How does the song "Cant Help Lovin that Man" help depict the story?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the central issues in "Show Boat" is the duality of racial identity.  Ferber's notion of the "glory" of the Show Boat set against the "mystery and terror" of the Mississippi River reflect this.  There is both a grandeur in the life of the Show Boat that coexists with the pain and suffering of those who must live in a silent way within it.  Specifically, this strikes at the heart of the African- American predicament.  "Can't Help Lovin Dat Man" is a part of this.  The song is sung by Julie, a biracial woman who is trying to "pass" herself as White.  Yet, the song is known to predominantly the African- American community, something that is immediately recognized by Queenie.  In this, one sees how the issue of race can trap and corner people of color, specifically African- Americans.  Julie struggles with this element in that she sings a song that is representative of one group of people while she wishes to be with another group.  The song helps to explore this element of the story because it highlights how there is the issue of race and racial identity that causes challenges on the dualistic level of being for the characters in the narrative.  The sadness of the song in terms of expressing how there is an almost inevitable sense of pain in what it means to be a person of color, specifically African- American, is reflected in the song's lyrics.  This is another example of how the song illuminates the theme of racial identity that is present in the narrative of "Show Boat".


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