Tennessee Williams And The Southern Belle Essay

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Mary Ellen P. Evans

Dana Smith

THEA 393


Tennessee Williams and the Southern Belle

And such misss! . . . more grace, more elegance, more refinement, more transparent pureness, were ne’er found in the whole universe over, in any age, non even that of the Alcyone. . . so happy was our curious societal system- there was about these state misss. . . mischievousness. . . spirit. . . fire. . . impertinence, flirt, and bright winsomeness- tendrils these of a stock that was strong and true as bosom could wish or nature frame ; for in strong and true as bosom could wish or nature frame ; for in the necessities their character was based upon confiding, swearing, loving, unselfish devotion- a complete, speckless universe of feminine virtuousness and place piousness was their, the like of what. . . was. . . ne’er excelled, since the Almighty made adult male in his ain image. . . immature gentleman, clasp of, . . . lay non so much as a finger-tip lightly upon her, for she is sacred.

( qtd. Bernhard, Southern Women 4 )

She did non travel. Her eyes began to turn darker and darker, raising into her skull above a half Moon of white, without focal point, with the clean rigidness of a statue & # 8217 ; s eyes. She began to state Ah-ah-ah-ah in an expiring voice, her organic structure curving easy rearward as though faced by an keen anguish. When he touched her she sprang like a bow, hurtling herself upon him, her oral cavity gaped and ugly like that of a deceasing fish as she writhed her pubess against him. ( Faulkner 126 )

The citation from George W. Bagby & # 8217 ; s The Old Virginia Gentleman ( 1885 ) presents the southern belle on her base in a typical nineteenth-century description. The 2nd citation from Williams Faulkner & # 8217 ; s Sanctuary ( 1931 ) describes the lurid nymphomania of Temple Drake, a more utmost illustration of the destiny of the modern southern belle. The metabolism began suddenly around 1914, and since so, Tennessee William & # 8217 ; s has presented three southern belles: Amanda Wingfield, Blanche DuBois and Alma Winemiller in the dramas severally The Glass Menagerie, Streetcar Named Desire and Summer and Smoke ( Abbott 20 ) . Early on, authors saw the belle as their ideal South, pure and baronial. However, more self-aware and critical modern authors like Mr. Williams use the & # 8220 ; darker & # 8221 ; side of the belle- to typify the indictment the Old South or to depict the new. Features that will be examined to represent the new belle and accordingly the South are self-love, illusion/memory and colza.

First, what precisely is a southern belle, and why did she alter to the present southern belles of Williams? The belle is a immature, single girl of a landed ( and therefore blue ) household, who lives on a great plantation. She is an ideal adult female who would be sanctioned by Victorian morality and by the Southerners & # 8217 ; image of the place as a changeless criterion of order and decency ( Dillman 17 ) . The impressions of their blue beginnings assured that the belle would be protected from world, championed, and wooed. In add-on, the worlds of plantation life were good suited to the idealisation of adult females, since adult females were kept isolated from the & # 8220 ; universe & # 8221 ; by the nature of their life. The lucky, immature miss had few undertakings except to be reasonably and capturing. After matrimony, she was expected to go a hard-working matron who supervised, suckled and mothered ( Avia, WebRing ) .

The grounds for the alterations from this proper Victorian belle to the southern belle of Tennessee Williams are both cultural and psychological. When the traditional southern myths clashed with the forces set free by World War I, the South & # 8217 ; s phantasies about itself no longer provided the sanctuary of values that had been sufficient for 60 old ages after the Civil War. World War I unleashed a chasm of industry, anxiousness, decease and uncertainty ( Roudane 49 ) . Artists, ever the Godheads of order, had to get down to reorder the universe and interrupt up the idles of the old universe. Thus the myth decomposition began in poesy, in fiction, in histories, in scholarship, and in the play ( Bynum 5 ) .

The beauty moral principle of the South prefers its lovely adult females to be capturing and coquettish, flirts who ne’er yield their pureness, can make impossible tenseness for the belle: she is asked to exhibit herself as sexually desirable to the appropriate work forces, yet she must non herself respond sexually. Harmonizing to Mr. Roudane, & # 8221 ; she must be every bit tempting as the Dark Lady, yet every bit pure as the White Maiden & # 8221 ; ( 18 ) . The play in which the belle appears reveals that transporting two such extremes is excessively much for some of the modern belles to bear. Nineteenth-century belles, whose Victorian milieus and upbringing reinforced the determined southern behaviour, are more successful. After World War I, the basic struggles within the personality of the belle become the cardinal accent in the play that depicts the belle and finally that depicts the South ( Bloom 45 ) .

The belles of Tennessee Williams could be accurately described as narcists necessitating attending, people without a sense of worth, those who settle on an impossible end to supply their life with significance. Consequently, Amanda, Blanche and Alma, are trained to seek the attending of work forces, and develop the agencies in how to make so ( Kolin 121 ) . And as a consequence, accomplishments and traits such as assertiveness, intelligence, logic, assurance are ignored and suppressed. Their sense of worth is achieved merely through the attending of others ( Bernhard, Southern Women 55 ) . This inexorable acknowledgment of the belle & # 8217 ; s self-love is a effect of the beauty moral principle of the South.

Amanda portrays the egotistic female parent in The Glass Menagerie and has a changeless preoccupation with her physical properties and visual aspects ( including those environing her ) for & # 8220 ; All reasonably misss are a trap, a reasonably trap, and work forces expect them to be & # 8221 ; ( Jacobus 129 ) . Amanda & # 8217 ; s hair is set in girlish coils in an effort to retain the yesteryear, her young person, which has long since diminished. The chance of losing her physical properties of young person and beauty terrifies her. Every motion is done carefully and methodically as if she were being put on show. Williams & # 8217 ; phase waies coach the histrion that & # 8220 ; She lets the chapeau and baseball mitts fall on the floor- a spot of moving. . . Amanda easy opens her bag and removes a mincing white hankie which she shakes out finely and finely touches her lips and anterior nariss & # 8221 ; ( 133 ) . Therefore, Amanda still believes she is on that 19th century base in the 20th century modern universe.

Amanda besides obsesses on how her tenement may look on the beginning of the & # 8220 ; gentleman caller & # 8221 ; . For some simple workingman to drop down for dinner, she dictates a long list orders that need to be done: & # 8220 ; I want things nice, non sloppy! All my nuptials Ag has to be polished, the monogrammed table linen ought to be laundered! The Windowss have to be washed. . . And how about apparels? We have to have on something, wear & # 8217 ; t we? & # 8221 ; ( 145 ) . At the oncoming of an existent adult male coming to the house, Amanda goes overboard in delighting him, because that is what the South has trained her to make. The phase waies once more indicate out that & # 8220 ; Amanda has worked like a Turk in readying for the gentleman company. The consequences are amazing. The new floor lamp with its rose-silk shadiness is in topographic point, a coloured paper lantern. . . & # 8221 ; ( 146 ) . The new philistinism continues to vibrate over their lives every bit good as the new South.

Less concerned with stuffs and more concerned with herself, Alma resents the demand to care for her senile and selfish female parent, and self-pitying male parent. She feels she has & # 8220 ; had certain troubles and disadvantages to get by with & # 8211 ; which may be partially the cause of these distinctive features of mine. . . & # 8221 ; ( Williams, The Theatre 152 ) . She believes her young person is go throughing and knows that & # 8220 ; people. . .think of me as an old amah & # 8221 ; ( 169 ) . Alma besides uses over-elaborate vocabulary, for illustration utilizing the term & # 8220 ; pyrotechnical show & # 8221 ; for pyrotechnics, to expose her proper upbringing and impress work forces.

Sadly, Alma is trapped by a codification that has created her self-love and prevented her from accepting her ain sexual passion. As a consequence, she can non hold John Buchanan Jr. Torn between her passion and repression, she is fated to follow a form of relationships and a lost love. Alma is attracted to John Buchanan Jr. & # 8217 ; s defiance and sexual entreaty, but their relationship is ever thwarted by the portion of her that wishes to be a & # 8220 ; lady & # 8221 ; ; and so Alma fears John & # 8217 ; s strength and passion, which ironically are like her ain ( Jackson 14 ) .

The intervention of the subject of the narcissist southern belle suggests that every bit long as work forces cleaving to their myth of adult females, adult females remain essentially abstractions, objects, and a thing to be used. Similarly, John uses adult females in Summer and Smoke. Until the myth is abandoned, neither work forces nor adult females will accomplish self-identity ( Stokes 99 ) . The South had lost its individuality after the Civil War and in the same regard ; it looked to itself as an object of attractive force. Likewise, Blanche frequently asks, & # 8220 ; How do I look? & # 8221 ; ( Williams, Streetcar 37 ) . The self-identity of the South had been destroyed by the Civil War and began to look towards the place to give itself intending.

Amanda, Alma and Blanche are merchandises of a society that has programmed them to conform to the feminine stereotype of the flirt, and her ensuing self-love impels her inevitable behaviour. The kid who is treated as a beautiful object begins to specify herself as a beautiful object. When a adult female & # 8217 ; s self-image is that of an object, non a individual, she can anticipate others to handle her consequently ( Bernhard, Hidden Histories 66 ) . They have been reared in conformity with her society & # 8217 ; s accent on feminine beauty. In one state of affairs, Blanche & # 8217 ; s sister Stella orders Stanley to & # 8220 ; be certain to state something nice about her visual aspect. . .Tell her she & # 8217 ; s looking fantastic & # 8221 ; ( Williams, Streetcar 28 ) .

A narcissist needing attending, a individual without a sense of worth, she settles on an impossible end to supply her life with significance. Blanche begins to lose self-worth unless person says & # 8221 ; a word about my visual aspect & # 8221 ; ( Williams, Streetcar 21 ) . She is depicted as a perfect merchandise of southern civilization, which had long enjoined upper-class adult females, taught to be unconcerned with animal affairs. Unfortunately, the function of the narcist is played at the disbursal of world ; a adult female infatuated with her self-importance loses all clasp on the existent universe, she has no concern to set up with existent relation with others ( Jackson 285 ) . Thus Blanche loses all of world at the terminal of Streetcar Named Desire.

The former belle and the aging belle raising semblances about their vernal temptingness. This leftover of their vernal self-love leads them to treat their household narratives, adorn themselves in old jewellery, or quash old crushes. This consequences in semblance stemming from a egotistic universe.

The flower of the belle is ephemeral ; from a introduction at 16 or 17 to the menace of spinsterhood by 19, her calling lasts for a few short old ages ( Dillman 28 ) . The exhilaration of those old ages is intense: a belle is the centre of male and female attending ; all her actions are designed to achieve the terminal for which her childhood has prepared her and on which her hereafter depends. Indeed, the wooing stage of her life is the lone stage over which she has at least some control, when her determinations might be based on penchant. A belle may well retrieve these yearss, and cleaving to them as a brief minute of a clip they had freedom ( Bernhard, Southern Women 85 ) .

Amanda, Blanche and Alma proclaim themselves to be ladies. They carry an air of magnificence, keeping elegant gestures and address in state of affairss that render those traits incongruous. Amanda persists in seizing the fragments of dreams, the flashes of memory, for psychological nutriment. Enthusiastically remembering the battalions of gentlemen who once called on her at Blue Mountains, she retells the narrative over and over once more ( Bloom 187 ) . She sees the universe through a head covering of phantasy and semblance.

Amanda fancies herself a former Delta belle, an semblance into which she attempts to get away from the parturiency of a tenement house in St. Louis. Rooted in a tradition of the genteel Southerner, she can hold no societal place, no fiscal security, apart from her hubby. With no calling programs, she devotes her pride to her hubby and kids. In her battle for endurance, she uses the DAR to sell magazines, while her girl runs up the food market measures and boy ropes in possible suppliers. The myth is that a southern belle is the symbol of young person, beauty and wealth ( Kolin 143 ) . She attempts to coerce the southern belle on Laura, which contributes to the decomposition of Laura & # 8217 ; s personality every bit good Amanda refuses to admit this myth has past, so she escapes into her memories:

& # 8220 ; Sometimes they come when they are least expected! Why, I remember one Sunday afternoon in Blue Mountain. . .

your mother received- 17! – gentlemen companies! Why, sometimes there weren’t chairs plenty to suit them all. . . Among my companies were some of the most outstanding immature plantation owners of the Mississippi Delta- plantation owners and boies of plantation owners! There was immature Champ Laughlin who subsequently became Vice President of the Delta Planters Bank. Hadley Stevenson who was drowned in Moon Lake and left his widow one hundred and 50 1000 in Government bonds. . . ( Jacobus 129 )

Within this universe of memory and semblance, Amanda tries to keep the household together, economically and spiritually. Her hubby & # 8217 ; s abandonment of her and the household was the daze that sends her dorsum into the aureate yearss of her maidenhood ( Bloom 156 ) . Since Amanda can non confront the world that she was unable to keep her hubby & # 8217 ; s love, she indulges in memories of that one supreme minute of her young person, the twenty-four hours when she might hold chosen from 17 gentlemen companies, all rich and successful and caring for their married womans. Williams describes Amanda as, & # 8220 ; A small adult female of great but baffled verve cleaving madly to another clip and topographic point & # 8221 ; , who & # 8220 ; holding failed to set up contact with world, continues to populate vitally in her semblances & # 8221 ; ( Kolin 98 ) .

Removed into her past and necessitating to strengthen an endangered sense of dignity, Amanda assumes an antediluvian signifier of southern behaviour, breeding for & # 8220 ; What is at that place left but dependency all out lives? & # 8221 ; ( Jacobus 128 ) . In the early American South a genteel codification developed, giving the white southern adult female homage both to safeguard her pureness from the manhood of black slaves and to typify a civilizing influence on the effete ways of the white landed aristocracy ( Abbott 52 ) . So & # 8220 ; gentlemen companies & # 8221 ; stand for a clip when work forces were gallant and adult females were respected, admired, and pampered. The & # 8220 ; gentlemen companies & # 8221 ; in bend represent a & # 8220 ; Glorious Hill, & # 8221 ; a yesteryear that the South one time had and is still seeking to keep on to.

Blanche resembles Amanda in her reactions to the rough universe. Her effort to keep the crumbling universe of the household plantation together is similar to Amanda & # 8217 ; s try to maintain her household together. Blanche pleads with her sister Stella & # 8220 ; you can & # 8217 ; t bury your yesteryear & # 8221 ; ( Williams, Streetcar 25 ) . Besides like Amanda she refuses to accept the world of her life and efforts to populate under semblance. She has a false sense of breeding, which is contradicted, by an every bit false sense of promiscuousness. The struggle between these two manners of behavior leads her to her devastation ( Roudane 173 ) .

Blanche is, like Amanda, an blue blood who has lost her societal position and is unable to interrupt from her yesteryear. Unlike Amanda, she attempts to get away from, non into, the yesteryear, with its seamy world. Stanley & # 8217 ; s disclosures about her many misrepresentations both prevent her flight and demo her more complex web ( Bloom 69 ) . She retreats into the prison of lunacy, where eventually she takes safety from both past and present.

As representative of the Old South, Blanche dissipates her power ; far from neglecting to acknowledge her cultural ( and personal ) yesteryear, she is bound to it. Caught in a neurotic oblivion, she combines in herself the antonyms of John & # 8217 ; s overdone physical impulses and Alma & # 8217 ; s civilization, pretence and mannerism ; Blanche can non accommodate them, nymphomania and primness, love of the past and hatred of the yesteryear, echt civilization and pretenses fakery exist at the same clip ( Dillman 155 ) . She remains frozen in a clip that stands still for & # 8220 ; adult females of civilization and strain and intelligence can enrich. . . and clip can & # 8217 ; Ts take them off & # 8221 ; ( Williams, Streetcar 53 ) . Blanche represents one manner the South could take: unable to confront the contrast between the romantic yesteryear and realistic nowadays, Blanche violently betrays her codification while urgently seeking to keep it.

Ironically, the flight of these characters becomes a prison, restricting and degrading the captive and sometimes others with her. Blanche DuBois & # 8217 ; sense of properness clangs with her pent-up sexual thrusts when she confronts Stanley who lives outside the codification of southern gallantry. He is a adult male whose open gender is at the same time desirable and abhorrent to her. Unfortunately, her egotistic flirt induces her to lure the one adult male who can destruct her. She can non accommodate her divided personality in the face of the violent passions of the modern universe ; accordingly, she withdraws into a universe of semblances and lunacy ( Jackson 126 ) . While stand foring the South further, the modern universe after World War I can non transport the conflicting idles of the yesteryear and the present world of war.

Even though Stella, the star married to the beast, offers Blanche an illustration of synthesis, and even though Blanche herself is well more free than Alma, Blanche is like Alma is yielding to the animal at the disbursal of her ideals and her ain wellbeing ( Kolin 84 ) . Alma and Blanche are a motion toward sensualness stand foring mental if non physical devastation. And a religious individual in a physical universe is impossible.

The idealism is illusional ; Alma is unable to interpret it into positive action. Her female parent leads her to self-pity. She is acrimonious because she has non gotten anything for her selflessness, non even acknowledgment. Her life tied to responsibility ; Alma has a dream about what she would make if things were different ( Bernhard, Southern Women 74 ) . She says to John, & # 8220 ; Most of us have no pick but to take useless lives! But you. . . have a opportunity to function humanity. Not merely to travel on digesting for the interest of indurance, but to function a baronial, human-centered cause, to alleviate human enduring & # 8221 ; ( Williams, The Theatre 154 ) .

This demand of flight subdivisions from Alma & # 8217 ; s lineage is Cavalier and Puritan- her female parent wears a plumy chapeau ; her male parent is a sermonizer. She cultivates societal graces, romanticizes sex, and in a mode dictated by her genteel codification instantly sets out to fulfill her desire for John. At the same clip, she admires Gothic cathedrals, has faith in & # 8220 ; the everlasting battle and aspiration for more than our human bounds have placed in our range & # 8221 ; ( Williams, The Theatre 197 ) . Culture and power in both traditions have produced Alma- and the South. At the terminal of the drama she has non so much tempered beautiful semblance with everyday world as she has shown herself nescient of any historical position. Her determination to take what satisfaction this Earth has to offer- giving small though to the consequences- is a playback of the South & # 8217 ; s history ( Kolin 184 ) . So long as the psyche of the South refused to face world, it had no hereafter.

Illusion may be a universe of world these southern belles are forced to populate in, but this semblance can come from or turn more intense as a consequence of colza or conquering. Rape stood for ultimate domination and subordination. It is a symbol of power embracing that onto the belle and onto the South. In a male-dominate society, adult females were a weaker category. After the Civil War, nevertheless, plantation proprietors had to set to an economic order no longer based on bondage ( Stokes 23 ) . The patriarchal South had made white work forces the dominant group in footings of their superior position, their entree to lucrative economic functions, their autarchy in sexual functions, and their aggressive disposition. Womans and inkinesss, on the other manus, were deemed subsidiary in position, function, and disposition. A adult female & # 8217 ; s position depended upon her male parent or hubby, her economic function was that of a nubile confederation shaper before matrimony and a housewife after matrimony, her sexual function was that of a chaste maiden or faithful married woman ( so that the legitimacy of the male & # 8217 ; s line could be preserved ( Bernhard, Hidden Histories 65 ) .

Rape as the ultimate act of domination consequences when the male feels denied the privileges he assumes are his right. The right to mate whomever he pleased was long assumed ; limitations placed on him by social tabu or Torahs were in no manner every bit terrible as those placed upon white adult females. During and after World War I, the North began to rule the South, enforcing industry and philistinism every bit good as greed, bring downing an accent on money. It is evocative of the not-forgotten Civil War ( Abbott 34 ) . To no help, Blanche ( the Old South ) threatens Stanley ( the North ) and screams, & # 8220 ; So I could writhe the broken terminal in your face! & # 8221 ; ( Williams, Streetcar Named Desire 130 ) . After proclaiming & # 8220 ; allow & # 8217 ; s have some rough-house! He springs toward her, turn overing the tabular array. She cries out and work stoppages at him with the bottle top but he catches her carpus. . .We & # 8217 ; ve had this day of the month with each other from the beginning! She moans. The bottle falls. She sinks to her articulatio genuss. He picks up her inert figure and carries her to the bed & # 8221 ; ( 130 ) . It is implied and non straight stated that she is raped.

If it is assumed that Blanche is representative of the Old South, she is being conquered metaphorically by the North as they did in the Civil War and once more in the Industrial Revolution. The belle herself is presented as the depository of the southern values ; the raper is an foreigner who represents the antithesis of these values. The colza of Blanche and other southern belles is a symbolic action that represents the & # 8220 ; violent disordering of a harmonious society & # 8221 ; ( Kolin 137 ) .

Obviously, Alma was non raped, but conquered & # 8211 ; by John Buchanan Jr. After & # 8220 ; the tabular arraies have turned, yes, the tabular arraies have turned with a retribution, & # 8221 ; Alma has compromised her religious side, her & # 8220 ; soul & # 8221 ; , for the animal side of John ( Williams The Theatre 247 ) . She has to an extent faced world, but at a monetary value. His animal side conquers Alma who & # 8220 ; died last summer- suffocated in fume from something on fire inside her & # 8221 ; ( 243 ) .

Buchanan, despite his upper-middleclass position, is another Stanley, a adult male who believes in the cardinal morality of a crude being. Like Stanley, he expresses disdain for the abstractions of the historical, cultural, and traditional yesteryear. Later though, John finds love and hope through Nellie ( Bloom 67 ) . Alma is forced to get down to turn her caput off from her Windowss that lead to the Buchanan house, and towards other work forces, & # 8220 ; so we are able to maintain on traveling? & # 8221 ; ( Williams, The Theatre 254 ) .

Clash evolved from two opposing bunchs of images. One of rural, semi-rural life enriched by tradition, faith, stable and predictable societal behaviour, and feeling of single worth. And the other a helter-skelter, craze of industrial manner of life. This is the ambiance of the South undermentioned World War I. The force and development existed side by side with the genteel polish of the South. Harmonizing to Ms. Abbott, southern myth disintegrated for several grounds whether it be the failure of persons to prosecute their thoughts or the inability of Southerners to defy taint by materialists who do non believe in the southern codification of behaviour, the southern belles, the South, lost. ( 77 ) .

Amanda, Blanche and Alma are vehicles for positions of Tennessee Williams of the South. Common subjects exercised through non merely Tennessee Williams & # 8217 ; dramas, but through much of southern literature are self-love, memory/illusion and colza. They illuminate the reader of common subjects of the South & # 8217 ; s history and present province. From George Bagby to William Faulkner, the belle represents a human ideal, now regarded as old-timer while arousing a paradox between life in the past and present congruently. Although, this manner of life should non be encouraged in the existent universe, as a literary figure, her twenty-four hours is non over.

Evans 14

Plants Cited

Abbott, Shirley. Womenfolk: Turning Up Down South. New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1983.

Avia. Southern Belles WebRing. 1997. 1 Nov 1999.

Bernhard, Virginia Eds. Hidden Histories of Women in the New South. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1994.

Bernhard, Virginia Eds. Southern Women. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1992.

Bloom, Harold Ed. Modern Critical Positions: Tennessee Williams. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.

Bynum, Victoria E. Unruly Women: The Politicss of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South. Chaphill Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

Dillman, Caroline Matheny Ed. Southern Women. New York: Hemisphere Publishing Corporation, 1988.

Jackson, Esther Merle. The Broken World of Tennessee Williams. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1965.

Jacobus, Lee A. Ed. The Bedford Introduction to Drama Third Edition. Boston: Bedford Book, 1997.

Kolin, Philip C. Tennessee Williams: A Guide to Research and Performance. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Roudane, Matthew C. The Cambridge Companion to Tennessee Williams. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. New York: Signet Book, 1947.

Evans 15

Williams, Tennessee. The Theatre of Tennessee Williams Volume Two. New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1971.

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