Study Guide

It's a Wonderful Life Clarence (Angel) (Henry Travers)

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Clarence (Angel) (Henry Travers)

I Got No Wings

George really lucks out in the guardian angel assignment lottery. He doesn't get saddled with some punk angel like John Travolta's Michael. Clarence Odbody ends up being George's personal savior, even though it's his first big job. Clarence was a clockmaker when he was alive 293 years ago.

Clarence gets called to the job by two senior angels who've heard about George's predicament. They bring him up to speed on George's life by watching a film by Frank Capra called It's a Wonderful Life.

Clarence hasn't yet earned his wings, but if he can help save George Bailey's life and restore his faith in himself, he might get them. Right now, he's still an "AS-2" or "Angel, Second-Class." The senior angels say that he has the "I.Q. of a rabbit" but "the faith of child—simple."

But, our George needs first-class help.

Slap on the Wings Already

On Earth, Clarence appears as a comical elderly man who seems a little bumbling and odd—not some sort of imposing, sword-wielding angel. As George says, "You look like about the kind of an angel I'd get." But, Clarence's methods prove pretty effective for a novice. He prevents George from killing himself by falling into the river himself. He's learned enough about George that he knows he'll jump in after him to save him. (He saw George do the same for Harry when he was young.)

CLARENCE: I had to act quickly; that's why I jumped in. I knew if I were drowning, you'd try to save me. And you see, you did, and that's how I saved you.

As they chat afterward in a watchman's hut, Clarence explains that he's an angel, second-class, sent to save him. George is understandably skeptical, and a watchman overhearing them falls off his chair and splits. George tells Clarence that he wishes he was never born. That's when Clarence has a brainstorm. He says:

CLARENCE: Oh, you mustn't say things like that. You ... wait a minute. Wait a minute. That's an idea. (glances up toward heaven) What do you think? Yeah, that'll do it. All right. You've got your wish. You've never been born.

Clarence shows George what the world would be like if he'd never existed. They revisit the important people and places in his life, whose lives are the worse for not having George in them. He shows George that his life really does matter and that he's not a failure; that friends and family, not money, are what are important; that he's made a difference in the world:

CLARENCE: Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives, and when he isn't around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?

Clarence's goal as a character is entirely focused on helping George. He embodies a simple, heavenly wisdom and love. In the film's last scene, as George joyfully returns to his family, he finds this note from Clarence:

CLARENCE: Dear George, remember, no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings. Love, Clarence.

George knew this all along, but it's good to have some divine encouragement from time to time. We think Clarence is first class.

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