Manusya, Journal of Humanities

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In his article on the relationships among literature, culture, and the history of a people, "Literature and the Historian," R. Gordon Kelly discusses the legitimacy and validity of using literary texts as historical evidence. He states that a literary text can serve as indicator of several social parameters of a culture and of a people who produce and selectively preserve it. Because literary works are cultural products, they should, therefore, be understood in the context of the cultures for which they are intended. Literary works as a class of cultural artifacts must be understood historically (as opposed to critically) in the context of the groups which produced them and responded to them. (Kelly in American Quarterly, Vol. 26:2, 149) Within the above paradigm, The King and I can then be classified as an American cultural artifact. It is evidently an Americanized story written for an American public. The response from its audiences over time confirms its social significance in American society. In its first production, this musical ran for 1,246 shows (03/29/50-03/20/54, St James Theatre). In comparison, Guys and Dolls, which received the Critics Circle Award for the best play of the season, opened earlier in the same season (11/24/50-11/25/53, 46th St. Theatre), and lasted for 1,200 performances. Both musicals were revived for the 1976-1977 season. Guys and Dolls ran for only 239 shows (07/21/76-02/13/77, Broadway Theatre) and was declared a flop. The revival of The King and I, on the other hand, ran for 719 shows (05/02/77-12/30/78, Uris Playhouse) and was declared a hit (Rosenberg and Harburg; 1993: 324). In 1985 it was revived again and ran for 191 shows (01/07/85-06/30/85, Broadway). Of the nine musicals in the 1985 season, it was the only revival declared a hit. Evidently The King and I contains something that was extraordinarily appealing to American audiences over time. This paper attempts to trace the four "cultural propensities" which ensure the popularity of The King and I (1951) and its 'progenitors' in American society. It will also discuss the role of the entertainment industry in the propagation of the Anna myth and legend.

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