When I was in high school and college, history was one of my favourite subjects. My college history teacher said I had a gift for the subject and could even major in it. I declined, as I, no pun intended, saw no future in history.
This was back in the days, before “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” History and archeology weren’t considered cool. I was worried that, if I did get a degree in History, I’d have trouble finding a job and building a career.
Other than being a history teacher or working in a museum, what else was there for me? I did learn one important thing that could apply to my future. A rule both my father and my history teacher spoke of, repeatedly.
If I were to become a history teacher, I would post those words my blackboard and they would embody my teachings. How else could I reach the students of today? For many of them, historical events, such as the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Civil War and the Suffragettes, are meaningless words. Yet, those words ring true and I would make sure all of them knew it.
Recent events have demonstrated t how valid historical lessons remain. These days, there are all kinds of objections to women’s rights. Courts have ruled that employers can deny coverage for birth control and can even fire women who buy it.
These events brought to mind another era, brought to life through, of all things, a stage musical called “Carousel.” I’m a big fan of the theatre, but that particular show was never a favourite of mine. Yet, I remembered seeing the movie version a while back and the ending stood out in my mind. Thus, I made a point of seeing it again.
Here are a few plot points from “Carousel.” Julie and Carrie, two young women, work at the local mill for far less than minimum wage, as it doesn’t exist; nor do unions, the eight-hour workday or the forty-hour workweek. One night after work, they meet Billy, a barker; he ran the carousel, at a local carnival, but the woman that owns it gets jealous that he’s showing interest in Julie and firms him. Carrie eventually departs, warning Julie that staying out late might cost her job.
When their boss, at the mill, happens by later, with a police officer, he offers to escort Julie home. She refuses and he fires here. Julie and Billy end up married.
Billy is also physically abuse to Julie. When Julie learns she’s pregnant, Billy decides to help an old friend with a robbery. He wants to have enough money to provide for his new family. Billy dies during the robbery and goes up to Heaven, but the good in his life isn’t enough to tip the scales in his favour; he must return to Earth to try to redeem himself.
He visits his wife and daughter, now a teenager. Billy finds his daughter ostracized by her peers because her father was a thief and a wife-beater. He tries to help her, making himself visible for a brief time, but ends up losing his temper and slaps her hand. Later she tells her mother the slap felt like a kiss and her mother understands. Finally, at her high school graduation, Billy is able to whisper a few words to his daughter that actually help her and thus he shows worthy of Heaven.
Meanwhile, the newly engaged Carrie discovers her fiancé he wants a big family and she has no say in the matter.
The story is set at the turn of the century, in Maine, and, yet, I think of some of the aspects of the show that ring true, today. Would that the voters and students of today could remember how the musical and its depiction of life did not take place that long ago. Granted, the story was sugar coated, with music and songs, but the only way to prevent such things in the future is to remember the past.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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