Disconcerting Behaviour in The Wasp Factory and A Streetcar Named Desire Essay
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‘Compare the ways writers’ present disconcerting behaviour in both texts so far.’ The following will elucidate how disturbing behaviour is conveyed in the novel The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks and the play, A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams. In A Streetcar Named Desire, the theme of violence is very frequent in the character Stanley Kowalski. Stanley is a married, young man, who comes across to the reader as quite an enraged person with animalistic attributes.
A prime insinuation of Stanley’s difference to regular humans is when Stella DuBois (Stanley’s wife) explains to her sister that Stanley is of “a different species”, foreshadowing that Williams may be warning the reader that Stanley is capable of things that are not in the norm.
Additionally, his manner of walking is often described as “stalks”, which is commonly used to describe animals, such as smilodons and cheetahs and both of which are quite vicious, uncontrollable creatures. Further animalistic gestures performed by Stanley include “jerks out an armful of dresses” and “jerks open a small drawer”, not to mention the fact that he “kicks the trunk”.
In excess of these being certain exemplifications of Stanley’s brutal attitude, they also indicate Stanley’s lack of self-control, which once again is similar to an animal trait, as animals are liable to be quite ruthless and don’t think about their actions before they carry it out.
Furthermore, the fact that Stanley is acting quite rudely towards his sister-in-law and a just-arrived guest fortifies the belief that he is uncaring and confounding towards new people, thus makes him even more animal-like, since most animals dislike people or things that are new to them. Inasmuch, the above is a distinctive example of disconcerting behaviour, particularly because Stanley is an adult and adults tend to be very responsible people, however in the above case mentioned Stanley is not as he is behaving rather irresponsibly. Playwright Tennessee Williams suffered a very brutal childhood filled with abuse and mistreat.
The actions of Stanley are highly significant as they reflect on and are analogous to Williams’ father, who physically abused Tennessee Williams callously when he was child up to his teenage years. Williams himself claimed that A Streetcar Named Desire was “Everything I had to say”, which goes to show the significance of the playwright’s life on A Streetcar Named Desire. Another major indication of Stanley’s violence is when he “gives a loud whack of his hand on her (referring to Stella) thigh” and gives her a rough beating when Stella tries to calm Stanley down from being abrasive towards Blanche, which is relatively disconcerting, since Stella is pregnant; hence she is in need of comfort, love and support. In opposed to Stanley giving Stella moral support and his duty as a husband to protect his pregnant wife, Stanley seems to think it is okay to hurt her, which is fundamentally wrong and very disturbing.
On the other hand, the above mentioned phase of the play reinforces the fact that there was much male dominance in the early 1900s. Stella is also portrayed as one of the weaknesses than the strengths of civilisation in her acceptance of a husband who gives her satisfaction of physical desire. Critic, Nancy Tischner suggests “apparently Williams wants the audience to believe that Stella is wrong in loving Stanley, but right in living with him.”
Personally, I agree with Tischner, simply because it was explicit that the 1900s was a patriarchal society. Women were inferior to men and were represented mostly through their husbands; consequently they were submissive and dependent on their husbands, because they needed a place to live and food to eat. The message of male ascendancy is articulated in a conversation between Stanley and Stella in which Stella asks her husband for money so she could buy her sister dinner, because she knows she hasn’t any money herself: “…you’d better give me some money” (scene II), which emphasizes that wives were reliant on their husbands for support, even if they weren’t entirely happy in their relationship.
Another indication of Stella’s dependence in Stanley is when she claimed that she “can’t stand when he (Stanley) is away for a night … I cry on his lap like a baby.” Although this highlights that Stella is highly dependent on Stanley, we cannot ignore the fact that she loves him too. Similar to Stanley Kowalski, the protagonist of The Wasp Factory, Frank Cauldhame also behaves violently; however in Frank’s case violence is directed mostly towards animals as he is aware of his superiority to them, just as Stanley is aware he is superior to his wife.
The reader follows account of how Frank fills his long, solitary summer victimising animals such as rabbits, as well as killing wasps on a daily basis. Frank’s annihilation of rabbits on the island is a crucial example of how violence is a conventional part of his life – as if he’s accepted that killing and deliberately hurting things will always be normal to him. Frank “throttled the rabbit, swinging it in front of him … its neck held on the thin black line of rubber tubing”. It is highly disturbing how a 16-year old is comfortable in inflicting pain on innocent creatures, not to mention killing them as well as finding it rather amusing, as he claims “I felt good” after his genocidal of the rabbits.
Moreover, Frank does not undergo any remorse after he has committed these harsh doings, because after he killed a cute little bunny he “kicked it into the water.” Despite Stanley being violent towards his inferior (Stella), Frank’s violence is slightly different in comparison to Stanley, as Stanley definitely displays contriteness and guilt after he attacks Stella, whereas Frank demonstrates no pity whatsoever, which accentuates Frank is hysterically riotous, accordingly a person who constantly carries out disconcerting behaviour.
A point that must be noted in A Streetcar Named Desire is my belief that Blanche DuBoi’s insecurity could be seen as a form of disconcerting behaviour. Blanche is constantly fishing for compliments from Stella, which may not seem disturbing at first at all, as most people like to be complimented on their beauty, however, when Stella asks Stanley to “admire her dress and tell her she’s looking wonderful. That’s important with Blanche. Her little weakness”, we begin to question whether Blanche is totally obsessed with herself and her image. The fact that Stella claims “looks” are Blanche’s “weakness” strengthens the belief that Blanche is insecure – especially because this judgement is made from her sister who is very close to Blanche.
Her insecurity highlights the belief that Blanche is a very disturbed person and we can make an assumption that an incident in the past has caused this anxiety in her. In addition, when Blanche declares she still has vanity about her beauty, she looks over at her sister Stella “for reassurance”. We can deduce from Blanche’s final look at Stella to assure she still looks pretty that Blanche definitely self-doubts her appearance and is thinks it’s critical about what people think of her; which further reinforces she is a very unsettled person – perhaps the opposite of Stella, as Stella already has her own husband, home and happiness of a new addition to the family to look forward to.
Furthermore, when Blanche exclaims: “Turn that over-light off! Turn that off! I won’t be looked at in this merciless glare” I find it slightly disconcerting, as she makes such a big deal out of her looks as though it’s gold dust for her and if a speck of it is ruined, then so be herself. The fact that she requests that she would like the light to be off can deduce that Blanche does not want to display her true reality and perhaps she is hiding something. Also the fact that she is older than Stella and has more experience in life, despite this, Stella seems to have a more mature outlook on life than Blanche.
A review by a man named Benjamin Nelson theorises that “Blanche’s inability to tragically mature is a result of her incompletion and fragmentation”. What Nelson is saying is that people are responsible for their own doings provided their current situation has been truly stimulated. Then, and only then, can a classic tragic character evolve, similarly, Blanche finds herself in a situation which is completely different to how she was perhaps living before and has to keep an eye on how she is displaying her self-image to others. The reader is aware that Blanche is not an entirely honest person, as she lies to herself and others about her drinking habits as she begins with telling her sister that (drink-wise) one is her limit.
The fact that the first practical task Blanche carries out in Stella’s home is “she springs up and crosses to it, and removes a whiskey bottle.”, underlines that drinking may be a usual thing is her life, so why does she attempt to hide it all the time? The answer to this of course is so she comes across as socially desirable to new people and especially in Mitch’s case, sexually admirable. When Mitch is around, Blanche stands near the light when the curtain is drawn, as to show her body to Mitch, supposedly for her sense of self-esteem, which means that she has often succumbed to passion. Nevertheless, throughout the play, Blanche avoids appearing in direct, bright light, particularly in front of Mitch.
This implies that Blanche perchance looks to Mitch as a future partner. She also refuses to reveal her age, and it is clear that she avoids light in order to prevent him from seeing the reality of her fading beauty. This fits in with the analogy that Blanche can be seen as moth, as moths avoid because they can’t stand it. In addition to this theory, moths are usually very irritating creatures and tend to cause havoc wherever they go, such as nibbling on clothes and entering rooms without permission. Blanche too has a moth-like persona as she seems to be interference in Stanley and Stella’s love life, as from the moment she has arrived, the couple had an argument immediately.
Stanley’s perception of Blanche is that she is a nuisance and doesn’t like the fact that she is staying in his home: “What do you think you are? A pair of queens?”, which implies that Blanche is behaving too badly for Stanley’s liking. Initially, Tennessee Williams was going to name this play ‘The Moth’, simply because Blanche is such an essential persona in A Streetcar Named Desire. Just as Ms Blanche DuBois is apprehensive about her appearance and quite uncomfortable in her skin, so is Mr Frank Cauldhame in The Wasp Factory.
Due to the ‘accident’ Frank apparently faced as a child in which his male genitalia was bitten off by a dog, it is obvious that he isn’t satisfied with his image. Frank wants to be looked at as frightening to people and even stated: “Looking at me, you’d never guess I’d killed three people”, as though it’s something people should know and as though he is proud of what he did.
He says he “wants to look dark and menacing … the way I might have looked if I hadn’t had my little accident.” This sustains the belief that Frank feels highly uncomfortable with his looks mainly due to the accident. Killing is a very violent act, stereotypically associated with the male gender in which Frank is so desperately trying to conform into. However, he finds it rather hard and feels insecure about his masculinity due to his ‘accident’, therefore resorts to great lengths such as killing people and animals as a method of defining and assuring himself he is a boy. This is slightly similar to Blanche, as Blanche resorts to lying to paint a portrait of how she desires to be looked out, nonetheless, different because Blanche is not so extreme to the point that she harms people like Frank.
Undoubtedly, I find Frank’s killings to emphasize on his masculinity rather pathetic and extremely disconcerting, since he is a teenager and almost seventeen years of age, as a result he should be more than aware of what is right and what is wrong and killing is indeed wrong. On the other hand, I do feel a little sympathy for Frank as he is very isolated and his father refused to allow Frank to officially exist in society, thence he may not have entirely been taught what is morally right and what is morally wrong by his father – especially since his mother is dead and he has no other mother figure in life to guide him.
Other than Frank committing overly masculine acts to demonstrate that he is definitely a boy, Frank envisions himself as someone that is strong and powerful and is upset with his appearance as he laments the fact that he is “chubby”. This is very similar to Blanche, as she too comments on how slender her figure has remained over the years and for reassurance glances
at her sister.
To conclude, I would like to say that disconcerting behaviour is common in both texts and there are various similarities, as well as differences in phases of both the play and the novel.