Tennessee Williams And The Southern Belle Essay

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Tennessee Williams And The Southern Belle Essay, Research Paper Mary Ellen P. Evans Dana Smith THEA 393 11/23/99 Tennessee Williams and the Southern Belle And such girls! . . . more grace, more elegance, more refinement, more guileless purity, were never found in the whole world over, in any age, not even that of the halcyon . . . so happy was our peculiar social system- there was about these country girls . . . mischief . . . spirit . . . fire . . . archness, coquetry, and bright winsomeness- tendrils these of a stock that was strong and true as heart could wish or nature frame; for in strong and true as heart could wish or nature frame; for in the essentials their character was based upon confiding, trusting, loving, unselfish devotion- a complete, immaculate world of

womanly virtue and home piety was their, the like of what . . . was . . . never excelled, since the Almighty made man in his own image . . . young gentleman, hold of, . . . lay not so much as a finger-tip lightly upon her, for she is sacred. (qtd. Bernhard, Southern Women 4) She did not move. Her eyes began to grow darker and darker, lifting into her skull above a half moon of white, without focus, with the blank rigidity of a statue’s eyes. She began to say Ah-ah-ah-ah in an expiring voice, her body arching slowly backward as though faced by an exquisite torture. When he touched her she sprang like a bow, hurling herself upon him, her mouth gaped and ugly like that of a dying fish as she writhed her loins against him. (Faulkner 126) The quotation from George W. Bagby’s The

Old Virginia Gentleman (1885) presents the southern belle on her pedestal in a typical nineteenth-century description. The second quotation from Williams Faulkner’s Sanctuary (1931) describes the lurid nymphomania of Temple Drake, a more extreme example of the fate of the modern southern belle. The metamorphosis began abruptly around 1914, and since then, Tennessee William’s has presented three southern belles: Amanda Wingfield, Blanche DuBois and Alma Winemiller in the plays respectively The Glass Menagerie, Streetcar Named Desire and Summer and Smoke (Abbott 20). Early on, writers saw the belle as their ideal South, pure and noble. However, more self-conscious and critical modern writers like Mr. Williams use the “darker” side of the belle- to symbolize the indictment

the Old South or to describe the new. Characteristics that will be examined to exemplify the new belle and consequently the South are narcissism, illusion/memory and rape. First, what exactly is a southern belle, and why did she change to the present southern belles of Williams? The belle is a young, unmarried daughter of a landed (and thus aristocratic) family, who lives on a great plantation. She is an ideal woman who would be sanctioned by Victorian morality and by the southerners’ image of the home as a constant standard of order and decency (Dillman 17). The notions of their aristocratic origins assured that the belle would be protected from reality, championed, and wooed. In addition, the realities of plantation life were well suited to the idealization of women, since

women were kept isolated from the “world” by the nature of their life. The lucky, young girl had few tasks except to be pretty and charming. After marriage, she was expected to become a hard-working matron who supervised, nursed and mothered (Avia, WebRing). The reasons for the changes from this proper Victorian belle to the southern belle of Tennessee Williams are both cultural and psychological. When the traditional southern myths clashed with the forces set loose by World War I, the South’s fantasies about itself no longer provided the sanctuary of values that had been sufficient for sixty years after the Civil War. World War I unleashed a chasm of industry, anxiety, death and doubt (Roudane 49). Artists, always the creators of order, had to begin to reorder the world