Dear Carousel, the Oppression of Women Is Not An Amusement Park Ride
by Taylor Fournier
written for the final assignment in her American Musical Theatre course.
Carousel was the second musical written by the popular team of the Golden Age, Rodgers and Hammerstein. The plot of the play is based on the 1909 play Liliom by Ferenc Molnar. Both Rodgers and Hammerstein agreed that Carousel was their favorite project that they had ever worked on together. The musical was constantly modified during out-of-town tryouts, but when it opened on Broadway on April 19, 1945, it was an instant hit with both critics and audiences. Carousel initially ran for 890 performances and duplicated its success in the West End in 1950. In 1956, it was turned into a film starring Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones.
Rodgers and Hammerstein are one of the most well-known music composing teams of this century. Rodgers wrote all of the music for the songs, while Hammerstein wrote the lyrics. They wrote many incredible hits that continue to receive great reviews. Examples of these shows are The King and I, The Sound of Music, South Pacific, and Oklahoma!, just to name a few. With all of their shows, the team won thirty-four Tony Awards, fifteen Academy Awards, the Pulitzer Prize, and two Grammy Awards. Before their partnership, Rodgers and Hammerstein achieved success independently. Rodgers had collaborated for more than two decades with Lorenz Hart. Among their many Broadway hits were the shows A Connecticut Yankee (1927), Babes in Arms (1937), The Boys from Syracuse (1938), Pal Joey (1940), and By Jupiter (1942), as well as many successful film projects. Hammerstein, a co-writer of the popular Rudolf Friml 1924 operetta Rose-Marie, and Sigmund Romberg operettas The Desert Song (1926) and The New Moon (1928), began a successful collaboration with composer Jerome Kern on Sunny (1925), which was a hit. Their 1927 musical Show Boat is considered to be one of the masterpieces of the American musical theatre. Other Hammerstein/Kern collaborations include Sweet Adeline (1929) and Very Warm for May (1939). By the early 1940s, Hart had sunk deeper into alcoholism and emotional turmoil, and he became unreliable, prompting Rodgers to approach Hammerstein to ask if he would consider working with him, and that’s where it all began with these two. (“Rodgers & Hammerstein.” 2015).
The story begins in Maine 1873 as two young female millworkers visit the town’s carousel after work. One of them, Julie Jordan, meets Billy Bigelow, a handsome carousel worker who doesn’t have the best of reputations. But she falls in love with him anyways, and they get married. After they get married, Billy starts to become frustrated that he cannot find a job. He starts to become abusive in the relationship, but Julie still stays with him. Carrie Pipperidge, Julie’s best friend, is in love with a boy named Enoch Snow, who she is going to marry. Then, Billy meets his friend Jigger, and he talks about the good life of living on a boat, which makes Billy question leaving Julie. When he returns to her, she tells him that she is pregnant. Once Billy realizes this, Jigger suggests he rob the man who owns the mile, in order to make money for his baby. He tries to rob him, but gets caught and will be set to jail, so instead he kills himself. This entire musical is a memory, because Billy is really talking to the angels. After fifteen years, the angel’s allow Billy to go back and see his daughter graduate high school, and also see Julie, who is also sensing that Billy is right there with her, even though she cannot see him. All throughout the show, there are scenes featuring Billy and the Starkeeper, or the man Billy is sent to when he dies. In these scenes, the Starkeeper takes Billy through these memories, and he reflect on them (Carousel, 1945). Although this is a brief summary of the plot, there is much more to the story.
The plot of this story is incredibly interesting, because it could be argued about who the true antagonist is- Billy or Julie. Regardless of this, the facts remain the same- the audience roots for these two lover to stay together. The audience is able to sympathize with them both. But, throughout this plot, there is evidence that the couple’s abusive relationship is romanticized, further enforcing the view of oppression of women in society.
One example of this can be found in this conversation between Julie and her friends: Continue reading “Dear Carousel, the Oppression of Women Is Not An Amusement Park Ride”