Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Tennessee Williams's the Rose Tattoo: Sicilian Migration and the Mississippi Gulf Coast

Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Tennessee Williams's the Rose Tattoo: Sicilian Migration and the Mississippi Gulf Coast

Article excerpt

Since the turn of the millennium, if not before, much of the research in southern studies has been devoted to reassessing the standard interpretation of regional literature as exceptional or unique to the canon of American literature. Instead of basing literary readings on a North/South model, scholars now search for literature that connects the United States South to the world. The Rose Tattoo (1951) features a group of Sicilian immigrants living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where the dynamic of migration suggests a way to interpret the play in a global context. Tennessee Williams positions his characters along a trajectory that crosses regional and national borders, thereby expanding the geographic field of reference that frames his imaginative landscape. If the North/South dualism fails to account for the flow of migrants in the play, then this dramatic composite points out a conceptual boundary where regional and national frameworks yield an incomplete reading. James Peacock, author of Grounded Globalism, might well be understood as describing the grounded globalism of Williams's Gulf Coast,

    when the national framework is replaced, relations within the
nation,
   including long-standing intranational conflicts, become less central
in
   one's cognitive map. On a global cognitive map regions such as
the South
   and the North appear smaller--no longer the
 elements or dualistic
   division but some
 elements among many within a much wider horizon
   (7). 

Removing the linchpin that exclusively joins south to north, we encounter region and nation as partial structures in a more elaborate framework that requires a transnational lens to grasp its meaning. Peacock continues, "a global perspective can emancipate at various levels, not only mentally, the way one thinks and views the world, but also in more embodied modes, such as in ... one's sense of place, how space is experienced, and how that experience is embodied" (7). So a global model reorients the South away from the North and toward the world, meanwhile transforming time-worn, insular concepts of place. From this perspective, the immigrant figure urges the audience to rethink the traditional image of the South on a much broader scale. In doing so, the sense of place imagined in The Rose Tattoo draws attention to the U.S. South as a crossroads of the world.

Williams scholars have so far been unable to find a historical precedent for Sicilian migration to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Jacob Adler argues the characters are inconsistent with the setting: "If The Rose Tattoo has to do with the South, it must be by contrast, for its characters are in the South only by chance, and--except for the lush tropical atmosphere, which could be achieved in many other places--the story it tells has almost no Southern connections" (Adler 365). As it turns out, the tropical climate connects the Sicilian settlement to the global South. Serafina Delle Rose and her husband, Rosario, live in an unspecified town near Biloxi, where he delivers bananas for a business owned by the Brothers Romano. The banana industry was integral to the development and expansion of the hemispheric economy. In 1899 Felix, Joseph, and Luca Vacarro, three Sicilian-born New Orleanians, formed the Standard Fruit and Steamship Company, a venture specializing in bananas imported from La Ceiba, Honduras. Commercial demand had increased since bananas were marketed as exports from Central and South America at the 1884-1885 World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition in New Orleans (Woodward, Jr. 157). Susanna Delfino and Michele Gillespie define the global South in economic terms in their introduction to Global Perspectives on Industrial Transformation in the American South:

    The word globalization
 is in common usage nowadays, but when
   applied to the emergence of a 'global South,' the term ...
conjures up in
   many ways the crystallization of distinctions of colonial origin
between
   centers and peripheries in the development of the world economy, by
which
   the latter become structurally dependent on the former. … 
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.