In the beginning of the movie, Barnums crush Charity is learning the social norms of being ladylike and polite. She is learning the norms of drinking tea politely, which is a rule on how to behave properly in society. When Barnum makes her laugh which causes her to spit out her tea, the disapproval of this action or sanction can be seen when Charitys father scolds her for this behavior and sends her away to a school. The two go there separate ways and in adulthood meet again, and Barnum wants to marry Charity.
Barnum goes to Charitys parents to ask for her hand in marriage but her father disproves because Barnum is a poor man and does not have much to his name. Charitys dad is material culture, meaning he favors physical objects and holds them to a higher value than morals. They have two daughters and Barnum works to support his family but struggles to keep a job, which gives him an idea (Giddens, 2018).
Barnum has an idea to showcase odd individuals, which are looked down upon in this society because they do not look normal according to standards. These individuals have very little social standing and are low in social stratification, which is the arrangement where a hierarchy is formed. Barnums show is successful shockingly, the show is seen as deviance of social norms by celebrating people who are shunned for being different. The show (which is later changed to be called a circus) brings in a substantial amount of wealth, but also brings in a group of protesters who are against the circus.
These protesters discriminate against the troupe by calling them names and spitting on them. This emotional abuse however does not affect the group however, have developed a strong bond in there differences and their shared love for putting on the show. This strong bond that the characters have is because of their relationship in an in-group, where they identify as a whole and respect each other. Barnums second hand man, Phillip Carlyle, pulls some strings and gets the troupe invited to England to meet Queen Victoria and perform. When the troupe meets the queen, she makes a comment that General Tom is very short, and Tom remarks that she is not very tall either. This comment seems to be forbidden to talk about, because the crowd is silent due to this taboo comment (Giddens, 2018).
Barnum meets a opera singer during this meeting and invites her to be apart of the show, and agrees. The show is very different from the rest of Barnums show, it is classy and fits the social norms of being elegant, which meets the values of the critique that has been giving him bad reviews in the newspaper. The critique writes a good review for the show in the paper, but the show is not a happy experience for everyone in attendance. Carlyle wants his parents to meet his new lover Anne, who is a black talented trapeze artist, but his parents diprove because of her race. Carlyles parents are racist, meaning that they think that they are superior to Anne because of the color of her skin, and make a comment saying that she is the help. Anne runs away very upset, and Carlyle catches up to her. Anne says that he does not understand how she feels because he does not live through it and has always gotten what he wanted. Carlyle was born into a rich family, so he has had an ascribed status since birth and has been able to get almost anything he wants.
Barnum goes on tour with Jenny, the opera singer, and leaves Carlyle in charge of the circus until her returns. Carlyle now has to fill the role of supporting the troupe, being the lead in the shows, and defending off the protesters. During the tour, a side of Jenny come to the surface that has never been seen by the public. Jenny begins to flirt with Barnum, which was unknown and a backstage feeling that the audience was unaware of. Barnum tells Jenny that the feelings are not mutual, so she makes a fool of him and kisses him to cause a scandal. Back at the circus, a group of protesters stay past their welcome and Carlyle asks them to leave. The protesters break out into a fight and in the blindness of their rage and groupthink, one of the protesters start a fire. The fire is catastrophic and burns down the circus to ash. This leaves Barnum with no show, money, and a family, because of the scandal with Jenny his wife and kids have left.
Barnum sits on the ashed steps of his once successful circus, and the critique of his shows sits right next to him. The critique says that although he did not enjoy the show, he appreciated how the show changed society’s standards and celebrated humanity. His use of ethnocentrism and reflection on society however, as he shows Barnum the paper is plastered with his newest scandal. Barnum goes to the bar where the entire group confronts him and he says that there is nothing left. One of the members speak up and say that they felt like their personalities were valued and that they were desirable to be around. This gives Barnum enough courage to get his family back and start the circus once again thanks to the help of Carlyle, who saved his money in case something bad was to happen. Barnum then assigns Carlyle the role as the ringleader and lives him in charge of the circus so he can be a good father to his children and be apart of their lives (Giddens, 2018).