Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


David Tatham


postwar America; humanities; American dream; tourism; musicals; world war II

Subject Categories

American Studies | Arts and Humanities | Other Film and Media Studies | Philosophy | Theatre and Performance Studies


Oklahoma! and South Pacific were Rodgers and Hammerstein's most successful and popular musicals of the 1940's. This study demonstrates their function as modern morality plays for their audiences. Specifically, the two musicals provided Americans with a prescription for a postwar Paradise. This was a Paradise based upon the American Dream of rebirth and renewal acted out in a landscape of second chances. The components of this Paradise are examined in topical essays that consider such issues as Americanism, consumerism, tourism, racism, and optimism. Each of these elements links what would otherwise appear to be disparate narratives: the American West at the turn of the century and the South Seas during World War II. The most significant connection between the two musicals and the basis for a postwar Paradise is the geopolitics of an expanding American frontier, paralleling the nation's evolution from a national to a global power in the years during and after World War II. Sources such as Western films and recordings of the singing cowboys, popular images of the Pacific Islands, travel literature and advertisements, anthropological and sociological tracts on race and ethnicity, the theology of Reinhold Niebuhr, and foreign policy publications are used to demonstrate Oklahoma!'s and South Pacific's connections to contemporary discourses and to provide historical and cultural contexts for understanding the musicals. Finally, Chapter 7 explores the relationship between the emergent postwar youth culture (the "Children of Paradise") and the issues raised by the musicals.


Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Humanities in the Graduate School of Syracuse University, December 1996.

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