Family Experience in Little Miss Sunshine

Posted: November 27th, 2013


Little Miss Sunshine

Symbolic Interaction Theory

Title: Family Experience in Little Miss Sunshine

  1. Introduction
  2. The Hoovers
    1.                                  I.      The family structure
    2.                               II.      The characteristics of the family members
    3.                            III.      Reality of the challenges experienced in the Hoover Family
  3. The symbolic Interaction Theory
    1.                                  I.      Description of the theory
    2.                               II.      Relating the theory to family interactions
    3.                            III.      Relating the movie to the theory
  4. Influence of the Movie
    1.                                  I.      How the movie influences people’s thoughts and ideas about marriage
    2.                               II.      Is the family in the movie an ideal family?












Family Experience in Little Miss Sunshine

Movies are quite helpful in understanding sociology. This is because, films are often a reflection of the society and they observe the societal and family trends at a particular time. For instance, family movies made in the fifties and sixties are different from those made today. By analyzing such movies, one is able to tell how the family structures were at the given time. Many early movies depicted families normally as comprising of a mother, father and their children, with all the members of the family having their roles clearly defined. The theme of single parent families was not common. Although conflict was common, it did not often lead to violence (Reynolds and Kinney 518). Presently, movies address all types of families including households with same-sex parents. Additionally, most movies and television programs evidence conflict and violence. Television programs and movies are a way of gauging societal trends and observing changes and experiences in the family.

The movie Little Miss Sunshine presents the story of a seemingly dysfunctional American family bent on fulfilling their daughter’s dream of participating in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty contest for young girls. The family uses a Volkswagen Van for a road trip to save on expenses. The family is an extended one, comprising of the girl’s parents, brother, uncle and grandfather. The uncle is a homosexual who has just rejoined the family after trying to commit suicide. The grandfather gets along with his granddaughter and he even helps her prepare for the contest. He is old and he ends up dying as they are travelling to the contest due to a drug overdose. The brother is an introvert and remains sad most of the time in the journey. The father is a motivational speaker, although his career has experienced various downfalls. Apart from the grandfather, the men in the family are reserved about the road trip. They are hesitant about going to the contest but they eventually offer their support for Olive, the young contestant. The mother seems to be the strong one in the family and the ones who holds it together. She is willing to make her daughter’s dream materialize despite the mounting challenges.

The family encounters various challenges during the trip such as dealing with a broken down van. Many families experience most of these challenges. They are faced with financial constraints and they have to sacrifice luxuries and comfort just like in the movie. Due to varying needs and preferences, conflicts and emotional instabilities are quite common. Families also experience tragedies necessitating effectual handling practices as noted in the film. Support within family members may mean executing extreme measures in a bid to fulfill the dreams of loved ones. Substance abuse is another issue that families, especially those with young members have to handle (Aldiabat and Navenec 1063). Movies often depict happy-endings where the protagonist becomes the hero. Little Miss Sunshine is different as it shows that a person can win through failure. The Hoover family learnt the importance of each member in terms of synergy depicted in the scene where they join Olive on stage. The rest of the family members knew that Olive would not win and they were probably humiliating themselves, but they found happiness through the challenges they had overcome as well as being supportive to each other. Therefore, families face challenges as those depicted in the film by the Hoover family in the movie and collective support and decision-making act as helpful factors.

Rogers describes the symbolic interaction theory as “ways through which people and systems interact and communicate with one another as well as the essence and characteristics of that interaction and communication” (93). In other words, people interpret relayed information received in terms of culture and experience. Individuals perceive the world based on the meanings they attach to their experiences that are acquired through social associations. The theory posits that people interact through symbols and knowing the symbols used will lead to a higher understanding between the involved parties. The theory recognizes that in a family, all members have different personalities. Additionally, given time, families change and grow. Due to this, families are important since they influence and develop a child’s perspective towards culture, beliefs and values. They determine the manner in which a child develops his or her interactions (Reynolds and Kinney 522). The theory recognizes the roles that people play. Through the process of interacting, people create and improve their roles.

The symbolic interaction theory recognizes that individuals are active members of the society and that they actively shape their experiences. However, these actions are not usually translated as experiences but they are a way for people to experience and exercise freedom. A person will be influenced by other people to adopt a certain attitude or behave in a particular manner (Aldiabat and Navenec 1070). The dramaturgical approach asserts that people create settings with rules and rituals, through which they ensure that their interactions have meaning and importance to them. These practices help to classify the required environments and maintain social order. The looking glass approach in symbolic interaction holds that people can identify their self-identity through their interactions with others (Rogers 95).

In the movie, various elements of symbolic interactions are evidenced. All members of the Hoover family have different personalities as well as perceptions about the world. Olive and her brother are different in many ways. Olive has a happy, outgoing and cheery attitude towards life even when things do not seem to go her way. On the other hand, her brother seems to hate everybody and is always indifferent towards the rest of the members. The theory recognizes the change and growth in families. This is evident in the movie, with almost every member outgrowing a given form of behavior. Richard, Olive’s father, is first presented as a man propelled by his need to succeed as a motivational speaker and thereby according priority to this over his family. In fact, Richard has developed a self-help program and the first step to the program is that people should avoid being losers. As the trip ends and he spends more time with his family, Richard changes his perspective and develops a new attitude towards the priorities. Olive’s brother, who had vowed not to speak, has some visible changes as well. This occurs after he learns that he cannot attain his dream of being a pilot since he is colorblind. Olive’s uncle changes from a man who was once suicidal and becomes a responsible man. More so, he is able to overcome his depression and even discusses the problem to the initiator.

Influence is an evident aspect in family relations (Rogers 98). The men initially have reservations about going to the contest but through the trip associations, they end up joining Olivia on stage. The adults in the movie realize that Olive does not have the talents that the other girls offer by noting her limitations after observing the preparation process. Unlike the other girls, Olive is plump and plain. She arrives at the contest late and therefore has to skip the necessary preparation processes; the rest of the competitors have applied make-up creating high competition in the pageant. They had obviously spent a lot of time and money for the given function. The adults are intimidated by these occurrences and let the perceptions of others determine their attitude.

The themes of marriage and family are prevalent in the film and thereby influence people in different ways. The prevailing idea is that families are not perfect and regardless of what one does, he or she cannot entirely control what other members prefer. The Hoover family faces many diverse challenges, and in a way, some of their roles seem to be reversed. For instance, most individuals do not expect the elderly (grandfather) to abuse drugs (heroin) or use offensive words but teenagers fit the profile perfectly. The film encourages acceptance between the members. Although the family knows that Olive has no chance of winning the contest, they offer their support to the end. The family members do not discourage Olive in any way thus boosting her self-esteem to face the crowd and perform her dance at the contest. The movie is a clear illustration that marriages do not have to be perfect. Spouses should support each other and be there for each other despite the circumstances. Olive’s mother does not share her husband’s idea of being a motivational speaker. However, she does not discourage him from the aspiration. On the contrary, she supports him, as a wife should.

There is no ideal family in terms of family members and experiences since each unit faces different challenges. Families have different ways of handling and managing their problems. For some, like the Hoover family, the main challenge is created by lack of monetary assets, while for others it may mean dealing with diverse issues and challenges such as rebellious children and unfaithful spouses. There is no distinct way of handling such problems; a given family may choose to ignore problems and put on a happy face for publicity purposes (Rogers 98). This does not solve the problem and it only accentuates it. For the Hoover family, the road trip was important since it enabled them to face their problems and offer collective resolutions towards the same. While other families may not take road trips, they can adopt other practical approaches, as deemed desirable. Little Miss Sunshine provides a chance to learn about symbolic interactions. The family interacted with each other along the way, perhaps more than they did when they were at home. They were able to work out the challenges they were facing as a family. These challenges were important for their growth and development as individuals and as family members.






















Works Cited:

Aldiabat, Khaldoum, and Navenec Carole. “Philosophical Roots of Classical Grounded Theory: Its Foundations in Symbolic Interactionism.” The Qualitative Report July 2011: 1063-1081. Print.

Reynolds, Larry, and Kinney Nancy. Handbook of Symbolic Interactionism. Walnut Creek: Rowman Altamira, 2003. Print.

Rogers, Anissa. Human Behavior in the Social Environment. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2010. Print.

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