Themes In Showboat

The following academic paper highlights the up-to-date issues and questions of Themes In Showboat. This sample provides just some ideas on how this topic can be analyzed and discussed.

Musical theater has been around for many years, with the first musical produced, which is similar to that of modern day musicals was ‘The black Crook’ in September 12 1866. Before showboat the theatre was reserved for white people, using make up to make black characters noticeable. Showboat revolutionized the face of musicals by being the first racially integrated play, but some argue whether the play should be looked upon like this.

As it was not always fully racially integrated in all aspects. Nevertheless, the idea was still very controversial at the time, as I will discuss later.

Showboat took a new look upon the way theatre was and for some it was seen as the first as the first American musical play. The musical was based upon Edna Ferber’s book; she often dealt with characters that were discriminated against for reasons such as ethnicity.

Hammerstein wrote the lyrics for showboat, which were often poignant and controversial. Oscar Hammerstein is highly regarded in the history of American musical theatre with the utmost respect. The lyrics he produced such as that from ‘South Pacific’ could be looked at to understand the views of Hammerstein.

His use of language concerning racism is exceptionally strong, and for the most part very correct. ‘ You’ve got to be taught’, ‘It’s got to be drummed’, ‘To hate all the people your relatives hate’.

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He takes this idea that no one is a born racist. You must often be brought up to be one, as suggested in this piece, which takes careful teaching and hatred. America during the 1920’s was in a terrible state concerning racism, it was worse in the south with extremist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan being created. Who openly hated black people and Catholics.

Musicals About Racism

This resulted in lynching of black people for no reason and segregation to the point that black people were not even aloud in the same restaurant or bus as a white person. Showboat was not shown in the south during this time, this was most likely a result of such amounts of racism in the south that it would not be accepted. Possibly even making the overall situation worse. This racism in general was the reason why Showboat was such a huge step forward in American culture. The characters in the play were still at times stereotypical with black characters being presented to you as maids and stevedores.

However, the major difference was for the first time black characters where given individuality, emotions and meaning. Using songs such as ‘Ol’Man River’ sung by Joe one of the stevedores. This song sympathized with the character and his situation. It symbolizes how the black characters were often of less importance than the leading white characters. The blues influence to the songs makes them more emotional and touching. Joe is one of the characters that is shown to have much love, especially for Julie. Joe shows great respect for ‘miss Julie’ as he refers to her as.

Julie is the star of the show but having a mixed background causes her to have “nigger blood” as Vallon the racist sheriff refers to it. It would therefore be illegal for her to marry anyone who does not have “nigger blood” in them. At this time in American, it was a criminal offence causing the charged to be arrested. In the first scene Andy introduces her as “the little sweetheart of the south – Miss Julia LaVerne” showing how she is made into this figure to be looking up to and admired greatly. ” Y’all know her, and y’all love her” Andy says. It is rather ironic how they love Julie, as they all ‘know’ her.

However, in reality they know very little of her background and real identity which may not be as openly accepted as the character she prefers to be instead. She is what is known as ‘passing’. This is when someone passes for something they are not. In Julie’s case a white woman, but in reality, she is mixed race with many of her influences coming from the black community such as the songs she sings. Another example of the racism towards characters and use of language, which is said in an everyday manner, is Pete. ‘ That’s a hell of a thing to do – giving my present to a nigger’.

It shows no respect towards black people. Julie is idolized, for example Magnolia who looks up to her seeking advice. Julie often refers to her as ‘child,… ‘ they have a mother daughter relationship but also like two sisters at the same time. Again little evidence is shown of Magnolia ever being told the truth about Julie’s upbringing. Julie is obviously very afraid of being found out for passing, which shows the harsh realities of the racism. She is afraid of the consequences and would loose everything on the showboat, it would not even be allowed for her to act on stage as someone of mixed race.

Which is another strong issue that showboat brings up. The fear of being caught is shown when Julie sings a song ‘Can’t help loving that man of mine’ and queenie recognizes the song. The subtext says ‘ a swift terror steals across her face’ this gives an impression of Julie’s initial reaction. She is very cautious about being found out but it states the expression quickly vanishes. I believe at no point is Julie ever ashamed of the life she has lived. Or of any of her black heritage, she fears the system that is scandalizedd with racism.

Everything comes to an emotional climax when Pete alerts the sheriff about the case between Julie and Steve. Showboat uses this seen to create a very strong message of how love can overcome boundaries. Steve cuts Julies hand with a knife and sucks the blood, this way Steve could honestly say, he has ‘nigger blood’ in him. Vallon the sheriff is obviously grossly racist referring to the miscegenation case as a ‘negro woman married to a white man’. This is where Steve says ‘ You wouldn’t call a man a white man that’s got negro blood in him, would you? There is a mixed reaction by the characters with Windy openly swearing that Steve is telling the truth.

While Parthy is not even allowed to speak as, Andy does not trust her to back up Steve and Julie. Magnolia desperately wants to see Julie but Parthy says ‘ you come back here this instant! No daughter of mine’s goin’ to talk to that – that’. Parthy appears to be like many during this time racist with no remorse. Her words are held back, but she seems to look down upon Julie even more now she found out her past. While others such as Andy are much more open-minded and sympathize with the situation.

Also giving Steve money as a good gesture despite all that has happened. In conclusion, showboat raised many serious issues but most of all the racial hatred that was amongst people. It gave all characters despite their skin colour a distinct unique personality and highlighted the great faults, which lay in society. By playing with the emotions of the audience led you to feel great sorrow for Julie’s situation. In addition, the fact she is of mixed race seems completely irrelevant, as no one should be treated in such a manner.

It made it very clear how so many people in the play (but in reality many people in real life) used racist undertones in everyday conversation without thinking twice about it. Showboat used varying themes to draw us into the whole situation such as belonging; Julie’s burning desire to be her real self but knowing she would not belong. And identity as she often felt inclined to cover up her roots so she would not be found it. Also, ignorance is a theme that remains throughout. An example of this is Pete who feels it is the right thing to do to alert the sheriff of the situation having no grasp of the consequences on the relationships.

Because of the way society was it seemed something that had to be done, but fortunately, Captain Andy held hope and had a good nature, someone who saw the true He also saw Julie as person not a case or lawbreaker. Showboat revolutionized musical theatre and by taking such a serious theme and implementing, it into a musical environment made it all the more emotional opening the door for black actors. Also changing theatre, resulting with more serious issues being confronted in musical theatre such as Blood Brother and South pacific. Showboat was a milestone in the history of musical theatre.

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Themes In Showboat. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

Themes In Showboat
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