Underneath the romance, comedy and exoticism, South Pacific is a story that questioned core American values, exploring issues of race and power at a time when these topics were intensely relevant-the original opened just four years post WWII, on the heels of Roosevelt's aggressive expansionist response to domestic instabilities. Much has been written about the depiction of war and racial prejudice in South Pacific. However, examining such topics in the context of their cultural and political moment (both in 1949 and 2008) and through the lens of Terry Eagleton's unique take on morality, is not only a fascinating study, but an intensely relevant and unchartered endeavor. This work concerns the evolution of an American code of ethics as it has been reflected and constructed in both Broadway productions of Roger and Hammerstein's South Pacific (c.1949, 2008). Specifically, it examines the depiction of WWII, America's imperialistic foreign policy, and the function of American patriotism in light of Terry Eagleton's theories surrounding an evolving code of ethics in 20th/21st century America. By so doing, this thesis uncovers answers to the following questions: What were the cultural and political forces at work at the time South Pacific was created (both in 1949 and 2008), and how did these forces influence the contrasting depictions of war, imperialism and patriotism in each version of the musical? In what ways were these productions reflective of a code of ethics that evolved from what Eagleton would classify as moral realism (prescriptive of behavior) to moral nihilism (reflective of behavior)? How did the use of this increasingly reflexive moral code make this politically controversial musical more palatable, and therefore commercially viable during the contrasting political climates of WWII and the recent war on Iraq? Determining answers to questions such as these enables us as a society to look back on our history-on our mistakes and triumphs-and recognize our tendency to find pragmatic justification for our actions rather than acknowledging the possibility of the existence of objective truth, which remains unchanged through time and circumstance.
College and Department
Fine Arts and Communications; Theatre and Media Arts
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Butler, Jayna D., ""You've Got to Be Carefully Taught": Reflections on War, Imperialism and Patriotism in America's South Pacific" (2013). Theses and Dissertations. 3812.
South Pacific, war, American expansionism, imperialism, prejudice, American patriotism, ethical, moral nihilism, moral realism, relativism, evolution, code of ethics, pragmatic justification, objective truth, historiography, World War II, war on Iraq, musical theatre, Broadway, New York, Terry Eagleton, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, Joshua Logan, Bartlet Sher, Mary Martin, Ezio Pinza, Kelli O'Hara, Paul Szot