Maybe I shouldn’t post this, but it’s just so important to me. I’ve literally written a literary analysis of a musical and I feel excessive…
Carousel is probably one of my favorite, if not my most favorite, musicals of all time.
The music is compelling and I tear up at just the sound of it.
I think the other reason I love it so much is because the tragedy of the story and the dark themes it demonstrates make it so difficult for me to love it.
As you can tell, I like a challenge.
The most prominent theme that would be widely recognized in today’s society is domestic violence. The script and some of the music give more than one reason to believe that the libretto and authors of the musical are condoning Billy’s violence toward Julie.
As someone who despises wife beaters and abusive partners, I am undoubtedly torn about my love for this musical which is so powerful in its music that the hopeful themes overcome the dark ones.
While I agree that Billy’s aggression is unacceptable and What seems to be Julie’s acceptance of her husband’s violence toward her is heart-breaking, I still find redeeming qualities in this musical.
Julie’s forgiveness of Billy is almost saintly. Her love for him can be seen as one that means to heal as opposed to accepting that she will be hit for inexcusable reasons. Julie is the only one who understands Billy’s aggression - there is some reason why he was unable to ever convey his love for Julie, and so his violence is an incorrect way of venting his frustration and stubbornness. While I don’t agree that she should stay with him, her forgiveness of him is a much more admirable trait than holding a grudge is. What’s important for the audience to understand is that this is Julie’s story and for her, as Kelli O’Hara stated, is “her reality.” The musical isn’t necessarily telling you what she’s doing is right, but in her world and in her time, this is what she believed in. Maybe if Julie lived during in this century, she’d think differently - but that’s not the point. If anything would make her happy, it may not be to see her husband locked up and punished for his crimes against her, but to see him realize that what he did was wrong and what he really wanted so badly was to tell her he loved her, but never knew how.
With regards to Billy, there is obviously something wrong with him that would allow him to be stubborn about his love for his wife until his own suicide. Even when the star-keeper asks him why he hit Julie and if he was sorry for it, Billy, much to the audiences dismay, states that he isn’t sorry for it. This is reminiscent of any film screen bad boy who can’t abandon his image for sympathy. Later on, when he makes himself visible to Louise and hits her when she refuses to take his gift, the modern day audience was probably pissed off even more (especially when Louise stated that the hard slap felt more like a kiss than a painful hit). This moment, I believe, is a metaphor for all the times that Billy could never admit his love for Julie outright. In his attempt to show love, he acts out violently. Billy realizes in the end when he reprises their song “If I loved you”, that he was wrong in how he treated Julie. He tries to communicate to her, through this song, that she’ll never know how he loved her because he could never do it right and he has to live with that for the rest of eternity. In a way, this is his punishment: living with the fact that he never properly told Julie how much he loved her before he died and never getting to live with her again the way he should have.
In a very unconventional way, Rodgers and Hammerstein show us the extreme difficulties with domestic violence: the ability to forgive the unforgivable and the painful remorse of the abuser.
As mentioned earlier, I do not condone domestic violence and through this analysis am in no way trying to justify it, neither am I agreeing with Julie’s belief that she stay with her husband just because she’s the only one who understands him.
But just because this musical is dark in its tragedy, doesn’t mean it can’t be reproduced and revived. People are scared that they’re sending the wrong message by putting on this musical. Art and theatre aren’t always presented to be agreed with, but to make you challenge your own beliefs. A good story leaves you with questions and brings up important topics like these to discuss amongst colleagues or maybe in the quiet of your own mind.
The messages conveyed through music such as “you’ll never walk alone” and “if I loved you” stand the test of time: even in your darkest hours you will never be alone and love will forever be one of the most indescribable concepts to put into words - no matter how deeply infatuated you are with anyone.