In the contemporary era of heightened social connectivity, yet widespread seclusion, we scour our lives for an interpersonal bond that would quench our thirst for emotional growth within positive relationships. However, as domestic violence rampages like a hurricane, the prospects of our dogmatic attempt at relational fulfillment, marriage, may be bleaker than we had once suspected. Rather, we may need to strive for alternative social constructs, in order to glean the benefits we had once imagined marriage to provide: emotional and physical interdependence and growth. By exploring the catastrophic repercussions of Stanley’s abuse of Stella in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, juxtaposing their tragic relationship with the emotional support and familial ambience of Tim’s platoon in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, readers may discover that the potential prosperity of marriage may often be found in alternative relationships, and likewise, it may even be absent in matrimony altogether.
In A Streetcar Named Desire, Stanley and Stella manifest how, too frequently, marriages transgress the strict codes of love and mutual affection embodied by American society, demonstrating that America’s seemingly closest bond may lead to nothing more than nearly cataclysmic physical abuse, justified only by the sexualization of the other. Emblematic of their relationship are Stanley’s merciless blows to his wife during an otherwise uneventful poker night with his friends; incited by Blanche and Stella’s questioning of his intelligence, “Stanley charges after Stella… There is the sound of a blow. Stella cries out… There is grappling and cursing. Something is overturned with a crash” (Williams 63). Unabashed by the accompaniment of his closest companions, Stanley insists upon fulfilling his animalistic desires by striking his wife, wielding her fate within his very fists. Yet, Stella later justifies to Blanche his violent tendencies, asserting that they are merely “habits” she must “tolerate” (74). In no way does Stanley attempt to better his own wife’s life, never providing her anything other than his own body as an aid for her sexual desires. Stella further accounts for her victimization: “There are things that happen between a man and a woman in the dark–that sort of make everything else seem–unimportant” (81). Permeating their fallacy of a relationship is Stanley’s superiority complex, in which only he may be “king,” and only he may profit from the taxes of their marriage (131). According to contemporary cultural standards, their marriage is a sham–underlying their affectionate façade is an abyss of abuse. Stanley and Stella’s marriage is merely a vehicle for their sexual desires; in its prolongation, Stella trades her female independence for a life of sexual pleasure and physical abuse.
However, people may look to alternative relationships for an interpersonal sense of belonging and betterment. Take Tim's platoon in The Things They Carried, for instance. There, the same sentiments of communal protection and welfare advancement magnify in battle. As part of forming such a tightly knit community, soldiers have not the privilege of Stanley to exploit their relationships–they must trust everyone in the platoon with both their lives and their mental well being. In his own words, “You make close friends. You become part of a tribe and you share the same blood–you give it together, you take it together” (O’Brien 183). While their “tribe” is certainly a community dedicated to living past the war, its metaphysical justifications transcend life and death. Each member must assist his mates in overcoming the perpetual distress of a nearly inescapable enemy, often through therapeutically delving into each other’s experiences: “They shared the weight of memory. They took up what others could no longer bear. Often, they carried each other, the wounded or the weak” (14). In contrast to Stanley and Stella, characters who nearly abandon their memories of such aching abuse, in hopes of making “noise in the night the way [they] used to,” each member of Tim’s platoon must perpetually reconcile the stress of each day through conversation (Williams 133). Thus, as members of a “blood fraternity,” soldiers possess, amidst the miseries of war, a circle of fellows in whom they may confide, incomparable to Stanley and Stella’s delusion of a relationship (O’Brien 185).
Although both stories address endearment towards one’s peers, the abuse and sexualization underlying Stanley and Stella’s façade of a marriage plays much more of a role within A Streetcar Named Desire than does the camaraderie of Tim’s platoon in The Things They Carried. This may be because The Things They Carried is rooted in soldiers’ experiences in Vietnam, their coping mechanisms a second-class storytelling priority, whereas, A Streetcar Named Desire explores the priorities of a seemingly simple woman who must choose between either emotional and psychological growth or sexual pleasure and physical abuse. Ultimately, while platoonal brotherhood, and its dividends, underscore nearly all of O’Brien’s collection of memoirs, the shortcomings of matrimony embody Stella’s life, all for our own amusement.