Southern Grace

     In the 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Elia Kazan and based on Tennessee Williams' 1947 play, Vivien Leigh plays the role of Blanche, a woman who is hiding behind a mask of southern charm to hide her weaknesses. Blanche is a manipulator who attempts to mealy-mouth and sweet talk her way into the lives of people who would be better off without her.

     How ironic that Vivien Leigh also brought to life the power and beauty that was Scarlett 'O Hara in Gone With The Wind. Scarlett and Blanche have the mystique of the old South behind them, using it as a weapon to get what they want. The one thing that both women want is the ability to escape a past they do not want to face.

     Blanche has seen trials in her lifetime including the death of her effeminate husband. Scarlett has seen the world she loves crumble in the face of war. These women both believe that the charms of a southern lady, which each were taught well to use, can help them to better their predicament.

     In both cases, it is a strong-willed man who makes the facade around the women fall to the ground. In A Streetcar Named Desire, it is Stanley (Marlon Brando) who destroys Blanche's plans by telling his friend Mitch (Karl Malden) about Blanche's sordid life before she can get her hooks into him. In Gone With The Wind, it is Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) who looks right through Scarlett's charm, sees her fears, and at the end of the film conquers her with them.

     The main difference in these two characters is will power. Scarlett has a true strength that emerges when she least expects to have it. Blanche only cowers and wastes away in an asylum, too weak to face her own mistakes with the will to remedy them. Both women have a wellspring of southern charm in which they draw from to make themselves attractive to others. However, it is Scarlett alone that shows us what it means to have southern grace, which is to me the strength of heart to rise again.

David Martin

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