Study Guide

It's a Wonderful Life Greed

Greed

POTTER: Have you put any real pressure on those people of yours to pay those mortgages?

BAILEY: Times are bad, Mr. Potter. A lot of these people are out of work.

POTTER: Then, foreclose!

Potter always puts his own self-interest above the interests of other people. By contrast, the Baileys are willing to temper their business interests with the interests of humanity. They add a personal, compassionate touch to their work, whereas Potter is totally impersonal and unfeeling.

PA BAILEY: Mr. Potter, what makes you such a hard-skulled character? You have no family—no children. You can't begin to spend all the money you've got.

POTTER: So, I suppose I should give it to miserable failures like you and that idiot brother of yours to spend for me.

GEORGE: He's not a failure! You can't say that about my father!

Potter is demonstrating more than greed here. He's showing his contempt for anyone who doesn't behave like he does.

POTTER: Peter Bailey was not a businessman. That's what killed him. Oh, I don't mean any disrespect to him, God rest his soul. He was a man of high ideals, so called, but ideals without common sense can ruin this town. Now, you take this loan here to Ernie Bishop. You know, that fellow that sits around all day on his brains in his taxi. You know ... I happen to know the bank turned down this loan, but he comes here, and we're building him a house worth $5,000. Why?

More evidence that Potter always places money above human interests. Greed blinds him to any concern about the little guy. They're not even worth thinking about.

GEORGE: This town needs this crummy one-horse institution if for no other reason than to keep people from crawling to Potter.

Potter's greed is what motivates George to keep the Building and Loan going.

GEORGE: If Potter gets hold of this Building and Loan, there'll never be another decent house built in this town. He's already got charge of the bank. He's got the bus line. He got the department stores. And now, he's after us. Why? Well, it's very simple. Because we're cutting in on his business, that's why. And because he wants to keep you living in his slums and paying the kind of rent he decides.

When there's a run on the bank, George has to lay out Potter's motives so his customers won't withdraw all of their money. He's able to convince them because they already know that Potter is a heartless, greedy guy. All George has to do is remind them of it.

POTTER: Take during the Depression, for instance. You and I were the only ones that kept our heads. You saved the Building and Loan, and I saved all the rest.

GEORGE: Yes. Well, most people say you stole all the rest.

POTTER: The envious ones say that, George, the suckers. Now, I have stated my side very frankly. Now, let's look at your side. Young man, 27, 28 ... married, making, say, 40 a week.

GEORGE: Forty-five!

Did Potter have a change of heart? Could he be complimenting George on his business acumen? Dream on. He's trying to flatter him so he can buy him off. If George works for Potter, kiss the Building and Loan goodbye.