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Oleanna was one of four regions of 19th Century Pennsylvania settled by Norwegians hoping to farm the land, which turned out to be ill-suited for that purpose, while establishing a utopian society where all would live in harmony. Inspired by the region of Oleanna’s founder, Ole Bull, a violinist, whose mother, Ana, provided the second part of the town name when combined with Ole’s name (Ole-Anna, Oleanna), an unidentified Norwegian songwriter penned lyrics satirizing Ole Bull’s vision of a planned farming community, which floundered due to the unsuitable geographical features of the land in question. The lyrics were later translated into English and recorded in a song by Pete Seeger, which reads as follows:
Oh to be in Oleanna,
That's where I'd like to be
Than to be in Norway
And bear the chains of slavery.
Little roasted piggies
Rush around the city streets
Inquiring so politely
If a slice of ham you'd like to eat.
Beer as sweet as Muncheners
Springs from the ground and flows away
The cows all like to milk themselves
And the hens lay eggs ten times a day.
Mamet probably chose the title “Oleanna” because one of the play’s two characters, the college professor John, similarly sees his vision of a utopian existence in the form of a pending real estate purchase disintegrate under the weight of his accuser, Carol’s, allegation of sexual misconduct. That Mamet was inspired by the history of Ole Bull’s vision for Oleanna and by Seeger’s version of the song was evident in the playwright’s use of lyrics from the song at the end of an early draft of the play.
This play is named after a nineteenth century community created in Pennsylvania called Oleana after its founders named Ole Bull and Anna (when put together it is Oleanna). Ole Bull wanted to make his mark on the US so he bought 11,000 acres of land in Potter County as a settlement for Norwegian immigrants. This land, however, was unsuitable for farming so the community failed and shortly after its founding in the 1850s, it had been vacated. This story was also a folk song by Pete Seeger in which it dipicts Oleanna as a utopian escape with no worries. This relates to the play because Ole Bull wanted to create a kind of Utopia where the Norwegian community would have a safe haven from external pressures and in this play, John is so close to his ideal world but the small detail of Carol leads to his downfall.
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