Presley, Delma Eugene. “The Moral Function of Distortion in Southern Grotesque.” South Atlantic Bulletin, 37.2 (May 1972): 37-46. South Atlantic Modern Language Association. University of Pennsylvania Library, Philadelphia. 7 April 2008. <http://hdl.library.upenn.edu/1017/6965/2>.
In this article, Presley explores the use of grotesque literature by American authors around the second half of the twentieth century. Both a literary movement and writing style associated with the Southern Gothic, grotesque literature is meant to induce both empathy and disgust in readers, and traditionally explores characters who are physically, mentally, or morally disadvantaged or incompetent. Created as an aftermath of historical misfortunate and the “cultural confusion” of the South’s agrarian roots in an age of progress, writers such as Truman Capote, Flannery O’Connor, and Tennessee Williams all wrote in the grotesque style in order to reveal the character of the American South and to bring social issues to light through supernatural, ironic, or unusual events. Founded on the use of Gothic archetypes such as the “damsel in distress” motif, grotesque writers took clichéd subject matter and placed it in a modern context. Presley commends grotesque writers for giving readers insight into the cultural dilemmas relating to the south, yet also finds that many of these issues are taken out of context and are often distorted for dramatic purposes.
Tennessee Williams’ Streetcar Named Desire is a prime example of a grotesque piece of literature. Flannery O’Connor stated that grotesque writers are “faced with the reality that they live in an age whose distortions function as indicators of how far man has drifted from his true image as a creature of God.” In this vein, Williams explores the corruption of mankind, along with its difficulties in reconciling its primal nature with the rules of society: Blanche’s charm and beauty is overridden by her alcoholism, nymphomania, and general debauchery, while Stanley’s work ethic is conquered by his animalistic brutality. Because he believes desires of the “flesh and the spirit” cannot exists harmoniously in society, Williams also explores the impossibility of durable love, which is evidenced at the end of Streetcar when Stella finally leaves her husband. Thus, Presley’s analysis of grotesque literature not only reveals the methodology behind Williams’ play, but why he chose to write it in the first place.