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Violent fragility : the mythical, the iconic and Tennessee Williams’ politics of gender in " One Arm”

Abstract :

  Tennessee Williams’ story “One Arm” (1948) is an almost overtly committed narrative, descending from Voltaire’s Treatise on Tolerance (1763), Victor Hugo's The Last Day of a Condemned Man (1829), Oscar Wilde's "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" (1897) and Albert Camus’ The Outsider (1942), all of which side against the death penalty. So does “One Arm” in which, however, capital punishment is combined with a socially constructed structure of gender and a symbolic illustration of the South. Williams’ Southern marginal hero, Oliver Winemiller, stems from autobiographical, local and classical substance. Specific aspects and identity principles relating to Apollonian and Dionysian myths find their way into Oliver whose flaw – the missing arm – makes of him an epitome of the myth of the South. As an antinomian figure dominated by the Nietzschean conflict between apollonian form and Dionysian matter, Oliver discovers that his flaw is also a weapon. The effect of his paradoxical identity is then translated into similes and visual metaphors which draw on D.H. Lawrence’s revisited version of the myth of Iacchus. Hereupon Oliver is transformed into an icon that serves gender oriented politics and makes the story operate at an ideological level. Williams’ bisexual character transcends the strictures of morality of the time of writing and baffles the borders of the story pleading for individual completion and social inclusiveness. Hovering between fragility and violence, the icon seems eventually to stand for Williams’ oeuvre whose politics of gender are promoted by drawing on myth.

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Emmanuel Vernadakis. Violent fragility : the mythical, the iconic and Tennessee Williams’ politics of gender in " One Arm”. Journal of The Short Story in English / Les Cahiers de la nouvelle, Presses de l'Université d'Angers, 2016, pp.141-154. ⟨hal-02616664⟩

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