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A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams, is an American drama play written in 1947. The play is widely considered an American classic and revolves around a cultural clash between the main characters. One of the more tragic figures is Blanche DuBois, as she is a character who feels confused, lost, conflicted, and lashes out sexually. Blanche represents the “old” South because of her way of thinking, values, and lifestyle. Contrary to Blanche, Stanley Kowalski is a main character that is portrayed as being dominant, aggressive, and sexual. Stanley represents the “new” South because of his dominance and control over Stella. Both these characters embody values which portray William’s message of the “old” versus “new” South.
Tennessee Williams attempts to show through Stanley’s character that American is changing into a more aggressive, direct, and raw society. Stanley is a very dominant and somewhat arrogant character, who usually gets what he desires, such as when he rapes Blanche. Another clear example of Stanley’s dominance is the Napoleonic code, “we have the Napoleonic code according to which what belongs to the wife belongs to the husband” (35). His controlling and sexual character is evident throughout the play, including in the end in which he makes love with Stella after Blanche is taken to the hospital. Sexuality is also a theme throughout the play, as Williams is a homosexual and attempts to demonstrate homosexuality in a positive light through Stanley’s superficial and egoistical actions. An evident example is when Blanche wanted Stella to come with her and says that Stella is almost everything that she has in this world. However, Stanley sees Blanche taking Stella away and refuses to let Stella go, acting as if an animal that is protecting his territory. An example is when Stanley establishes power over Blanche through his marriage, as they are both fighting for Stella, “Stella has embraced him with both arms, fiercely, and full in the view of Blanche. He laughs and clasps her head to him. Over her head he grins through the curtains at Blanche” (73). Stanley remains hostile towards Blanche throughout the play because of this incident, and meanwhile Blanche is having a difficult time adapting to the “new” South. Stella is unlike Blanche in the sense that she has learned to accept and adapt to the “new” South, however Blanche is still trying to cope with the loss of her husband. She could not overcome losing her husband, as he was a large part of her life and she was becoming mentally ill and delusional from the loss, “you know what I shall die of? I shall die of eating an unwashed grape one day out on the ocean” (136). An example is how she is consistently bathing to feel like a “new person”. She attempts to wash off the dirt which resonates from the past and tries to clear her mind with frequent showers. Blanche also resorts to alcohol to alleviate her problems; however she has to hide it, as she realizes that it will hurt her reputation, “She rushes about frantically, hiding the bottle in a closet” (113). All this begins with the death of her husband.
Blanche’s old life, similarly to the “old” South, is something that is gone forever, and can only be in a dream. The family mansion, called Belle Reve, meaning beautiful dream, was torn away from Blanche along with all her wealth. She is left no choice but to look at Stanley and Stella for help, as she is stuck in the past, or the “old” South, and cannot properly adjust to the “new” South. Not only is Blanche not able to adjust, but she is also frightened and guilty, as a polka tune from the night of her husband’s death repeats in the background. The polka tune illustrates how he is always on her mind and in the process destroys her sanity. A brief moment of peace from the polka tune is found during Mitch’s arrival, and this signifies that he may be her way out and a savior.
Another value of the “old” South, which Blanche was accustomed to, was the institution of slavery. The practice of slavery was banned in the mid-nineteenth century; however it took several more decades to fully eradicate slaves. Poverty and bankrupt plantations went rampant amongst ex-slave owners, including Blanche. After slavery was abolished, Blanche relied even more so upon her husband for financial stability, so his death left her hopeless. The only method of dealing with her hopelessness was by possibly attracting Mitch by acting like a young and innocent lady, however she was not innocent, “after all, a woman’s charm is fifty percent illusion” (35). A stark example is when Stanley beats pregnant Stella, and Blanche is horrified and seeks comfort with Mitch. Unlike Blanche, Stella deals with the situation and Stanley and Stella end up mending their issues by spending the night together. The following morning, Blanche asks “how could you come back in this place last night?” (63) and Stella replies “you’re making too much fuss about this” (63). This situation compares Blanche’s “old” South with Stella and Stanley’s “new” South. Blanche considers Stanley’s act towards Stella evil, but Stella simply puts it aside, because they hold different values and norms.
The “old” versus “new” South is a reoccurring message which is embodied by Blanche, Stanley and Stella. Blanche is more a traditional figure, as she supports slavery, and expects old traditions to be held. The death of her husband progresses the story, as she becomes incapable of being self-reliant. She struggles with attempting to hold “old” South traditions and values, while living in the “new” South. Stanley and Stella, however, have adjusted to the “new” South and no longer hold traditional Southern views. Williams demonstrates America’s increasingly dominant and powerful control through Stanley’s control over Stella. He also shows America moving on from its traditions, such as being homophobic, to a more open and accepting society. The acceptance of the “new” South is inevitable, as “old” South traditions are obsolete and inapplicable.
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