Archive for November, 2010

Female Characters in Streetcar and Summer and Smoke

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

The post on the female characters we’ve read in this course made me think more about Blanche and Stella and take second look into Williams’ female characterizations in general to see if there really was one of those “Saucy southern belles” anywhere in there. Blanche is, to the last, the tragically pathetic female unable to truly do anything for herself. She relies on a man to come into her life and lean back on, she’s an alcoholic, and she’s just really not very smart. Stella is arguably slightly stronger in personality- yes, she rejected the old style plantation patriarchy, but she rejected it in favor of her wife-beating, power-struggling immigrant husband. In the production of Summer and Smoke Mary Washington just finished, Williams’ female lead is Alma Winemiller, the sexually repressed daughter of a minister torn over her love for John Buchanan, Jr. Alma’s mother is deranged, for some unknown reason never quite made clear, and Alma herself seems to struggle constantly with her desire for John’s affections and rejection of his sexual being. In the end of the play, Dr. Buchanan is the one who ‘takes up morals’ and is married, while Alma takes up with the first boy she sees- they almost completely trade places. Is Alma, discoverer of her sexuality, shedder of her coat of prudish-ness, a stronger female character than Blanche? Does she progress into an individual with ownership over her sexual identity, or is she finally giving into the whims of the male-driven society around, finally becoming the object they so desire? On a spectrum of pathetic female to girl power, where do Stella, Blanche, and Alma lie?

“Blue Piano” – Blues in Streetcar

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

Williams’ use of music in Streetcar Named Desire speaks heavily to the performances of cultural collisions evident throughout the play, which Jake describes in his post “New Orleans in Streetcar”. “Blue Piano”, a blues number, is constant throughout the play in the stage directions- it seems to always be playing in the background. The vibrant African American culture in New Orleans, absent for the most part from Williams’ cast of characters, is shown to be both present and a powerful force by the use of “Blue Piano” as the main background number. “Blue Piano” is the name given to the scene in the film where Stanley traps and rapes Blanche, suggesting the dangerous sexuality of blackness in mid-century New Orleans. Someone made a parallel to Twain’s critique/participation in Southern culture in Pudd’nhead Wilson and Williams’ critique/participation in the culture of New Orleans. The same question we asked of Twain, we can ask here – by using Blues to connotate danger and sexual deviancy, is Williams critiquing the stereotypes or just using them?

New Orleans in “A Street Car Named Desire”

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

When reading A Street Car Named Desire Tennessee Williams evidently represents his attachment to New Orleans culture inasmuch that Williams wants to exploit the “copasetic harmony” that the rest of the world needs to understand to exist beyond the cultural boundaries of race and class.  Williams romanticizes the slum by creating a unique view on New Orleans culture, unlike other southern US locations in the other novels, where blacks mingle with whites and often recreate together playing poker and going bowling.  Also New Orleans is a place where class structures are subverted by inter-class marriages like Stanley and Stella.  Stanley coming from a family of polish immigrants and Stella from a more aristocratic setting in Mississippi.  The fluid use of music apparent in all the scenes represents the New Orleans’ attachment to the arts as well, where the appreciation can be heard all over the city and at all times of the day, which is something Williams clearly points out as an aesthetic property of the unique city.
Williams use of Blanche under this cultural lens represents the detachment from her primal instincts, mainly stemming from her repressed sexuality and “overcivilization”.  This radical cultural characterization is a sharp contrast to the culture represented by the other characters, especially with the violence depicted by the characters followed by quickly forgetting and a “kiss and make-up” session, which Blanche clearly cannot understand.  Blanche tries to encroach her ideals to Stella but is unsuccessful when Williams has Stella smile at Blanche after she begged Stella to leave Stanley because he is an animal.  Another instance Blanche has a distinct “overcivilization” representation is her hiding of her alcoholism and even her age so she can present a better image to get married to Mitch.  Williams cautions readers that “overcivilizing” themselves and repressing sexuality can lead to some devastating results and in Blanche’s case, insanity.

A Sad Survey of Female Characters

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

So, uh, I can’t help but wonder about the lack of female characters of substance in the works we’ve read this semester, particularly after my reading of Streetcar. Blanche seems like the perfect flighty and neurotic conclusion to a semester full of disappointing literary ladies. In all the texts we read women were either absent, peripheral characters or just plain shallow. We started out with Harriet Jacobs who hinted toward feisty embitterment but relapsed too often into sentimentalism to make an effective or compelling point, particularly in the shadow of Frederick Douglass’ slave narrative. Roxy is a pretty bitching character but Twain left her story line incomplete and in limbo. Edna, who I will defend to the death despite my complaints here, is ultimately frivolous due inability to sever her financial reliance from her husband, and thus falls short of enlightenment at the end despite her efforts. Addie’s a corpse, one that gets desecrated at that, and Dewey Dell gets screwed over by her greedy father. For all of Hurston’s obsession with anthropological details, Lucy is a dull recording on repeat of folk sayings. And Blanche, well, I don’t think any description is necessary there. I always thought southern women were stereotyped as strong and saucy but these women wilt in the face of conflict. After a semester of this, though, I really need a female character I can sink my teeth into.

Fun Facts about Tennessee Williams

Sunday, November 21st, 2010
1. Williams’ mentally ill sister, Rose, was lobotomized and provided the inspiration for tragic characters in Suddenly, Last Summer and The Glass Menagerie.His domineering, unstable mother was the basis for Amanda Wingfield in Menagerie and Blanche DuBois in Streetcar.
2. His real name is Thomas Lanier Williams. His friends gave him the nickname “Tennessee” because of his thick Southern drawl.
3. Williams caused controversy with his screenplay for Baby Doll, a Lolita-esque drama about a middle-aged man’s obsession with a teenage girl.
4. One of his most famous plays, A Streetcar Named Desire was originally titled The Poker Night.
5. Williams succumbed to the addictions he so often portrayed in his plays. Alcohol and prescription drugs contributed to his death by choking in 1983.

History of New Orleans Streetcars

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

Here’s a random post for you…

They told me to take a street-car named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemetaries and ride six blocks and get off at– Elysian Fields!

-Blanche, Act I, Scene i

There’s no doubt this quote has significance in the play, but after reading A Streetcar Named Desire I became curious about the history of streetcars in New Orleans. I’ve never visited the city myself, but I know there is a lot of history to the entirety of the place.

I found a little bit of information on Wikipedia (not your most reliable source, but I’m not doing a research project on this). “Streetcars have been a part of the city’s public transportation network since the first half of the 19th century. Today only three streetcars are still running. The longest of New Orleans’ streetcar lines, the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar, is the oldest continuously operating street railway system in the world, according to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.”

The Desire Street line ran from October 17, 1920 – May 29, 1948. It ran through the French Quarter to its namesake street. Unfortunately, the line was converted to buses in 1948, however Wikipedia noted that various proposals to revive a streetcar line with this name have been discussed in recent years. Even if this does not happen, I’m glad New Orleans has held on to a few streetcar lines, especially after Katrina hit. It definitely keeps the historic vibe alive.


Friday, November 19th, 2010


Stella! Hey, Stella! AFI rates this famous line at 45 in their AFI’s 100 years… 100 Movie Quotes.  Clark Gable’s final line as Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind took the top spot, but Brando nabbed the second and third spots for his roles in The Godfather and On the Waterfront. Anyway, Williams’ often abused reenacted scene conveys a startling moment of animalistic, physical carnality.  Professor Philip Kolin attributes Streetcar as inventing the modern conception of desire for it’s fearless examination and presentation of female and male sexuality.  Scholars have speculated that Williams used Pancho Rodriguez Gonzalez, his then lover, as the inspiration for the übermacho Stanley.  His brother Dakin also claims that Tennessee modeled the role of Blanche after himself.  Although as a contemporary audience, our reading of Streetcar might not leave us in a “stunned silence” like the first audience who sat there in shock before applauding the play for thirty minutes. Oh, and each spring the Tennessee Williams Festival in New Orleans holds a Stella/Stanley screaming contest.  Competitors are judged primarily on loudness and their demonstration of angst, and yes, prizes are included.

Did He or Didn’t He?

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Yeah, it’s a pretty embarrassing way to go.  But according to Williams’ friend, Larry Myers, Williams didn’t choke on a bottle cap.  Myers calls Williams’ much death a “compassionate cover-up” against a scandalous or messy death that the “media hungered for.”  But I almost wonder if death by bottle cap is worse.  His brother Dakin claims Tennessee was murdered. Reports say that he died in a hotel room with an empty wine bottle and a surprising amount of drugs.  Apparently Williams was a bit of a hypochondriac, although he did suffer from a number of ailments and he boasted, “I’ve had every disorder known to man.” It looks like modern medicine might have been his downfall.  The doctor at the scene claims that drugs might have weakened Williams’ gag reflex and caused him to choke.  At least, I suppose, he didn’t end up with his head in a toilet?

My interpretation of LeComte’s Zora Neale Hurston’s Perfect Tool

Friday, November 19th, 2010

In LeComte’s essay, Derek tries to prove that Hurston novel is the imagination of what she wished actually happened with her Father and Mother.
What I like in particular about your essay was the detail in which you connected Dust Tracks on a Road with JGV.   You clearly pointed out parallels between the to texts that are undeniable.  You explained them in detail, and back them up with textual evidence and other scholarly opinions that strengthen your argument.
Although it started slowly for me at first your essay culminated and developed into a well proven thesis by the end of the paper.

The only thing I feel confused about is the connection between Freddy D’s criticism and yours.  Not to say that it is not there, but I feel the use of it in your introduction, IMO, seemed confusing which I now realized is a problem in my paper as well.  What I mean by that is, the quote you used appeared at first confusing to me in the sense that I was trying to tie the thesis made in your quote with the thesis your making about JGV.   Is it that the narratives are both mutually “real” narratives as opposed to fiction?  For some reason i thought of Freddy’s auto-bio was supposed to be based on facts and if that is the case then I take it you are trying to prove that both of the “narratives” are based on truths.  I just think that it might help, at least for me, to clarify that point up a bit.

Overall though I think your essay touches on something that should definitely be addressed when trying to unpack this novel.  You proved this by clearly understanding both texts, JGV and Dust Tracks on a Road to the extent that there are inherent traits that are embraced in both Hurston’s biography and her novel revealing the reality of her father.

Criticism of Criticism: Harrison and “The Impossibility of Choice: Naturalism in JGV”

Friday, November 19th, 2010

What I got as the thesis for the essay:  Hurton’s novel is an exploitation of Naturalism and Environmentalism to the extent that her novel represents “the futility of the world laden with the impossibility of choice”(6) because John’s actions are a result from the “clash between rural life and developing community” (1).

The Good: Your criticism appears to be a perfect example of what Richards wants from us.  On top of that, your flow and consistency is impeccable.  Your introduction/thesis paragraph outlines exactly what your trying to get across in your essay and the rest of your criticism is spent clearly backing up each point you made.  I did not have any trouble following your syntax and each point was developed in a clear and concise manner.  Espescially the point you made about clashing culture, where you tie in The Awakening with John’s dilemma in ways that i never recognized before.

The bad:  Honestly, the only thing I have to say about your essay is that I would only want to hear more explanation about what Hurston is trying to show us by employing these theories, but Richards only wanted 5 pages and this assignment, I suppose, does not intend to dive much deeper than where you took it so this point isn’t really valid in the sense of assignment completion.  I just liked what you where saying.

Overall this was my favorite essay so far.  You really proved what you where trying to say with clarity and brevity and because of that I could not agree more with what you are trying to prove.  A complex point being strongly supported and explained in five pages is something, IMO, to be very proud about.  I commend you.