Discuss and compare the portrayal of the individual's pursuit of happiness in A Streetcar Named Desire and The Scarlet Letter
In his play A Streetcar Named Desire Tennessee Williams utilizes three streets as metaphors for the development of the main character, Blanche DuBois. Foreshadowing this characterization of Blanche is her conversation with Stella's landlady Eunice:
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! (Scene One)
Blanche arrives in New Orleans as a consequence of her having lost her teaching position because of her carnal desires. According to one interpretation by John J. Mood, in her attempts to recapture the dream of youthful happiness--her personal belle reve--Blanche remains in a state of emotional death, metaphorically stopped on the street named Cemeteries as she wishes to cling to the past that contains the ghost of her dead husband. Yet, Blanche imagines herself getting off one day at Elysian Fields, a street named for the soul's journey back to life in Virgil's Aeneid. When she reveals her past to Mitch and is honest with him, she is, indeed, on her way back to spiritual life, but she violates the truth and retreats into her world of romantic delusion and being "dependent upon the kindness of strangers."
Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter, although immersed in a Puritan world, rather than that of the Old South as is Blanche, makes a similar journey to that of Blanche DuBois. Willingly with Arthur Dimmesdale she goes into the primeval forest of sin and desire; then, having been judged for her sin of adultery, she, too, exists metaphorically in a state that could be called "Cemeteries" as she is ostracized from the community and leads a life of emotional death with her beauty fading in her alienation. But, as she perseveres and gains some respect for her service to the aged and ill, Hester reunites with Dimmesdale and plans with him to return to England where they, too, can reach Elysian Fields. With this hope, her beauty returns to her as she casts off her scarlet letter and removes her formal cap, releasing her rich, dark hair
...and imparting the charm of softness to her features. Her sex, her youth, and the whole richness of her beauty came back from what men call the irrevocable past, and clustered themselves with her maiden hope, and a happiness before unknown....(Ch.XVIII)
But, like Blanche, Hester's happiness and hope is short-lived as Dimmesdale is too weak to leave the community with her on a ship for England.
In their pursuit of happiness, both Blanche DuBois and Hester Prynne lose their places in society, finding themselves restricted by circumstances; yet, both retain their desire for love and do not conform. However, Blanche, who is honest with Mitch in Scene Six, collapses emotionally into a delusional world while Hester retains an uncanny strength and rectitude. For, it is with great moral courage that Hester, who has gone to England after Pearl marries, returns to her humble cottage in New England, and, stooping in its threshold in order to regain her scarlet A, replaces it upon her bosom, resuming her former role.