Ebenezer Scrooge, Simon Legree, Milo Minderbinder—Henry Potter is in good fictional company. Mr. Potter wants to own everything in Bedford Falls, and he resents the Baileys because they stand in his way.
In It's a Wonderful Life, George and his father are the opposite of greedy. Their business is founded on generosity; they make loans to people even if they're poor. They sure don't get rich from it. Potter, on the other hand, does nothing if it doesn't enrich him. The Baileys, by helping low-income people build or buy houses, take money out of Potter's pocket; people can move out of his slummy apartments into their own homes. That's why Potter has it in for them.
Greed is one of the seven deadly sins, and as far as Frank Capra is concerned, it's way up there on that list. Potter has got all of the money he needs, but it's never enough. His need to get even more makes him trample anyone who gets in his way.
Questions About Greed
- Why is Mr. Potter so greedy even though he doesn't have friends, family, or anyone to take care of? What would he even do with his money?
- Is there any greed in George's early ambitions to travel the world and become a big success?
- How does greed transform Bedford Falls into Pottersville? How come no one except George is able to prevent this from happening?
- Does a rich person like Sam Wainwright provide a different version of wealthy ambition than Mr. Potter?
Chew on This
The film suggests that greed destroys a person. Potter is unhappy, mean, and friendless because he's motivated by greed.
Potter is no more greedy that your average business titan. He's just doing what he has to do to protect his financial interests. To paraphrase Gordon Gekko, greed is good.