Skip over navigation

Birth of a Nation

Key Facts

Important Intertitles Explained

Quiz

full title ·  The Birth of a Nation

director · D. W. Griffith

leading actors/actresses · Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Henry Walthall, Ralph Lewis, George Siegmann

supporting actors/actresses

 · Miriam Cooper, Mary Alden, Walter Long, Elmer Clifton, Josephine Crowell,
 · Joseph Henabery, Robert Harron, Spottiswoode Aitken, George Beranger, Maxfield Stanley, Jennie Lee, Donald Crisp, Howard Gaye

type of work · Motion picture

genre · Revisionist historical romance

language · English

time and place produced ·  1914, California (Hollywood, San Fernando Valley, and Big Bear Lake)

awards ·  1992, National Film Registry

date of release

 · Premiere: Los Angeles, February 8, 1915 (titled The Clansman)
 · Public Opening: New York, March 3, 1915 (newly retitled The Birth of a Nation)

producers · Harry Aitken, D. W. Griffith

setting (time) · Antebellum America; the Civil War; and the Reconstruction period

setting (place) · Primarily Piedmont, South Carolina; Washington, D.C.; and rural Pennsylvania

protagonist · Colonel Ben Cameron

major conflict · Carpetbaggers, thieves, and muckrakers from the North descend greedily upon the South after the postwar assassination of President Lincoln to defile the honored traditions of its aristocratic gentry by raising black militias to take power over the land.

rising action · The opportunism of Austin Stoneman, the lusty cruelty of Silas Lynch, and the criminal behavior of the newly freed black slaves threaten Southern whites, who seethe amid the danger and try to find a solution.

climax · At the moment when Ben Cameron suffers his worst bout of agony and hopelessness over his lost land, inspiration comes to him to form the Ku Klux Klan, providing him and the rest of the South a way to fight back.

falling action · As soon as the Klan forms, Ben Cameron leads the group through Piedmont, rescuing all whites in danger, violently punishing misbehaving blacks, and wresting control of the land back into the hands of the proud Southern whites.

themes · The perseverance of Southern honor; proper courting; the manifold tragedies of war

motifs · The street in Piedmont; the southern landscape; iris shots

symbols · Quality of clothing; Abraham Lincoln; animals

foreshadowing · When Tod and Duke meet in Piedmont, they lovingly taunt each other, roughhouse, and playfully fight, foreshadowing their eventual meeting on a Civil War battlefield. They also hug each other frequently, foreshadowing their eventual death in each other’s arms. The daguerreotype image of Elsie that Ben sees early in the film foreshadows the iris shot of Elsie at Ben’s bedside as he awakens from a coma. Early shots of Stoneman’s vast, empty library prefigure the days when, after Lincoln’s assassination, it will be full of sycophantic congressional leaders attached to Stoneman’s power.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us