Rogers And Hammerstein

’s South Pacific Essay, Research Paper

Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific

In Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, the main theme is racial

prejudices. The two main characters, Emile de Becque and Nellie Forbush are

faced with these problems as they attempt a relationship. Two other minor

characters, Lt. Joe Cable and Liat, are faced with the same dilemma. Both

Nellie and Joe Cable have a hard time copping with their own racial prejudices;

Joe loves Liat, yet cannot marry her because she is Tonkinese ; Nellie loves

Emile, but cannot marry him because of his former Polynesian wife. It is these

prejudices that set the state for what might be the most significant scene in

the production. In act 2, scene 3, Nellie reveals her prejudices to Emile.

I can’t help it. It isn’t as if I could give

you a good reason. There is no reason. This

is emotional. It’s something that is born in me.

She looks to Cable for help in describing what she feels, but he offers no help.

Emile tells her that it is not born in her, that it cannot be born in her.

Nellie, who is crying, runs off. Emile is left with Joe, who is thinking over

his own relationship with Liat. Emile asks him why he and Nellie think that

these prejudices are born in them. Joe, giving him the product of his thoughts,

tell him “It’s not born in you.”

It is at this point that Joe Cable begins singing “Carefully Taught,” a

character song in which Joe is able to vent his frustrations and anger about his

own prejudices. The music is slightly upbeat, which helps to illustrate that by

singing this song, he is beginning to feel better. The words that Joe sing tell

the audience that he realizes that prejudices aren’t born within someone, but

taught to them.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid

Of people who’s eyes are oddly made,

And people who’s skin is a different shade ?

You’ve got to be carefully taught!

?To HATE all the people your relatives hate ?

You’ve got to be carefully taught! (II,iii)

Joe realizes that there would be no prejudices in the world if it nobody

were to teach it to the children. He sees that if nobody had even spoken

against other races or people that were different, he would have no problem with

marrying Liat. He realizes that he actually does not feel these things at all

and the ideas that have been planted in his head can be as easily uprooted as

they were planted. Joe, feeling better, sits down and listens to Emile begin to


Emile tells Joe that it was prejudice that he had been running away from

and it was prejudice that had found him again. He finishes “Carefully Taught”.

He sings of being cheated in the past and being cheated out of love again. He

sings that it is the fault of “a MEAN little world of MEAN little men (II,iii).”

He sings that he will hold on to this island “and be free ? and alone(II,iii).”

It is this part of the song that offers a perfect segue into Emile’s next song,

“This Nearly Was Mine.”

Joe alludes to the fact that he will probably marry Liat after all by

saying that all he cares about is on the island and so he plans to stay there.

Emile agrees with him that if all you care about is right there on that spot,

then it is a good place to be, but if what you care about is gone, there is no

place to be. It is at this point that he adds his voice to the music that has

been going on under the dialogue, singing “This Nearly Was Mine”, a love song

that shows how much Nellie’s refusing marriage has affected him.

The song he sings is about things lost and giving up hope of ever being

happy again. He sings of having one love, one girl, one dream, and each of

those things would be in his paradise, which he nearly had. He poetically sings

of how Nellie flew into his heart, only to fly away. He remembers things like

kisses, and time spent with her, but realizes that these things will be no more.

The song is very sad and the music magnifies that emotion of sadness to a higher


After Emile has finished singing, Joe sees the opportunity to take

advantage of the situation. He asks Emile if he would reconsider going on the

spy mission with him, now that he has nothing to risk losing. Emile agrees and

they set off to tell Captain Brackett that they will be doing the mission after


Act 2, scene 3, is a very important scene in South Pacific because it

tackles the problem of social prejudices as well as puts Emile into danger by

sending him off on a mission to spy on the Japanese. The scene puts forth a

social message as well as furthering the plot. It is because of Emile’s

acceptance of the mission that helps Nellie realize that her prejudices are

stupid and that she’s giving away everything that is important to her because of

someone else’s preconceived notions of people. By examining some of the social

problems of the time (and even now), Act 2, scene 3, proves to be one of the

most significant of the production.


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