Lesson: It's a Wonderful Life

Movie: It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

 George Bailey gave up his dream of traveling and going to college in order to help his brother go to college and continue his father's business of lending people money to buy their own homes.  He is not happy about not having his dreams come true and having to stay in Bedford Falls.  When he ran into financial trouble, he tried to kill himself so his family could get the insurance money.  God sent an angel to help him see how he has touched so many lives.  When he realized that he really had lived a wonderful life, he desperately wanted to live on.  While he was gone, Mary found out what happened and asked their friends for help.  All the people pitched in and raised enough money to save George and his business.  That's when George realized that he had all these friends who love him because of what he has done for them through the years.

Explanatory notes:
--"Run on the bank" -- When people think that the bank where they keep their money is going to fail, everyone would go to the bank and try to get their money out.  The bank does not hold enough cash to pay everyone's full amount at any given time, and so those who go late would lose their money.  (Today this won't happen because the government insures our money in the bank.)
--"Calling the loan" -- A bank asks the borrower to return the money he borrowed instead of making regular payments.  Usually this is because the bank needs the money as soon as possible.


1. Did George like the idea of running the Buildings and Loan?  Why did George agree to run it?
[  ] He didn't want people to have to live under Potter's control forever
[  ] By helping people to get their own homes, he allowed people to leave Potter's slum homes
[  ] He wanted to become a big landlord just like Mr. Potter
[  ] He wanted people to have their own homes so they can save more money for other uses

2. Whey did George lend his own honeymoon money to people during the bank run?
[  ] He didn't want to lose his business to Mr. Potter
[  ] He wanted to help people live until the bank opens
[  ] He didn't want Mr. Potter to make a fortune from the panic
[  ] He didn't want to foreclose people's homes

3. Was George disappointed when Harry couldn't stay to run the business so he could go to college?
[  ] Yes, and he made sure Harry knows that he owes him one big favor.
[  ] Yes, but he didn't make Harry feel guilty about it.  He wanted his brother to have his dream.

4. Why did George feel that he is a failure?
[  ] He didn't get his dreams
[  ] He got stuck in the small town that he hated
[  ] His wife is ugly
[  ] He couldn't afford new things for his family
[  ] He caused trouble for his family

5. Why did Angel Clarence jumped into the river to "save" George?
[  ] Because he knew George will try to save him and therefore not kill himself.  He knew George has a selfless heart.
[  ] Angels who have no wings also don't have brains.

6. Why did people give George money?
[  ] Many had been helped by George before
[  ] George looked very handsome
[  ] People hate Mr. Potter
[  ] It's a loan and they expect their money back

7. Do you think George had a wonderful life?
[  ] Yes, he got really rich when everyone gave him money
[  ] No, he could have done better had he gone to college and go into the plastics business
[  ] Yes, he helped people and people love him.  That's all it matters.

Note: Of course, you got to show them the movie first (130 minutes).  Cut the above section and print as a handout for students.  Discuss their answers and let them ask questions.

Teacher's notes & comments:

For question (2):
 He didn't want people to sell their shares in his business to Potter.  Potter was buying up the shares at half price, which means that people automatically lose half of their money and Potter can make twice of his money back by selling it back to George.  By lending people money until the bank opens, George saved his business, the customers' savings, and borrowers' homes.

 George thought he was a failure because he had to run a small bank while his other friends go to college and make a fortune.  He couldn't even go to war and become a hero because of his bad ear.  But for other people in town whom he helped, George was a hero in a different way.  He prevented Potter from taking over the town and charging even higher rents for slum houses.

 Each decision we make causes something and changes the world.  Sometimes the changes are small that we can hardly notice.  George's decisions made the town a better place and (indirectly) saved thousands of soldiers on the transport.  When he discovered that fact, he realized that he has a wonderful life.  His life is not a failure because he has made a difference.

 Clarence said, "Each man's life touches so many other lives..."  How can your life touch other lives?

 How do you define "success" in your life?

 What is really the purpose of our lives?

Can't find this movie in a rental store?  You can go to our store page and buy a new one from Barnes & Noble or a used one from Half.com .  I got a colorized version from Half.com for about $7.  Visit the store page to get coupons to save on your purchases.

This lesson was developed by George Huang.  Got a question or want to publish this lesson?  E-mail me.

Last updated: 9/20/2000