American literature - Sample Essay

Experiences such as lost hopes and shattered dreams are common concerns in American literature of the 20th century. Compare and contrast the treatment of these experiences in at least two works of American literature you have studied. Tennessee Williams uses lost hopes and shattered dreams to create pathos within an audience, in order to recreate The setting is very important in conveying lost hopes and shattered dreams, and I find it extremely interesting that the play is set in the Elysian Fields, ‘a poor section…

Weathered grey, with rickety outside stairs and galleries’, rather than at Belle Reve, ‘A great big place with white columns’. I think William’s uses the ‘cosmopolitan city’ of New Orleans as a backdrop, to create an atmosphere of loss for the character Blanche. Blanche is a foreigner to this place, and this gives her a mysterious quality. Her sudden willingness to make what she calls a ‘horrible place’ her home infuses suspicion within the audience as it is so starkly contrasting to her previously affluent lifestyle at Belle Reve.

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Why has she been forced to degrade herself by taking ‘a streetcar named Desire’ to New Orleans, ‘the city that care forgot’1 in order to live with her sister? It is the answer to this question, revealed gradually throughout the play, which engages the audience, and it is all the more poignant because Williams has introduced Blanche as an unknown quantity. So, Williams has placed Blanche in an unknown area, and this is often seen as the beginning of her gradual descent, which results in her loosing her sense of place in American society.

There is a sense of loss as soon as she enters in her opening expression, ‘one of shocked disbelief. Her appearance is incongruous to this setting’. When forming characters he gives Blanche a shadowed past of alcoholism, prostitution, paedophilia and loss of her home, then conveys the desperation these have caused her to feel through her clothing, speech and taste in music; all of which are simply out of place within the ‘raffish charm’ of New Orleans. The setting is equally important in ‘Death of a Salesman’, however it is used to different effect.

As Williams uses the setting in order to make Blanche an outcast, so Miller creates the Loman’s home behind which are ‘towering, angular shapes (housing apartments)… surrounding it on all sides’ conveying they are in the centre of a fast and changing society, and yet they are clearly entrenched in the past, ‘nineteen twenty-eight… when I had that red Chevvy – I coulda sworn I was driving that Chevvy today’. It is Willy Loman’s maladaptive personality in particular that As two plays, we can see into the character’s thoughts through monologue, which is unique to a play, as it generally does not happen in a novel.

Experiences of lost hopes and shattered dreams are brought across through the writer’s characterisation. It has been said that Williams’ characters, once introduced, have…. ‘… ‘. Blanche’s tragic life and end is conveyed through her speech and language. When she is being sent to a mental institution at the end of the play, pity is aroused within the audience as she is still speaking in a poetic and superior manner, ‘You’re both mistaken. It’s Della Robbia blue. The blue of the robe in the old Madonna pictures.

‘ Her speech not only conveys her entrenchment in the past as she talks of Della Robbia blue which is an Italian shade from the renaissance period, but also that she has no idea what awaits her. She speaks of the Madonna as though she has an affinity with her whereas in reality she is no virgin, but is renowned for getting ‘mixed-up’ with boys as young as ‘seventeen year old’. Blanche has clearly lost her grip on reality, through her speech we can see that she herself is a lost hope who has ‘always depended on the kindness of strangers’ and now always will.

Blanche has such high hopes of building a new life; marrying Mitch so she can ‘rest and not be anyone’s problem’. Yet her path will be obstructed as she continues in her battle for control with the immensely powerful Stanley. It is, of course, inevitable that only one of them can win the battle, and despite committing rape, Stanley is victorious because of his incriminating investigation into Blanche’s past dealings with ‘young boys’.

Blanche is so deluded, noticeable in her singing whilst frolicking in the tub’ which renders her childlike and extremely vulnerable, she has no idea of Stanley’s discovery, nor the irony in her words, ‘it wouldn’t be make-believe if you believed in me’. This is particularly moving for the audience who know her high hopes can never be fulfilled because of her past. 1 The Guide to the State of Louisiana, 1941, New Orleans City Guide, 1938



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