Austin Stoneman: The Birth of a Nation's American Tragic Hero
Early Popular Visual Culture
For both artistic and personal reasons, D.W. Griffith was drawn to melodrama, and his most influential work, The Birth of a Nation, is, in almost every way, a fully realized melodramatic work. As is typical of this style, the story is presented as a clearly delineated struggle between, on the one side, the good and right and, on the other, the wicked and wrong. In the end, of course, the former triumphs over the latter. With but one exception, all of the film's characters fit neatly into one category or the other. Only Austin Stoneman, arguably Birth's most important figure, seems to defy easy characterization. While he is arrogant, scowling, dismissive of others, and specified to be wrong on the issue of race, he is also principled, forthright, and a loving father. The purpose of this study is to show that Stoneman has the essential characteristics of a tragic Greek hero, albeit one with the good fortune to live in nineteenth-century America rather than ancient Thebes.
Weinberger, Stephen. "Austin Stoneman: The Birth of a Nation's American Tragic Hero." Early Popular Visual Culture 10, no. 3 (2012), 211-225.