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Violence, Masculinity and Catholicism as Part of Italian American Identity in the Movies of Martin Scorsese


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Vidović, Tina. (2017). Violence, Masculinity and Catholicism as Part of Italian American Identity in the Movies of Martin Scorsese. Diploma Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of English Language and Literature. [mentor Šesnić, Jelena].

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Martin Scorsese’s movies revolve around Italian American characters involved in organized crime and he examines their violence, macho masculinity and guilt related to religion. The idea of this paper is to establish a connection between ethnicity and these concepts and to see how Scorsese treats them in Who’s That Knocking at My Door? (1967), Raging Bull (1980) and Goodfellas (1990). This thesis argues that Scorsese’s characters are caught up in identity paradox because they belong to the Italian American ethnic community. This strong, cohesive group defines them and burdens them while at the same time they are trying to achieve the American dream. The protagonists are considered tragic precisely because of the discrepancy between their ideas and reality. Scorsese constructs his themes while playing with ethnic stereotypes and employs them in ironic way. He does so through the three central concepts of violence, masculinity and religion, only to reveal that each of the concepts is the surface of one’s identity that hides insecurities and moral corruption. His characters’ presumed masculinity turns out to be a facade covering their insecurities about themselves, about their relationships with other people and their condition in general. What makes his movies unique in comparison to the work of other Italian American directors is this realistic, naturalistic and violent representation of the characters and his investment in the exploration of the differences between the lives of the ethnic community and the outsiders. His male characters are tempted by the opportunities offered by America and by the possibility of assimilation, while, on the other, they seem confined to their group and tormented by the impossibility of escape from it. This demonstrates how a man is defined by cultural and social norms of his surroundings, particularly in a specific ethnic community. None of Scorsese's characters achieves the American dream and they usually end up in mediocre life condition but if we observe their attitude towards the path of success, we can see their development. J.R. from Who’s That Knocking at My Door? chooses to stay within the borders of his safe community. Raging Bull's s Jake LaMotta's attempt to break free from the influence of the community ends in failure. Finally, despite betraying the community in order to save himself, Henry Hill from Goodfellas gets punished. Although the characters in later films sacrifice their group bonds, they fail nevertheless because they achieve the materialistic component while they neglect the moral one. They seem to be punished not only because of their crimes, but also because they have betrayed the community. What happens is a gradual assimilation into the American culture and their decreasing preoccupation with their Italianness and moral guilt.

Item Type: Diploma Thesis
Uncontrolled Keywords: violence, masculinity, Catholicism, ethnic identity, Italian American, Martin Scorsese
Subjects: English language and literature > American Studies
Departments: Department of English Language and Literature
Supervisor: Šesnić, Jelena
Date Deposited: 29 Jun 2017 10:29
Last Modified: 29 Jun 2017 10:29

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