Elegant and brutal. The Magnificent Ambersons is set in the lavish American aristocracy in the years leading up to the revolution of the automobile. Like the countryside, Georgie Amberson, the protagonist, is born into opulence and over the course of the narrative is pulled from his blissful wealth and into the lonely and equally thankless dregs of the industrial world. Everything within the pages of The Magnificent Ambersons changes, mostly for the worst, according to the central characters. Everyone tries to make do with the changing world and society, but whether by ignorance or stubbornness, or fate, the world moves on without them.
“I’m not sure he’s wrong about automobiles,” he said. “With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization – that is, in spiritual civilization. It may be that they will not add to the beauty of the world, nor to the life of men’s souls. I am not sure. but automobiles have come, and they bring a greater change in our life than most of us suspect. They are here, and almost all outward things are going to alter pace. I think men’s minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles; just how, though, I could hardly guess. But you can’t have the immense outward changes that they will cause without some inward ones, and it may be that Georgie is right, and that they spiritual alteration will be bad for us. Perhaps, ten or twenty years from now, if we can see the inward change in men by that time, I shouldn’t be able to defend the gasoline engine, but would have to agree with him that automobiles ‘had no business to be invented.'”
Such is the battle within The Magnificent Ambersons over fate and agency, beauty and ugliness, progress and regress. The world moves. Some characters move with it, others stand against it. For better or worse, those who adapt live longer.