In the movie, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, Tom Rath (Gregory Peck) did not exhibit the attributes of William Whyte’s organization man. Whyte argued that American business life had abandoned the old virtues of self-reliance in favor of loyalty to the postwar corporation. Corporate life was unfulfilling because its routine and organizational structure robbed men of their identities and the self-fulfillment they previously gained from manual work or jobs in smaller businesses. As the title suggests, men donned suits, becoming indistinguishable from one another, and conformed to this lifestyle. As the protagonist, Tom, said in the movie, “All I could see was a lot of bright young men in grey flannel suits rushing around New York in a frantic parade to nowhere.” This paper will prove that Tom’s reliance on his own thinking style created tension for his organizational life at UBC.
The movie opened with Tom complaining that he was having trouble making ends meet. His suburbanite friend suggested he apply for a position at UBC. On two occasions at UBC, Tom revealed his lack of conformity. At his interview, the human resources director asked him to write an autobiography and an explanation of his value to UBC. Tom declined to write any revealing information in the in his application. After UBC hired Tom, middle management asked Tom to write a speech for Ralph Hopkins (Frederic March). Middle management wouldn’t give Tom’s real speech to the president. In turn, Tom bypassed the middle managers and gave his speech to Hopkins. If Tom was the staunch organization man, he wouldn’t question the authority of his superiors at UBC.
that was critical of corporate life and the public organizational world men experienced during the post World War II era. The message of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit was that there was dissatisfaction inherent in corporate America, but that increasing participation in the family alleviated the tension of war memories and corporate conformity. For example, when Tom went to see Bill Odgen (Henry Daniell) at UBC, his autobiography assignment of turned into a flashback where he knifed a German soldier. This provided an example of Tom Rath, the UBC organization man struggling with his identity. The organization man dealt with dilemmas of identity. Tom had to split his personal identity and his social identity or his expressive values from his instrumental values. On the one hand, he enthusiastically threw himself into his socially prescribed identities of employee, citizen, and neighbor. Taking the cues from the people around him, Tom fulfilled the requirements of each new role that was thrust upon him in public and social life. However, Tom defied this role when he subsumed middle management to prove his worth to the president of UBC. He fulfilled his role of UBC public relations director, so he could provide for Betsy Rath (Jennifer Jones) and his three children..
As far as fulfilling roles, Tom played more the role of Whyte’s “well-rounded man.” Business needed “…the man who is so rested, so at peace with his environment, so broadened by suburban life, that he is able to handle human relations with poise and understanding”(Whyte 147). Tom was more of a family man than his antithesis Mr. Hopkins. Tom thought for himself rather than allowing the corporation to think for him.
The credits of the movie role as Tom and Betsy embrace in their car after solving all their personal problems. Tom was the opposite of Frederic March (Ralph Hopkins). He did not take a promotion because he refused to get caught up in corporate life; his family was his priority. Sloan’s criticism of the post World War II workforce was that it forced men to become machines and slaves to the conformity of the corporation. Sloan, however, did not question the emphasis placed on the family in the 1950s. Tom was content as long as his family was happy. According to Sloan, men needed their family for fulfillment because they did not find any type of satisfaction within the inherent conformity of corporate America. The antithesis of Tom, Frederic March sacrificed his relationship with his daughter and his wife to have the power of the presidency at UBC. He summarized his view of his life conforming to the business culture while sipping on a scotch in his lonely Manhattan apartment, “My mistake was being one of those men.”