How and why is the Grotesque Used in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire?
Throughout this semester, we were introduced to varying degrees of literary styles and themes. From the epiphanies discovered through American Realism, to the skepticism explored through Literary Modernism, to the conflicts of social conformity and individualism approached by a Post-Modernistic America and its writers. We have had the great opportunity of being exposed to individuals who questioned and pushed the boundaries of creativity and expression. Tennessee Williams was an author and playwright who balanced the enigmatic, macabre, and often cruel disintegration of his characters with a poetic grace. He became the keystone of a style that is known as Southern Gothic.
A Streetcar Named Desire became the quintessential manifestation of the grotesque through the unraveling of the “Old South”. More specifically, his themes on the conflict between the “sensitive, non-conformist” individual against conventional society, the disintegration of the southern woman, and the divergence between southern gentiles and northern brutality to which all of Williams’ characters contributed to in some degree.
The grotesque style of literature supplies the reader with a historical as well as social perspective. This provides a metaphorical reference to the “dying” South and the struggle to exist against the progressive ideals of the North, all the while, fraught with trying to keep the Southern identity and dignity intact. It is stated that “A common description (of the grotesque) has to do with causation: Southern grotesque is often said to be the literary aftermath of historical misfortune.” (Presley 37).
If we take into account the surrounding setting of the play, “…a two-story corner building on a street in New Orleans which is named Elysian Fields and runs between the L & N tracks and the river (Elysian Fields is a New Orleans street at the northern tip of the French Quarter, between the Louisville & Nashville railroad tracks and the Mississippi River. In Greek mythology the Elysian Fields are the abode of the blessed in the afterlife.) . The section is poor but, unlike corresponding sections in other American cities, it has a raffish charm” (Klinkowitz & Wallace 2187), the reader is thrust into the ensuing chaos before any of the characters are even introduced. Williams was very particular about each detail with regards to the style in which he was writing. The drama is not only a result of the surroundings, but is a symbiotic portrayal of the daily lives that exist within the grotesque. “The disorders are threefold: narcissism, familial conflict, and dream-like confusion”: (Presley 37).
The Southern Gothic, grotesque style of writing can best be characterized by the profound ability of an author to evoke feelings of disgust while contrarily evoking feelings of compassion among his/her audience as well as between the characters within the work. These emotions are presented and contained within, what seems to be, a lost individual. This character may also display traits of incontinence due to physical or mental incapability. “Literature of the grotesque, according to the authoress, is distinguished by a moral or theological vision not usually associated with realistic works. Freaks appear in her fiction, she said, to reflect quite simply what man is like without God” (Presley 38).
In keeping with the grotesque, Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire stretched the boundaries of this theme through the representation of the disintegration of the southern woman. By exploring the torrid longing of his character, Blanche Dubois, and her desires and fears. “Grotesque writers are “faced with the reality that they live in an age whose distortions function as indicators of how far man has drifted from his true image as a creature of God.” In this vein, Williams explores the corruption of mankind, along with its difficulties in...
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