Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Teachable Moments and Tenneesse Williams

The other weekend, David and the kids and I were eating burgers and discussing Streetcar Named Desire. This is the upside of having created precocious, high-maintenance, demanding children -- they are so voracious for stories, they don't discriminate about the source. Tennessee Williams is as interesting to them as How to Train Your Dragon or Ramona the Pest . And its a helluva lot more interesting to us. In the course of our mini seminar, both of my kids said something which was so quintessentially them and pretty much sums up how they couldn't be more dissimilar.

We got on the subject because of Marlon Brando. Sec does this funny voice sometimes which sounds like a damn good Brando, a coincidence because she's never watched any of his movies. So we were going around the table, doing our best Brandos and that led to yelling "STELLLLLLLLLLLLA!" and that led to the plot of Streetcar. I did just the broad strokes: this not-so-nice guy with no money, Stanley Kowalski, falls in love a sweet girl who used to be rich, and then her kind of cuckoo, fancy-pants sister visits them. Lots of fights ensue. One day, Stanley does something no husband or wife should ever do and hits his wife. She throws him out of the house, rightly so. But where she makes her mistake is letting him back in, just because he throws a big old temper tantrum in front of her window. Teachable moments, folks. I've got a daughter here to worry about and I don't want her thinking domestive violence is OK. My son, too, for that matter.

"So what happens at the end?" Primo asks.

"Well, its very tragic," I explain.

"Does Stanley die?" he asks.

"No, he doesn't. His wife takes him back and her sister gets shipped off to the hospital and Stanley isn't really punished at all."

"He's bad and he doesn't get punished?" Primo asks, incredulously. This is not how it happens in the middle-grade books.

"Yep." I reply/

"That IS tragic." he muses, "That makes me feel like when you hear someone scraping their fingernails on the wall."

David and I exchange shocked looks. My seven year old totally gets Tennessee Williams. Unlike the end of a Greek tragedy, where its just total bleak annihilation and grief, this is worse. This is endless discomfort, injustice, and little acts of quiet, unbearable misery that go on and on. Its nails on a chalkboard.

"Yes," I reply, "That is it exactly, honey."

Then Sec pipes up, "If bad Stanley did that to ME, if he hit me, you know what I'd do?"

"What?" I ask.

"I would take a real axe and chop his head off."

I guess she gets it too, in her own way.