According on the loss of moral integrity as

According to the Oxford English dictionary, morality
refers to the principles concerning distinctions between right and wrong or
good and bad behaviour.1
In both ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ and ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’ the writers
explore the question of ‘what is moral?’ and ‘what is immoral?’ through the
consequences of each character’s actions. In ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’
morality is presented as being a fluid conjunction
between moral absolutism and moral relativism, whereas, ‘The Talented Mr
Ripley’ focuses on the loss of moral integrity as a consequence of amoral
actions.

In ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ concepts of desire in
respect to moral values are explored in two ways: physical and material desire.
The audience are aware of the consequences of ‘desire’ when Williams
foreshadows, “They told me to take a street-car named Desire, and then transfer
to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at-Elysian Fields!” Williams
sets the motif of the play and foretells the ramifications of longing by using
the symbolism of a streetcar as a metaphor. Williams uses the names ‘Desire’
and ‘Cemeteries’ for the streetcars as a way to show the forceful nature of
desire and how it can only lead to one destination which, subsequently in
Williams belief, is either the death of the heart, mind or soul. Consequently,
leading them to ‘Elysian Fields’, which creates a sense of irony because in
Greek mythology ‘Elysian Fields’ is a place where virtuous Greek heroes go
after death, which creates a juxtaposition towards the Kowalski’s apartment
that is described as being the “ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”: a poem by
Edgar Allan Poe called ‘Ulalume,’ which refers to a man visiting his dead
lover’s grave2.
This further creates connotations between death and desire through the
projection of the Kowalski apartment that symbolises the harshness of reality,
as throughout the novel we find that ‘Elysian Fields’ is not a place of
pleasure and fulfilment but rather destruction and deceit.

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Aspiration within ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ is
presented by the idea of the American Dream and the belief of a meritocratic
society. The ideals of the New South and the Old South are the main cause of
conflict within the play. Blanche, who is representative of the Old South,
flaunts her money to try and maintain the image of being a respectable middle-class
woman. From the beginning, Williams foreshadows Blanche’s rejection from the working-class
subculture that’s apparent within Elysian Fields by describing her as being
“incongruous to this setting. She is daintily dressed in a white suit with a
fluffy bodice… looking as if she were arriving at a cocktail party in the
garden district.” Automatically the contrast between the changing values of a
post-war New Orleans society and the culture Blanche associates herself with is
made clear by adjectives such as ‘incongruous’ to emphasise the stark
differences between her alleged wealth and the reality of the place she now
resides. The disassociation of Blanche from the ethos of Elysian Fields is
further accentuated when Williams states via stage directions, “now she is
placing the rhinestone tiara on her head before the mirror of the dressing
table and murmuring expectedly as if to a group of spectral admirers.” Williams
uses the diamond simulant of a rhinestone as metaphor for Blanche as although
she presents herself to be an epitome of abundance and beauty, her intrinsic
value is cheap, which presents the idea that wealth is
an overcompensation of integrity that feeds off of the insecurity of people who
chase the concept of the American Dream, which in the end only leads to
disillusionment and a lack of moral judgement, especially in Blanche’s case, as
she starts to believe in a dream that isn’t tangible or realistic.

Similarly to ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ Highsmith
uses the concept of the American Dream in ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’ to show how
materialistic value hinders your ability of thinking rationally, and prevents
you from gaining status and wealth by honest means. Ripley’s sense of
entitlement in regards to money is highlighted when Highsmith states: “lying in
his deckchair, fortified morally by the luxurious surroundings, he tried to
take an objective look at his past life. The last four years for the most part
had been a waste.” Here the fervour of which Ripley holds money accountable as
a prospect that could bring joy and fulfilment into his life, is exposed. He
feels ‘morally fortified’ when surrounded by commodities that can help him
advance in a rigorous and competitive capitalist society, showing his lack of
appreciation for the conventional values of a meritocratic system. As Tom
prefers to prioritise self-indulgent methods to attain wealth rather than
conventional ethics, due to his perception of morality revolving around the
acquisition of luxury because without it, his life is deemed ‘a waste’, which
alludes to Tom’s dissatisfaction and loathing of his monotonous life, as in
order for him to feel content he has to be in possession of a substantial
amount of affluence. Highsmith writes, “Possessions reminded him that he
existed and made him enjoy his existence.” Emotionally, Ripley places the
majority of his sentiments onto his material belongings as it brings him a
sense of purpose, which allows him to build a persona around his belongings by
constructing the ‘successful’ life that the American Dream has always embodied
and advocated for, making him feel worthy and acclaimed, even if he did not
achieve it thorough moral means. This notion is supported by the works of Mary
Balken who claims that Tom Ripley is the “by-product of consumerism at its best
and worst”3,
showing that the unintentional outcome from a society that values capitalist
ideals and materialism through the growth and development of the commercial
industry, paves the way for the potential of the American Dream. Nevertheless,
it diverges away from the traditional values of family and hard work and breeds
a new form of greed and corruption, which Highsmith clearly portrays in the
character of Thomas Ripley.

A common theme within ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ is
the moral attitudes surrounding one’s sexuality, especially in reference to
women, as the societal notion of women being sexually active with more than one
male was deemed as immoral and a sign of having a lack of self-respect.
Williams refers to Blanche’s attempts of seduction through the stage directions
by stating: “she takes off the blouse and stands in her pink silk brassiere and
white skirt in the light through the portieres.”  At first this may seem like an innocent
mistake on Blanche’s behalf; however, the fact that Williams has previously portrayed
Blanche to be an insecure woman with an aversion to any source of light that
may emphasise her imperfections: the ‘innocent’ act becomes more of a
purposeful performance to ‘ensnare’ the attention of on looking men. Challenging
the stereotypical notions of sexuality as she is purposefully deviating against
the concept of women being passive subjects to the sexual advances of men by
actively pursuing her sexual desires for her own personal benefit. Though, this
comes at the cost of her moral integrity, as she is perceived by others to be
deceiving and manipulative, as promiscuity within society especially in regards
to women, is an admissible explanation for social condemnation and sexual
entitlement from men.

Ultimately, the licentious
path she decides to follow leads to the climax of her desire when she presumptuously
kisses the Young Man. Blanche’s complete loss of composure is shown when she
says, “Has anyone ever told you that you look like a young prince out of
Arabian Nights?…Well, you do honey lamb. Come here! Come on over here like I
told you! I want to kiss you- just once -softly and sweetly on your mouth.” The
reference to the ‘Arabian Nights’ creates a semblance of hysteria and falsehood
around Blanche’s pursuit for desire as she sees the Young Man as completely
fictional and not apart of her reality, which she uses as a defence mechanism to
rationalise her actions without making her feel as if she is partaking in any illicit
behaviour. Williams uses the adverbs “softly” and “sweetly” to juxtapose the predatory
nature of Blanche’s sexuality as she previously refers to him as ‘honey lamb’, presenting
him to be innocent and pure, and consequently an easy target for Blanche to
take advantage of. Blanche does this despite receiving previous condemnation
for taking advantage of a student, which led her to be regarded as “morally
unfit for this position”. Clearly presenting that
Blanche is not ignorant and is aware that morally what she is doing is unethical,
though, she continues to pursue a sexual relationship with someone who is not
old enough to be consensual to try and redeem some form of her youth and bring
stability to her unbalanced life. Which creates a sense of duality, as Blanche
does not mean to be destructive but is subconsciously trying to find validation
in younger men, as they are the embodiment of her own ideals of beauty and
youth. This creation of a flawed and morally
grey character allows Williams to project his views of no man having “a
monopoly of right or virtue anymore than any man has a corner of duplicity and
evil.”4
Meaning that no person gets to dictate the virtues of
society or can independently represent the paragon of morality, as people are neither good nor bad and therefore cannot be
judged on the pretense of moral absolutism, which Williams completely
disregards, as Blanche is often judged for her sexual past without any
consideration to her reasoning or mental state.

 

Coinciding with this,
sexuality in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ also explores the scope of being a
homosexual man within a society where tolerance around sexual orientation is
scarce. The character of Allan Grey (who is the only representation of a gay
man living in a 1940s society within Williams play) is described as more of a
concept rather than a character. He is an omnipresent figure in Blanche’s past
who haunts her for the part she believes she played in his suicide. Williams writes,
“There was something different about the boy, a nervousness, a softness and
tenderness which wasn’t like a man’s, although he wasn’t the least bit
effeminate-looking-still-that thing was there…” Williams uses adjectives such
as ‘softness’ and ‘tenderness’ to show the emasculation of men who come out as
homosexual as they are perceived to be less manly and therefore possess more
‘feminine’ qualities. As a homosexual himself Williams portrays Allan Grey in
an objective and critical manner that sheds light on the treatment of
homosexuals in a society where conformity dominated societies behaviour and
actions. He uses evasive and derogatory language when he says, “still-that
thing was there” to demonstrate the lack of understanding Blanche has of her husband’s
sexuality and how she tries to act in a covert manner by not explicitly
vocalising his sexual orientation, showing that the general consensus regarding
homosexuality within a 1940s society was not something that was accepted or
acknowledged. Williams exposes the “destructive power of society on the
sensitive non-conformist individual.” 5
When the suicide of Allan is introduced he writes, “Allan! Allan! The Grey Boy!
He’d stuck the revolver into his mouth, and fired…It was because-on the dance
floor-unable to stop myself- I’d suddenly said- I know! I know! You disgust
me.” Blanche’s discriminatory reaction towards Allan’s homosexuality ultimately
led him to his suicide, enforcing the idea that the socially constructed norms
and values of a society can be detrimental to people’s own ideals and
principles.

 

Comparably, in Highsmith’s ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’,
homosexuality is presented in a more covert and concealed manner, compared to
‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, where Allan Grey’s sexuality is explicit and openly
expressed. Highsmith highlights Tom’s probable homosexuality through the
character of Marge who is consistently demonised by Tom throughout the novel
because of her attraction to Dickie, Highsmith writes, “Dickie had formed a
closer bond with him in twenty-four hours, just because he was another man,
than she could ever have with Dickie, whether he loved her or not, and he
didn’t.” The use of an indirect discourse allows for an omniscient but
unreliable narrator, creating a sense of unease and exaggeration over Dickie’s
supposed unrequited love for Marge. Allowing the reader to be privy to an
uninterrupted stream of Tom’s consciousness, which allows him to portray the
relationship between Marge and Dickie to be a case of unrequited love when in
reality it’s just a projection of Tom’s hatred and jealousy towards Marge as he
sees her as an inconvenient competitor that has come between his relationship
with Dickie. Highsmith emphasises this further when Tom imitates Dickie by
dressing up in his clothing, she writes, “Tom turned suddenly and makes a grab
in the air as if he were seizing Marge’s throat. He shook her, twisted her,
while she sank lower and lower.” Highsmith uses a semantic field of violence
when describing the imaginative murder of Marge; she uses the terms ‘seizing’
and ‘twisted’ to accentuate Tom’s loss of control and his disturbed state of
mind when it comes to Dickie’s and Marge’s relationship. Representing the
fragility of Tom’s sexuality, as he struggles to openly admit his sexual
attraction towards Dickie so he tries to invalidate Marge’s feelings by
demoralising her femininity to quell his insecurity of being a homosexual man.

The ethics regarding the morality of violence is
presented clearly in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ through the depiction of Stanley
Kowalski who uses his dominant and predatory nature to intimidate and denounce
Blanche’s femininity. Throughout the play, Stanley and Blanche have contended
with the conflicting ideals of the Old South and the New South, which represented
the standards of the 1940s society that Williams believed, was changing from an
aristocracy to a world where equality between the rich and poor were becoming
reduced and a new form of class was being established. William exemplifies this
conflict during the final showdown between Blanche and Stanley. Williams
writes, “He takes another step. She smashes a bottle on the table and faces
him, clutching the broken top.” The metaphor of the broken bottle signifies the
breaking point of Blanche’s stability and implies that after Stanley’s malicious
and fervent attempts throughout the play to punish Blanche for her previous
escapades, his final assertion of male dominance is enough to break the final
tethers of her foundations, leaving her nothing
but a broken bottle top to grasp onto for protection, thus representing the
extinction of the Old South, which has succumbed to the brutal and forceful
rise of the New South. Williams presents this final execution through the sexual
assault of Blanche at the hands of Stanley. Williams has Stanley state,
“Tiger-tiger! Drop the bottle top! Drop it! We’ve had this date with each other
from the beginning!” By using animalistic imagery to describe Blanche creates a
sense of irony, as tigers within the wild are the king of all beasts and top of
the food chain. However, here the tiger is presented to be the cornered animal
that becomes the defenceless victim of a callous act. Creating further
correlation between the death of the Old South due to the fact that the ‘King
of all beasts’ has to succumb to the power and dominance of a different
predator, which subsequently ends up being the New South. Presenting the
concept of a decaying modern society as a consequence of different ethical
beliefs contending against each other.

In contrast to ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, Highsmith
presents violence within ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’ as a form of escapism for the
character of Tom Ripley. His violent tendencies are introduced when he speaks
of his relationship with his Aunt Dottie and how he imagined “flinging her to
the ground and throttling her, and finally tearing that big brooch off her
dress and stabbing her a million times in the throat.” Violent verbs are used
to emphasise the calculated and pre-meditated vehemence Tom wishes to inflict
on his Aunt. Presenting Tom’s lack of ethical principles, as he believes that
he will gain some form of solace by being apart of his Aunt’s demise. Highsmith
also uses the imagined death of Aunt Dottie to foreshadow the later death of
Dickie Greenleaf. Displaying the idea that Ripley finds a thrilling
satisfaction from stealing something of importance from a defenceless dead
woman by removing her ‘big brooch off her dress’ so he can use it as a
commemorative trophy that he can later manipulate to ensure he lives a more
secure and content life.

Although, there had been palpable tension between
Dickie and Tom, there was nothing to suggest that Tom loathed Dickie enough for
him to willingly murder him. Consequently showing the impulsivity of Tom, and
his disposition towards using murder as a solution for his problems.  Tom’s irrationality when it comes to the
murder of Dickie stems from his anxiety and hopelessness that he had failed in
his operation of bringing Dickie back home. For example, Highsmith writes, “He
hated Dickie, because however he looked at what happened, his failing had not
been his own fault, not due to anything he had done, but due to Dickie’s
inhuman stubbornness,” Highsmith here alludes to the idea that in order for Tom
to feel righteous in his actions, he has to compulsively lie to himself-which
he often does to others-in order to feel as if his actions are justifiable and
in his own mind reasonable. According to John Gray “Human needs and impulses
are tangled and conflicted. Moved by their passions, people often destroy the
good in others and at the same time sabotage their own good,”6
which relates to the character of Tom Ripley as he often demonises the people
he cares about, especially Dickie Greenleaf, in an act of frailty to try and
authenticate his money-oriented aspirations. By doing so, the remnants of his
good nature are destroyed because of his self-isolation and destructive
attitude. This would account for the callous cruelty Tom releases on Dickie
when Highsmith states, “Tom stood up and brought the oar down again, sharply,
all his strength released like the snap of a rubber band.” Highsmith uses the
simile of a ‘rubber band’ to show the initial tension and pent up tautness Tom
feels before the imminent death of Dickie, compared to the composed aftermath,
which allows him to revel in the perverse comfort and enjoyment the death of
his ‘best friend’ gives him. Bestowing a clear lack of integrity and veracity
within Ripley’s character as morality to him is a subjective social construct
that he follows only when he does not have something to gain. Similarly, with
Tom’s fantasy of Killing his Aunt Dottie, Tom “stopped and yanked at Dickie’s
green ring. He pocketed it.” Symbolising Tom’s obsession over being able to
take something personal and make it his own, as it gives him a form of power
over his victims even after their death, which gives him the validation he
requires to accurately perform the part of Dickie Greenleaf excruciatingly
well. 

In
conclusion, ‘morality’ in both ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ and ‘The Talented Mr
Ripley’ is presented as being a social construct within society that dominates
the values and beliefs of those who reside in it. A key concept regrading
morality that both writers present is the notion that each individual is a
victim of their own morality. In ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, Williams presents
this by using the metaphor of streetcars to present the freedom of choice and
how different decisions lead to different outcomes, which consequently, impact
your life in either a positive or negative way. Contrastingly, Highsmith
presents morality as being the driving force of each individual’s actions,
which happens to have the gravity to create an immoral man amoral. Showing that
morality is the basis of which all societies are founded upon.

1 https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/morality

2 Ulalume, Edgar Allan Poe

3
Antonia Mackay: Patricia Highsmith’s ‘Authentic’
American and the Performative Subject in ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’- http://www.baas.ac.uk/usso/highsmithauthenticamerican/

 

4
Tennessee Williams: The World
I Live In, page 110

5
Tennessee Williams and Desire, Steve King http://www.todayinliterature.com/stories.asp?Event_Date=12/3/1947

 

6
John Gray: A Point of View: Tom Ripley
and the meaning of evil http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22551083