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Introduction to Gerontology
Professor Ramadar
Assignment # 4- On Golden Pond
Aliyah Ramdin

The film On Golden Pond surrounds an aging couple, Ethel and Norman Thayer, who
spends each summer at their cottage on a lake called Golden Pond. As the film prolongs, we are
introduced to their daughter, Chelsea Thayer along with her new fianc, Bill and his son, Billy.
Upon the introduction of Chelseas character, we are able to see the conflict between her and
Norman. As the film continues, it is clear to see that Ethel Thayer is the stabilizing force within
this family. Norman and Ethels deep love for one another is depicted throughout the film. Ethel
gets along well with everyone, while Norman is the complete opposite. At the beginning of the
film there is a great amount of tension between Norman, Chelsea, Bill, and Billy. Normans
sarcastic and witty remarks seem to irritate many. As the film progresses, Norman and Billy
form a bond and develop a genuine friendship. By the end of the film, Chelsea and her father
have reconciled and agreed to spend more time together as father and daughter should.
The film On Golden Pond represents many aspects of our Gerontology class. It
illustrates many of the areas we have covered in class, such as retirement. The film also
demonstrates that more couples are surviving intact well beyond retirement. The film carries us
step by step through Ethels and Normans relationship, their ways of handling retirement and

aging and their relationships with others. In the opening scene of the film, the late-seventies
Norman and his bubbly late-sixties wife, Ethel, arrive at their cottage, he calls the operator and
instantly forgets that he called; simultaneously hes scrutinizing a framed photo sitting in the
dust-covered living room, angrily wondering aloud Who the hell is in this picture? even
though we can clearly see that its a photo of himself and Ethel at a younger age. We have
barely met this longtime couple, and they seem completely defined by their age: his cloudiness,
his slow shuffle, and Ethels upsetting Parkinsons tremor. These scenes give us the idea of what
is considered a stereotypical view of elderly individuals. Ethels character displays a will for
adventure, which is generally not associated with the aging population. It also displays
attitudes of both young and old individuals towards aging. I believe that this film is a good
representation of what we have learnt in our Gerontology class.
There are many topics/themes represented in On Golden Pond which stood out. These
include reverse stereotype and the three-generation family. Reverse stereotype is a comedy
gimmick that shows older adults acting like kids in sexual or adventurous situations. This type of
stereotype is shown throughout the film. Characters such as Ethel and Chelsea display actions
that are classified as reverse stereotypes. Ethel lives up to an active ideal, a devoted, yet free
spirited wife; she acts "cool" goes singing into the woods to herself. It is she who hauls in the
firewood, ventures out into the woods for strawberry and flower-picking, and is at the controls
of the powerboat as she and her husband does the errands. In the film, Ethel and Chelsea go
skinny-dipping. This is an example of reverse stereotyping because it shows them acting like
children. Chelsea, who is beginning to enter the aging process, is seen doing back flips. Norman

and Ethel often speak to each other like kids, using words such as poop to refer to one
The three-generation family is becoming common within the population. The film On
Golden Pond is based on a three-generation family, which consist of grandparents (Ethel and
Norman), parents (Chelsea and Bill), and grandchild (Billy). In the film, we see the ways in which
they interact among each other. These interactions are important because they help us as
viewers to understand the types of relationships in the film and the personalities of each
character. Just like any ordinary family, conflicts and disagreements arise throughout the film.
The increase in the aging population along with life expectancy means that generations are
living longer than they used to. Grandparents are seeing their children and grandchildren grow
Norman and Ethel have enough privilege in old age to support the time and leisure for
learning more of lifes inner meaning. This is hardly the reality for most Americans. Norman
tries to mask his inability to appreciate his daughter, while Chelsea wonders why her father
treats her the way he does. Bills thirteen-year-old son, Billy arrives unenthusiastically on
Golden Pond. He speaks up-to-the-minute California youth slangs like suck face and cruise
chicks. This part of the film shows the generation gap between individuals. As the film
prolongs Norman and Billy begin to enjoy each others company despite their age difference.
Family structure and relationships are shown throughout the film. At the end of the film,
Norman and Chelsea reconcile and agree to spend more time together as father and daughter
should. We see all three generations getting along well before the end of the film.

Death is constantly mentioned in On Golden Pond. The film touches on the tragic events
of life as it passes, as death becomes reality. Normans inability to deal with increasing age and
his feeling of uselessness depict a real and important issue in the film. He states that he is
ancient and speaks a lot of death at the beginning of the film. He makes it seem as if he sees
death as an escape from growing older. Norman seems to accept the idea of death at the
beginning of the film, but we can see that he dislikes the fact that he is getting older. When Billy
asks him if he is afraid to die, he states indirectly that he is not and quickly changes the topic.
This is a clear indication that he is not ready to for the inevitable.
The film contains its own kind of truth by making the audience witnesses to the aging of
two Hollywood actors. Hepburns severe tremors, while not written into her character, are as
important an element as Ethels cheerful, peacemaking nature, while Norman, Henry Fonda
was to die of heart disease only one year later. We can see Katharine Hepburn shake, not Ethel;
we cringe as Henry Fonda clutches his heart, not because we are fearful that Norman Thayer
might pass away but because we know he has reached his twilight. The film ends without
death, but we know that reality will have a different outcome. The film clearly indicates that
death is a huge part of growing older. We have to accept the idea that aging is a process and it
requires patience and understanding from both the individual and his or her family and friends.