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Essay on Assimilation Theory In The Movie ‘Grand Torino’

1. Introduction The purpose of this paper is to understand theories and how they are applied in helping practices such as social work but which are used in everyday life. In this paper the focus will be on the direct assimilation of cultures into other cultures, on symbolisms that span cultures, on social role theories according to cultures and gender, life stages and classical conditioning that integrates cultures using the movie Grand Torino.

II. Theory Application 1. Assimilation Theory The movie Grand Torino shows a Hmong family that has immigrated to the US and that now resides in Highland Park, Michigan. There are three decades of descendants in this Hmong family a grandmother, mother, and two teenagers named Thao and Sue. While many traditions such as shaman, ritual dressing for special occasions, eye contact, no touching on the head and being extremely family oriented seem to be instilled in the Hmong especially the grandmother, Thao and Sue seem to be integrating into the American culture.

Both teenagers speak English exceptionally well, their clothing rivals that of other American teenagers, and the rituals that happen in the movie just do not seem that important to Thao or Sue as Thao walks outside during a Hmong ritual that welcomes a new child. There is a significant point in gender with assimilation as Thao a teenage boy is expected to become the man of the house while his sister traditionally would be doing things such as the dishes there is actually a role conflict with Thao taking directives from his sister Sue and he does the dishes.

In one scene Sue says to Walt the neighbor that Hmong immigrants that come to America that usually the boys go to jail while the girls do good in school. Sue takes on the role of leader in this movie while Thao is introverted and lacking direction. On the other hand the grandmother and mother speak little to no English, they fill the traditional role for gender, and abide by the Hmong culture having little interest in American culture. 2. Symbolic Interactionism

Grand Torino is a movie based on the metaphor of the car Gran Torino and the setting in the movie is in Detroit, Michigan with Walt Kowalski who worked building this particular car in 1972 only giving more credence to the movie’s metaphorical visage. The Grand Torino car in the movie is special to Walt as it represents the factory he worked in making American made cars, the war he fought in Korea, and the battle he fought for his neighborhood. This car did have some of the same symbolism for Walt and Thao, I believe they saw this car as the American dream, freedom, and a hard fought life.

Although Walt and Thao came from different cultures there seemed to be an almost identical symbolism in their view on the Grand Torino except for one point I believe Walt saw it as an ending while Thao saw it as a new beginning. 3. Applied Social Role Theory The relationship between Walt and his children/grandchildren was troubled from the start of the movie. Walt and his son’s really wanted nothing to do with each other, he expected his sons to be just that sons so role conflict and role ambiguity offset role expectations in their relationships as there were no defined roles and no role support.

The same thing could be said for the son towards Walt except for in Walt’s case he denied the role of father and grandfather. The relationship between Walt, his son, and his grandchildren seemed constantly under role strain because there was always conflict in their given roles and not one of them appeared to meet their role expectations. The son and daughter-in-law expected Walt to act old case in point they brought him a big button telephone, a grabber, and literature for retirement homes on his birthday to which he politely threw them out. Walt wasn’t filling that role of expectation of being old for them.

In retirement Walt lost his role as a meaningful member of society then soon after lost his wife meaning that he had many role losses in a short period of time leaving him alone and dejected. Walt did seem to isolate himself from his family and friends as even at his wife’s funeral he gave the impression that he wanted nothing to do with anyone. When these many losses shook Walt’s life Thao and his family moved in next door opening up opportunities for Walt to fill the roles that had been lost even against his better judgment. Thao met Walt under difficult circumstances, trying to steal Walt’s car.

Walt an extremely racist man didn’t need any further reason not to like the Hmong but Thao trying to steal his Grand Torino made matters even worse thus filling the role of expectation that already existed in Walt’s mind about the Hmong. Walt saw him as the thief before he ever tried to steal that car this was Thao’s role entrance into Walt’s life as well as Walt’s entrance into the Hmong culture. Walt tried to deny his role in the beginning of his association with the Hmong after saving Thao from the Hmong gang because he didn’t see his actions as heroic only keeping the Hmong off of his lawn.

Walt went through role denial but the Hmong supported him in this role as their hero leading to role expectations making Walt a part of their lives. Walt’s reference group changed as his view of the Hmong changed. As things progress in the movie Walt receives role support from the Hmong especially that of Thao and Sue and eventually exits his role by dying to save the Hmong from the gang. The next relationship Walt made a role entrance in was the priest. Walt went through role denial but the priest felt responsible for Walt putting him in another role strain.

Then eventually Walt filled his role expectations letting the priest take his confession and then Walt made a role exit. The next relationship the Barber, he and Walt had an unusual relationship but Walt depended on this relationship he full filled his role expectations through mutual disregard for the others feelings, in a friendly way. The next role Daisy Walt’s dog played a role in his life and she filled a role expectation for him. Walt took care of her and seemed dependent on her companionship to fill some role that was missing.

The last relationship is that of Sue, she became fast friends with Walt and Walt saved her numerous times from disaster. Walt made a role entry during the Hmong gang rampage, he filled role expectations with Sue by not only saving her but becoming part of her life. She gave Walt role support and Walt eventually took on the task group role by dealing with the Hmong gang, making a role exit by dying to save Thao and Sue. 4. Applied Cognitive Theory Assimilation is defined as how someone takes new information into their preexisting schema of how things are associated in the mind.

Accommodation is a new schema being added to the mind with new information. In Grand Torino Walt uses assimilation in many scenes such as when Thao tries to steal his car, he already thought Thao was a bad person because he was Hmong and this just reaffirmed the racist view Walt already had in place. In another scene Walt was rescuing Sue from a bad situation when she was walking, Walt already had a racist view toward people of other cultures this incident again confirmed what already existed in Walt’s mind, that black young men along with other non-white were bad people.

Accommodation happened several times too, such as when Thao stepped across the street to help an elderly lady with her groceries this made Walt rethink his assessment of the Hmong. Walt had to look at things differently then taking in new information about the Hmong being good people which made a new category in Walt’s mind. In another scene Sue invited Walt to their house to eat and Walt saw a new side to the Hmong a human side with different views on what was acceptable in their culture.

Walt used the information from this encounter to make new assumptions about the Hmong such as they were warm welcoming people open to even racist people like him. The use of accommodation and assimilation in this movie either confirmed what Walt thought he knew about other races which was assimilation to helping Walt discover a new outlook with the new information he discovered through accommodation. 5. Applied Psychodynamic Theory In the stage of ego integrity vs. despair which happens from age 65 until death people look at their lives as either having been a productive member of society or not.

If the person feels they have given back or made an impact such as accomplished goals set in earlier life then ego integrity takes place leading to being happy with said life. If ego integrity doesn’t take place then despair with life such as being unhappy with accomplishments thus far in life takes place meaning the individual will usually be unpleasant and hopeless. In the movie Grand Torino Walt seems bitter and unhappy with his life except with his dead wife and his car. His children and grandchildren are disappointments along with the neighborhood he lives in and the life he leads in general.

Walt however does comment on his wife and marriage as if they were successful, he also talks a great deal about his time in Korea as if he resents it sometimes and then other times as if it was a successful venture. Walt for the most part seems very unhappy and almost resentful about his life. Then his son and daughter-in-law present him with brochures about retirement communities for his birthday this truly made Walt feel resentful toward them and had to have made him feel like he was old when he in fact doesn’t feel that way.

This event challenged his sense of integrity and independence leading Walt to kick them out for making him feel unsound and in need of someone to take care of him. Walt might have been unhappy with parts of his life but he did seem to value his independence as well as accept his life for what it was and when this happened to Walt I felt like they were trying to put him in a retirement home so they wouldn’t have to deal with him anymore. My thoughts are that they definitely damaged Walt’s sense of integrity by their actions because he had built a life though unhappy it was still the life he chose.

Walt’s contribution to Thao and his family did affect the balance from despair to integrity since Walt felt like he was giving back to society or the greater good. In one scene Walt when Sue invites Walt to come over and eat he actually after some faux pas starts to feel like he is a part of the group. He seems to relax inside their home even fixing the washer so it didn’t rock. Walt grows to treat the Hmong like family even having them over for a cook-out at one point.

He gives back to them by mentoring Thao, befriending Sue and trying to fix their situation leading him from despair into integrity, by making him feel like part of the greater good. Walt also works through his racism and prejudices through his relationship with the Hmong leading him to let go of past grievances with other races by understanding that they too are good people just trying to make it in a place that is set against them. 6. Applied Behavior Theory-Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning The theory of Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning means that one stimulus leads to a response from that stimulus.

For example in the movie Grand Torino Walt puts his hand inside in his jacket while facing down the Hmong gang after making a gun with his hand this is the stimulus then he points it at each gang member and acted as if he shot each one. As his hand goes into the front of his jacket the response from the threat leads the Hmong gang to shoot him. Classical conditioning uses conditioned stimulus Walt making a threat to shoot them to a conditioned response which was the gang members actually shooting Walt when they felt threatened.

This applied behavior theory summarizes human ehavior when a known stimuli is used to predicate a known threat. This gang was used to using guns and threats to get what they wanted so their anticipation of Walt’s threat lead them to shoot an unarmed man. III. Conclusion Writing this paper helped me view these theories in everyday interactions with others. Learning that we all play many roles within one given role then applying the knowledge of these roles to our lives where so many things can go wrong helps to understand the concept behind the role expectations that we have for others as well as others have for us.

I can actually see some role ambiguity in my life as well as those that I expect of others and this can lead to confusion and denial. This paper was interesting as the movie used was also one I have seen many times. I also saw what a process immigrants have to go through to acclimate themselves into other cultures and how this can lead to confusion if the process isn’t worked out. Seeing Walt and some older people that I know in a new light too after using the psychodynamic theory in this paper. All in all this paper was interesting and though provoking in its use of theories applied to life.

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