Volume VII, Number 2, Fall 2011

"The Carnivalesque Image of America in the Different Versions of Chicago" by Zsófia Anna Tóth

Zsófia Anna Tóth received her PhD in British and American literature and culture, and is currently a research fellow at the University of Szeged. Her general research interests are film studies, cultural studies, gender studies, literary theory, as well as American literature and cinema. Her main research field is concerned with the representation of female aggression and violence in American literature and film. Her other two main fields of interest include Jane Austen and the emergence of the New Woman. Her first book entitled Merry Murderers: The Farcical (Re)Figuration of the Femme Fatale in Maurine Dallas Watkins’ Chicago (1927) and its Various Adaptations (2011) was published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Email:

In this paper, my aim is to examine how and why Chicago, in its various versions, from the real murder cases in the early twentieth century to the last film musical in 2002, produces and presents a carnivalesque image of the United States. When using the term carnivalesque I refer to Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the carnival, carnivalization and carnivalesque that he introduced to describe and interpret a socio-cultural mechanism and custom that is subversive, disruptive while also regenerative and constructive. The carnival time was/is a very unique period of revelry and merrymaking which functioned/s as a safety valve that allows for venting all the tension that the customary world order generates. It involves the duality of the death-life cycle and as a result it is most characteristically a comic-grotesque phenomenon. (Bakhtin 1-58) I will argue that in its various versions (1924 newspaper articles, 1927 drama, 1927 silent film, 1942 film noir/screwball comedy, 1975 stage musical or musical vaudeville, 2002 film musical), the story of Chicago creates a comic-grotesque image of the USA, which is most explicitly realized through the actions and performances of its carnivalesque femmes fatales and through their specific imagery. I call the femmes fatales of Chicago carnivalesque femmes fatales because they embody everything that Bakhtin’s theory of the carnival involves. In the 1976 version, while thanking the(ir) audience for their support and applause, the two leading female characters (the comic-grotesque-carnivalesque while deadly and criminal women murderers of the story) concretely allude to their connection to the ideals, concepts and images of America stating that “we are the living examples of what a wonderful country this is. (They hug and pose.) […] So we’d just like to say thank you and God Bless you” (Ebb, Fosse 91).

Maurine Dallas Watkins, the author of the 1924 series of articles and the 1927 drama when writing her original articles covering the real-life murder cases on which Chicago is based, already set the tone and mode of communication with her witty and humorous coverage of the events (i.e.: the murders, their media coverage and the ensuing trials), for example, by making comments such as giving the following title to one of her articles: “State Launches Trial of Belva For Law Killing” (Watkins 1997, 151), which is a word play since the name of the deceased man was Law while what she is doing is actually the “killing of the law,” as well. In her 1927 play, Watkins reworked the original stories along with her reflections on them and elaborated on her view that all that happened resembled a carnival world, although she did not employ this specific term, she expressed this in discursive, narrative and descriptive modes. Thus, the spirit of the marketplace (Bakhtin 9) as well as its carnivalesque cavalcade (un unbridled and uncontrollable tumult of nonsense and merrymaking) got evoked and the succeeding (re)interpretations and versions of the story adhered to this approach. Since all the versions could not be analyzed in detail within the scope of this paper, I will mostly concentrate on the two latest versions, the 1976 stage and the 2002 film musicals (which are the most closely related among all of the versions). After the introductory part, first, I will discuss Bakhtin’s concept of the carnival and the carnivalesque in the chapter entitled “The Carnival and Carnivalesque Spaces,” then, I will examine how this gets manifested within the leading female figures of Chicago (1976, 2002) and how the carnival world is presented within the story in the chapter on “The Carnival World of the Story and the Characters.” Then, I will continue with the discussion of a specific figure and phenomenon of the carnival, the scapegoat, and present through this figure how and why the American ideals and values get ridiculed within the story of Chicago, and eventually how a carnivalesque image of the US is created, in the last chapter: “Scapegoating and Non-Americans,” which is followed by a conclusion.

Chicago, in all of its versions (1924 series of newspaper articles, 1927 drama, 1927 silent film, 1942 film noir/screwball comedy, 1975 stage musical or musical vaudeville, 2002 film musical), presents the United States through the subversive power of humor and carnivalesque cavalcade with the help of these specific comic-grotesque femmes fatales and the way they hold a distorting mirror up to America. The social criticism in Chicago has been apparent since its emergence in a dramatic form in 1927 (and even before that, with the real life murder cases and the trials). Its latest 2002 version retains this socio-critical edge of the original, and can indeed be read as presenting a modern(-day) Carnival. Hence, the self-ironic upside-down world of Chicago serves a unique function in the formation and (re)interpretation of the image of the United States of America.

While Maurine Dallas Watkins obviously criticizes her country, its judicial system and the functioning of the media highlighting the negative aspects, the corruption and manipulation involved therein. She does this via humor and creates a carnival world when retelling the story in order to interpret how and why everything terrible that happened during these cases and the trials were possible. Since rationalism and logic do not explain the horrors of the story, Watkins’ rendering can only be a subversive, out of the ordinary, upside-down and turnabout mode of communication and interpretation of the events and the figures of the story. Her criticism targets both community and social order that facilitate all the senseless, unjust and unrealistic happenings. Watkins suggests that America is a world of carnival where anybody can pursue their happiness and anybody can succeed even if these are people who would be out of bounds in a conventional world order. Although, it is also true that, according to Bakhtin’s theory, carnivals facilitate criticism and debate while reinstating order and preserve existing norms and values at the same time (Bakhtin 5, 13-17, 22, 34). Additionally, Chicago is an excellent example that proves that Bakhtin’s theory is still valid in our time and is applicable to current events, not only to ancient or medieval ones since people behave and social-political systems function almost the same way as they did during the Middle Ages.

1. The Carnival and Carnivalesque Spaces

To see more clearly what the carnivalesque femmes fatales of Chicago stand for and how they project a carnivalesque image of America, Bakhtin’s concept of the carnival/carnivalesque is paramount to be discussed. Before citing the particulars of his ideas a summing up of his theory follows as a theoretical introduction:    

In Rabelais and His World (trans., 1984), Bakhtin proposed his widely cited concept of the carnivalesque in certain literary works. This literary mode parallels the flouting of authority and inversion of social hierarchies that, in many cultures, are permitted in a season of carnival. It does so by introducing a mingling of voices from diverse social levels that are free to mock and subvert authority, to flout social norms by ribaldry, and to exhibit various ways of profaning what is ordinarily regarded as sacrosanct. Bakhtin traces the occurrence of the carnivalesque in ancient, medieval, and Renaissance writers (especially in Rabelais); he also asserts that the mode recurs later, especially in the play of irreverent, parodic, and subversive voices in the novels of Dostoevsky, which are both dialogic and carnivalesque.  (Abrams 63)       

J. A. Cuddon adds that the carnivalesque is a typical characteristic element “of burlesque, parody and personal satire” and also states that the carnivalesque through its subversive mechanisms serves a liberating function while “it disrupts authority and introduces alternatives” (111). In the various versions of Chicago both of these interpretations apply. Chicago tells the story of a spectacular, modern and urban carnival while displaying most of the features of the carnivals of ancient times and the Middle Ages: since the story, the characters as well as the mode of communication are all irreverent, parodic and subversive. In addition, the play flouts social norms, profanes what is sacrosanct and subverts authority, order and the legal system. Chicago presents us with a world turned upside-down and inside-out; all the rules, laws, norms and the customary order are disrupted similarly to a carnival time.

The world of Chicago is also related to the cabaret and as Elisabeth Bronfen claims, “[i]n the cabaret” all distinctions and boundaries “become uncannily blurred” (“Seductive Departures” 2007, 131). In an earlier version of the same article, Bronfen concretely connects these spheres by saying that all this blurring of boundaries occur “[i]n the carnivalesque space of the cabaret” (“Seductive Departures” 2003, 21). Anna Kérchy also suggests that these spaces or spheres are interconnected when she says about Angela Carter’s novels that “the toyshop, the fairground, the circus, the masquerade or the theatre, can be regarded as spectacular, open spaces of a grotesque, carnivalesque topography […]” (48). Billy Flynn also links the circus tradition to the carnival and the cabaret in the two latest versions: “[i]t’s all a circus, Kid. A three-ring circus. These trials – the whole world – all show business. But kid, you are working with a star, the biggest!” (Ebb, Fosse 75; see also Marshall 1h 15 min). Although what is implied here is not entirely that “[a]ll the world’s a stage, [a]nd all the men and wom(a)en merely players […]” (Shakespeare 638) – but rather that the world is a circus and not even a simple but a three-ring one. Thus what is taking place in Chicago is, in fact, the production and realization of panem et circenses. Although, within the musicals (1976, 2002) the circus is mentioned concretely the circus, the carnival, the cabaret and the vaudeville can be considered a continuum as it is suggested above. All of the versions of Chicago can generally be categorized into genres that could be termed as “low or mass entertainment” (such as burlesque, screwball comedy, musical vaudeville and their sister genres). Chicago means to highlight that the American legal system and judicial process can be interpreted as public or mass entertainment, also suggesting thereby (that American culture involves this and as a result also projects) a carnivalesque image of America.

2. The Carnival World of the Story and the Characters

Bakhtin traces the origins of carnival-like festivities back to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance primarily (but later also to antiquity (6) and claims that they were closely connected to “folk humor” and “people’s laughter” (4). In Chicago, although we have an urban setting, the carnival is still the people’s entertainment, the laughter is people’s laughter. The story basically and primarily targets, as an implied audience as well as its theme, the lower classes: the women of Chicago – including Roxie (the protagonist) – who, coming from the working class and/or lower middle class, provide entertainment “for the people.” Although, it is also a carnivalesque feature of Chicago that people of different classes meet and interact on a familiar basis and they get mixed up (Bakhtin 10).

Another important aspect of the criticism that depicts America as carnivalesque is that such a criticism can be expressed since American society makes room for it and the American culture is open for such an argument, such a discourse can be articulated as the US allows for it. Since a significant aspect of the carnival is that it is consecrated by tradition and the state exactly to produce a safety valve effect and allow for criticism. This criticism, however, is possible only in this un-official, out-of-the ordinary time and place, which by not being serious, ordinary and  “real,”  lets things be said that cannot be said otherwise and lets events and actions occur that otherwise could not have happened or would not have been tolerated if they had happened. As Bakhtin suggests, the protocol as well as the rituals of the original carnivals were deeply rooted in laughter and they were “consecrated by tradition” (5). The carnivals meant a double life, a double world for people, which were actually legitimized by the existing system. (Bakhtin 5-6) 

They offered a completely different, nonofficial, extraeclesiastical and extrapolitical aspect of the world, of man, and of human relations; they built a second world and a second life outside officialdom, a world in which all medieval people participated more or less, in which they lived during a given time of the year. (Bakhtin 6)

The carnival time being a unique, special, suspended period, allowed for everything working with a specific and out-of-the-ordinary logic. It also has to be emphasized that people actively and willingly participated in this unique event. This is exactly what can also be experienced in Chicago. Within the story, whatever happens is the result of a unique carnivalesque situation, and this greatly facilitates the fact that the female murderers, the violent women can get away with what they have done. In Chicago,
similarly to the ancient and medieval carnivals, the people actively participate in the events and willingly live the aforementioned double life, which allows for the acquittal and success of the femmes fatales of the story. Since

[a]s opposed to the official feast, one might say that carnival celebrated temporary liberation from the prevailing truth and from the established order; it marked the suspension of all hierarchical rank, privileges, norms, and prohibitions. Carnival was the true feast of time, the feast of becoming, change, and renewal. It was hostile to all that was immortalized and completed. (Bakhtin 10)      

The merry relativity of truths and authorities was/is a typical aspect of the carnival. The world of the carnival did not convey or support an absolute truth or authority and nothing was immortalized or complete. The inverse logic of the carnival was highly characteristic (Bakhtin 10-11). It was “the peculiar logic of the ‘inside out’ (à l’envers), of the ‘turnabout,’ of a continual shifting from top to bottom, from front to rear, of numerous parodies and travesties, humiliations, profanantions, comic crownings and uncrownings” (Bakhtin 11). The world of Chicago is also inside out without the truth(s), authority(ies), values or justice of the “official world” by acquitting obviously guilty female murderers and turning them into celebrities (e.g.: Roxie and Velma) while executing innocent people (e.g.: Hunyak). Its peculiar inverse logic and the gay relativity of truths and authorities also postulate the world and the story of Chicago as that/those of a carnival where parodies, travesties, humiliations and profanations abound ending in the crowning of a fool in the figure of Roxie (the protagonist and anti-heroine of all versions): an ethically-morally-intellectually-challenged adulteress-murderess.

This is precisely manifested in the following example from the two latest versions (the scene is almost identical): in the closing scenes of the 1976 and the 2002 versions a performance of mass entertainment occurs, in which the carnivalesque femmes fatales articulate their identification with America. This scene resembles a meta-performance of the whole story as the Master of Ceremonies announces:

Ladies and gentlemen, the Vickers Theatre, Chicago’s first home of family entertainment, is proud to announce a first. The first time, anywhere, there has been an act of this nature. Not only one little lady, but two! You’ve read about them in the papers and now here they are – a double header! Chicago’s own killer dillers – those two scintillating sinners – Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly. (Ebb, Fosse 89)

Then, Roxie and Velma shout to the audience in a moment of carnivalesque self-identification with America, or at least, as products of a carnivalesque America:

VELMA. (To the audience): Thank you. Roxie and I would just like to take this opportunity to thank you. Not only for the way you treated us tonight, but for before this – for your faith and belief in our innocence. / ROXIE. It was your letters, telegrams, and words of encouragement that helped see us through our terrible ordeal. Believe us, we could not have done it without you. (As ORCHESTRA plays the Battle Hymn of the Republic.) VELMA. You know, a lot of people have lost faith in America. ROXIE. And for what America stands for. VELMA. But we are the living examples of what a wonderful country this is. (They hug and pose.) ROXIE. So we’d just like to say thank you and God Bless you. VELMA and ROXIE. God Bless you. Thank you and God Bless you. … God be with you. God walks with you always. God bless you. God bless you. (Ebb, Fosse 91)

The 1976 version closes with these ironic and self-reflexive words (probably due to the shocking and expressive message these final lines were omitted from the 2002 version, which is otherwise closely based on the 1976 one). The 2002 film closes with Velma and Roxie similarly thanking the people’s active participation in this carnival that immensely contributed to their freedom and success: “VELMA. Me and Roxie, we just would like to say thank you. / ROXIE. Thank you. Believe us, we could not have done it without you” (Marshall 1 h 40 min). These lines are very expressive and shocking because these immoral, criminal, dishonest, manipulative and murderous women are postulated as good people and are celebrated as innocent ones. In addition, they even state that they stand for America, and they “are the living examples of what a wonderful country this is” (Ebb, Fosse 91). They declare that although many people have lost faith in this country (probably due to disillusionment), the American values and ideals, THEY (Roxie and Velma as “good” examples) are here to prove the opposite. Supposedly, they are the ones that prove with their life examples that everything is fine and all right in this country. Experiencing the “double aspect of the world” (this dual logic of the carnival) while mixing the serious cults and myths with the comic and abusive ones as both being “equally ‘official’” was only possible as a result of the mechanism of the carnival (Bakhtin 6). The specificity of the carnival allowed for the parodying and ridiculing of the “serious world” in a legitimate way and thus granting these femme fatale figures freedom, success and even celebrity status.

Another aspect of the carnival imagery prevalent in Chicago is carnivalesque laughter. The carnival laughter is extremely complex since it is not an individual’s isolated reaction to a single event but it belongs to all the people. This laughter is also universal as it is directed at all of the participants while the people themselves produce it; the entire world is projected and seen through this special, carnivalesque lens. Yet, most of all, it is an ambivalent laughter because “it is gay, triumphant, and at the same time mocking, deriding” (Bakhtin 11-12). The people of Chicago are actively and willingly involved in the carnival happenings; they simultaneously laugh at and participate in the events. Within this story, the world is also presented and viewed through the specific, “distorted” lens. The laughter inside/outside/around Chicago is also ambivalent since in spite of the merriment and the triumph of the female murderers it this unique laughter still mocks and derides all that happens. Here lies the greatness of the image of carnivalesque America: it invites and involves everybody and while the laughter is merry it also derides and mocks hence producing an ambivalent laughter that can, or concretely does, reveal and communicate criticism.

3. Scapegoating and Non-Americans

In Chicago, laughter’s function to provide criticism is vital and while laughter causes derision due to its degrading and materializing function by emphasizing the down-to-earth, the material and bodily aspects, and also because “[l]aughter degrades and materializes” (Bakhtin 20-24), the death-life cyclical connection (closely-related to the duality of laughter that degrades and elevates at the same time) (Bakhtin 25) is also of high significance since the new life for Roxie and Velma actually rises out of the grave of Hunyak. Hunyak’s sacrifice plays a crucial role in that the female murderers of Chicago can gain a new life. The acquittal of Roxie and Velma is only partly the result of the comic aspect (and their (comic) masquerade) since another central factor in this process is Hunyak, the sacrificial lamb whose death as a scapegoat produces their new life and “purifies” them. The idea of the comic-grotesque, tragicomic scapegoat is also supported by what John Parkin suggests, based on Henri Bergson, that the scapegoat is actually a comic figure (3). Wylie Sypher also adds that comedy is essentially a victory over death and a mode of regeneration: “[c]omedy is essentially a Carrying Away of Death, a triumph over mortality by some absurd faith in rebirth, restoration, and salvation” in spite of the fact that the original rites of the carnival were drenched with sacrificial human blood, yet, the carnival served to unite “the incompatibilities of death and life” (220). In addition, Sypher claims that comedy uses the scapegoat to do away with the evil: “[i]n its boisterous moods comedy annihilates the power of evil in the person of the scapegoat” (245). Nonetheless, the popular corrective laughter (as defined by Bakhtin) is what is generally applied to the amendment of vices and pretense (Bakhtin 22) in Chicago with more or less (much rather less) success. Within this story, the “regenerating and laughing death” (ibid) is in full force.

Scapegoating is of central importance in the acquittal of the guilty women in Chicago. In order to let the femmes fatales walk free somebody has to put on and take away the blame and this is the scapegoat, i.e.: Hunyak. In the various versions there is a difference to what extent she does this, but in the latest ones she even gets executed (as the only one and as the only innocent one). In this story, the “non-ideal” or rather the non-American is the one who becomes the scapegoat; a person, who does not manifest the prescribed American identity. She stands for the poor, the minority, the immigrant. In the original drama there are two women who are the unlucky ones: “hunyak” (Moonshine Maggie) and an eyetalian woman (named Lucia) – eyetalian is a US slang term meaning Italian (Dalzell 347) – she is obviously an immigrant who is non-American and who is financially challenged. Thus, just to be able to prove that the judicial system functions well they are those who are sacrificed on the altar of the American Dream, they do not get help in being acquitted (Watkins 1927). The innocence of the executed person is doubly important because it heightens the injustice of the system.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, there was a fear of immigrants originating from the late nineteenth century. Americans were afraid as they presumed that because of the numerous immigrants there would be miscegenation and the nation would “degenerate” (Richardson 242). This scare generated by the eugenic enthusiasm was carried to such an extent that in 1882 the Congress acted to restrict immigration. Despite this, the number of immigrants was rising and most people arrived from Eastern and Southern Europe (“Austria-Hungary,” Italy, Poland etc.) and they were considered to be inferior to the northern Europeans (Richardson 246). The so-called “new immigration” from Southern and Eastern Europe reached the United States after the Civil War, which meant about 27 million people (Italians, Poles, Hungarians, Czech, Slovaks, Russians, Jews) and they constituted a great threat to the American Creed with their strange new ways of dressing, behavior, languages, religions etc. (Schlesinger 10). Later, during the twenties, there were again several “immigration restriction laws” introduced which were based on “national origin” (Annus 134), for example, the Immigration Act of 1924 which was destined to freeze the ethnic composition of the United States and to put a stop to the influx of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe (Schlesinger 13-14). So, in the original drama of 1927, the Eyetalian woman named Lucia and Moonshine Maggie called “hunyak” symbolize this fear openly. Maggie cannot speak English properly and she is asking for Uncle Sam all the time, who will help her evidently signifying she is not American. She might be Hungarian on the basis of her name (yet she is much rather German due to the other allusions in the text). These women are molded into one, the figure of Hunyak, in the 1976 and the 2002 versions. In both of these versions, she speaks only Hungarian and she is the only one who is executed in spite of being innocent.

In the 1927 film version, Hunyak is not mentioned but the other female characters are also rather insignificant; except for Katie (who is not to be found in any of the other versions). In the 1942 adaptation, there is not a word about Hunyak either, similarly to the other minor female characters. This version strictly concentrates on Roxie. In the 1976 version, Hunyak returns and in The Cell Block Tango scene she talks about her case in Hungarian. The same happens in the 2002 adaptation. In the different versions of Chicago, only the innocent one is executed. Her Hungarian nationality is probably meant to signal that she is an immigrant and cannot explain her actions, thus cannot defend herself due to her lingual incapability (as one of her major shortcomings). “[…] It is also obvious that AARON is impatient with his client’s stubbornness and her inability to speak ‘American’” (Ebb, Fosse 72). When she gets executed all this happens in a true carnivalesque manner: with the crowd cheering and applauding in awe – as if they were participating in a medieval public execution similarly to how Frazer describes the sacrifice of the scapegoat within the festivities of the carnival (768).

As Frazer claims, the public “expulsion of devils is commonly preceded or followed by a period of general license, during which the ordinary restraints of society are thrown aside, and all offences, short of the gravest, are allowed to pass unpunished” (754). This is clearly a carnival that is described, and later on, Frazer openly discusses the connection between the ritual of the scapegoat and the carnival world. In ancient Greece and Rome, after having several versions of the scapegoat rituals (similar to the carnival) the darker forms of the ritual also appeared which included the death of the scapegoat. The public purification of the people hence involved that a “scapegoat” or a “vicarious sacrifice” would give his/her life for the others and bear all their sins. (Frazer 756-758) The Roman Saturnalias (predated carnivals as Bakhtin also implied) gave way to all kinds of license and merriment without constraints (10).

Scapegoating has its roots in the ancient custom and tradition of transferring the accumulated misfortunes and sins of a given community to a dying god or to some other being. This other being is supposed to bear away all the sufferings and guilt in order to leave the people innocent and happy. The transference of evil can occur to a person, an animal (goat, lamb, camel etc.) or an inanimate object (tree, bush etc. – although it is an interesting presumption that plants are inanimate), who or which will suffer all the pains and sorrows through this shift of burden instead of a given person or people (Frazer 706-709, 715). People usually resort to these methods to rid themselves of all the evils and to make a new start (Frazer 722). This is what happens in Chicago since Roxie (and Velma) can have a new start in life after the sacrifice of Hunyak. This new start is central as some of the basic ideals which constitute the American identity and are considered to be American values and ideals are youthfulness, beginnings, new beginnings, restart, renewal (Campbell, Kean 20-43; Kroes 28-32), freedom and everybody’s right to the pursuit of happiness – as we can find it in The Declaration of Independence (1776): “[w]e hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with CERTAIN [inherent and] inalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness; […]” (Peterson 235).

Irén Annus claimed that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were both fundamental in the shaping of the future of American society and that everything that these documents granted to the American people were rooted in the notions of Enlightenment and all this was and still is “essential to their American identity” and sense of Americanness (Annus 104-108). A few of the concepts still prevalent concerning American identity springing from the conceptual framework of Enlightenment are “[d]eism and rationalism […] individual freedom of thought, speech and worship;” the belief that men are benevolent and there is human perfectability, progress and “social improvement” (Annus 105). What is also paramount in the realization of “the American Dream” apart from the ideals of “material success” and “social progress” is the ideal and the belief in “moral regeneration” (Annus 106). Besides all of the notions mentioned above, this latter one is of central importance in Chicago as this latest idea, the possibility of moral regeneration, is one factor that greatly contributes to Roxie’s acquittal, this is one of the most significant points in the carnivalesque performance of her defense as Billy Flynn also states in the 2002 version: people cannot resist a reformed sinner (Marshall 40 min). Eventually, this is Roxie who is really granted the Lockean concept (adopted by Jefferson) of man’s “unalienable natural rights” of “equality, rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Annus 106). The strong Christian tradition as it is described by Annus when discussing the Puritan heritage (102-104), the centrality of “civil religion” and the Judeo-Christian tradition (109-20) is also exploited in the various versions of Chicago since Roxie is posited as a the daughter of God who is expecting a child and in whose life religion is of great importance, this being another crucial factor in her acquittal that is the result of a carnivalesque performance. Actually, these anti-heroines are glorified and celebrated as the quintessential realizations of the ideal of the American identity and values. In fact, they manage to realize everything, to manifest their American ideal destiny by fulfilling the American Dream as it is described above. Roxie Hart while awaiting the death penalty for her deeds and crimes is acquitted and she is endowed with her Unalienable Rights: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Instead of imprisonment, punishment and death, she gets Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness just like everybody else in the story except for the scapegoat: Hunyak.

Frazer suggests that the ancient Saturnalia and the modern Carnival of Italy do not merely bear strong resemblance to each other but these might be termed as identical by all means, what is more, the public execution of a burlesque-grotesque figure in the midst of “feigned grief or genuine delight of the populace” is to be found in both (Frazer 768) – as it is also to be found in Chicago, a modern(-day) Saturnalia, a modern(-day) Carnival. The sacrifice of Hunyak can also be interpreted as a site for discussion and debate over cultural norms since feminine death (can) serve(s) as such a site as Elisabeth Bronfen suggests. In addition, the death of a beautiful woman (can) emerge(s) as a mode of assurance of cultural norms and values. As Bronfen argues, “the death of a beautiful woman emerges as the requirement for a preservation of existing cultural norms and values or their regenerative modification.” (Bronfen 1992, 181) Thus, Hunyak’s sacrifice as a beautiful (and innocent) woman is a requirement for the preservation of order and the prevailing cultural norms and values while also being an integrated part of the carnival.

Hence, as I have suggested, the image, the concept and function of carnivalesque America is to facilitate criticism and debate while also reinstating order and preserve existing norms and values. Through discussing Bakhtin’s theory, basic American concepts, ideals and relevant historical data as well as presenting how all these ideas can be found in Chicago on the level of the story as well as concerning the characters my aim was to prove that Chicago (1924 series of newspaper articles, 1927 drama, 1927 silent film, 1942 film noir/screwball comedy, 1975 stage musical or musical vaudeville, 2002 film musical) is a modern-day carnival that reflects on America as a carnival world. What is more, the carnivalesque femmes fatales of the story (in the two latest versions) even identify themselves with the US thus symbolically projecting a carnivalesque image of America.


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