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A Streetcar named desire

brief overview of: American South, New orleans, Tennessee Williams' biography

Lex Speller

on 8 February 2017

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Transcript of A Streetcar named desire

The (myth of the) American South
Many white Southerners nostalgically looked back to the time before the civil war as a haven of peace, prosperity and chivalrous gallantry.
The Civil War
Abraham Lincoln becomes president in 1861.
Thomas Lanier Williams
1911: born in Columbus Mississippi
His father: Cornelius C. Williams
He was a travelling salesman for a shoe company.
Tennessee Williams
A Streetcar Named Desire
Knowing that the Republican Party is
anti-slavery, the Southern slave-owning
states break away from the Union.
The ensuing civil war kills more than 600,000 soldiers and is eventually won by the North.
Slavery is abolished in 1865.
The industrialized North becomes much more powerful than the still largely agricultural South.
For black Southerners, the Old South, of course, was an entirely different story.
the Southern Belle
the Southern Mansion
He was fond of alcohol and prone to violence.
In 1918 he moved his family to St Louis, Missouri to take up a managerial position.
Cornelius was often abusive and even made his son interrupt his studies in order to make him work at his shoe company.
His mother: Edwina Dakin
Edwina was a Southern belle.

As the daughter of an Episcopal Vicar, she had a certain social status.

She was snobbish and sometimes hysterical.

Her marriage to Cornelius was an unhappy one.

Tom was the second of three children. He had an older sister, Rose, and younger brother, Daikin.
Tom's childhood
The family lived in Columbus, Mississippi. The father was away a lot and the mother and the children spent a lot of time with their grand-parents. This was quite a happy time for Tom.
Tom contracted diphtheria with serious complications, which left him invalid for 2 years. Because of his delicate health he could not go out and play with the other children. His sister Rose was his playmate.
The family moved to St Louis, Missouri. The mother and the children had trouble adapting to urban life. The children at school made fun of Tom's southern speech and manners. There was a lot of quarreling between his parents.
Tom's youth
Tom enrolled at the university of Missouri to study English literature. This is also where he received his nickname, Tennessee.
After two years he had to drop out because his father wanted him to work in the shoe company that he was managing.
Tom found the work at the shoe factory terribly boring and had a nervous breakdown.
At the same time his sister Rose was showing signs of a severe mental illness (probably schizophrenia).
Tom's sister Rose underwent lobotomy in an attempt to cure her mental illness. However the results were disastrous and Rose spent the rest of her life in a mental institution. Tom was plagued with guilt for not having been able to protect her.
Tom moved to New Orleans, a city which had something of the South he had known in his childhood. He was fascinated by this city and worked at various jobs in the French quarter. This was probably also the times when he discovered his sexual identity and became a practicing homosexual.
Tennessee Williams' life as a writer
Come see New Orleans
French Quarter architecture
New Orleans Funeral
New Orleans - a city like no others
After the war, life in the South changes drastically and a deep sense of loss and regret pervades among some Southerners.
The old South
The economy of the old South was based on agriculture: e.g. cotton, tobacco and sugar cane.
The plantations were profitable because they relied on slave labour. Most planters only had a few slaves, but some of the big plantation owners had several hundred.
They formed a sort of planter aristocracy, with considerable political power.
The planter's society was a patriarchal society, in which the male head of the family had great power over the other family members, as well as his slaves.
New Orleans (brief history part 1)
New Orleans was founded in 1718 by the French governor of Louisiana (named after the French king Louis XIV).
In 1762-3, France gave Louisiana to Spain, which increased trade with Cuba and Mexico and, under Spanish racial rules, allowed for a class of free people of colour.
In 1803, Louisiana became French again, but was sold to the United States shortly after.
Important legacies of the Spanish and French periods are a pervading Catholicism and a code of law different from the one in the other states of the Union.
In the first half of the 19th century, New Orleans became the wealthiest and third largest city of the US (important port, trade in slaves and all sorts of goods, many produce from the nation's interior were shipped down the Mississippi River).
New Orleans - brief history part 2
After the Civil War (1861-65), emancipated slaves and free people of colour gained some political influence, but they lost it again with the rise of the White League and the Ku Klux Klan.
The turn of the century saw the electrification of the streetcars and the birth of New Orleans Jazz.
After WWII, suburbanization and conflicts over school integration drew many white citizens out of the city, leaving a core of impoverished African Americans behind.
Because of its geographical position New Orleans has always been exposed to hurricanes and flooding. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 flooded 80% of the city, killed hundreds and trapped thousands.
"the Big Easy"
"a rich mingling
of colours, tastes
and cultures"
"the city that care forgot"
1939 'American Blues', 3 short plays, wins a prize and Tennessee gets a scholarship.
1943 Williams gets a contract as a scriptwriter for MGM, his script is turned down, but
becomes the basis for his first successful play, 'The Glass Menagerie', staged in 1945.
1947 'A Streetcar named Desire' becomes a great success. Williams becomes a wealthy
man by selling the film rights to both plays and earning income from the stage
a moth:
The Varsouviana polka
blue piano
1948 Williams meets Frank Merlo, with whom he has a long-standing
relationship even though Williams keeps having affairs with
others men.
1950-1961 Williams writes a novel, another film script and a number
of successful plays, among them 'Cat on a hot tin roof'.
Williams suffers from depression and anxiety, he undergoes
psychotherapy and develops a strong alcohol and drug
1963 His partner Frank Merlo, who had given Williams some
stability dies of lung cancer. Williams' writing deteriorates and
his drinking and drug-taking become even worse.
1983 Tennessee Williams dies. He chokes to death on a medicine
bottle cap at the Hotel Elysée in New York.

The Mississippi River - 3,730 km
Full transcript