OLD and NEW South

Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire
OLD and NEW South
In the drama, entitled A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams provides us
with the disparities between Old and New South concerning many aspects of life. It is
important to mention that Tennessee Williams wildly exaggerated the characteristics
of the characters in the play so that he could as much as possible highlight the
differences between the two periods.
First of all, it is important to differentiate the Old South from the New South.
Notably, Old South refers to the period and the culture of the Southern Americans
before the Civil War. Its main characteristics are tradition, social status, courtliness
and gratiousness of living conditions.
On the other hand, New South refers to the postwar period and the time after the
Industrial Revolution (W: 1815-1914; Am: 1820-1870). These two denotes the
coming of industrial period and the beginning of a new era.
Blanche DuBois is a prototypical example of a woman from the Old South. As she
comes from an upper class background, on the surface, she has all the characteristics
typical of people of high social standing. First of all, her physical appearance is
striking and glamorous. At the beginning of the play, she is all in white. Later, she
comes out of the bathroom in a red satin robe. Moreover, she constantly fires
questions at her sister fishing for compliments about her looks. Now it becomes
obvious that the physical appearance is of enormous importance for her.
Her disparaging comments about Stella's house almost develop into the (reader's)
conclusion that it is a terrible place to live. For instance, when Blanche asks her
sister: Why didn't you let me know?, Stella says: Tell you what, Blanche?, and Blanche
replies: That you had to live in these conditions! By uttering these critical remarks
addressed to her sister, Blanche wants to demonstrate her social superiority.
All in all, she takes excessive care of her appearance as well as her pattern of
behaviour in order to hide the truth about her life.
Before her arrival at Stella's house, she worked as a teacher in Laurel. She was faced
with dismissal on the grouds of (her) promiscuous behaviour. But, she tells Stella
that, owing to her nervous breakdown, the high school superintendent suggested
that she take a leave of absence.
On top of everything, she suffers from alcoholism.
Nevertheless, until the end of the play, Blanche continues leading a double life.
Preserving the illusion that all would be well in the end [and even that she would
enjoy a happy life], she says: The rest of my time I'm going to spend on the sea. And
when I die, I'm going to die on the sea. At the very end, she expects a gentleman to
appear, but instead a psychiatrist arrives. Even then, she refuses to face reality. This
event is directly connected with a general disinclination of people from the Old
South to adapt to change. What's more, with the doctor's arrival, her downfall
becomes inevitable.
The main representative of the New South in the play, namely Stanley Kowalski. As
you can see from his surname, he is of Polish origin. With the fact that he is not
American, the allusion is made to the great wave of migration that occurred after the
Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire
Revolution. Consequently, the variety of nationalities became sth perfectly ordinary.
However, when Stanley appears for the first time in the play, he is roughly dressed in
blue denim work clothes. With a working class background, Stenley's financial and
social circumstances are not so favourable. Besides his job, the only activity he is
involved in is playing games with friends, which is his common form of
entertainment. So, he displays steadfast loyalty towards his friends with whom he
plays poker regularly. On the contrary, the fact that he beats his wife occasionally
shows his brutality and barbarousness. That he is uncivilized and ill-mannered can
also be notices when he changes his clothes in front of Blanches' eyes. Not long
after, he even seduces her.
One of the peculiarities (characteristics) of the Old South can be noticed in the
character which does not become visible in the drama, namely Blanche's exhusband. When his wife gets to know about his homosexuality, he takes his own life
in order to preserve his dignity. His decision refers to the code of honour (kodeks
Ĩasti), which was pre-eminent in the Old South.
Above all, the disparity as well as the disagreement between Blanche and Stanley
tells us about the fact that Old and New South cannot anyhow concur with each
other. The absurdity and ridiculousness of the features of the Old South to the
people of (more) modern ages can be found, as previously stated, in Blanche's
behaviour which is perceived as undesirable and upsetting by all the others in the
play. In other words, one Old South lady finds herself in the New South environment
and consequently she fails to stay/be rational and even gets mentally ill in such
With such a storyline, Tennessee Williams not only points out a number of central
features of both periods, but also proves that, just as Blanche was rejected from the
society, the Old South was turned down. All things considered, through the
convincing story of Blanche's downfall, we get a wonderfully vivid depiction of the
end of the Old South.