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The Past, Present, and a Condemned Future

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Topics: Time, Future, Present, Past
The Past, Present, and a Condemned Future
“The past is the present, isn’t it? It’s the future too. We all try to lie out of that but life won’t let us”(882). The character of Mary Tyrone declares this quote and poses an ominous thought; the state of time is merely irrelevant in life. It does not matter whether one resides in the present, the past can hauntingly resurface; the hope for the future can consume and blur what occurs currently. The main characters of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire and Eugene O’Neill’s Long Days Journey into Night, struggle with events in their past that drive them to act in certain ways in the present and taint what will occur in their futures. Mary Tyrone and Blanche are both complicated women whose past affect their present and in return, affects the chances of achieving their goals in the future. Based on the women’s actions in the present, the characters of each play are much too influenced by the past to alter their current predicaments and by virtue, save their future.
The character of Blanche in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, suffers greatly due to two major events that occurred in her past. The first involves the death of her young homosexual husband to suicide. “Poems a dead boy wrote. I hurt him the way that you would like to hurt me”(659). Blanche believes that her final words to her husband are what drove him to end his life. Due to her overwhelming guilt from his death, this event launches her severe insecurities and the way she behaves in the present around men. Blanche feels her only option is to deceive men due to her lack in confidence that stems from the fear of her “fading beauty”. She evades realism and is comfortable expressing ‘what ought to be the truth’ instead of being honest and relying on her natural looks. Every time Mitch attempts to be realistic by turning on the light or taking the paper lantern off the light bulb, Blanche cries out and scorns his efforts. She eventually reveals the reasons for her actions towards him and other men in the present but that “her past inevitably caught up with her” (701). Blanche is unable to escape what occurred to her husband in the past and the influence it had on her, therefore, it affects her present interactions with men. Her hope is to establish a relationship with Mitch in order to aid her loneliness and fear of emptiness, yet her past keeps her from achieving this in the future.
Not only did Blanche literally suffer from the death of her husband, figuratively she also suffered the death of her social standing. The next event in her past includes the tragic loss of the DuBois generation and the estate of Belle Reve. Blanche experiences many deaths within her family that she describes as slow, horrid and tortuous. The brutality of what she witnesses demonstrates the ugliness of life and instills her anxiety, harshly influencing her mental stability in the present. She is consistently described as a nervous and anxious woman. “Stella pours the coke into the glass. It foams over and spills. Blanche gives a piercing cry. A locomotive is heard approaching outside. She claps her hands to her ears and crouches over” (646). Blanche’s sensitivity towards everyday incidents indicates the fragility of her present psychological state. Her moth-like essence is a result from her past and alludes to her delicate nature in the present. Nevertheless, her frail actions in the present show evidence that her future will be just as breakable due to the fact that her mind is far too weak to handle reality.
Blanche enters a state of denial, preferring to keep up a façade and views life as a dream rather than reality. “Put on soft colours, the colours of butterfly wings, and glow – make a little – temporary magic…”(750) Blanche often mentions the element of magic because she cannot come to terms with her present life and wishes for more. Losing her social life and family estate affects her mental stability in the present, ultimately leading to her delusional demise in the future. “Whoever you are - I have always depended on the kindness of strangers” (769). Blanche’s reliance on aid from strangers leads to the position she is in by the end of the play. She clings to a magical perception of the world and cannot accept that strangers, who she believed were being kind, were just using her for sex. After she loses both her husband and her home, Blanche’s perception of herself and the world drastically changes. These events haunt her present mental state and restrict her ability to achieve her desire of happiness in the future.
Another character that similarly strives for happiness in the future but faces restrictions from the past is the woeful Mary Tyrone. Mary has a tendency to alter her mind-set in a way that removes her from reality and allows her to find existence in her past. Just as Blanche prefers to live in a fantasy of her mind, Mary supplements the present for the past by abusing morphine. “She’ll be nothing but a ghost haunting the past by this time” (979). Mary’s addiction causes severe tension and pain in her present, tarnishing her relationship with her family. Although it was not entirely anyone’s fault she became a morphine addict, Mary places the majority of the blame on her husband for hiring a cheap doctor, which generates her internal struggle. She also blames Edmund since it was his birth that initially originated the addiction. Mary is haunted by misconceptions and unrealistic desires to alter her current predicament therefore; the morphine addiction helps her indulge in in an escape from her present world. She faces external obstacles in the form of accusations directed at her by her sons who, at the time, are concerned that she indeed is using again. She asks Edmund to "stop suspecting me," although she acknowledges that Edmund cannot trust her because she has broken many promises in the past (899). Her greatest desire is to essentially live in a fantasy world but the destructive power of the past keeps her from letting go and moving on to a new fate.
Not only does Mary suffer from the provocation of an addiction in her past, she experiences the loss of her dreams as soon as she marries James Tyrone. She resents her husband for taking away opportunities to achieve her dreams of joining a convent as a young girl, which vanished as soon as they fell in love. Once married, she lost her friends due to his indecent status as an actor, ultimately leaving Mary feeling lonely and abandoned. Her "old friends either pitied [her] or cut [her] dead" (907). Her isolation continued as well as her resentment toward her husband as he persistently spent time with his theater acquaintances, leaving her alone in cheap hotels. She turns to morphine to relive her pain, yet whenever she uses, her husband comments on how it is she “who always leaves” when she discovers how alone she is (961). In Mary’s final speech, it is evident that she still clings on to the happier times in her past that include her faith and desire to be a nun. “Then in the spring something happened to me. Yes, I remember. I fell in love with James Tyrone and was so happy for a time. (She stares before her in a sad dream”(1005). She cannot let go of the way James treated her in the past that led to her abandoning her dreams and therefore, she chooses to detach herself from the present. She casts blame on everyone in the present for her loneliness and misery, which forms the family’s doomed future of having any chance to lift the cycle of depression. People experience the cycle of time in many different ways. Some view the world with a clear perspective, live in the present, and express desires for the future. Others distort the line of what is in the past and what occurs presently, generating no hope for future happiness. Blanche DuBois and Mary Tyrone both exist in blurred lines of what is the past and present and often entwine their minds within each interval. Each woman partakes in significant actions that indicate the events that occur within their pasts haunt their present and doom their future.

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