Loneliness, Missing Pieces, ‘Agendas’, and Mrs. Stone

Tennessee Williams’ The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone is, basically, Blanche du Bois revisited: the ‘problem’ of lonely, aging women. Karen Stone’s husband who was some 20 years older than her was more of a father-protector than a lover, so she has missing pieces that she has avoided out of fear and not faced honestly (as things are always finally framed in a Williams’ work), notably about the connection involving desire, consummation, and possible extinguishment of loneliness and alienation. Because of ego, pride, and integrity, there is also something within which refuses sometimes to ‘use’ or employ others as a means to an end, or to be used that way in kind.

The author’s main view, as reflected by the novella and movie’s endings, is that life and love are basically ambiguous and risky. The latter offers possibilities and a chance to end loneliness and to explore natural, very human desire, with whatever implied fragility and ephemeralness. Mrs. Stone and Paolo do use each other (as in ‘agenda’) and do drift, finally, apart. But, for a time, the treatment of one another as a means to end simply did not matter to Karen. Before it was too late, she had addressed her need and filled her emptiness with Paolo’s attentions. Briefly, she no longer lonely and just drifting, as she had done for most of her life. Even her final act of throwing her keys to a complete menacing young man is a brave choice to move ambiguously ahead and forward, regardless of risk. At this point, she knows herself better and has honestly assumed more control over her life, independent of Paolo. As Joseph Campbell said, Sometimes you have to break eggs in order to make an omelette, or that one sometimes needs to jump; the chasm is not as wide as one thinks. (Mrs. Stone breaks eggs and jumps that chasm.)

It would be quite unfair or wrong to pass moral judgement on Mrs. Stone as being simply weak and finally ‘corrupted’. We have all of us been lonely and alienated at various times in our lives. We have all, as Williams puts it, in A Streetcar Named Desire, “depended on the kindness of strangers” to get us through whatever dark nights of the soul. Much as one might turn to artificial/technological means (e.g., Prozac), when nothing natural works, to alleviate darkest emotional and spiritual times. Perhaps we need to adjust our language from the harsh, judgemental (e.g., “weak”) to the more fair, more human (e.g., “basic need”) in how we view people like Mrs. Stone and their significant life-altering actions and choices.

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