Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Guys and Dolls: How the missionary is redeemed by the gambler

It's high school musical season again. Have you ever seen Guys and Dolls? I like the unusual plot line: it's one of the few dramas in which a Christian is redeemed by someone she's trying to save.

When we first meet Sgt. Sarah Brown of the Save-A-Soul Mission, she is followed by a noisy band. Remember how St Paul says that, when we speak without love, we sound like a resounding gong or clanging cymbal? That's a fitting description of Sgt. Sarah Brown. I have to wonder if her annoying band is supposed to be a nod to St Paul's gong-and-cymbal comments. Her speeches are well-meant but completely loveless. There's not a lot of mercy in them. She's shocked and disappointed that nobody listens.

Sky Masterson's interest in Sarah Brown is in order to win a bet: he has to get Sarah Brown to agree to go to Havana, with its decadent night life. In her desperation to appear successful to her religious leader, she agrees to go to Havana with him in return for his promise to bring people to the mission where her supervisor can see.* In Cuba, Sky's skillful scheming seems to pay off. He even gets her drunk without her realizing what she's drinking. In a surprise twist, Sarah Brown begins throwing herself at Sky, and having fun for the first time in her life -- but he can't bring himself to take advantage of her. After they get back to the states, Sky even claims to have lost the bet that he could get her to go to Cuba in the first place.

When Sarah finds out that Sky has lied -- and put out word that he has failed -- to save her reputation, she has something close to a religious experience herself. She now knows what it's like to need mercy, and to be shown mercy. For the first time, she has some sympathy with people who have not lived blameless lives. She even finds herself talking to one Miss Adelaide -- a stripper -- as just another human being like her, a feat that would have been impossible in her former days as a cold and arrogant person who assumed her own superiority.

So from Sarah Brown's point of view, Guys and Dolls is the story of how a "sinner" saves a "saint".

* When they get to Cuba, the Sky-and-Sarah story has all the makings of a Faust story. She's sold her soul to gain the appearance of religious success in the eyes of her supervisor. The surprise in this story is that the devil repents. "Sky Masterson" -- symbolic name much?

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