Catch Me if You Can Literary Analysis  Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Catch Me if You Can

Literary Analysis: Catch Me if You Can


Catch Me If You Can is a 1980 book written by Frank Abagnale as well as a 2002 film directed by Steven Spielberg which depicts the story of Frank Abagnale, a notorious con artist who cashed $2.5 million worth of bad checks and assumed various jobs and identities until being caught by the FBI. Both the book and the movie detail many different instances within Abagnale's life including his time as a doctor, lawyer, and Pan Am pilot as well as the ease and comfort with which Abangnale slipped into each respective role. In viewing the history, culture and overall tone of the book and its following movie adaptation, as well as viewing relevant reader response factors, one can better understand why Abagnale's story has successfully made its way into the realm of American notoriety and interest.


Abagnale's story begins both in the book and movie version during his adolescence in the early 1960s. Frank and his parents had been living happily in New York until financial difficulties led the family to relocate from their large home to a smaller apartment which was completely unfamiliar to young Frank. With this relocation comes strong distaste within the family, and the family unit slowly begins to disintegrate. Soon, Frank's parents' divorce and Frank leaves home, relying on scams to get by upon his running through his funds.

Frank's scams grew far more elaborate with the success of each passing attempt, and by the time Abagnale was twenty-one years old, he had donned a pilot's uniform to copilot a Pan Am jet, masqueraded as the supervising resident of a hospital, practiced law without a license, passed himself off as a college sociology professor, and cashed millions of dollars' worth of forged checks across the country (Leigh, 1). Abagnale's outrageous scams were coolly and consistently carried out for years due to his bravado and people skills. In addition to posing as a lawyer, Abagnale secured an affluent position in a state attorney general's office, showing his affinity for lavish living and reluctance to fly under the radar.

In the span of five years, Abagnale scammed his way across the United States, cashing fraudulent checks in every U.S. state and utilized his skills in twenty-six foreign countries with the FBI on his tail (Reed, 1). "A man's alter ego," Abangale noted in his writing, "is nothing me than his favorite image of himself" (Abagnale, 1). And certainly, Abagnale had many favorite images. Frank Abagnale had the capacity to adjust his scams to the times and places in which he existed, and somehow did so consistently for years at least two steps ahead of the FBI who made it its mission to stop Abagnale once and for all.


The culture portrayed in the book and the movie is one reminiscent with 1960s America where the prospects of status was added to by the ability to achieve new adventure, especially in the area of new experiences and technology. In an era of innovation and constraint, individuals such as Frank Abagnale are seemingly torn between the concrete ability to pull off a scam and the constraints that exist within an individual's mind and soul. For instance, when Frank is eventually captured by American FBI agents in France, he is able to handle his situation in a manner that many individuals facing such a reality could never do. Even after serving jail time, Frank Abagnale had the ability to emerge as a more learned man rather than a repenting one, all because of his ability to adjust to the times and adhere to the culture of any environment to which he was presented.

As such, Catch Me If You Can focuses less on the culture of the time at hand but more upon the specific cultures of the groups to which Frank adheres. For instance, in the movie version, Frank is at one point dropped off by his mother at school, and instead of attending class, pretends to be the substitute teacher by manipulating his classmates. Yelling the correct pronunciation of his name again and again at the students and threatening them with detention, Frank even manages to scam the real substitute upon her arrival saying, "I always sub-for Roberta," and going unnoticed by school administrators for an entire week (Spielberg). In the context of Frank Abagnale's life, cultural significant exists in one's ability to slip seamlessly in and out of varying situations and thus the culture that goes with them, which was perhaps the most exemplary key to Abagnale's run as a con artist.


The tone of both the movie and the book varies from humorous and lighthearted to intense and accusatory. The film, perhaps spends too much time focusing on the humor and essentially carefree nature with which Frank leads his life despite the severity of his actions, which causes portions of the movie including Frank's appearance back home and his eventual arrest to severely alter the tone of the movie. However, many would argue that this abrupt shift in tone adds to the severity of the situation and can essentially place the viewer in Frank's shoes, being caught off-guard in the middle of what seems to be the perfect life with endless possibilities.

Additionally, the book and movie differ significantly in tone when it comes to the ending of each. For example, the book provides a hopeful tone at the end with Frank running from the FBI. In this cliffhanger, the tone is again switched from bleak to hopeful and mischievous. Despite Abagnale's acts against the United States and against the friendship and trust of many different individuals, the book's tone is one of relief for Frank at the end of the movie, as the reader often hopes that he was able to get away.

In the movie, the sense of dread and discomfort surrounding the ending is essentially much darker and more palpable, perhaps due to the brilliant performance of Leonardo DiCaprio. While the book portrays a tone of hope and adventure, Frank in the movie is forced to give up in the end, consumed with his own demons, when he is sentenced to twelve years in prison. Despite the ending which alludes to Frank's eventual happiness and comfort in his life, the movie presents a far darker tone than the book, which could be largely due to its playing out on screen before the viewer's eyes rather than in one's own mind which may be hazy regarding details.

Reader Response

While reader response is essentially on the reader and the experience that he or she gains from a literary work, attention must be paid to the author in this instance as the author is the character in the book with which the audience must relate. However, as reader response theory recognizes the reader as an active agent who imparts real existence to the work and completes its meaning through interpretation, in the context of this novel and movie, the situation may appear too far-fetched in the minds of readers to impart significant personal thought into the text.

As readers subjectively interpret texts, there needs to be some joining thread in the experiences that readers have in reading text or viewing a subject in order to categorize these mediums. As such, readers are often linked in their responses by a common cultural or historical setting that is shaped by dominant discourse or beliefs as depicted in the work itself (McManus, 1). As such, readers or viewers have something tangible in their own minds to grasp onto in interpreting the meaning of the subject in their own subjective manner.

Under this belief, no matter what a reader believes to be the major take-away from the story or movie, and no…

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