The Great Escape (1963)

Brief Intro

“The Great Escape” is a 1963 classic war film directed by John Sturges, based on a true story of Allied prisoners of war who escaped from a German camp during World War II. The film stars Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Richard Attenborough, among others. With its gripping narrative and iconic performances, the movie has become a timeless piece of cinema history.

Literary Devices Used in The Great Escape

1. Irony

Movie SceneDevice Example
The prisoners plan their escape under the nose of the strict German commandant.Situational Irony
The Germans build a new camp to prevent escapes, yet the new camp becomes the site of the largest escape attempt.Dramatic Irony

2. Foreshadowing

Movie SceneDevice Example
Hilts’ repeated attempts to escape and get caught.Foreshadows his ultimate successful escape
The meticulous digging of the tunnels shown early in the film.Foreshadows the eventual mass escape attempt

3. Symbolism

Movie SceneDevice Example
The motorcycle that Hilts rides.Symbolizes freedom and rebellion
The tunnels named “Tom,” “Dick,” and “Harry.”Represent hope and the prisoners’ determination

4. Allegory

Movie SceneDevice Example
The entire escape plan can be seen as a metaphor for resistance against oppression.The struggle for freedom against tyranny
The different nationalities working together to escape.Allegory for Allied cooperation during WWII

5. Suspense

Movie SceneDevice Example
The final escape sequence where prisoners are caught or killed.Edge-of-the-seat tension
The moment when the tunnel is discovered.Builds immense suspense

6. Flashback

Movie SceneDevice Example
Scenes of prisoners recounting previous escape attempts.Provides background and depth to their determination
Hilts reminiscing about his life before capture.Adds emotional depth to his character

7. Metaphor

Movie SceneDevice Example
The camp itself as a microcosm of war.Represents the larger conflict of WWII
The tunnels as a path to freedom and hope.Symbolizes the journey towards liberation

8. Irony

Movie SceneDevice Example
The commandant’s strict rules ultimately lead to the largest escape attempt.Situational Irony
The failure of the Germans to realize the prisoners’ extensive planning.Dramatic Irony

9. Imagery

Movie SceneDevice Example
The detailed scenes of the tunnel digging.Vivid descriptions and visuals
The stark contrast between the prisoners’ lives and their dreams of freedom.Evocative imagery

10. Allusion

Movie SceneDevice Example
The escape methods referencing historical events.Allusion to real WWII escape tactics
Characters’ backstories alluding to famous war heroes.Adds depth and realism

Character Analysis Through Literary Devices

Character Studies

Hilts “The Cooler King”

SymbolismHilts’ motorcycle symbolizes his yearning for freedom and rebellious spirit.
ForeshadowingHis repeated escape attempts hint at his eventual success.

Bartlett “Big X”

MetaphorBartlett represents leadership and determination.
AllegoryHis character allegorizes the unyielding fight for liberty.

Hendley “The Scrounger”

IronyHis ability to procure items in a tightly controlled environment.
SymbolismRepresents resourcefulness and adaptability.

Character Dynamics

IronyThe prisoners’ camaraderie in the face of oppression highlights the irony of war.
AllegoryTheir collective effort symbolizes the unity and cooperation of the Allies.

Thematic Analysis

Freedom and Confinement

SymbolismThe tunnels symbolize the path to freedom.
IronyThe strict control of the camp leading to the escape attempt.

Hope and Despair

ImageryThe contrast between the harsh camp life and the dream of freedom.
SuspenseThe fluctuating fortunes of the prisoners build hope and despair.

Resistance and Rebellion

AllegoryThe escape plan as a metaphor for resistance against tyranny.
MetaphorThe prisoners’ struggles symbolize the broader conflict of WWII.

Cinematic Techniques That Enhance Literary Devices

Literary DeviceTechniqueExplanation
SuspenseClose-up shotsIntensifies the tension in escape scenes.
SymbolismColor paletteUses muted tones to reflect the bleakness of confinement.
ForeshadowingMusic cuesSubtle music hints at upcoming events.
ImageryVisual detailDetailed shots of the tunnels and camp life.
IronyJuxtapositionContrasts the prisoners’ resourcefulness with the Germans’ obliviousness.

Key Scene Analysis

Scene: Hilts’ Motorcycle Escape YouTube: Hilts’ Motorcycle Escape
Scene Breakdown: This scene uses close-up shots and rapid cuts to build suspense as Hilts attempts to leap over barbed wire. The motorcycle, a symbol of freedom, emphasizes his relentless spirit.

Scene: Discovery of the Tunnel YouTube: Tunnel Discovery
Scene Breakdown: The sudden discovery of the tunnel is portrayed with dramatic music and quick camera movements, heightening the tension and sense of despair.


Interactive Multiple Choice Quiz

  1. What symbolizes Hilts’ yearning for freedom?
    • a) The tunnels
    • b) The motorcycle
    • c) The camp
  2. Which device is used to hint at future events?
  3. The tunnels are a metaphor for:
    • a) The prisoners’ determination
    • b) The journey towards freedom
    • c) The camp’s strict control