The Theme of Addiction in Tennessee Williams’ Plays Research Paper

August 17, 2021 by Essay Writer


In his plays, Tennessee Williams explores a variety of psychological and existential problems that a person can struggle with. Overall, this author is able to give people deep insights into the behavior of an individual who is not able to adjust to the existing social norms. First of all, this paper is aimed at discussing the way in which the theme of addiction is explored in such plays as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire. In particular, it is necessary to discuss why addiction is developed.

This question can be better examined by looking at the behavior of such characters as Brick and Blanche DuBois. In both cases, addiction results from the attempts of these people to shield themselves from reality. Furthermore, it is important to discuss such as theme as gender norms because these rules affect the lives of Brick and Blanche DuBois, who are not able to challenge the existing conventions. One should focus on the way in which these rules shape the identity of these people and eventually ruin their lives. These are the main questions that should be discussed in greater detail.


On the whole, Tennessee Williams depicts addiction as the consequence of frustration and unwillingness to change worldviews and values. Moreover, the characters perceive it as a form of a shield that can protect them from reality. One should keep in mind that addiction may not be regarded only as alcohol abuse since these characters can become dependent on different things. For example, Blanche DuBois cannot imagine herself without the love of the opposite sex. She believes that the admiration of males is critical for her survival. This is one of the reasons why she says, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers” (Williams, 2004, p. 178).

To a great extent, Williams’ plays show that addiction eventually results in the ruin of a person. Moreover, the author tries to demonstrate that it usually impairs the relations of this individual with other people. For instance, Brick alienates himself from his family. In turn, Blanche comes into conflict with Stanley and Stella. These are some of the details that can be identified.

When discussing the origins of addiction, one should first examine the inner world of these characters. Both of them are people who struggle with frustration. For instance, Brick failed as an athlete because of his broken ankle. Moreover, he is extremely dissatisfied with his marriage. In turn, Blanche DuBois is a person who has lost her social status as well as fortune. She desperately wants to maintain the appearance of success and dignity. Therefore, it is possible to say that each of these characters attempts to get rid of the idea that they could have ruined their lives. To some degree, this information is important for understanding the reasons why they suffer from addiction. These characters provide different reasons for drinking. In particular, this woman says that drinking can give her “a brand new outlook on life” (Williams, 2004, p. 126).

In this way, this woman tries to forget that she is lonely and poor. Moreover, Blanche tries to turn a blind eye to the fact that she is not a self-sufficient individual. Thus, drinking helps her justify her behavior, which is often driven by lust and desire. In turn, Brick is extremely reluctant to speak about the reasons for his drinking. When Big Daddy asks him why he needs to drink, this character says that drinking helps him kill his “disgust” (Williams, 2005, p. 114). This character feels disgusted for the “mendacity” (Williams, 2005, p. 114). In this context, the word “mendacity” in reference to his own inability to take steps that can contradict the norms established in the community.

Admittedly, these characters may have some distinct peculiarities that cannot be overlooked. For instance, Blanche DuBois cannot accept the idea she cannot win the hearts of men. She is no longer a Southern belle who can control males with great ease. She believes that a woman cannot do it when she is over thirty (Williams, 2004, p. 94). In turn, the failure to secure the loyalty of men leads to drinking. In contrast, Brick cannot accept his homosexuality. He loves the man called Skipper, and nevertheless, he cannot admit it. To some degree, his alcoholism is the result of this cognitive dissonance and inability to discuss his sexuality openly. Apart from that, one can mention that addiction is depicted as a force that ruins the family of the characters. For example, Blanche is completely unable to establish long-term relations with another person. This problem can be explained by the fact that she is driven by the need to attract males. In turn, alcoholism is one of the factors that eventually ruin Brick’s family.

Overall, addiction produces detrimental effects on the characters because it prevents these people from identifying the cause of their misfortunes. Furthermore, it is possible to argue that addiction is one of the themes that are of great importance to Tennessee Williams. Moreover, during his lifetime, he also suffered from dependence on drugs (Tischer, 2000). In his works, he describes individuals who are not willing to accept reality and acknowledge their mistakes. More likely, these people just try to forget about their problems. This is one of the points that should be distinguished.

Gender norms

It is also possible to examine such a theme as gender norms. Tennessee Williams does not try to define this notion, but his play that these norms can be viewed as stereotypical conventions that are imposed on an individual. Very often, they can make a person very vulnerable. Moreover, they usually prevent an individual from expressing his identity. The author shows that gender norms can impair a character’s relations with other people. For instance, Blanche DuBois becomes completely dependent on men because she has been taught that women should not try to become self-sufficient. In turn, Brick is taught to believe that affection to a different man is both hideous and immoral.

In turn, Brick believes that his character has an inherent flaw. This is why it is so difficult for him to accept his love for Skipper. Thus, in both cases, gender norms change the behavior of the protagonists. The main issue is that these people marginalize themselves. These individuals do not fully realize that they live in a world of artificial boundaries. This is one of the reasons why they evoke the sympathy of the readers.

Overall, gender norms manifest themselves in different ways. For example, Blanche DuBois continuously thinks about her ability to impress men. Moreover, she judges other women by the gender norms of the society in which she grows up. She perceives himself as “a woman of intelligence and breeding” who can “enrich a man’s life” (Williams, 2004, p. 156). Nevertheless, it does not occur to her that a woman may exist without relying on a male.

This thought seems quite strange or even unacceptable to her. This is one of the aspects that can be distinguished. In turn, Brick struggles with a different conflict. In particular, this person does not want to accept his love for another man. The problem is that in this way, he contributes to the suicide of this man. It eventually becomes clear to Brick that he “dug the grave” of his friend and “kicked him into it” (Williams, 2005, p. 127). So, this character is stricken with remorse because Brick’s cowardice made him unable to accept the love of his friend. This is one of the details that can be singled out.

There are several important differences between Blanche and Brick since these characters display different attitudes toward gender norms. For instance, Blanche accepts and follows them in every possible way. It does not occur to her that such rules can be challenged or questions. This is one of the reasons why she cannot adjust to the changing society. In contrast, Brick understands that by trying to follow these rules, he ruined his life. In his opinion, they are hypocritical and artificial. Nevertheless, he cannot take a step in order to violate gender norms. This is why this person is overwhelmed with frustration. On the whole, each of these characters can be described as the victim of the existing conventions. This is one of the differences that should be considered.

Additionally, it is possible to speak about the impact of gender norms on the family. This issue is particularly relevant to Brick, who does not value his family because he has married a person who he does not love. In turn, Blanche perceives family only as a form of convention. It should be noted that gender norms were of great concern to Tennessee Williams. At the time, when he wrote these plays, homosexual people could be stigmatized (Hooper, 2012, p. 12). In turn, the author often explored the experiences of homosexual people. In most cases, these people did not want to discuss their sexuality in public. As a result, they could suffer from various psychological diseases. These are some of the issues that should be taken into account by the readers of these plays.


On the whole, these plays portray individuals who live at the time of significant social change. However, they can also be affected by obsolete behavioral norms that originated primarily from stereotypes and prejudices. Each of these people struggles with significant emotional and behavioral problems that have different origins. For instance, some of them are related to addiction, especially alcoholism. To some degree, their alcoholism can be explained by their awareness of their past mistakes and failures. Moreover, the behavior of these characters is shaped by the gender norms which existed at the time when Tennessee wrote his plays. In both cases, the characters fail to develop their personality because of these norms. These are the main arguments that can be advanced.

Reference List

Hooper, M. (2012). Sexual Politics in the Work of Tennessee Williams: Desire Over Protest. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. Web.

Tischer, N. (2000). Student Companion to Tennessee Williams. New York, NY: Greenwood Publishing Group. Web.

Williams, T. (2004). A Streetcar Named Desire. New York, NY: New Directions Publishing. Web.

Williams, T (2005). Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. New York, NY: New Directions Publishing. Web.

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