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American Literature Presents Dreams and Desires as Unattainable

Autor:   •  January 8, 2019  •  3,322 Words (14 Pages)  •  61 Views

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In A streetcar named desire Blanche’s dreams are similarly unattained as a result of the past. Unlike Gatsby, Blanche desires to forget about the past not to rewrite it. Williams’ stage directions allow the audience to see Blanche’s inability to escape her past as the “music of the polka rises up” (Williams, 2009, pg15) when Blanche is thinking about her husband repeatedly reminding her of all that she has lost. Only the audience and Blanche can hear this music which allows the audience to get an insight into Blanche’s deteriorating mind as the music becomes more sinister as Blanche’s sanity declines. Additionally, Blanche turns to alcohol when she wants to drown out her past. Critic Biljana Oklopcic states that, “Williams portrays Blanche as the last representative of the old aristocracy who tries to survive in the modern world by escaping to alcohol, madness, and promiscuity”. This is mirrored by Tennessee in his own life as he often turned to drink during difficult periods of his life and sometimes when his works received particularly harsh criticism. However, no matter how much Blanche drinks she is unable to forget about her past highlighting that dreams and desires are ultimately unattainable in American literature. In the Young Vic’s 2014 adaptation, the play is performed on a revolving stage and changes direction when Blanche (Gillian Anderson) is distressed. This further highlights that Blanche has not attained her dream of forgetting as she is continuously tormented by her past.

As well as time being a barrier, the unrealistic nature of some dreams prevents them from being realised. Desire fuels the dreams of both Blanch Dubois and the speaker in Whitman’s ‘Sometimes with One I Love’. Blanche desires to be holds on to her past of being a southern belle and “Belle Reve” (Williams, 2009, p45) the former plantation Belle and Stella are from. However, this is unrealistic as she has lost Belle Reve for good and cannot get it back. The unrealistic nature of Blanche’s desire to hold on to her past status is highlighted by the translation of Belle Reve which is ‘Beautiful Dream’. The noun ‘dream’ reinforces that ‘Belle Reve’ will now always remain a beautiful memory in Blanche’s mind and cause her to be unable to let go of her unrealistic desire to return to her former life.

In Whitman’s ‘Sometimes with One I Love’ the speaker is in love and has not had this love returned. The speaker is strangely optimistic about the situation and believes that good has come out of it. Thus suggesting that the speaker has achieved their dream. However, the speaker wants the person to reciprocate their feelings and Whitman’s makes it clear this has not happened highlighting that dream and desires are ultimately unattainable.

A common theme in both Whitman’s poetry and Williams’ play is the structure of society and class divides as a barrier to dreams being attained. In Whitman’s poem ‘To You’ the speaker wants there to be no divide and for there to be free flowing communication between all Americans. The speakers message is for a “Stranger” (Whitman, 1892, pg10) the use of this vocative noun makes the message the speaker is sending more direct. Additionally, a “Stranger” is someone that we do not know therefore the message is to everyone reading this poem as no one will know who the speaker is. This reinforces the poems overall message that everyone is equal and there should not be a divide in society. However, this poem highlights Walt Whitman’s relentless optimism as during this time period social class heavily defined your place in society and racial prejudice against African slaves was rife. The syntactic patterning of the lines, “should you not speak to me?” (Whitman, 1892, pg10) and “why should I not speak to you?” (Whitman, 1892, pg10) stress that while they may be different people they are essentially the same. However, the end stopping of the lines unlike the enjambment of the first line suggest that this free flowing society has not yet been achieved. The question marks also suggest that even the speaker is not sure of why there is a division and without this knowledge it is unlikely that the speakers goal will ever be achieved as you cannot solve a problem without knowing its cause.

The class structure is also explored as a barrier to dreams in Williams’ A Street Car Named Desire. Tennessee Williams did this through the status of the characters in the play as whilst Stanley and Mitch are ‘blue collar’ workers representing the working class, the Dubois sisters are faded southern belles representing the upper class. Stanley represents the new America, one in which the American dream is for every man, rich or poor. This is in contrast to Blanche who has come from a world where African American slaves were exploited by the Southern plantation owners. The play is set in New Orleans a city which was at the hub of the ‘New America’, it was a place where African Americans and the unemployed could seek work. The relationship between Stanley and Blanch is a representation of the tensions between the ‘Old America’ and the ‘New America’. Blanche is constantly struggling to adapt to the new society which is shown through the derogatory words she uses to refer to Stanley. Her inability to adapt to this changing society prevents her from moving on and attaining her dream as she is stuck in the past.

The ending of The Great Gatsby provides possibly the best evidence to support the view that American literature presents dream as ultimately unattainable. In the last passage of the novel Fitzgerald uses vivid imagery to convey the failure of Gatsby’s dream. The passage takes a reflective tone highlighting that the dream died along with Gatsby. Nick narrates that Gatsby “had come a long way to this blue lawn” (Fitzgerald, 2001, pg115) the adjective “blue” juxtaposes the noun “lawn” as a lawn connotes images of life and nature where as blue connotes images of lifelessness. This reinforces the notion that the dream has died. Additionally, although Nick attempts to sound positive at the end of the passage by using the imagery of a boat at sea saying, “So we beat on, boats against the current” (Fitzgerald, 2001, pg115) this can be interpreted negatively as it depicts the struggle that chasing your dream will be. The “current” may be a metaphor for the obstacles one may face during their efforts to achieve their dream. If they are continuously going against the ‘current’ they will always be dragged back so ultimately all their efforts are futile. Moreover, this is Nick’s narrative and reflection after Gatsby has died providing further evidence that dreams are unattainable as this is Nick’s hindsight and even in hindsight he is unable to find positives in Gatsby’s


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