A Streetcar Named Loyalty
It seems that loyalty is a virtue. It’s a good thing. But I wonder…
In “A Streetcar named Desire”, Stella has trouble with loyalty. She is the character trapped between two characters who both should have her loyalty.
There is her sister Blanche, with whom she was raised, who has had a traumatic life of loss and grief. On the other hand she is supported and kept by her husband Stanley. She therefore has good reason to be loyal to both of these characters. But the events of the play means that she has to choose.
At the height of the play, while Stella is in hospital in labour with Stanley’s baby, Stanley rapes Blanche.
The audience does not get to ‘see’ how Stella reacts when she arrives home to discover Blanche traumatised – accusing Stanley and Stanley denying it; all we get is what I think is the most important quote of the play, as Stella confides in a neighbour: “I couldn’t believe her story and go on living with Stanley.”
The subtext leads the audience to believe that she does, on one level, accept Blanche’s story. But Stella has just had a baby and she needs Stanley, despite his violence. She is still attracted to him, despite his abuse. She therefore takes the practical route and puts pragmatism over morality.
One could see Stella as being loyal to her husband over her sister – but should she be? Clearly, morally, she should take Blanche’s side, even although it would mean shattering her own home and marriage. She would be left with a baby, a husband perhaps in prison and a mentally unstable sister to care for.
Stella is disloyal to her sister and loyal to her husband – but both of these are one step away from the core of the moral issue. She is loyal to herself: she is selfish.
So what of loyalty? Is loyalty ‘a good thing’?
It depends what you are loyal to. Loyalty to the self is selfish. Loyalty to those that is manifest in covering for wrongs is wrong. Loyalty is only good when the loyalty is apparent in doing what is right in any situation. And one does not need the loyalty to be there before one can act rightly in a situation.
I think perhaps loyalty puts people off the scent of right action by having questionable bias in play before decisions are made.
I wonder how much pragmaticism plays into loyalty. Loyalty is a tricky one, full of other traits, questions and consequences. I am enjoying your series very much, 🙂
thanks – I am enjoying thinking about it because i am not sure what I think ultimately, which I’m sure is healthy.
Very good post, nicely summed up in last sentence. Is loyalty the same as Faithfulness, fruit of the spirit? I don’t know. Are other “virtues” only virtues in certain circumstances?
Good point. I suppose I assume that the fruit of the Spirit are borrowed from God. “Great is thy Faithfulness” – and if God is faithful to us, he perhaps shouldn’t be – we don’t deserve his loyalty.
This is where Grace comes in. But in the case of grace, loyalty doesn’t hide or cover for evil; it acknowledges it, condemns it – but then offers forgiveness and grace.
Good point. I’ll have a think.
You seem to be saying that loyalty to oneself is selfish. But it’s not that simple. Which self? which aspects of self? Psychologically healthy people are rooted in themselves and can often face great hardship and sacrifice to be loyal to their principles and what they believe in.
In addition, the choice of how to be loyal is often fraught with contradictions. Even Stella’s case is not black & white. Does her child need a father or is Stanley going to be a destructive father? could Stella, her sister, and the baby afford to live without Stanley’s support? Could Stella support them psychologically and economically?Are there other choices besides leaving Stanley? Etc.
Looking forward to your further explorations. You certainly didn’t choose an easy topic to struggle with!
I think the self is the fused continuity of biology, personality and memory. I think one’s principles are not a part of the self as such – although they will undoubtedly play into one’s acts of the will and therefore play into one’s experiences that become memories…
I wonder… is there a difference between one’s identity and oneself?
As your last sentence suggests, I suspect you are not going to be able to think yourself out of this loyalty question without deciding on some firmer definitions. Like what do you mean by “personality,” along with “self” and “identity.” And memory, as you know, is constantly changing. But then these potential definitions are themselves thickets of complexity and disagreement.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the relationship between loyalty and commitment. Are they related? And is the object of loyalty and/or commitment relevant? eg: is loyalty to one’s partner in marriage or to one’s children the same as loyalty to a supermarket? If not, what is the difference? or at least what should it be?
Great topic. Hope you haven’t finished on it yet.