nations.

Marechal’s character is representative of the poor gentile group.  In contrast with both Boeldieu who represents nobility and then his relationship with Rosenthol which represents the contrast between a Jew and Gentile, Marechal is able to transcend along with his comrades beyond this simple identifier. In terms of the sense of duty and nationalism that Boeldieu maintains, Marechal demonstrates it as well first when he incites the German play “It’s a Long Long Way to Tipperary” to be interrupted by a group rendition of the French national anthem, and then when he valiantly endures consolatory confinement for this very outburst of national pride.  During the escape scene, Marechal honorably offers an English officer information about the escape plan, but the officer is unable to decipher the information he has been given, which demonstrates a class distinction within the language barriers of the two men.

In their publication Identity Theory and Social Identity Theory, Jan E. Stets and Peter J. Burke elaborate on many of the stages that these characters go through during the course of the film in developing identity. In the  film closeness varies depending on class, nationality, and place local community and revolves around the fact that as relationships develop, they dive deeper into more personal matters which expose vulnerabilities and require trust, and this is not much different from how these relationships are developed within the author’s publication.  The author’s note that, ‘in social identity theory and identity theory, the self is reflexive in that it can take itself as an object and can categorize, classify, or name itself in particular ways in relation to other social categories or classifications (Stets & Burke, p225).”  Essentially the conflict Boeldieu faced and what ultimately led to his death was a conflict between these two identities of self.  On one hand he felt social comfortable within his aristocratic culture which is revealed early on in the film to transcend nationalism, but on the other hand he felt ideologically obligated to remain patriotic to his nation.  The ironic aspect of this conflict is as Stets & Burke put it the self is basically being objectified and the actions of the individual are based on their understanding of self which is dictated by the differing ways they respond to their community and vice versa.  In the end, Boeldieu is both confined to be incapable of relating to his comrades and at the same time having no choice but to sacrifice himself for them.

In sum, The Grand Illusion is a film that addresses the conflict between one’s national culture and their understanding of identity.  For Boeldieu and von Rauffenstein it resulted in the ultimate realization that the entitlement they shared within the shelter of their aristocratic status was all an illusion.  The war between Germany and France brought about new era in social structure and these two men represent the last of a dying breed within the class system of the olf regime.  Likewise, Marechal and Rosenthol demonstrate the new class system and how Jews Gentiles and the wealthy and the poor have more in common with one another than do commoners and aristocrats.  And yet, despite the gap of understanding between Boeldie and the other inmates, he is still willing to sacrifice his life and friendship with Rauffenstein (which represents his place in the aristocratic circle) for his nation.


The Great Chicago Fire Of 1871

Bales, Richard F. “Did the Cow Do It? A New Look at the Cause of the Great Chicago Fire.”

            Richard Bales focuses on the assumed causes of the Chicago Fire of 1871. One of the causes it points out is from the barn of Mr. and Mrs. Patrick and Catherine O’Leary. It also tackled about the investigation done by the authorities regarding the incident. One of the main purposes of the investigation is to determine the causes of the fire, including the O’Leary couple.  However, at the end of the investigation, there was no concrete cause of the fire, and it was just assumed that it was caused by a spark from a chimney or from a human emergency.

Chicago Historical Society. “The Great Chicago Fire.”

            This article by the Chicago Historical Society is an account of what happened on the evening of October 8, 1871. The perspective given by the article is that the fire started behind the barn behind the house of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary. The events that followed after was carefully described by the article, including the efforts of the firefighters and the other people involved.  The damages of the fire was also taken into consideration, as well as the impact of the event in the days that followed.

Pauly, John J. “The Great Chicago Fire as a National Event.” American Quarterly Vol. 36, no. No. 5 (1984).

            John Pauly’s article focuses on the impact of the Great Chicago Fire on the national level. It tells about the meaning that was given to the event by the people of Chicago as well as the people of the country itself. It also marked the transformation of the city from it’s pioneer adolescence, towards the city’s metropolitan maturation. It is considered not only as local calamity but as a blow to the whole nation itself.  It took into consideration how the country responded to the events, including the reaction of various sectors of the society. News reports about the event flooded the magazines and newspapers for several weeks. All in all, the article tells the readers that the Chicago Fire was one of the turning points in the history of the city and of the nation.

White, Horace. “The Great Chicago Fire.”

            This article is an eyewitness account of the most destructive fire in the history of America, given by the editor-in-chief of the Chicago Tribune during the time of the calamity. It gives the readers of the first hand account of the damages of the fire and its effect to the people of Chicago. It does not dwell on the causes of the fire, which up to this day remains unknown, but instead it gives focus on its impact on the lives of the people that were affected. With more than 17,000 buildings razed and one-fourth of the population homeless, the calamity in White’s perspective, has greatly shaped Chicago’s History.

Woody, Robert H. “A Description of the Chicago Fire of 1871.” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review Vol. 33, no. No. 4 (1947).

            Robert H. Woody’s article is a compilation of accounts involving the Chicago Fire of 1871. It takes into consideration  the different perspectives by different people, as to how the fire started and how it has affected Chicago in the end. It also offers various descriptions of the events that happened during the night of the fire, as well as the days that followed. It also talked about the implications of the fire to the people living in the area. It also tackled the national significance of the calamity, and how it has shaped the American history.

The Great Debaters

Brief Summary

The film is based on a true story that happened in Texas during 1930s. An ambitious English educator and social activist named Melvin B. Tolson (as played by Denzel Wahington) molded a group of students into an extraordinary debate team. Professor Tolson of Wiley College Texas has inspired his students to establish the first debate team of the school (Laufenberg, 2005, p. 688).

At first, his goal as the team’s coach is to face-off against debate team of other black colleges. Surprisingly, the team defeated even the best black debating team in the state.  Their biggest dream is to reached the national championship level and face Harvard’s team.

The temperamental coach uses strong words to whittle and challenge the reasoning ability of his team. Professor Tolson envisioned that the students will make a huge difference not only for themselves, but also for many other black Americans (Pinn, 2001, p. 153). The debate team of Wiley College comprises of students with different personalities and attitudes which Professor Tolson needs to deal with.

An asset of the debate team, a young man named Henry Lowe is an aggressive, straightforward and a wide reader guy with so much knowledge about all topics; while Smantha Brooke is the only female member of the group who’s aspiring to be the third female black attorney from Texas. Smollett believes that all her experiences will guide her in reaching her dreams.

The son of Dr. James Farmer, Sr. who’s a professor and a preacher at the Wiley College Texas is also a member of the debate team. James Farmer, Jr. is very young of his age and possesses lesser experience. On the other hand, he is still a genius young man. The last member of the team is Hamilton Burgess who’s very conservative and apprehensive when it comes to controversies regarding their debating team.

The association of these four students together with their families was perceived as an act of heroism in their journey to be recognized and be given equal rights in their country where they only have limited access.


The Great Debaters may be a slow-moving kind of film but it does an impressive job in creating a bond between the viewing public and the characters of the said film. Large and relevant issues subjected the characters to show-off their true nature as human beings. No one’s perfect in this world and human beings have flaws that must be prevailed over to realize the value of life and freedom (Condit and Lucaites, 1993, p. 1).

The debate team of Professor Tolson play against dangerous implications that almost killed them, but it didn’t stop them to do their own thing. Perhaps, it unleashes their courageousness, boldness, cleverness and most of all, it taught them to the meaning of unity.

Upon seeing the movie, a sudden rush of self-reflection will quietly gush onto the movie watchers. Years and years have passed, but the story of The Great Debaters is still happening at present. The chances for black people have been laid on their feet since then but are they really accepted by the present population? How far do we need to go to change the tracks of black people?

Blinded by the fact, the film presented heroes in different forms. Main characters of the flick highlighted their achievements and serve the spectators with heroism. Moreover, they were admired by white Americans regardless of their skin color which in real life during that time was a little hard to believe.

Too many films about racism has been made over the last six decades of this century and it shows the viewing public and the country what the Civil Rights movements are trying to mend. For each film, there may be two grounds that the creator is attempting to avoid, the first one is to berate and the second one is the ability to show the true unsightliness of what went on.

Either of the given reasons, the movie picture possibly became manipulative or controlling during its filming to somehow conceal the fact that we are not yet removed from such time that being black is a risky matter.

Black Americans and Civil Rights

“During the Jim Crow Era, African Americans were neglected from many forms of liberty which include education, economic, political and social aspects (Richardson and Johanningmeir, 2003, p. 182).” The segregation of black and white schools have psychological effects on African American children. A study which is called the “doll test” revealed that most black children prefer the white dolls compared to the black dolls handed on them. The study shows that many black children are longing to have the same education rights enjoyed by the white Americans.

“Black Americans perceived that education is the primary course to withdraw racial discrimination and education is an essential key for black people to experience liberty (Jones-Wilson, 1996, p. 147).” For this reason, many brilliant blacks aspire to become a well known educator. Teaching, as a profession, is highly valued by many African Americans although the segregation of schools caused black schools to receive much lesser funds compared to white schools. Fortunately, under the Federal Law, both black and white teachers received the same scale of remuneration. Many exceptional black educators pursue their studies for an advance degree and several black teachers arise and taught on well acclaimed schools from major cities specifically in New York, Chicago and Washington.

Similar to Professor Tolson, education became the avenue for many black Americans to have major accomplishments. Even though there are so many difficulties, black people never stop from seeking education. The black population barely receive updated knowledge until the government allowed black people to teach within their local areas.

Alliances from the north helped finance regular schools and universities in educating African American teachers. In addition to that, other professional classes were created. Historically, black colleges and universities marked the commencement of African American’s fraternities and sororities. Black people formed such organizations to set lifelong connection and partnership with their fellow black people. The formation of new organizations strengthened community life. African American parents supported and convinced that education will make a difference in the lives of their children.

Many black people moved away from plantations of their former white masters to search for an employment and most of them formed an all-black congregation. Their children were enrolled in an all-black school and taught by African American teachers. When the US government gained controlled of the local governance, black schools suffered so much to a greater scope depending on their local community officials. Even black officials were given less opportunity to pursue their political ambitions. There was an incident that a black public official was removed from his seat in the US Congress (Higham, 1999, p. 74). This is how the African American people gone through during those times that disparity was extensive.


The motion picture, The Great Debaters may somehow remind the American people about the history of black people from the past. But definitely, it tries to conceal the fact that black people are still somehow being neglected in so many ways. The movie was not able to give details of what’s the real thing that happened during 1935 with regards to education of African American people. There were numerous black personalities that became famous and well-celebrated, but this would not erase the mark that many white people still recognize black population as the slave of America. Until this day, no one knows what would it be like to have a black American president in the future. Perhaps, the time has come to turn the table of black Americans – if given the chance.


  1. Condit, C. M., Lucaites, J. L. (1993). Crafting equality: America’s Anglo-African word. USA: University of Chicago Press.
  2. Higham, J. (1999). Civil rights and social wrongs: Black-white relations since World War II. USA: Penn State Press.
  3. Jones-Wilson, F. C. (1996). Encyclopedia of African-American education. USA: Greenwood Publishing Group.
  4. Laufenberg, N. B. (2005). Entertainment celebrities. USA: Trafford Publishing.
  5. Pinn, A. B. (2001). By these hands: A documentary history of African American humanism. USA: NYU Press.
  6. Ricahrdson, Theresa R., Johanningmeir, Erwin V (2003). Race, ethnicity, and education: What is taught in school. USA: AIP


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