A prison (n.) – a place where persons are confined, or restrained personal liberties. People generally associate incarceration and confinement with defiance and corruption. However, in the Birdman of Alcatraz, the prison was used more of a symbol of home and security from the evils of the outside world. Robert Stroud was still even able to grow and live a long life within the cells, by finding a passion for living, finding a wife to marry him, and also maturing into a sensible citizen of the U.S.
Although there are many scenes at the beginning of the movie
that show the dreary life of a prison mate, there are many signs that
suggest that prison is the better life to have. When Stroud takes care of
the first sparrow, he rescues the poor animal from the harsh storm. When
the bird became fully healthy, Stroud set him lose from the walls that kept
him from being a free animal. Although the sparrow, Runty was gone for
quite some time, he came back to the home he knew best. Stroud joked, “Come
back for a little prison security?” In reality, this is the place where the
sparrow was taken care of most and spent the majority of his life. Out of
respect, it’s almost like he came back to die at his “home”. He was able to
pay his last tribute to his “family” and caretaker.
In another scene, Stroud meets with his mother to talk about the great improvements he’s getting in Leavenworth. His mother talks about her distrust for his new wife and she asks him to get rid of her. She finally reveals that she wants to be the only woman in his life, and she expected him to stay in the penitentiary his entire life. Again, it is this reoccurring theme that drives that plot and allows for Stroud to show the growth of a man within a prison.
In one of the last scenes of the movie, Stroud’s wife, Stella Johnson comes to visit Stroud at Alcatraz Island. She confesses that he’s the last bit of reason she has to live. He makes the comparison of himself to Runty, calling himself a “lifer”. By this time in the movie, he has realized that there’s no escaping the prison and he’s going to be there for life. He uses the metaphor of Runty, because he knows that he’s going to eventually die in prison, and Stella should not waste her time waiting
for something that won’t ever happen. She reluctantly agrees to move on, however their love for each other doesn’t die after she leaves.
All in all, this movie is entirely based within prisons, whether it be Leavenworth, Alcatraz, or any other penitentiary. It’s no wonder one of the reoccurring themes ties the main character to always return to the cells. Even though Stroud is sentenced to life in prison, he still manages to thrive by studying birds, finding a wife, and gain the trust of major authority.