The Death of Morality

  By: Cassandra Baggaley

In the 1920’s a sudden movement took place.  Nicknamed the “Roaring Twenties”, skirt lengths shortened and moralities started dissapearing.  Both genders became brash and innocence was lost.  In 1947, Tennessee Williams a well-known playwright wrote a play called A Streetcar Named Desire.  In this play Tennessee Williams used the characters to show the slow death of moralities and elegance.

First, take the main character Blanche.  She grew up on a Southern Plantation, she was part of the Southern gentility.  Born and raised with Southern manners, she learned early on that beauty is what matters.  By the time we see her in the play she already has fallen.  Her young husband committed suicide, she was fired for having an affair with a student, and she has a drinking problem which she tries to cover up.  Worst of all, she lost Belle Reeve, the plantation where she and her sister grew up.  Now condemned to the real world, she lives with her sister and her husband.  “She wasn’t expecting to find us in such a small place. You see I’d tried to gloss things over a little in my letters.” (Williams, 18)  The real world is shown, through the windows, as a harsh, cruel place. Blanche who’s waiting for a handsome gentleman to save her from this horrible place, is never saved.  Instead this delicate Southern jewel is broken.  On the night of the baby’s birth Stanley, Stella’s husband, rapes Blanche.  By this point the coarseness of the world has broken her beyond repair, and she is sent to a mental institution.  A representation of what happened to old-time values.

Now, let’s take a look at Stella.  Raised a Southern Belle, Stella abandoned Bell Reeve before it was lost.  She adapted her values early on.  “The best I could do was make my own living.”  (Williams, 11)  Stella settled for marrying Stanley and living on the bottom floor of a house.  She seems happy.  But as the play progresses you see a drunken Stanley hitting and abusing her.  “I want to go away!  I want to go away!”  She shouts.  Yet, she still returns to him.  Changing her values didn’t make her happy.  She still is hurt but the coarseness and vulgarity of the world.  She’s just in denial about it.  In the end, when Blanche is being shipped to a mental facility, she is the only one who understands what a tragedy it is.

Stanley, Stella’s husband, grew up in the world.  He is the child of lowered values.  Blanche tells him, “You’re simple, straightforward, and honest, I little bit on the primitive side I should think.  To interest a woman you would have to-”  Stanley is almost animalistic.  He loves his work, he loves fighting, and he loves sex.  He abuses his wife, and rapes her sister.  He sees himself as a social leveler, hating upper class folks.  He does everything he can to make Blanche miserable.  He dislikes her high-horse ways.  He represents the world without morals, and values; a cruel, carnal world.  Yet, in the end, he’s the only one that ends up happy.

The 1920’s was the beginning of a big shift away from morality and old-time values.  Ever since then the world has moved farther and farther from class and towards carnal. Tennessee Williams used his characters to show that shift.  Blanche represented the old ways, and its slow decline out of reality.  Stella represented those that adapted to the new world, and how they were in denial; pretending the new ways were better.  Stanley represents the new world in its animalistic and sensual nature.  And in the end carnal wins and class is considered old and outdated.


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