Nellie and the Boys
Situating Gender in South Pacific
After discussing postwar feminism and concepts of gender, this chapter focuses on Hammerstein’s alteration of gender representations from Michener’s novel. The exploration of Nellie, whose characterization signals a change in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s female characters, reveals a musical connection between her and de Becque that contradicts most readings of her character, which suggest that she defers to him and gives up her identity to become his dependent. Close study of the score demonstrates otherwise, and this chapter provides a reading of Nellie that equates her emotional status with de Becque’s. Drawing on recent work in the field of men’s studies, the subsequent examination of de Becque and Cable, reveals that Hammerstein altered their masculinity, feminizing Cable and turning de Becque into an American warrior by sending him on a suicidal mission and having him return in full military regalia. After this establishment of his masculine credentials, de Becque joins Nellie in the musical’s iconic final image, which suggests the postwar nuclear family. This chapter also considers Joshua Logan’s representation of the male body in this and other works for the stage.
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