WHY IS A PLAY BY TENNESEE WILLIAMS LIKE THE STRENGTH CARD?
A Streetcar Named Desire
Part 1: What Is This All About?
The other night, my honey and I watched the classic 1955 movie, “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Always love me some Tennessee Williams. His characters live in a shadowland between hope and despair. I can relate. His female protagonists are drama queens. I know that territory, too. They delve into somber moods and self-destructive behavior. Yep. Check that box. Been there, done that, but thank God and Goddess those days are gone.
A fan of angst, his stuff appeals to me. I’ve been hooked ever since my community college put on a production of “Summer and Smoke” In about 1967. Some people like their entertainment filled with violence and explosions. I prefer the excitement of emotional conflict. His work digs down to the nitty-gritty of the human shadow. He’s won two Pulitzers, and is considered one of the top American playwrights of the twentieth century.
In case you don’t know Williams and his work, here’s a thumbnail overview. He was a gay American playwright. Born in Mississippi in 1911. He entered a world unable to accept any deviation from patriarchal norms. His writing reflects the struggles he faced as he challenged the repressive culture of his time.
Williams’ plays always remind me of a teaching I learned when studying for initiation in Anderson Feri Witchcraft, ‘The Three Souls.’ When you look at his characters through that lens, their madness makes sense. I’m writing this to share this teaching because everybody wants to be happy.
Nobody wants to end up like Blanche at the end of “Streetcar,” being led to a mental hospital on the arm of a doctor in a delusional haze saying, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” We all want to be feel good about our lives.
Being born into a cookie-cutter society that expects everybody to accept the same values can make you crazy. Things get reduced to false dichotomies and categorized as ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ Our lives, thoughts, and feelings are much more complex. We’ve made some progress, but there’s still a lot of two-dimensional thinking out there. I believe all of us have internalized these values to some extent, and in areas where we see ourselves lacking, , we suffer to one degree or another.
Here are only some of many possible examples:
· Many people still see heterosexual norms as good, and anything else as bad.
· As a Pagan, it's clear to me that mainstream culture still values Judeo-Christian religious traditions while demeaning all others.
· We pit intellect against emotion, and spirituality against carnal needs.
· We place the wealthy on a pedestal while we pay professional football stars millions and expect school teachers to get by on a pittance.
· There’s a lot you can do to stay healthier, but illness can still knock you down, and of course we all have to leave this mortal coil at some point. Does it make you feel diminished when you get sick?
· We chase success, winning, and fame and we fear failure, losing, and obscurity.
· The dominant paradigm still values the White European culture over indigenous ones.
A friend of mine pointed out that some of these things really are bad, and of course there's some truth to that. No one wants to be sick, destitute, or unseen. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be well and financially stable. Our problems come from the ‘either or’ way we look at things. The way peace of mind flies out the window when unforeseen circumstances thrust the things we call 'bad' in your face.
Real life isn’t divided up that way. Everything, even gender, exists on a continuum.
How much fame, how much money is enough? What circumstances do you need in order to be a success? What if you’re a success now because you face your life head-on every morning? What if you could accept things exactly the way they are and be happy for no reason? And how about the important lessons we all learn when things don't go the way we want?
Oh, and don’t get me started about the cutural and spiritual wealth we have lost out on because we haven’t valued the wisdom of indigenous cultures. That’s a whole ‘nother book!
Recently I followed a discussion thread about Brazilian grammar on a What’s App group. I laughed when the question about which verb to use turned to trying to decide if ‘God’ were singular or plural. To me, as a NeoPagan Witch, that would be like asking if air or love were singular or plural. Some questions can’t be answered, except possibly with the word, ‘yes.’
So, it is with the human experience. How can we be happy if we arbitrarily form false dichotomies and pit one need against another? Tennessee Williams’ characters ask us, are we spiritual and emotional beings, or are we carnal? The answer can only be yes. If we don’t honor both aspects we suffer.
Watch for next week’s post dealing with ‘who,’ the characters in the play as seen through the Three Souls of Feri. It’s turning out to be pretty long, so may need to be further divided into a single section for each of the souls: primal self, talking self, and god self. It will be followed by ‘how’ to benefit from this teaching. ‘Why,’ the last of the blogs in the series, will talk about the payoff. Stick with me. I promise it will be worth it!