Critical Context

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Written only a few years after The Glass Menagerie (pr. 1944, pb. 1945) and A Streetcar Named Desire (pr., pb. 1947), the two plays that are arguably Williams’s masterworks, The Rose Tattoo represented a new direction for Williams, while still focusing on his core themes. Like Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire and to a lesser extent Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, Serafina Delle Rose is a southern woman whose life is largely defined and described by her interactions with men. However, Serafina has many important differences. As a Sicilian, Serafina represents a notion popular in Williams’s oeuvre and in American culture in the early twentieth century: Members of ethnic minorities are more “earthy” and in touch with the vital forces of nature. Certainly Serafina embraces her need for sex and her desire for Rosario with a vehemence and lack of shame that the furtive and flirtatious Blanche would envy. Nevertheless, though Williams’s affection for the Sicilian characters is readily apparent in the play, the underlying cultural ethnocentrism is sometimes startling and offensive to modern readers.

In addition to her ethnic background, Serafina is Catholic and working class. Unlike Amanda and Blanche, she has no glorified past on which to look back with longing. However, the fact that Rosario was a “baron” is a point of some pride for her, a point that echoes the destructive glorification of the past to which Williams returns as a theme again and again. The neighborhood women and their constant gossipy interference in Serafina’s life recall the gossip that proved so destructive to Blanche, and serve as such a concern for Amanda. The fact that many people are highly judgmental and careless about whom they hurt with their talk is also a constant theme of Williams. Serafina, however, deals more honestly and directly with the neighborhood snoops than either Blanche or Amanda, though they still manage to do their destructive work.

Overall, Serafina Delle Rose and her daughter Rosa denote a more positive look at the themes Williams treats in all his major works. Beset by gossip and tormented by those who are less sensitive, less honest, and uncomprehending of their honest embrace of sexuality, both Serafina and Rosa refuse to be cowed and destroyed, driven into madness or despair. In defiance of those around them who do not understand, they move forward at the end of the play, with a hopeful feeling for their futures.

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Critical Overview