Treatment of escapism in A Street car named desire by Tennessee Williams and Death Of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

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Treatment of escapism in “A Street car named desire” by Tennessee Williams and “Death Of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller


 The two plays “A Street Car Named Desire” and “The Death of a Salesman” show the extreme desperation wrought in the lives of the protagonists-Blanche Dubois and Willy Loman. The playwrights give the audience an insight into the social and cultural background of their work so as to have a better understanding behind the tragedy of these characters. Blanche and Willy Loman are characters that are stuck up with their fantasies and imaginations, and as a result they escape the harsh realities of life. Blanche tries to hide her past, thinking that there exists an “Elysian Fields” (paradise where she can regain her joy) her in New Orleans. She lives in dreams and illusions, and tries her utmost to erase her past. But she forgets that she is not a part of the new America, and hence the more she pretends to be safer the more she is endangering herself. She loses her balance of mind and ends up in a lunatic asylum.

Willy Loman is never able to confront his failure as a Salesman, and lives in the American dream. He tries to cover his failure through a number of show off, and harbors false hopes for his sons. Realizing that he is a broke, and that his sons are not tailor made to become salesmen, he commits suicide. Thus the two characters have been portrayed by the playwrights as escapists, who are willing to compromise more with their consciences than reconcile to the realities of lives. They escape not knowing that the more they are running to their fantasy worlds the more they are drowning themselves in the bog of reality. Desire and imagination lead them to death whether literal or metaphorical. The dramatists are successful in showing that such a tragic ending is the only solution to characters that are escapists.


The American dramatists “Tennessee Williams” and “Arthur Miller” deal with the theme of escapism in their respective plays. Escapism is not an uncommon theme in the American plays of the 19th century. American drama during this era often showed the hopelessness of characters that could not live up to their hopes and expectations. But more than dealing with the theme of escapism I have chosen these American plays to analyze how playwrights’ treatment of this theme is different in each play. I feel that this research question is very significant, as it will help me understand the characters that tend to be escapists in their particular circumstances. This assignment will also bring forth the social and cultural atmosphere prevailing in America at that time. I will try to show that the characters of Blanche Dubois and Willy Loman are no ordinary characters; they have a lot of heroic element despite the odds swaying their destinies.  Is it not heroic that until the denouement of the play they have hopes? They depart physically or metaphorically from the stage optimistically, lost in their illusions, never once caring for their sufferings on body and soul.


The characters-Blanche and Loman, although flawed, have substance that makes them unforgettable character heroes of the American Stage. In order to analyze the question how they take subterfuge of escapism, this essay will explore the settings, structure, symbols, characters and theatrical devices as used by the two dramatists. In order to better understand the difference in their treatment to the theme of escapism I will make use of the autobiographical accounts of the dramatists, and try to relate them to the tragedies of their protagonists. The stage directions are also of a great help while understanding what goes in the mind of the protagonists at the final hour.

A thorough study of the life of “Tennessee Williams” reveals a number of incidents that appear to have been cast in his masterpiece “A Streetcar Named Desire.” His life during the Second World War is a contrast between the opposites. He has to shift from Mississippi to New Orleans, the south, far removed from the grandeur of the Mississippi. There can be drawn a parallel between his journey and Blanche’s journey to New Orleans. His homosexuality makes him an outlier in The American society, and he takes refuge in New Orleans, where alcoholism, prostitution and homosexuality are condoned. Blanche’s life is destroyed by the suicide of her homosexual husband, and subsequently by her misdemeanors, and therefore she too has to migrate to the New Orleans American society. The “prefrontal lobotomy on Rose1can be equated with Blanche’s journey from sanity to insanity, and her psychological breakdown. To sum up all these incidents and events make Williams an escapist, a fugitive and an alcoholic, a trait soon to be witnessed in his play “A Streetcar Named Desire” in the character of Blanche.

  1. Miller too weaves the autobiographical elements in “Death of a Salesman”, and conjectures the character of Willy Loman after his first hand experience. Like Tennessee, he too had to migrate to Brooklyn, struggling under Great Depression, when his father’s business plunged during the Wall Street Crash. Poverty, Depression and post World War scenario influenced Miller to write a play on the everyday and vulnerable people.  “Death of a Salesman” is a reminder of Miller’s “riches to ragged childhood”. In the words of his sister Joan, “Arthur carries scars from that time. It doesn't take a great observer to notice that. It is a memory, in his nerves, and in his muscles, that he just can't get rid of2.”
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Death of a Salesman” is a tragedy of a common man, a tragedy somewhat removed from Aristotelian notions wherein the protagonist is essentially from a noble and elevated background. In his essay “Tragedy and the Common Man” Miller says, “today few tragedies are written due to the lack of heroes among us. Approach to the tragedy as being suitable for kings only is archaic, and that the common man can also be a subject of the tragedy3.” Miller’s experience with the harsh realities of life made him write other plays as well such as “All My Sons”, “The Crucible”, “A ...

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