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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

13. Southern Renaissance

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Activities: Author Activities

Tennessee Williams - Author Questions

Back Back to Tennessee Williams Activities
  1. Comprehension: Who seems to be the protagonist in A Streetcar Named Desire? With whom do you sympathize?

  2. Context: In light of Williams's homosexuality, it might be tempting to see the violence in Stanley Kowalski's interactions with Stella and Blanche as a critique of the strict heterosexual norms Williams had seen and experienced in his lifetime. However, the 1950s were a period of social repression in more ways than one, and A Streetcar Named Desire is a play that addresses multiple levels of 1950s culture. Besides sexuality, what other social norms might the play be attempting to address?

  3. Context: Nearly thirty years before the debut of A Streetcar Named Desire, the American South was outraged by national press coverage of the Scopes evolution trial, which depicted the South as backward, hidebound, and repressed. The Southern Agrarian movement developed partially as a response to this experience and was an attempt by the writers involved to defend southern values and ways of life. How do you think the Southern Agrarians would have responded to A Streetcar Named Desire? How had the United States changed in the thirty years between the Scopes trial and the debut of Williams's play? Consider both the critical and the popular responses to the play.

  4. Exploration: In describing the main character of his most successful play, Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller said that in Willy Loman, "the past was as alive as what was happening at the moment, sometimes even crashing in to completely overwhelm his mind" (see Unit 14). Miller's description of Willy Loman could also describe Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, as she struggles to move beyond her past and the loss of Belle Reve. Why do you think two of the most important American plays of the twentieth century would be so concerned about the relation of the past to the present or the future? Consider this question in the larger context of the other southern writers in this unit: Which authors and works also seem centrally concerned with the way the past relates to the present, and why is this preoccupation so common to southern writers?

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