Gender in Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess"
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George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess” depicts 1930s African-American life in the slums of South Carolina through the romance between the crippled beggar Porgy and the licentious “bad” woman Bess. Bess’ depravity causes much conflict throughout the opera, and she is often perceived negatively as being weak and adhering to gender stereotypes. I, however, viewed Bess as an unfortunate victim of the era in which she lived, a character struggling to balance juxtaposing gender roles. Consequently, this project focuses on the realization of gender portrayals through music, specifically as they pertain to Bess and how she promotes and conversely denies these prescribed roles. My research considers the social expectations for 1930s women, African American culture, as well as analyses in music history and theory in order to demonstrate the use of music as a tool in further understanding gender roles and life for 1930s American women.