Analyze "Can't Help Lovin' That Man" from Show Boat for how it helps in contributing to telling the story through lyrics and musical elements.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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"Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" is sung by Julia, who is married to Steve, as a warning to Magnolia that love, once begun, isn't easy to stop. Magnolia has announced she is in love with Gaylord Ravenal who is a gambler.

It's written in the key of E Flat Major, with three flats, B, E and A flat. The time signature is 4/4, with a quarter note equating to one beat. The composition of the music contributes to the story by providing the slow, rhythmic melancholy of a woman's hopeless love for her husband, even if he has "riverboat ways" and is unreliable. Though many lines of the song poetry, from which the song is composed, end with the measure, "[rest] I love my Mister [dotted quarter]," some have enjambment at line ends. This means that some measure-end notes carry over to the next measure elongating the rhythm and adding to the melancholy. For example, "and I can't ..." bridges the eighth note on "can't" to the first half beat of the next measure, elongating the rhythm and emphasizing the negation, thus contributing to the melancholy of the story.

The lyrics float on the melancholy sound and speak of inevitability, even in the face of hopelessness, that is given concrete reality through a nature metaphor that essentially proclaims, illogically proclaims, that whatever is true for the natural world must also be true for the human world.

Fish got to swim, birds got to fly,
I got to love one man till I die.
Can't help lovin' dat man of mine.

Tell me he's lazy, tell me he's slow,
Tell me I'm crazy, (maybe I know).
Can't help lovin' dat man of mine.

This song establishes character motivation. It also foreshadows the upcoming dashed hopes and impending tragedies for Julia, Magnolia, and Gaylord. It also foreshadows the brief moment of heroism when Steve valiantly embraces Julia's mixed race heritage.


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