The Concept of Modernism

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Modernism began to take shape in the literary movement in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is a style or movement in the arts that aims to break with classical and traditional forms. This type of literary movement is evident in Tennessee Williams’ A Street Car Named Desire??”Happy Endings are Overrated. The way this play ended was very new during the era of Tennessee Williams, it was unexpected and a true form of modernism.

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Tennessee Williams was born in 1911 and described his childhood in Mississippi as very happy. As time passed, he and his family moved to St. Louis, Missouri where his happy childhood was taken away, which brought him to start writing. The home situation was not pleasant for him because of the troubles happening in his parent’s marriage. He was able to use the struggles he endured growing up by incorporating them into his writings. He used his parents as inspiration, in a sense, for character in some of his other plays.

Once he finished his studies at the university, he moved to New Orleans and changed his name to Tennessee. He completely turned around his life and lifestyle by exploring the city and what it has to offer, which would eventually inspire his work for A Streetcar Named Desire. This proved to be a success and made him the country’s best playwright at the time. He also won a Drama Critics’ Award and his first Pulitzer Prize. In the 1960s things were not going his way with his writings, which eventually turned him to alcohol and drugs; he was hospitalized because it got too out of hand. In 1975 he was released and went right back to working on his writings. He was able to release new plays and Memoirs that told his life stories. Sadly, he couldn’t get over his addiction and ended up passing in an NYC hotel room in 1983.

When it comes to traditional plays, there are usually three or four acts divided while also including some kind of intermission in between. Williams’ had a different idea when he wrote A Streetcar Named Desire. He decided to make it one long act that is divided into eleven scenes with little or no pause between the scenes. With modernism, he portrays his characters psychological state through interior monologue and stream of consciousness; you can clearly see this through his characters Blanche and Stanley (Stella’s husband). Blanche is the kind of person who is a very fixated, psychologically deluded character that is uncertain when comparing reality and the one she makes in her mind. When I think of her, Blanche seems likes the youth of our hearts which has to be put away for worldly considerations: poetry, music, the early soft feelings that we can’t afford to live under the naked light bulb which is now. (Tennessee Williams) This is Williams’ way of commenting on the conflict between Victorian thinking and Modernism.

A reason why his work is considered modernist is because of the little redemption offered in the story. The way Blanche operates and carries herself does not coincide with the modern social setting. As made evident in the story, Blanches perception of reality is considered crazy whereas Stanley’s behavior is praised; does not really make much sense realistically speaking further proving the modernist work. Well, I never cared for wishy-washy people. That was why, when you walked in here last night, I said to myself “My sister has a married man!”??” Of course that was all that I could tell about you. (Blanche 2.114) Blanche may be misunderstood, but she is not dumb; especially when it comes to Stanley. She knows that he is all about his masculinity but also tried to work into his good graces. Another reason why his play is viewed as modernist work is because of the ending. Most people expect a happy and fulfilled ending but that’s not what Williams’ had in mind. Blanche ends up being institutionalized and the use of freedom does not guarantee a happy ending.

A Streetcar Named Desire is way more than just for entertainment. It is full of social conflict connotations that give relevance, depth and meaning to the story of the play. Williams had a way with writing that he was able to pull at the hearts of those in the audience back then and up to present day. Modernism is a style or movement in the arts that aims to break with classical and traditional forms; this play is exactly that. From Stella being her reserved self, to Blanche and her alcoholism/mental illness, and lastly Stanley’s view of himself as a social leveler; all of this tie into the concept of modernism.

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The concept of modernism. (2019, Dec 18). Retrieved January 27, 2023 , from
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