Cold Critical- Selfish Empathy

Cold Critical- SCND
Ways in which resiliency is shaped by empathy?
Malika Daya


Selfish Empathy

An individual’s strength comes from their willingness to understand and share someone’s pain, no matter how self-derogating it may be. However, in A Streetcar Named Desire, Stella Kowalski, a loving and passion induced housewife, built her resiliency upon her own selfish needs… Her need to be loved by her husband Stanley. Occasionally in the world of which we reside within, rather than being empathetic with the world’s continuous cries of torment, we become empathetic towards our own; building up a sense of resiliency against the truth, only to silently surrender ourselves to our very own realms of self-destruction. In Tennessee Williams’ modern play, A Streetcar Named Desire, it can be argued that through Stella’s repeated return to Stanley after being mercilessly abused, her in ability to recognize nor accept Stanley’s flaws and her inability to act morally to bring her sister deserved justice further develops and supports the idea that empathizing and understanding sincerely oneself may create a temporary wall of resiliency against a destructive truth that in end may kill you.

The derogation of one’s dignity resonates from an understanding of one’s aspirations.  One may argue that in order for Stella to hold onto her sexual desire and love between Stanley and herself, she required a certain amount of resiliency to tolerate his abuse, in order to keep her aspirations alive. For if she did not care and understand her own needs, it may be inferred that she would’ve died internally merely just days into their marriage. The level of empathy she has for herself jeeps her coming back for more love and sex from Stanley. The facts presented by Williams’ support this entirely, for when Stanley went to fetch Stella from Eunice’s home Stella, without an argument nor hesitation, ran back into his arms. An understanding, a love for oneself drove her back creating a Stella resilient to the abuse. To further prove this true, during dialogue between Mitch and Blanche in scene four, Mitch reveals that the cycle of abuse withstanding in the Kowalski’s home was an on-going affair, indicating that Stella’s empathy towards her own emotional and sexual needs are rather leading her to her own demise. For this wall of resiliency is only making her ignorant and oblivious to the truth of her situation- she loved and lusted an animal. An animal, who in end would only kill her internal light.

Tennessee Williams develops a sense of ignorance within Stella’s character as a means to demonstrate the interplay between empathy towards one self’s needs and utterly selfish behaviour. The play-write creates this idea during Blanche and Stella’s conversation in scene four, when Blanche called Stanley out on his “brutish” behaviour and attributes while Stella blatantly refused to accept nor entertain the thoughts Blanche was putting forth.  One may argue that Stella’s inability to acknowledge the truth indicated that empathy she danced within turned into an intoxication for her; her infatuation led that empathy onto a narrow path of selfishness. Furthermore, her resiliency to stay grounded by that infatuation, planted seeds of ignorance within her. The resiliency rooted within her empathy resulted in a far more toxic serum than most, for by doing so she began to lose her sense of self-respect and dignity. This idea is further supported by Williams at the end of scene four when Stella ran into Stanley’s arms as a mean to dismiss the harsh realities presented before her. This very action is representative of how empathy for oneself is by far stronger than empathy for others, sincerely because understandings one’s own pain forces individuals to become defensive and gain a stronger sense of resiliency that will shelter the heart from everyday attacks from life in itself. By running into Stanley’s embrace, Stella is not only attempting to further strengthen her own wall of resiliency towards reality, rather she is she is unknowingly watering the plant of ignorance consuming her mind and heart. Little does Stella realize that this ignorance will in end only lead to the demise of her own soul.

One may argue, that in times of atrocity individuals support and empathize with one another, however Williams indefinitely proves this to be false through Stella’s inability to serve her sister right. In scene eleven, after Stanley has sexually abused Blanche, Stella supported Stanley knowing the raw and heinous truth. But for what? To further hold onto the resiliency and the shield of ignorance she has built for herself. For, if she had not, the years of abuse she endured, the illusion she lived within, and the self-empathy she held at the forefront of her value system would be rendered completely unnecessary. Stella’s life would have fallen apart in front of her own eyes. Williams beautifully demonstrates the fragility of the human condition by Stella’s decision to partake in the demise of her sister. The loss of Stella’s morals and her in ability to bring Blanche justice due to her selfishness represents the outcome of her resiliency built up over the years. The empathy rooted within herself made Stella utterly egotistical and pitiless towards the world around her. As facts stand, Stella thought of sincerely herself during such a pivotal point her sister’s life, as a means to secure her own future with Stanley. What good is such resiliency stemming from self-empathy when one is forced to live with such a demeaned conscience, when one is forced to be unjust? Williams explains through this complexity that in times of atrocity the man whose empathy lies within himself will build a wall of resiliency to temporarily shelter himself, however at some point he will internally find himself dead behind the shield he has created; quite alike to Stella’s state after Blanche was taken away by the doctor and the matron. Her heart may have been beating, but her soul was blown out like that of a candle. What fickle resiliency individuals build when one only knows how to empathize with oneself.

In A Streetcar Named Desire, Williams identified the ways in which empathy feared specifically towards oneself, creates a resiliency bound by a selfish desire, to which in end results in self-destruction. Stella Kowalski, is rather just one example out of many in literature who have sailed on that boat leaving one utterly directionless and broken. For, what empathy established by selfishness and what resiliency bound by ignorance could not poison one’s soul?


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