An examination of the theme of premeditated rape in A streetcar Named Desire

October 23, 2020 by Essay Writer

The climax of Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire occurs in “Scene Ten,” when Stanley ultimately rapes Blanche, his sister-in-law. Many audiences and readers have debated whether or not this act was premeditated or done impulsively, as to some the play is laden with evidence and to others Stanley seems to make a snap decision. Many psychologists have been researching and studying what causes people to commit rape, and some have determined that premeditated rape stems from a combination of destructive human emotions. When analyzing previous psychological research alongside textual evidence from William’s A Streetcar Named Desire, it becomes apparent that Stanley’s rape of Blanche was premeditated and, ultimately influenced by his sexual attraction and rage.

For decades experts have been studying rape cases in order to determine why people rape, and many have found common elements, such as sexual attraction and rage. According to Groth in his 1977 article “Rape: Power, Anger, and Sexuality,” “Accounts from both offenders and victims of what occurs during a rape suggest that issues of power, anger, and sexuality are important in understanding the rapist’s behavior” (1239). Essentially, Groth is arguing that issues of power, anger, and sexuality may all be factors that influence people to rape. Additionally, he posits that all three operate in every instance or rape; however, one normally dominates the others (1239). In order to explore this concept further, he and his colleagues conducted a research study in which they ranked the dominant issue in accounts from 133 offenders and ninety-two victims (1239). After synthesizing this research, they found that offenses could be categorized as “power rape,” when sexuality is used primarily to express power, or “anger rape,” when sexuality is used to express anger; however, they did not find any rapes in which sex was the dominant issue, arguing instead, “sexuality was always in the service of other, nonsexual needs” (1239). By this, Groth is asserting that sexual attraction alone does not influence an individual rape; however, it may be a factor when coupled with another issue such as power or anger.

Throughout the entirety of the play Stanley does not hide the fact that he believes Blanche to be sexually promiscuous, a contributing factor to his sexual attraction to her. After Blanche asks him to help her button up her dress, asks him for a cigarette, and playfully sprays him with perfume, all of which can be construed as flirtatious acts, Stanley states, “If I didn’t know that you was my wife’s sister I’d get ideas about you!” (41). Here, Stanley is insinuating that he believes Blanche to be promiscuous but that he should not say so aloud because she is his sister-in-law. Similarly, when Blanche states that her astrological sign “Virgo is the virgin,” Stanley contemptuously exclaims, “Hah!” (89). Through this exclamation, Stanley is laughing at the idea that Blanche would be a virgin, as he believes her to be sexually experienced. These two instances illustrate that, whether it is due to Blanche’s possible flirtatious acts or rocky past, Stanley believes that she is sexually promiscuous beginning with their first conversation. This belief only furthers his sexual attraction and is ultimately part of what influences his premeditated rape.

However, sexual attraction is not the only factor that influences Stanley’s decision to rape Blanche; this decision also stems from an intense rage. Part of this growing rage lies in Blanche’s insults, most of which center on Stanley being animal-like. The first time Stanley hears Blanche’s insults occurs accidentally. After Stella goes back to Stanley after he hit her, Blanche reprimands her sister for her decision, comparing Stanley to an animal: He acts like an animal, has an animal’s habits! Eats like one, moves like one, talks like one! There’s even something – sub-human – something not quite to the stage of humanity yet! Yes, something – ape-like about him, like one of those pictures I’ve seen in – anthropological studies! Thousands and thousands of years have passed him right by, and there he is – Stanley Kowalski – survivor of the stone age! (83) Though Blanche believes she is insulting Stanley to her sister alone, Stanley is eves-dropping from outside throughout this entire exchange. These insults have an effect on Stanley, though he pretends he did not heart them, as they follow him throughout the entirety of the play. During Blanche’s birthday dinner, Stella states, “Mr. Kowalski is too busy making a pig of himself” and “Your face and your fingers are disgustingly greasy” which causes Stanley to hurl his plate to the floor and yell, “Don’t ever talk that way to me! ‘Pig – Polack – disgusting – vulgar – greasy!’ – them kind of words have been on your tongue and your sister’s too much around here!” (131). Here, it is not the fact that Stella is insulting Stanley that causes his fit of rage, rather, the actual insults themselves. Stella compares Stanley to an animal as Blanche did when Stanley was eavesdropping. Because “them kind of words” originated with Blanche, his rage is directly not only at the insults but Blanche as well.

Examples of Stanley’s sexual attraction to Blanche and rage can be seen throughout the play, and it is these examples, coupled with those in “Scene Ten,” that ultimately bear witness to the premeditated nature of Stanley’s rape of Blanche. Similar to his statements in the earlier scenes of the play, in “Scene Ten” Stanley continues to acknowledge that he believes Blanche to be sexually promiscuous. After Stanley plays cat-and-mouse with Blanche throughout the scene, eventually Blanche tries to escape, asking Stanley to move out of the way of the door. To this Stanley replies, “You think I’ll interfere with you? Ha-ha!” then, takes a step towards her, bites his tongue, and softly states, “Come to think of it – maybe you wouldn’t be bad to – interfere with…” (161). This is the beginning of Stanley’s physical attempt to rape Blanche. Though his sexual attraction, due to her perceived promiscuity, has been building throughout the play, this is its climax. Ultimately, when he learns that Blanche was known for her sexual escapades in Laurel, his suspicions of her promiscuity are confirmed, ultimately factoring in to his decision to rape her. Additionally, after catching the bottle she is using to fend him off he states, “We’ve had this date with each other from the beginning!” (156). Here, Stanley demonstrates that, since the moment they met, he believed that Blanche was promiscuous and, more specifically, had been flirting with him. This proves that his sexual attraction and subsequent desire for Blanche has been growing since their first meeting and consequently that he has been considering this moment all along.

Sexual attraction alone is not a factor of rape, on the basis of Groth’s research; however, when coupled with rage, the two together may influence the decision to rape. Stanley’s rage towards Blanche can be seen in “Scene Ten” as well, and, similar to earlier in the novel, it stems from Blanche’s animal-like insults. In the beginning of “Scene Ten,” Stanley plays along with Blanche’s insistence that a millionaire from Dallas has invited her on a cruise. However, the moment Blanche calls Stanley and all of his friends “swine,” Stanley no longer pretends to believe her claims. Instead, he begins to berate and insult her, which ultimately culminates in his blocking the door to her escape and subsequent rape. Her insults are the turning point in this scene, ultimately triggering Stanley’s rage, which has been growing since the first time he heard Blanche refer to him as an animal. As rage influences Stanley’s decision to rape Blanche, his rape, according to Groth, can be classified as “anger rape,” or when sexuality is used to express anger.

According to Groth, though sexuality cannot be a sole factor for rape, when combined with anger, the two together may influence “anger rape.” Through analyzing Stanley’s attitudes and behaviors towards Blanche in both the beginning of A Streetcar Named Desire and in “Scene Ten,” it becomes apparent that he performs anger rape, influenced by both his rage and his sexual attraction to Blanche. Additionally, these attitudes and behaviors illustrate that this rape was premeditated, as his sexual attraction and his rage both grow and ultimately culminate in this irreversible crime. Ultimately, Blanche could not have prevented this act, as Stanley was intent on his desire from the beginning. It was not her statements or behaviors but instead Stanley’s emotional and physical reactions that caused this act.

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