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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

George Gets It

A Call From The Bank


George receives phone call from the bank and is requested to report back there at 9:00 pm.  The matter is "extremely serious," and we learn that not only has George been with the bank for years, but that his father was also a banker.  Jane and Michael overhear the conversation from the stairs above and then go up to the nursery.  George dejectedly goes into the drawing room, next to the hearth.  This is an appropriate placement for the song, since the fireplace or hearth, is a symbol of “community, of home, the center of life,” and in many traditions functions as the center or navel of the world (Chevalier & Gheerbrant, 1996, p. 483).   The hearth is associated with Hestia, Hermes’s Olympian counterpart. Bert is still here, packing up his brushes and will show us his Hermes-like nature, as he acts as a sly psychopomp for George:


Because he is at the “pivot point” between the transformations from life to death and back again, Hermes is at just that psychological nexus where transformation occurs, where for example as we are changed by new facts or experience, we undergo a transformation into a different person—symbolic death and rebirth. (Combs & Holland 2001, pp. 83-84)

George starts to sing “A Man Has Dreams” to the tune of “The Life I Lead,” but its tone is much more somber, defeated, and almost funereal—perhaps alluding to the death of his job and hence persona: “A man has dreams of waking with giants, to carve his niche in the edifice of time,” again, all Saturnian themes.  As George laments his fate, Bert, collecting his brushes, gets a queer tricksterish look on his face—the familiar dark smile of Hermes. 


George is stringing together death and separation metaphors, “the flame is snuffed aborne, he’s brought to rack and ruin in his prime.” Bert seeing his chance, slyly agrees with George: “Life’s a rum go,” and says Bert as he enters George’s model of the world, beginning to establish rapport with George. Then George begins to blame Mary Poppins, because ever since her arrival George notes “things began to happen to me.” George reiterates by patter-singing “My life was calm, well ordered, exemplary, then came this person with chaos in her wake, and now my life’s ambitions go, with one fell blow—its quite a bitter pill to take” [emphasis added]. George exclaims, “It's that Poppins woman, she did it!” Again, there is the medicine analogy, and Bert uses it to segue back to the “A Spoonful of Sugar” tune, and sings a modified version: “A spoonful of sugar that is all it takes, it changes bread and water into tea and cakes,” using a slightly different tune.


George then truly engages with Bert, “You see that’s precisely what I mean, changing bread and water into tea and cakes indeed. No wonder everything’ higgledy-piggledy here” Bert replies “a spoonful of sugar goes a long long way, have yourself a healthy helping every day,” and then Bert slyly paces George, “a healthy helping of trouble if you ask me.” George goes on, confiding to Bert, “You know what she did, I realize it now. She tricked me into taking Jane and Michael to the bank. That’s where all the trouble started.”


While George is busy blaming Mary, who indeed is a master trickstar, Bert is able to fly under the radar, and adds a few tricks of his own to ensure George’s transformation. That George blames Mary is predictable, in light of what Hynes (1993) call the trickster’s metaplay and the effects it has on people, like George, who worship order:


Trickster’s metaplay dissolves the order of things in the depth of the open-ended metaplay of life . . . .  In Man at Play, Hugo Rahner captures precisely this distinctive transrational aspect of play: “to play is to yield oneself to a kind of magic, to enact to oneself the absolutely other, to pre-empt the future, to give the lie to the inconvenient world of fact” (Rahner: 1967: 65); in short, there is an “otherness” to play that we might call metaplay. To be sure such otherness can often be viewed as irrational and threatening by the orderly and established that may seek to control or suppress it.  Perhaps because metaplay is fundamentally closer to the inchoate powers of creativity from which ordered social constructs have themselves originated and from which new constructs will arise, such metaplay can easily be perceived as a menace to those who represent the existing social constructs . . . . Is it not predictable that the old order should fear metaplay, dancing as it does at the source of creativity, fecund with new orderings itching to replace the old?  Almost in programmatic fashion, metaplay ruptures the shared consciousness, the societal ethos, and consensus valuation—in short, the very order of order itself.  Thus when the trickster emerges in metaplay this places the normal order of things under question.  From the advent of metaplay, all previous orders and orderings are clearly labeled contingent. (pp. 213-214)

George’s order has vanished, he is in nepantla, the uncomfortable place where the old order has been destroyed and there is not yet a new order to replace it.  Bert needs to help George through this “dark night,” the transitional time before the new dawn, so Bert continues to pace George, making statements that he knows George will agree with:


Bert: Tricked you, into taking the children on an outing?
George: Yes.
Bert: Outrageous. A man with all the important things you have to do, shameful. You’re a man of high position, [George nods] esteemed by your peers,
Bert [now singing, and beginning to lead George] and when your little tikes are cryin’ you haven’t time to dry their tears.  And see them grateful little faces smiling up at you, because their dad he always knows just what to do. 
George [now begining to get a bit flustered and defensive]: I mean. Look, well I don’t think I . . .

Bert, now switches his tune to match George’s theme “The Life I Lead” and sings instead of patters, “you’ve got to grind grind grind at that grindstone, though childhood slips like sand through a sieve, and all too soon they’ve up and grown and then they’ve flown, and its too late for your to give . . . .” By continuing to use George's "Life I Lead" theme, Bert continues vocally pacing George (38% of communication) and so the later parts of his words hit home. Bert has led George to this new perspective, and then he switches to the “A Spoonful of Sugar” tune and we see that George is saddened and beginning at some level to realize what is really important and valuable. Bert continues: “Just that spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down,” Bert finishes the song, picks up his brushes, says goodbye, and continues to whistle as he heads out the door.


Again, in the fireplace sequences, there is a similar pattern to the laughing sequences, which mirrors our eternally returning cosmic game pattern: the rites of passage stages of separation, liminality, and integration. The first time that George laughs, it is near the fireplace, which signals a rupture from his normal ego consciousness. It is the same fireplace that he has thrown the children’s advertisement into, as well as where he bumped his head when interviewing Mary Poppins. During the “Chim Chim Cher-ee” song, the fireplace becomes a place of liminality, and now, when Bert talks to George, the location is again at the chimney and Bert gives George a push towards integration. The liminal instance of laughter was at Uncle Albert’s house, and the integration moment is upcoming, as we will see in the next scene.


After Bert leaves, the children enter, apologize, and give the tuppence to their father: “We didn’t know it would cause you so much trouble.” Then on their way back to the nursery, Jane turns and innocently asks, “does that make it all right?” As George walks to the bank through the park, we hear the “Feed the Birds” theme in background, and the sounds of an angelic choir are introduced as George approaches St. Paul’s Cathedral, the night is misty, dark, and liminal.


Mr Banks Is Discharged


During this scene at the bank, we will see the true depth of the trickster.  Hynes relates that although “trickster myths are deeply satisfying entertainment, they are also much more:


Beyond the surface humor, there is a deeper type of insight, irony, and transformation at work in the trickster myths… trickster’s humor melds entertainment and education.  We may laugh, but a deeper unfolding is at work.  One level, the trickster bears the gift of laugher, but it is tied to another level, linked to another gift, one that evokes insight and enlightenment. (Hynes, 1993, p. 209)

Let us see how everything comes together here. Ominous oboes and bassoons are playing in the background as George approaches the bank in the dark. Once inside the bank, the music has a subdued, but Saturnian and martial, lockstep cadence. George is flanked by men in formal attire, and is admonished by the elder Mr. Dawes to remove his hat as he enters the boardroom, which is very dark and red. This is the beginning of George’s “dressing down.” The younger Mr. Dawes, at the urging of his father, informs George that the last time a bank run occurred was almost 140 years before in 1773 when the bank financed a tea shipment to Boston. George attempts a joke when they ask him whether he knows what happened and George replies that a party of American colonists “dressed as red Indians behaved very rudely and threw all the tea overboard, which made it unsuitable for drinking—even for Americans.” Seeing no humor whatsoever, the younger Mr. Dawes goes on to say that the loan was defaulted and “a panic ensued within these walls” and a bank run occurred.


The elder Mr. Dawes takes over and blames the current run on “the disgraceful conduct of your son.” In actuality, the disgraceful conduct was that of the elder Mr. Dawes himself, whose money grubbing after a mere tuppence, and refusing to return it to Michael was the “bifurcation point” that caused the run. Had the elder Mr. Dawes allowed Michael keep this insignificant sum of money, or if George had let Michael feed the birds, there would never have been a bank run,


The elder Mr. Dawes continues to call the shots and has his son dress George down. The younger Mr. Dawes then tears George’s lapel flower apart, unfurls George’s umbrella and turns it inside out, and boxes George’s hat by putting his fist through it. This is similar to carnivalesque thrashing and uncrowning that occurred in popular festive traditions such as the Saturnalia, symbolizing death of the old order, before the following regeneration could occur (Bakhtin, 1963/1968, p. 198). George has symbolically suffered an ego death here, especially when we remember that he is solely identified with his position.


The elder Mr. Dawes then asks George if he has anything else to say and George replies “well they do say when there isn’t anything to say, all you can say” and then George pauses and his hands, which are in his pockets, come across the tuppence. George pulls the tuppence out from his pocket and then looks down at them, and he begins to laugh and then says: “just one word, sir supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” and laughs even more, the laugh now laughing him. This shattering laughter, frees him and he "gets it." “Suddenly a change comes over him. His eyes are opened for the first time, as he realizes that in his effort to be precise, and run his life as a bank is run, he has been cold and unloving” (Maltin, 1973, p. 229).


The tuppence, again reminding us that the little things, the lessons, outings, and jokes that George had thought to be so insignificant and worthless, turn out to be really important after all. “Mary Poppins was right, it's extraordinary, it does make you feel better.” When the elder Mr. Dawes says that there’s no such word, George defends it and then tells him: “With all due respect when all is said and done, there’s no such thing as you.”


The elder Mr. Dawes calls him impertinent, and then George segues into the “wooden leg named Smith” joke. From the point of view of the bankers, George has gone mad, he has “lost it.” George continues to laugh, and while laughing, pushes the tuppence into the elder Mr. Dawes’ hand and says “here’s the tuppence, the wonderful fateful supercalifragilisticexpialidocious tuppence.”


Mary’s indirect teachings have hit home. George proceeds to express all of Mary's influence and lessons to the bankers in a flood of words, which is unintelligible to them. We can see that George has actually picked up all that Mary has taught to the children. Before he leaves George remarks “ I might just pop through a chalk pavement picture . . . or I might just fly a kite, only Poppins would know” then on the way out he sings “that ridiculous song—just a spoonful of sugar . . .” kicking up his heels as he departs. The elder Mr. Dawes finally gets the joke and begins wheezingly laughing, and unable to stop and rises up to the ceiling.

The scene changes to the next morning. The wind has changed and is coming from the West. Mary Poppins is packing and the children are upset. “Don’t you love us,” they ask, to which Mary replies “What would happen if I loved all the children I said goodbye to?”


Meanwhile, down in the hallway, the constable is on the phone with the police station reporting the disappearance of Mr. Banks. Ellen speculates that George committed suicide and suggests that they drag the river. Ellen is insightful in this way, because indeed, a part of George has died. The constable says “that’s right George W. Banks” and all of a sudden we hear “A Spoonful of Sugar” sung by George as he emerges from basement. George is disheveled and disorderly. After ardently kissing his wife, he calls excitedly to Jane and Michael. Ellen remarks that he’s crazy— “gone off his crumpet,” and in the nursery, the children tell Mary Poppins: “it doesn’t sound like father.” Mary instructs them to go to him, and sadly they obey.


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