The Queen’s Gambit: America Lost and Found

Photo by Reba Spike on Unsplash

So captivated by Taylor-Joy’s performance in The Queen’s Gambit, the visual drama, Scott Frank’s “heart-palpitating quick” and “lingering shots”, many overlook Walter Tevis’ presentation of America. Instead of the picture-perfect Leave-It-to-Beaver and The-Brady-Bunch sitcoms, typical of the cold-war era, Tevis depicts the American family as broken and American friendships as lifelines. Tevis moves from realism to idealism as he reasserts American values and inspires a new view of patriotism. 

From Darkness, Comes Light

The series projects the tragic break-up of the nuclear family as young Harmon grows up without a father, loses her mother to suicide, and ends up at an orphanage filled with lonely children. Audiences find more tragedy when the hopes of Harmon’s adopted mother are shattered by divorce and when Harmon’s recently-married school-mate carries liquor bottles in her baby’s carriage. The American family despairs, but Harmon finds support and love from her relationships with Jolene, her mother, and friends like Shaibel, Harry, and Benny and inspiration from a town and country that helps her develop her genius.

The American society that encourages Harmon to reach her potential also undermines her efforts.  The orphanage that cares for Harmon also limits her learning and hooks her on tranquilizers. The society that provides Harmon with the chance to compete had also prevented Harmon’s adopted mother from reaching her potential.  As Harmon faces and overcomes the restrictions that American organizations place on women, Tevis recognizes the inequality and the opportunities that America provides. 

From Tragedy to Triumph

Tevis represents the All-American adage, pulling-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, as including the working through of childhood traumas when he presents Harmon’s dark past and self-destructive instincts as obstructing her bright future.  In Harmon’s battle with the USSR Chess Federation, Tevis explores the conflict between individualism and collectivism. When Harmon’s individualism overtakes the ranks of Soviet’s best, Tevis displays the superiority of American ideology. In tribute to American pragmatism, Harmon’s winning strategy against Borgove includes a combination of individualism and collective support.

Patriotism Redefined

Tevis defines patriotism as loving a country, despite its flaws – and American relationships as complicated. When Harmon inspires Russian audiences with her success, Tevi presents America as an inspiration to the world, which elicits patriotic sentiment. At a time when American democracy appears weak and the political divide wide, Tevi communicates a hopeful and unifying message about America. Read more about the valuable lessons in The Queen’s Gambit and stay apprised of my newest posts by subscribing to the website below.

The Queen’s Gambit:  A+ for Artistic: Engagement: 5/5, Production 5/5, Clarity: 5/5, Originality: 5/5  – 20/20

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