Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Michelle Decker

Reader 2

Warren Liu

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Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2017 Lina M. Purtscher


It is now well-known that The King and I has little claim to truth. Recent research has exposed the inaccuracy of the “biographical” works on which the musical is based: Anna Leonowens invented many things about her personal background and experiences. Much of her life, then, is a contrived fantasy. Yet her life of fantasy has been resurrected in countless adaptations, including the 1951 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical and its 2015 revival production, that ceaselessly draw audiences. The fascination of American audiences with Anna’s tale lies their belief in the timeless American ideals that her fantasy employs: those of freedom and equality, which undergird such myths as American exceptionalism and American multiculturalism. The appeal of this cultural fantasy is illuminated by examining the history of the Cold War era in which The King and I was created, as well as the politics of President Trump that define recent years and influence the creation and reception of the revival show (and its 2016-2018 national tour). America today is occupied by the same conflicting desires for integration/internationalism and isolationism of bygone times; today, the idea of a superior America is still upheld by a fear of the Other. Examining how the visual elements, songs, and performances of the original and revival musicals both reinforce and undermine the fantasy of cultural superiority will reveal how Americans continue to fall under the spell of fantasy, and how a connection to the past sheds light on what it means to be an American today.