A two-act musical play containing twelve scenes in each act, South Pacific is set during World War II on an unnamed Pacific island and the nearby island Bali Ha’i. The curtain opens on Emile de Becque’s plantation home, revealing Ngana, age about eleven, and Jerome, age about eight, his children of European and Asian descent. Emile de Becque is entertaining Nellie Forbush, an attractive Navy nurse much younger than he, at his home for the first time. The children have left the stage before Emile and Nellie enter. She will not learn of the children’s existence for a while and will not learn until later still that they belong to Emile. The lovers met at a dinner at the Officers’ Club and were instantly attracted to each other. Many years earlier, Emile fled France after killing the village bully. Nellie fled her small-town life in Little Rock, Arkansas, by joining the Navy. However, their differences in age and background furnish the central conflict in the play. Their age differences are exacerbated when Nellie finally learns that Emile lived for a long period with a “native” woman, now dead, and fathered two children by her.
The conflict between Nellie and Emile is mirrored by a subplot featuring Marine Lieutenant Joseph Cable, a well-to-do native of Philadelphia and Princeton graduate, and Liat, a Tonkinese girl of perhaps seventeen. Liat’s mother is Bloody Mary, a coarse crone, who earns a nice living selling grass skirts, boar’s teeth, and spurious shrunken heads (oranges painted with shoe polish) to American servicemen. Bloody Mary encourages the young couple...
(The entire section is 653 words.)