Movie Essay Example: Theoretical Analysis of American History X

Published: 2019-02-14
Movie Essay Example: Theoretical Analysis of American History X
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Culture Analysis Movie
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1164 words
10 min read

The American History X

The American History X explores the subculture of the neo-Nazi skinhead in America. The skinheads are viewed to be hatemongers who believe that everyone else is to blame for their problems. The movie explores the life of two brothers who have grown up in a society that is intent on racism and prejudice. Their lives are fueled by the white supremacy beliefs, and the demise of their father shows the society's power in shaping individuals behaviors. This paper will analyze the characters in the movie determining why they chose to be deviant or conform as well as explain the theories tied to their behaviors.

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Danny and Derek are from a middle-class family that has a caring mother, father, and also two sisters. Dennis is portrayed as being disgruntled with the society's current state particularly when it pertains to the race relations and assenting action. He passes his opinions about prejudice to his son and therefore plays a major role in shaping his son's views about the society and culture. A scene from the movie shows Dennis influencing his sons while having breakfast were Derek discusses an assignment given to them by his African American teacher. The assignment includes that they read a book by African American author. This was upsetting to Dennis as he stated the affirmative action where the schools are concentrating on black books instead of the great books (American History X. David Mckenna, 1998). The theory of Cognitive Dissonance which was developed by Leon Festinger comes into play. This is where individuals seek consistency among their beliefs. A scene from the movie shows Derek vandalizing a store in their neighborhood where he points out that it is because they are losing their freedom and rights, the same action done by the African Americans he points out that they have no concept of community or civic responsibilities. This dissonance explains the social construction in which surrounds the relationships of the protagonists' actions and those around him.

Derek is a persuasive, intelligent and motivating individual who after his father death by African American gunmen becomes a white supremacist, active member. From a scene in the movie, Dereks personal is temperamental and lacks stability where he shoots after young African American thieves who attempted to steal his car. Derek's behavior can be tied to the frustrations he has over his father's death, the unequal rights that exist between the whites and blacks and also because of the minorities' advancement. All these frustrations caused a strain on Derek which made him deviate to the nonconforming paths so as to attain a change in the society. The General strain theory by Robert Agnew which both suggests that individuals engage in deviant behavior due to certain strains and stressors can be applicable in Derek's case (Agnew, & Kaufman, 2010).

Derek as an impressionable person who was fed into his father's beliefs blames the society for the bad things in his life. He starts becoming deviant where this deviance was nurtured into him by his father. Dennis implied that the illegal immigrants were coming to America to steal the white's jobs and this made Derek angry (American History X. David Mckenna, 1998). Dennis implies that the blacks are the minorities and are trying to take over causing Derek to hold his father's opinions to heart. Through Dennis character, the control theory by Travis Hirschi is applicable where Derek also holds the same opinions about the whites and blacks. Derek believes that white violence has quintessential value to it while black violence is dark and threatening, as a siege to his liberties as well as happiness.

Danny the youngest brother writes an essay about Derek which shows Derek life history as he evolves from being open minded to being a racist and finally to being enlightened. After Derek goes to prison for killing the African-American thief, Danny we left and joined the white supremacist gang as he was deeply influenced by his brother. However, after Derek leaves prison and narrates his experiences to him while in prison Danny feels an urge to reform his ways and leaves the gang. In the movie, the subcultures and communities are shown to offset criminal and violent behavior. Between the blacks and whites basketball scene in the movie, they are seen to battle for ownership of the courts. This shows the whites purpose in reclaiming their society and intimidating other ethnic groups via verbal abuse. This scene demonstrates the subculture theory by Merton (Agnew, & Kaufman, 2010).

Danny and Derek after their father's death lose a father figure or influence by a father which leads to Derek acting as a father for the family. His anger and hatred leads him to commit violence and ends up in prison. He passes the hatred for the blacks onto his younger brother who joins the gang. However, after his release, he comes back a changed man who prompts a change in his brother as he does not want him ending up on the same road. He persuades him to leave the gang and take the higher road in life without hate. This depicts the theory of social bond by Travis Hirschi where the relationship between the two brothers was impressionable and showed care. In the scene where Derek got a visit from Dr. Sweeney in prison so as to update him of Danny's lapse.They both agreed that they should secure a better future for him in a strategy to reconstruct his broken family.

Differential association theory by Sutherland can be used to describe the two brother's behavior (Williams, & McShane, 2017). Through associations with others around them, their behavior changed from being carefree to racist and also into committing crimes. By Derek joining the white supremacist gang, he learned their motives and behaved like them in committing crimes. He becomes deviant while passing hatred towards the blacks. While in Prison he fostered a close relationship between a black man where he came to realize that traits and capabilities are not defined by one's skin color. He, therefore, impacts this awakening into his younger brother.

Before the tragic death of their father Derek and Danny had no erroneous feelings towards other people but this incident prompted the change of attitude and behavior. Danny and Derek grew up together In the same environment, but latter in the movie develop contrasting points of view. Derek became the leader of a supremacist group which committed various crimes and influenced his brother Danny in the process. Various theories such as the control theory are evident where their father Dennis impacts the notions that the Blacks are minorities and taking over their society. Strain theory is applicable where the frustrations of their father's death lead them into changing their ideologies and joining the supremacist groups.


Agnew, R., & Kaufman, J. (2010). Anomie, strain and subcultural theories of crime (1st ed.).

Williams, F., & McShane, M. (2017). Criminological theory (1st ed.).

American History X. David Mckenna. (1998).

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