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Show Boat: Encouraging Tolerance Rhetorical Essay

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Updated: Dec 9th, 2019


Show Boat refers to the 1927 musical with basically two acts. There is music with Jerome Kern, book as well as lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein.1 Indeed, Oscar Hammerstein’s satirical applications within the musical play Show Boat remains a historical landmark in the entertainment industry. It equally depicts and promotes the aspects of tolerance. Drawn from Edna Ferber’s legend novel with a similar name, this musical piece follows the lives of performers as well as stagehands.

Moreover, it also follows the lives of the dock workers of the Cotton Blossom. Cotton Blossom refers to the Mississippi River show boat that existed for approximately a period of five decades. This was roughly from 1880 to 1927. A critical analysis of the musical play reveals very important prevailing themes such as racial discrimination as well as tragic, enduring love.

It is generally evident that the arrival of this musical play stirred the American musical community and has since remained remarkably recognized for its theatrical and satirical meanings with respect to tolerance.

Even presently, there still remains a great interest in the analysis of this Oscar’s great master piece and its general relation to the normal life situation. This essay thus discusses how Oscar Hammerstein idealized and encouraged tolerance through the application of satire theatrically with his musical play, Show Boat.

The Oscar Hammerstein’s Musical Play Show Boat

From the analysis of the major themes of the musical play, it can be noted that Oscar Hammerstein satirically conveyed critical information regarding racial discrimination and tragic enduring love.2 Throughout the musical play, one realizes that Oscar tries to convey a message of survivorship and toil throughout one’s life. This, despite the racial prejudice issues amongst the population, is working aboard the Show Boat.

Indeed, the arrival of this musical play shed more light and became a watershed moment for most artistes within the same industry. Relative to other seemingly trivial and impracticable artistic works and presentations at that time, the Show Boat remained a drastic departure within musical story-telling, combining spectacle with seriousness. Perhaps, its satirical presentation provided the chance for analysts to note its uniqueness from other previously existing musical plays during that moment.

The full integration of song, humor as well production numbers to a solitary and inextricable artistic piece provided a hidden message of tolerance and motivation to the normal man. Particularly to the dock workers, this musical play provided a source of inspiration and encouragement making them strives to accomplish their tasks despite the hardships they were undergoing. Some notable discrimination included those based on racial prejudice.

The ability of the musical play to motivate persons heartbroken and enhance their tolerance in daily life situations was also critical. Ideally, there is an observation that Hammerstein crafted this musical piece following a long time of observation and experience with the Show Boat. The quality of this musical play remained clear and outstanding even to the eyes of the potential critics. This vibrantly communicated the un ending message of striving to success and tolerance to success for the larlgey deprived and undermined within the society.

The quality of the musical play vibrantly relayed a strong message of inspiration to the listeners. Unlike most musical plays, Show Boat seemed sentimental as well as tragic. Through this, the musical play managed to manipulate and touch people’s hearts with a sense of passion for tolerance even amidst hard times or moments.

Its most unique feature as the first real American musical play was the ability to satirically convey messages against racial prejudice. This is a striking characteristic of the musical play that reached several hearts, particularly those who were racially discriminated during those periods. The general message here was to tolerate one another despite people’s differences.

There is perhaps a lot to learn from the analysis of the plot synopsis of the musical play itself. It is seen that this story starts 47 years earlier, starting aboard a show boat, Cotton Blossom as it purposes to arrive as the river dock of the Mississippi.3 The period indicated here itself depicts a long time that can only be achieved by tolerant and patient people. It is clear how the boat is set to take a long period with people aboard.

Indeed, through presented satirically, it is notable that the 47 years on board requires a potentially tolerable person. Oscar Hammerstein’s selection of the Show Boat and the Mississippi river satirically represents the hard working environment that the dockers usually underwent during their voyages. It represents the tough environment that must be overtaken and empowered by all the workers aboard.

The musical notes themselves provide a sentimental and soothing feeling to the listeners or audience. They become encouraged by the prevailing mood and are gradually overtaken by a sensation and desire of attaining success even in hard times. Basically, this imparted tolerance and a sense of survivorship.

The introduction of the play to the highly excited crowd is a clear indication of the love that the earlier audience had for the musical play. In the beginning of the musical play, the fight between the characters and the disagreements that seize by the end illustrates a sense of acceptance as well as tolerance amongst the different groups by all the partakers. Although it doesn’t emerge automatically, one keenly notices a sense of tolerance as well as the ability to reconcile amongst the key characters of the play.

Apparently, another element of tolerance is demonstrated by the varied racial composition of the actors who frequently engage in fierce exchange and at times even fight over their differences.4 This is despite the fact that they are a singular community with an aim to achieve a definite goal t hat in the end is attained. The background songs remain critical in the inspiration of the audiences as w ell as characters during different hard situations as they interact with their mates.

The musical play then begins, presenting a love tight and socially sensitive demonstration of a community unified by only one goal. Characters love and get loved with others heartbroken but still are adamant to create a difference within the boat society and ensure they become more appreciated and valued by others.5

This aspect presents a literal message to the audience to try fitting into the society’s mainstream even in times of neglect and lost love. The presentation of the fight between the actors and branding of each with names based on shear discrimination such as “mulatto” satirically depicts the normal society and the intrigues involved in the daily lives.

The segregation of a female actor, Julie at based on her race the beginning of the play during the fight represents the pain that one was likely to face during this time in America. However, the playwright comically presents another character, Steve, who has to swallow Julie’s blood.

This act is a satirical move that shows tolerance of different groups since Steve comically admits that he is also a mulatto since he took at least “one drop of black blood” in him. The events that follow this comic presentation depict a critical theme upon a comprehensive analysis. To begin with, it is important to note the mood that prevails within the entire troupe just when Steve acknowledges the presence of black blood in him.

It is observable that the whole troupe remains sympathetic and echoes his sentiments. This is a satirical presentation of tolerance with one another despite their inadequacies or circumstances. Every action purely drives home a pure presentation of critical message of tolerance and motivation to the audience. Seemingly, it is notable that there exist few literary sources elucidating the manner in which the audience received and articulated the satirical messages presented within the musical play.

It is also observable that as the play continues, the formerly rather outrageous sheriff is forced to drop his arrest interests on Julie and Steve. This act presents a sense of tolerance with “deviants” as would be termed in that society then.

The sheriff’s ability to sympathize with Steve’s situation along with other troupe members compromises his ability to enforce law by arresting the two..the tolerance and acceptance of Steve to Julie is further demonstrated when he agrees to leave the town with Julie. Perhaps, this is with the realization that their further stay within the town or with the troupe is bound to cause more harm.6

The consequent hiring of Gaylord Ravenal who unfortunately loses his ticket worth in gambling demonstrates a great deal of empathy as well as tolerance. Andy, upon firing Pete, seems amused and sympathizes with Gaylord Ravenal and therefore offers him a job as the new leading man for the troupe. It is amazing how the demonstration of tolerance remains depicted in this noble action from Andy.

That despite Gaylord Ravenal’s weird gambling behavior; he is still accommodated and given a new job in the troupe as the leading man. As if this is not enough, this follows after Steve and Julie are exempted of arrest by the sheriff. The following events enable Gaylord Ravenal and Magnolia to fall deeply in love as they finally tolerate one another and propose for marriage.

Parthy’s objections towards this union can no longer work as the two seriously fall in love and proceed to marriage in Parthy’s absence. It is notable that Parthy became tolerable with their situation and could never do anything to stop the marriage. It is stated that she could not do anything despite her disapproval of Gaylord Ravenal.

The musical play continues to demonstrate various instances of tolerance as the time passes over the years even in Gaylord Ravenal and Magnolia’s marriage. Magnolia is depicted as a persistent wife of Gaylord Ravenal. This is despite the fact that Gaylord Ravenal suffers financial crisis and is no longer capable of maintaining their daughter Kim as well as the wife.

Obviously, one critically notices the tolerant nature of Magnolia through her persistence in the marriage. It is obvious that Oscar Hammerstein throughout the musical play and within critical incidences satirically brings out the theme of tolerance with each other. This is evidently indicated in every conflict and union within the play.

Magnolia herself is given a singing job in a New York club by her very friends so she can help herself financially after the husband shamefully abandons her and the daughter. In this move, the ability to accept one another and tolerate one’s situation is evidently illustrated again in the musical play. It is in this club where when Magnolia does her audition with the childhood song “Can’t Help Lovin Dat Man” that Julie’s memories are aroused.7

Julie, upon leaning the presence of Magnolia in the club and her situation, tactfully resigns from her position so that her childhood friend Magnolia can acquire the new position or job. It is however shocking that Magnolia though never realizes the sacrificial action and tolerance done to her by her childhood friend Julie. This obviously demonstrates a great sense of sacrifice as well as tolerance with one another.


Every character is able to sympathize with their friends and old acquaintances in difficult moments (Magee, 311). Later on during a new year’s eve, Andy rallies the crowd to Julie’s defense when she is overwhelmed by emotions and cannot effectively perform on stage. It is evident that such sacrifices make Magnolia a great musical star for two decades. Andy’s sacrificial nature and initiative for the reunion of broken marriages depicts a real sense of tolerance and devotion to the welfare of friends.8

Magnolia accepts Ravenal back despite his misdeed and individual guilt of disowning her with the child. Generally, the musical play ends in a joyous mood with unity and peace. Everyone is happy and sings to the same song and tune as they return to the show boat. Conclusively, Oscar Hammerstein’s musical play remains one of the most socially educative and sensitive ancient American plays, with a great satirical encouragement of tolerance to the audience.


Bradley, Edwin. The first Hollywood musicals: a critical filmography of 171 features, 1927 through 1932. New York: McFarland & Co., 2004.

Magee, Jeffrey. Irving Berlin’s American musical theater. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Stempel, Larry. Showtime: a history of the Broadway musical theater. New York Norton, 2010.

Wolf, Stacy. Changed for good: a feminist history of the Broadway musical. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.


1 Jeffrey Magee, Irving Berlin’s American musical theater (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 11.

2 Stacy Wolf, Changed for good: a feminist history of the Broadway musical, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 12.

3 Larry Stempel, Showtime: a history of the Broadway musical theater (New York: Norton, 2010), 56.

4 Jeffrey Magee, Irving Berlin’s American musical theater (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 111.

5 Edwin Bradley, The first Hollywood musicals: a critical filmography of 171 features, 1927 through 1932 (New York: McFarland & Co., 2004), 56.

6 Edwin Bradley, The first Hollywood musicals: a critical filmography of 171 features, 1927 through 1932 (New York: McFarland & Co., 2004), 303.

7 Larry Stempel, Showtime: a history of the Broadway musical theater (New York: Norton, 2010), 314.

8 Edwin Bradley, The first Hollywood musicals: a critical filmography of 171 features, 1927 through 1932 (New York: McFarland & Co., 2004), 307.

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