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Building Middlebrow America’s Cold War Empathy: The Teahouse of the August Moon

  • Journal of Modern English Drama
  • Abbr : JMBARD
  • 2015, 28(1), pp.231-254
  • Publisher : 한국현대영미드라마학회
  • Research Area : Humanities > English Language and Literature > English Literature > Contemporary English Drama

Seunghyun Hwang 1

1The Ohio State Univ.

Accredited

ABSTRACT

Vern Sneider’s novel The Teahouse of the August Moon (1951) was adapted by John Patrick into a Broadway hit play in 1953 and Hollywood film in 1956. The storyline takes a humorous look at the American military reconstruction of the island of Okinawa after World War II. The Broadway version ran for a respectable 1,027 performances and won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best American Play of the Year (1954), the Pulitzer Prize in Drama (1954), and the Tony Award for Best Play (1954); the film was nominated for six Golden Globe awards (1957). Both the novel and the play of The Teahouse of the August Moon are examples of the American Cold War travel literature that supported the governmental policy of building allies in East Asia and shared the narrative of empathy toward people of Asian origin. The positive attitude change also paved the way for an identity shift for Asians in America from visitor to citizen. The aim of this article is to argue that the Broadway production of The Teahouse of the August Moon evidenced the empathetic influence on the middlebrow culture toward Asians in America during the first post-World War II decade. Specifically, the play matches to the U.S. governmental policies through three major topics: the discursive field of middlebrow culture, the justification of American action in Asia, and the route to the birth of the Asian American. My argument is based on three supporting ideas. First, the major audience was the middlebrow segment of society. The phenomenon of accessible “high” culture led to the emergence of American middlebrow culture which was definably different from highbrow and lowbrow culture. Second, the play supported a justification of the U.S. involvement in Asia through the image of parental care to children to the audience living in the 1950s family-oriented U.S. society. Third, the Broadway play, based on the novel, created an empathetic space for the audience to experience and understand Asian countries and people, educating the middlebrow to accept the people of those geographic origins. The Teahouse of the August Moon evidenced the transitional identity shift of Asian Americans during the 1950s.

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