A Streetcar Named Desire and Top Girl; How Is the Past a Limiting Factor for the Charachters?

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Luna Bitencourt
“Man…cannot learn to forget, but hangs on to the past: however far or fast he runs that chain runs with him.”- Friedrich Nietzsche (German-Swiss philosopher and writer). In the light of Nietzsche’s opinion, compare and contrast the presentation of the past as a limiting factor to the identities of the female protagonists in ‘A Streetcar named Desire’ and ‘Top Girls’ Williams and Churchill present the past as a haunting spectre that threatens the characters progress in their future life. Both playwrights construct the past as an emerging chain that, parasitic like, has clinged onto the protagonists’ present and immobilised the characters ability to function and progress. The retroactive structure of Top Girls reinforces this. Marlene attempts to escape her working class roots in the city office, but the chain of her past, her daughter Angie, imprisons her in this very environment she seeks to flee. Blanche Dubois seeks refuge in her sister’s world in an attempt to release herself from the chains of her past; presenting herself as a ‘Southern Belle’ in search of a gentleman and holding on to Old Southern traditional values: she is always incongruous to New Orleans and the future America. Initially, both playwrights present the past as a route of future imprisonment for the characters. The initial exposition of Blanche’s marriage and widowing is demonstrated through the constant symbolic sound of the traditional polish Polka; also revealing Blanche’s extreme sensitivity as a woman, to her past and vulnerability as how ‘man cannot forget’. Blanche is glued to her past suffering, and deliberately forces herself to believe that her previous experiences no longer intimidates her, but deep down, her remembrances haunt her, infiltrating in her present and future through the subtle sound of the disruptive Polka music, slowly becoming more and more frequent, leading up to the climax point towards the end, where Blanche reaches her tragic ‘self-destruction’, where her brother in law rapes her. The texture of the polka music creates an enhanced contextual setting of the play, where the audience gains a clearer perspective of how the past reflects on the construction of each characters psyche. Blanche ‘cannot forget’ her past, but chooses to ‘hang on to it’. Her choice of constantly remembering the sound of the Polka, is a reflection of her hesitation of wanting to progress; Blanche is her own enemy, therefore being her own barrier to overcome past dilemmas. NOT SURE WHAT ELSE TO ADD Churchill presents lies as a means of liberation for Blanche. When speaking to Stella, she laughs at “myself, myself for being such a liar. I’m writing to Shep.” Blanche unambiguously admits that she in fact, is a liar; the repetition of the personal pronoun “myself” emphasises the irony in her statement; Blanche is very well aware of her past, and so chooses to lie to avoid any future consequences through exposing the truth. “…neurotic and corrupted, hiding from herself behind artificial illusions.” as described by Christopher Innes in John Russel Brown (ed.) 1995: 422 Blanche is face to face with Stella, she is desperate for some Alcohol and compulsively searches Stella’s house for some liquor, “I know you must have some liquor on the place!” Blanche evidently seems to feel no shame of having a “drink” near Stella but “nervously” tamps her “cigarette” however, suddenly, further in the scene, Blanche negates a drink, when stanley arrives home from work, “No, I – rarely touch it.” and lies to Stanley as “(He holds the bottle to the light to observe its depletion.)” as he has noticed that someone has drunk some liquor. Blanche clearly feels intimidated and ashamed in having “some liquor” in the presence of the Alpha male, Stanley Kowalski, and denies the drink; however, Stanley has already seen through Blanche’s pretence and comments, “some people rarely touch it, but it touches them often”. Blanche is fully aware that the first...
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