A Streetcar Named Desire
Analysis on the Conclusion of Tennessee Williams’s Book, A Streetcar Named Desire vs the Film Adaptation
The endings of A Street Car Named Desire in the movie and in the play by Tennessee Williams are very different. Initially, they both follow the same storyline, which follows Stella’s struggles between choosing Blanche or Stanley. Near the end, Kazan changes the turning point from what Tennessee Williams wrote. The impact of the different endings dramatically changes the reactions from the audience.
In the play, Eunice is telling Stella that she cannot believe what Stanley did because her life needs to go on. Stella takes the baby, and she goes back to Stanley, and when the baby stopped crying it is as if life is back to normal. When Blanche is gone they treat their lives no differently than when she was there. In this case, Stanley wins the “poker game,” because he has a better hand than Blanche. Stella cries frantically and it shows how badly she feels about admitting Blanche into an insane asylum. The end of the play says “7 card stud.” This tells the audience that the play has gone back to normal. This ending is very different from the movie because Stella makes a different decision than she does in the book.
In the movie, Stella does not go back to her normal life. The book has Eunice giving Stella the baby, but in the movie Eunice does not give Stella the baby and as Blanche is being forced to leave Stella thinks about what Stanley has done. It makes her too sick to even think of Stanley, and she says “Don’t you touch me, don’t ever touch me again.” She relays the amount of hatred she has toward Stanley and it impacts the decision she makes in the end. When Mitch watches Stella being taken away he yells at Stanley and says, “what have you done to her?” and this skepticism was not shown during the play. The movie does not have life going back to normal and although Blanche did not win the poker game, Stanley did lose. Stella goes back inside to Eunice as Stanley continues to call for her. This change is very difficult to comprehend because the result of the play and the movie are opposite. This ending shows the change between who has won the pot: Stanley, Blanche or No One.
As a result of the alternate endings the audience becomes very confused as to why they are so different. If a change had been made earlier in the movie it would not be as drastic as making a change to the ending. This alters the meanings that can be interpreted by the play and movie. The question that many still wonder is why are the endings different if the movie was produced only a couple years after the book? The alternate endings have a negative impact on how people interpret the endings.
Tennessee Williams’ Depiction of Blanche as a Casualty As Illustrated In His Play, A Streetcar Named Desire
“Blanche is a victim of the fact that she is a female.” With reference to the dramatic methods used in the play, and relevant controversial information, show to what extent you agree with this statement.
The play “A Streetcar Named Desire” written by Tennessee Williams portrays the character of Blanche Dubois following her from her hometown of Laurel, Mississippi to New Orleans where she is to stay with her sister Stella Kowalski and her sister’s husband Stanley Kowalski, beginning Blanche’s dependence on men, as she is still ultimately depending on her sister’s husband (Stanley) for her mental and economic recovery.Feminists believe that patriarchy not only suppresses women in such aspects as politics, economy, society, culture, education and so on, but also mistakenly defines women’s psychology as being unsound, irrational, illogical and impulsive. Under this kind of bias and discrimination, women’s psychology is easily distorted, and cannot develop healthily. In A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche is a contradictive lady with very complicated character, which is illustrated from the aspects of sexual desire, fantasy for bright future, and hypocrisy and pretension.
In A Streetcar Named Desire, the females, Stella Kowalski and Blanche Dubois,are portrayed as the weaker sex; women who are overpowered by those such as Stanley Kowalski, the self-aggrandizing, masculine“hero.” Blanche displays deep-seated psychological instability when she is unable to live up to her expectations as a properly raised Southern belle. Stella represents the classic example of a woman’s deference to an abusive husband (which occurs not only in the South during the time of this play, but also resounds throughout most of human history). Stanley Kowalski’s personality provides insight as to how men dominate women, convince them of their inferiority, and ultimately destroy them if unchecked. Through this theme Williams presents a negative view upon the roles of women at the time, criticising the Old South and its treatment of the female population.
Blanche and Stella are portrayed as victims of traditional Southern society in which females had few choices in life. Both sisters were raised on the plantation, Belle Reve in Laurel, Mississippi, and their primary goal in life, paralleled with Southern tradition, was to seek the security of marriage. However, both chose unsuitable husbands. Blanche, who is five years older than her sister, marries Allan Gray for love at a young age only to find her dreams shattered by her husband’s infidelity with another man. Stella, who moves to New Orleans at a young age, chooses Stanley Kowalski, an aggressive, heterosexual man of the wrong social class. However, Blanche is portrayed as the victim here, due to the fact that her marriage was unsuccessful.
Blanche’s failure to save the estate and move beyond her sordid past in Laurel leaves her with only one last hope for the future; to begin a new life with her sister in New Orleans. Unfortunately, she arrives at her new destination as a slave to her definition of womanhood, and feels compelled to lie to herself and others in order to be accepted and secure a respectable husband. She is attracted to Mitch who appears gentlemanly, and she envisions capturing him by being a perfect Southern belle, whilst hiding her promiscuous past. This involves earning a man’s respect by not “putting out” or moving too fast, giving the impression that she’s never been touched, and adhering to old-fashioned ideals of the South. Blanche even tries to recapture the more romanticized gender roles from the age of chivalry. This becomes evident when she requires Mitch to bow as he presents her with flowers and become the “Rosenkavalier” of her affections. After Mitch learns the truth about her past, and that she is not the virgin of his dreams, he refuses to show up for her birthday party, for which Blanche later reminds him that his behaviour is “utterly uncavalier.” Williams is representing that our patriarchal system teaches men that women need to be pure in order to marry them, but they typically adhere to a double standard when the roles are reversed. Blanche is a victim to this scheme of double standards, as her promiscuity is heavily frowned upon by the characters in the novel, much as it would have been within the timeframe in which the novel was set.
Domestic Violence is different to each character in this play. This is because each character has a different experience with it, and the consequences of violence in their lives have been so diverse that each has made up their own conclusion on what it is to be violent or to be a victim of it.
Stanley, for example, is by nature a violent man. He has created a stereotypical view of women in his mind, and his wife should be the embodiment of subservience and submission. When he drinks, these ideals become more powerful and make him even more violent. When his wife does not do as he says he hits her, they fight, and then there is the post-fighting lovemaking which intends to patch all mistakes. Yet, this is to him a form of aphrodisiac and violence is a way to channel his pathological views of life. Blanche becomes a victim of his violence, particularly during the rape scene.
Stella is at the receiving end of Stanley. She is the one getting the hits, surviving the fights, and then getting with him for sex after fighting. However, this to Stella is another curious form of sexual enticement and she even confesses to that much. She even expects the violence partly because of the time in history when women were treated like second class citizens, and partly because Stanley’s rough nature is what attracted her to him in the first place. Stanley’s brutality is demonstrated in many ways, a particularly prominent way being when “He hurls a plate to the floor.” He states “That’s how I’ll clear the table!” He then “seizes Stella’s arm.” This uncalled for violence is not a mere consequence of the physical inequality between the genders, but is an example of male abuse of power and position, in order to further their own dominance. Although Stella may be presented as a female victim, it is clear that Blanche suffers more, regarding violence.
However, Blanche is the opposite. She is appalled by violence, and it is because even in her life of sin and debauchery, inside of Blanche there is a lot of hurt and emotion. When she sees her sister getting hit she immediately calls for the horror of the situation and tries to get Stella out of Stanley’s life. However, she gets in shock when she sees that Stella does not want to leave and looks actually glowing after she makes up with Stanley. After the suicide of her husband, Blanche sees nothing positive in violence, and it stops her frozen. When she becomes the victim of Stanley in the end and he rapes her, she becomes insane. That is the extent to which violence is like napalm in Blanche’s life. This ultimately displays Blanche as a victim to the patriarchy, as Stanley is the embodiment of male control over women.
A particularly complex problem for feminists is the issue of rape – the ultimate outrage. In this invasion of the female body, the woman is uniquely vulnerable to masculine attack, frequently for purposes of domination, not for sexual release. The rape victim is most often portrayed as the maiden in distress. In the case of Blanche, she has flirted with Stanley, engaged him in verbal combat, and challenged his authority. He confronts her in his role of the alpha male facing the attacker of the herd. It is less lust than power that motivates him. in her, he sees a foe. Furthermore, she is no gentle maiden facing this beast. She smashes a bottle, threatens to twist it in his face. She is, as he realizes, a “tiger,” a worthy adversary. This explains Williams’ difficulties in writing the ending of the play. He knew that the censors would want Blanche destroyed, but he was tempted to let her have a triumphal departure. This is certainly not the attitude of a man who belittles women. On the other hand, it plays into the ultimate insulting defence used frequently in courts of law; that the rape victim “asked for it.” In the case of Blanche and Stanley, she incited the outrage, he needed the victory. Both have their share of guilt, although Blanche is regarded as the victim in this situation.
“Now don’t you worry, your sister hasn’t turned into a drunkard, she’s just all shaken up and hot and tired and dirty!” This line is extremely ironic and it also denotes that alcoholism in a woman is a shameful trait, for which excuses need to be made. This connotation is not displayed in respect for the male characters within the text who are drunk. Male alcoholism is displayed as a totally respectable incident, as they are male. That fact that Blanche is a woman means that she is expected to display decorum at all times and that her gender does not allow her to become intoxicated.
Blanche also challenges the typical female stereotype because she has been highly educated. Being an English teacher by profession – breaking the norm – as women were not considered to need to be self-sufficient or to hold gainful employment as a man would always be there to rely upon. This higher education means that she can assert power and supremacy over others by using a more sophisticated vocabulary and style of language. In scene ten, when Blanche is disgraced outright by Stanley, Stanley immediately assumes power over Blanche by ending her long speeches and leaves her vocalizations depleted to an insufficient “Oh!” Williams is asserting through Blanche that within the context of the plays society, women who challenged the feminine stereotype would be forced into submission, this would be done by a deliberate attack on the area of their personality which enabled them to obtain this unwarranted potential. Blanche’s utter demise as a victim of rape, and in fact her relationship with Stanley, is the opportunity through which Williams represents this concept.
During the 1940’s, women’s roles and expectations in society were changing rapidly. Previously women had very little say in society and were stereotyped to stay home and be a good home maker and wife. The 1940’s were different, life for women was expanding, the men were at war and so the women had to step up and take the men’s place. Not only men were going to war either, the war was so big that in 1942, “The Women’s Army Corps” and “Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services” were established. After these organizations were accepted congress authorized women to serve in the U.S. Navy. Back in the USA, women worked factory, and labour intensive jobs. Throughout the 1940’s the amount of women in the workforce increased by 25-35%. This was a prosperous time in women’s history. Blanche, however, was removed from her job as a teacher, as she had sexual relations with a 17 year old boy. This is another scene in which we see Blanche as a victim, who has been ostracised due to her promiscuity.
“A Streetcar Named Desire” as a whole is connected to misogyny in the sense that it criticizes the way that women in the 20th century heavily depended upon men. The women in the play (Blanche and Stella) choose to fall back on men and depend on them to help them not only economically, but also emotionally and sexually. When Blanche felt insecure, she turned to younger men in an attempt to make herself feel of value. Stella on the other hand instead relies on her husband for everything, even when he beats her she returns to him for fear of being alone. When her Blanche is raped by Stanley, Stella chooses to turn her back on her sister and believe Stanley for she knows he will continue to provide a home for her, something she feels she cannot provide for both herself and her recently born child. This again makes Blanche a victim, as she is shunned by her only remaining family, and cast aside.
Blanche is one of such females born and brought up in Old South who feels difficult in mastering her own fate and facing conflicts brought by industrialization and commercialization under the restriction and oppression of patriarchy, and only hides herself in imaginative world to release herself. Williams extends his great sympathy to this victim of patriarchy. However, it is evident from what Williams depicts about women that once they yield themselves to patriarchy, instead of straggling indomitably for their freedom, their miserable situation will not be changed. Blanche is a victim because of her gender, and this fact alone contributes to the theme of tragedy within the play.
Determing the tragedy potential in A streetcar Named Desire
The tragedy in A Streetcar Named Desire can be interpreted through the medium of not just watching it, but reading it. Williams achieves this through the use of stage directions written in poetic prose, which create imagery with likeness to a novel. Arguably, the most eloquent of these is the opening stage directions. These have the effect of creating a distinct picture of the cosmopolitan New Orleans, and to use setting to prepare the audience for tragedy. For example, the play is set ‘between the L & N tracks and the river’. These are symbols of the new and the old, which may reflect on the conflict between Stanley and Stella (the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Americans). Also, the ‘weathered grey’ houses may be symbolic of Blanche: something that was once white and pure, but has been defiled by hardship and age.
Williams uses contrast to create the potential for tragedy by contrasting Blanche with New Orleans. For example, colour imagery is often used to express New Orleans’ vibrant and gaudy atmosphere; ‘yellow-checked linoleum’, ‘brown river’, ‘Blue Piano’, whereas Blanche is described as colourless; ‘white suit’, ‘white gloves’. It is obvious that Blanche doesn’t fit into this society; ‘her appearance is incongruous to the setting’. We can see this further when Williams depicts her as a moth, something attracted to light, however she ‘must avoid a strong light’. This shows how although she may be attracted to the bright vitality of New Orleans, it is something she is always at an arm’s length to, and can never truly be a part of.
Williams creates the potential for tragedy by describing Blanche as a polar opposite to Stanley, with Stella as the link between them. Stanley is described as the strong, masculine, brutish symbol of the heterogeneous ‘New America’; ‘animal joy’, and ‘gaudy seed-bearer,’ whereas Blanche is described as the traditional, ultra-refined, delicate symbol of the redundant elite social stratum of the ‘Old America,’ ‘looking as if she were arriving at a summer tea or cocktail party’, a ‘delicate beauty’. Williams further illustrates this point using animal imagery; Stanley is a ‘richly feathered male bird’ showing his machismo and pride, while Blanche is simply ‘a moth’, showing her fragility. This dichotomy is important, as it creates a high possibility for conflict, which is intrinsic to tragedy. Another effect of this is that it helps the audience form opinions on who is the tragic hero, villain and victim. For example, some audiences may view Stanley as the villain due to his brute animalism, and Stella as the victim due to being caught in the middle of such opposing sides. However, this is a domestic tragedy and all the characters have conflicting qualities, which means that there is no clearly defined tragic hero, villain and victim. Blanche in particular has many dislikeable qualities, and is initially hard to sympathise with; perhaps she is an anti-heroine?
In many points within the first four scenes, Blanche fails to comprehend her sister’s lifestyle; ‘This – can be – her home?’ This once again shows Blanche’s ostracism from normal society, and shows her ignorance of Stanley and Stella’s relationship. This incomprehension returns in Scene 4, where she once again fails to understand their relationship, romanticising it into some kind of ‘desperate situation’ from which she must escape; ‘I’m not in anything I want to get out of’. It is ironic that Blanche assumes that Stella is being oppressed by Stanley, when it is Blanche who tends to eclipse Stella. It is this inability to clearly and objectively see relationships which is Blanche’s tragic flaw; it led her to marry a gay man, to lie to Mitch, and to make incendiary remarks about Stanley, all of which conspire to create her own tragedy.
Williams uses foreshadowing in the first four scenes to create the potential for tragedy. For example, in Scene 2, when Stanley rummages through Blanche’s trunk and throws things around, it foreshadows how he later rummages through Blanche’s life, drawing out her secrets and memories. Some audiences may interpret this invasion of privacy as a portent of her rape. Williams also foreshadows character development in these first scenes. For example, Blanche turns suddenly from tension and exhaustion (‘take them, peruse them – commit them to meory’) to the dreamy excitement of Stella’s pregnancy (‘Stella, Stella for star!) This inconsistency, along with her wavering speech, foreshadows her subsequent mental instability. Also, when Stanley tells Blanche about Stella’s pregnancy simply because he has no comeback, he unveils his spitefulness and foreshadows his later vindictiveness.
Scene 3 is important to the development of the tragedy as it unveils the violence and primitiveness that underlines Stanley and Stella’s relationship. Despite the fact that Stanley is physically violent towards Stella, she still returns to him: ‘Her eyes go blind with tenderness,’ Williams writes. This shows that her passion and love for Stanley makes her ignorant of – or overlook – his flaws. The domestic violence in Scene 3 is also important as when Stella calls Stanley an ‘animal thing’ it provokes a vicious attack from him. Blanche later makes provocative remarks about his animalism, foretelling another brutal response.
Scene 3 is also important as it prognosticates the quality of Blanche and Mitch’s relationship. We can see that they both connect on a base level because they have both experienced heartbreak: ‘there is little belongs to people who have experienced some sorrow’. However, whereas Mitch’s sorrow has made him sincere, Blanche’s sorrow has made her insincere and craving make-believe and fairy tales. Such different perspectives on such similar events show that they are ill-suited, and their relationship is destined to be fraught and unsuccessful.
An important part of the tragedy in A Streetcar Named Desire is that Blanche struggles to accept the truth, and would rather live a false, romanticised version of life, which we can see when she says ‘I don’t want realism, I want magic’. Williams uses light imagery to express this, displaying Blanche with an aversion to bright light; ‘I can’t stand a naked lightbulb’. Perhaps light represents the truth and practicality that Blanche longs to escape. Furthermore, the light imagery around Blanche is developed in her description of her relationship with Allan; ‘you suddenly turned a blinding light on… and the searchlight… was turned off again’. Perhaps light signifies love to Blanche, and the reason for her aversion is that it brings up memories to her that are too painful to recall. The fact that she describes love as a ‘spotlight’ may also highlight her need for attention and neuroticism. Light also signifies the effect of her past relationship on the way she lives her life, a mere imitation of her previous self: ‘never for one moment since has there been any light that’s stronger’. However, light imagery is also used to presage Stanley’s part in the tragedy: ‘He smashed all the lightbulbs’. This foretells the aggressive side Stanley takes towards Blanche’s truths. The fact that he puts out all the light could be an omen of her rape; nothing is real for Blanche after that.
In many ways, Scene 4 is a turning point in the play. It is the point in which Blanche makes an impassioned speech about Stanley, suggesting that he is a symbol of the degeneration of America: ‘Don’t hang back with the brutes’. Stanley overhears this, which wounds his pride, and brings up some of his own self-doubts about his status: ‘You knew I was common when you married me’. This causes Stanley to see Blanche as the problem in his relationship with Stella (‘we was fine before she arrived’) and drives him to investigate Blanche’s past, and uncover her scandal. Essentially, when Blanche condemns Stanley, she is condemning herself. Also, it is in Scene 4 where we see where Stella’s true loyalties lie. Up until then, we have seen her display equal love towards Stanley and Blanche; after Blanche expresses her disgust of Stanley, however, we see Stella embrace him. This demonstrates that perhaps her affections are tipped towards Stanley, allowing him leverage to bring about Blanche’s downfall.
In conclusion, the potential for tragedy is evident in the first four scenes of A Streetcar Named Desire as Blanche is painted as ill-fitting to everything around her. Small details foreshadow important events in the unravelling of the tragedy. These initial scenes exhibit the imperfections of the characters and relationships between them, which, catalysed by the brewing mix of tension and conflict, forms the perfect conditions for tragedy.
The Story A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams
“A Streetcar Named Desire” is the famous story of Blanche du Bois and Stanley Kowalski’s passionate power struggle; written by Tennessee Williams in 1947, the Play is set in New Orleans, Louisiana in the late 1940s.
To judge what extent Stanley is a villain it is necessary to first assess which criteria of a typical villain he fits. Throughout the play Stanley proves that he inflicts emotional pain on Blanche, and by not letting her forget her past and by destroying any possibility of love in her life Stanley becomes an obstacle she must attempt to overcome. It is Stanley who brings about the protagonists demise. However, although it appears that Stanley is vindictive and only bringing Blanche down for his own personal gain, one could argue that he is doing it for his relationship with Stella as Stanley would like things to return to the way they were before Blanche arrived. Stanley talks about how he wants their relationship to simply go back to normal: “Stell, it’s gonna be all right after she [Blanche] goes…”
Stanley first shows signs of villainy in scene three, through his need to be dominant which foreshadows the conflict between him and Blanche which, later, leads to the rape. At the start of the scene, he tries to assert his authority by telling Stella and Blanche to “cut out that conversation in there!” Throughout the scene, when he feels that he is losing control and authority, he loses his temper; one trait of a traditional villain, in the form of striking Stella after she yells at him – “Drunk – drunk – animal thing, you!” It is clear to the audience that Stanley would have liked to hit Blanche instead. The fact Williams stages the scene so that the ‘strike’ was off stage shows that this violence would have been just as shocking at the time the play was written as it would be to a modern-day audience.
This scene establishes Stanley as a villain and an obstacle to Blanche’s progress early on. It is possible, however, to argue that Stanley is not a traditional villain; in the opening scene, it is Stanley who is the civil character, not Blanche. He seems friendly and even welcoming; “Well, take it easy.” The audience feels sympathy for Stanley who has just had his wife’s sister arrive, clearly out of the blue, as he says; “didn’t know you [Blanche] were coming in to town.” We can relate to Stanley more than to Blanche in this scene, because Blanche is invading his home and although this comment is reserved, it is undeniably civil. The fact Blanche has drunk some of Stanley’s liquor does not go unnoticed as the stage directions tell us that Stanley ‘holds the bottle to the light to observe its depletion’ before he says to Blanche “Some people rarely touch it, but it touches them often” – both indicate that he knows Blanche is a heavy drinker and that she had had his alcohol, yet he does not question it.
At first, he seems to have no objection to Blanche and tries to make conversation, even though he appears to dominate it. Although Stanley is not villainous in this scene, there is a growing sense of tension and opposition forming. The tension is shown when the two try to engage in small talk throughout the scene, and there is an obvious dichotomy between them. Blanche is portrayed as having pale skin, a white suit and fluttery manner, suggesting a fragile moth, which is contrasted with Stanley’s bold colours and obtrusive nature. At the end of the scene, Stanley mentions Blanche’s dead husband, Allan, unnecessarily; hinting properly for the first time that Stanley has a cruel and villainous side as he clearly intends to inflict emotional pain by making Blanche remember Allan with the comment “What happened?”
Another scene in which the audience feel sorry for Stanley is in scene four, when he overhears Blanche trying to persuade Stella to leave Stanley. Blanche points out the differences between her and Stanley, saying “Stanley Kowalski, survivor of the Stone Age!” “Such things as art – as poetry and music – such kinds of new light have come into the world since then!” We also feel sympathetic towards Stanley at the end of scene three when he begs Stella to come back – “I want my baby down here. Stella, Stella!” It is in scene ten that Stanley reveals the true extent of his villainy as well as being the dramatic climax of the play.
At the very start of the scene, Blanche is staring in to a mirror, she ‘Tremblingly lifts her hand’ before slamming it down ‘with such violence that the glass cracks’, giving a distorted image – a metaphor for her distorted view of the world. Stanley enters wearing a ‘vivid green’ shirt – the bold colour emphasising his personality and mood. Stanley senses Blanche’s distress and mocks her fantasies and illusions of a rich admirer coming to rescue her; “Well, well. What do you know?” The fact she need to be rescued emphasised the fact she is trapped; unable to escape her mind and the memories that she tries to repress.
Dramatic irony is used effectively in Stanley’s line “It goes to show, you never know what is coming” that foreshadows the rape. The audience expect a climax to the tension that has built throughout the play and the scene is full of sexual references such as ‘pounding the bottle cap on the corner of the table’, ‘the bottle cap pops off’, “bury the hatchet” and “loving cup”, which hint at the play’s conclusion.
Throughout the scene, tension mounts as the atmosphere between the two fluctuates; at the start of the scene, there is a moment when it seems as though Stanley is going to make a friendly gesture towards Blanche, however, when she refuses, the previous animosity between them is restored. Blanche then makes a biblical reference “casting my pearls before swine” which Stanley does not understand and takes as a direct insult. For a short while, he plays along with her illusions before suddenly turning on her again.
As the scene closes, Williams uses imagery to make Blanche’s terror take on a physical form as ‘grotesque and, menacing shapes’ that close in around her and animalistic sounds can be heard and frightening, sinister ‘shadows and lurid reflections’ appear on the walls, moving like ‘flames’ which mimic Blanche’s nervous movements. Stanley’s last line “We’ve had this date with each other from the beginning” shows his intent and to a certain extent, Stanley is right when he says this; Blanche and Stanley’s relationship has always been sexual to a certain extent – Blanche was fully aware of Stanley’s intense masculinity and she responded with provocative seductive and sexual behaviour, even admitting to her sister that she knows about sexual desire – “when the devil is in you”.
This scene is technically very dramatic in technique and the use of the blue piano and ‘inhuman voices like cries in a jungle’ create a threatening and animalistic effect. The sounds of the train, the streetcar named Desire Blanche arrives on, are heard throughout the play and get louder and louder as well as faster. The train will inevitably crash like Blanche. The visual effects represent the present evil and Blanche’s decent in to madness. Williams intended to shock the audience with the full extent of Stanley’s villainy in this climatic scene and his act seems even monstrous due to the fact he is raping his pregnant wife’s sister. It is in this scene that Stanley displays almost all of the traits of a traditional villain; he both emotionally and physically causes Blanche pain as well as clearly finding pleasure in bringing about her demse. In the penultimate scene the line; ‘she sunk to her knees’ tells us that Blanche has given up and Stanley has finally destroyed Blanche completely.
In conclusion, I personally see Stanley as a villain because although at certain points in the play the audience is sympathetic towards him and can see the motive behind his actions, and even relate to them, it is hard to forgive his ruthless and systematic destroying of Blanche both emotionally and physically as well as his lack of control when hitting Stella. Blanche destroys Mitch and any chance of a relationship with him with her lies, however, Stanley destroys Blanche with the truth and does so in such a spiteful, manipulative and ultimately villainous way; it tears her apart. Stanley defines himself by displaying all the traditional characteristics of a villain.
The role of Blance and Mitch in A Streetcar Named Desire
In the 1947 play A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, the relationship between Blanche and Mitch is a key subplot in the tale of Blanche’s descent into madness and isolation. Whilst Williams initially presents Mitch as the answer to all Blanche’s problems and as a viable male suitor, it soon becomes evident that Blanche and Mitch are not meant to be together. Mitch, in the broader progression of Williams’ work, is merely another man who will ruin Blanche’s life.
Williams first presents Mitch as Blanche’s potential saviour, and indeed that is how Blanche also wishes to see him at the start. Not only might Mitch be able to provide for Blanch financially, but emotionally too. Blanche remarks that Mitch is “sensitive”, and they share a tragic romantic past. Furthermore, Mitch seems to fit Blanche’s ideal of the Southern Beau when compared to other men, whom she regards as “apes”. Mitch is formal and respectful, calling Blanche “Miss DuBois” and Blanche admits that she appreciates his “gallantry”. IT seems that Blanche and Mitch are in a way united by their shared loss, and are brought together by mutual experience. They both need to fill a vacuum in their lives and conveniently find each other as a means for emotional (and financial) security. Mitch hits upon this, stating: “you need somebody, and I need somebody – could it be you and me Blanche?”. There is even a brief tenderness in their relationship and Blanche to find solace in Mitch; she “huddles” into him and gives “long grateful sobs” before exclaiming “sometimes, there’s God, so quickly”. We can see the closeness of the bond between the two of them as Mitch is the only character who Blanche tells the truth about “Alan”, and it is after this outburst of emotion that they are united together.
However, Blanche and Mitch’s relationship is doomed to fail by the nature of Mitch’s incomplete, pseudo-masculinity. When recounting the story of Alan, Blanche reveals that she couldn’t be with him because he wasn’t “like a man” – obviously alluding to his homosexuality which was taboo and illegal at the time. Yet throughout the play we find that Mitch too isn’t “like a man”. From the very beginning we see that Mitch works in “the spare parts department”, a possible reference to his incomplete masculinity according to Kolin; he seems never to have matured, still living with his “mother”; and when he dances with Blanche, it is “awkwardly”. Similarly, his conversation is awkward and unromantic, as he remarks on how he “sweats” and how much he “weighs”. It soon becomes apparent that Mitch is therefore not the “Rosenkavalier” or “Armand” that Blanche paints him to be. This is the problem. Blanche, who “doesn’t want realism” but “magic”, makes Mitch fir the mould of the Southern Beau which she desires by means of her literary allusions despite the fact that he belongs to the new order of men in the post-World War II era. She demands that he “bows” and commands him to “dance”. Mitch becomes Blanche’s pet man whom she moulds into her ideal of masculinity which is, like Blanche, “incongruous” to contemporary ideals of masculinity which promoted strong men who were war veterans and the defenders against tyranny after World War II. Blanche, as with everything, clouds the relationship with Mitch in illusion, which Williams symbolises with the scene when Blanche invites Mitch to place a “lantern” over the light in her room. She says “I can’t stand a naked bulb”, a metaphor for her refusal to accept reality, and placing the lantern over the light is symbolic of Blanche’s masking the truth of her age and past from Mitch. Mitch’s masculinity is further questioned when compared with Stanley. Stanley is the ideal stereotypical man’s man of the time: he is highly sexed; he brings home “meat” for his wife, symbolic of the hunter-gatherer dynamic; and he plays sport. Furthermore, when it comes to Blanche, Stanley is assertive and successfully has his way with he in the implied rape of scene 10, thus asserting his sexual dominance. Mitch however is unable to do so, and in his attempted rape he “fumbles to embrace her”. It is therefore clear that, either due to Mitch’s incomplete masculinity, or the veneer of chivalrous romanticism Blanche lives under, eventually will fail. In the end, Mitch yells that is was “lies, lies, lies!” that tore them apart and the relationship ends.
Yet Williams makes greater use of the relationship between Mitch and Blanche than as a mere subplot, doomed to fail. Thematically, Mitch, like Stella, becomes a battleground for the ideology clash between Stanley and Blanche, who represent the New and the Old World respectively. Stanley: the immigrant worker, “100% American”, war veteran. Blanche: the upper class Southern Belle of the USA’s French-colonial past. When Stanley and Blanche meet it is clear that their two ideologies cannot live side by side, and a battle ensues for dominance. Stanley wins the first battle, after convincing Stela to “come back” to him after hitting her, and the field of battle shifts to Mitch. Initially, by means of her deceptive seduction and emotional appeal, Mitch falls for Blanche, yet Stanley manages to convince Mitch to seek the truth from Blanche. Indeed, he does and Mitch adopts Stanley’s speech patterns and physical movements in scene 9, a maneuver which is symbolic of Stanley having successfully exerted his influence over Mitch: he speaks monosyllabically (“Me. Mitch”) and with interrogative statements (“Why?”, “Are you out of your mind?” and “Do we have to have that fan on?”). Eventually, Mitch “rips” the “lantern” off the lamp, symbolically violating Blanche and prefiguring the subsequent rape scene by shattering her illusions and pretences. After Stanley has taken Mitch from Blanche, she has lost everything and appears in clothes which are “soiled” and “crumpled”, symbolic of her stained purity and helplessness.
Ultimately, Williams creates Mitch as someone who means well concerning Blanche, and who is one of the few characters to empathise with her, however he never realistically does anything to help her. His well-meaning yet powerless position is epitomised by the end stage directions as he is “sobbing” while Blanche leaves, and in his failed attempt to criticise Stanley (“You…brag…brag…brag…bull!”) This criticism may well have carried some weight and helped Blanche, yet it is castrated by Mitch’s inability to even formulate a sentence. Mitch was Blanche’s last opportunity to detach herself from the Old World of the colonial South and attach herself to the modern, post-industrialist world in the aftermath of World War II, a world in which traditional gender roles had shifted. Once this opportunity is missed, Blanche is doomed to fade away into the abyss of obscurity and her institutionalisation becomes inevitable as she is left insane, alone, unstable, and unsupported.
Evaluation of the Social Class Ranking As Illustrated In the Book, A Streetcar Named Desire
Class differences lie behind conflict in the play. Through close analysis of the dramatic methods used in the play, and drawing upon relevant external information on social class in the southern states of America, show to what extent you agree with the statement above.
Throughout “A Streetcar Named Desire,” William’s presents conflict as a main theme. Class is a prominent factor within this theme, displayed through characters and their actions.
Clear contrasts can be viewed between characters almost immediately. Blanche DuBois, the Southern Belle, who is still living within the ideals of the “Old South,” and Stella DuBois, the former Southern Belle who chose to marry down the social hierarchy and wed Stanley Kowalski, a Polish immigrant of lower class. Blanche is initially surprised by her sister’s new standards of living, surrounded by those of the lower class; not only her husband, but her friends also. Social class issues are clearly illustrated throughout the two opening scenes. Although both sisters are from the same family, they both have different lifestyles which they’ve adapted to. The social class differences between them demonstrate how society behaved during the 1940’s.
It’s important to establish the atmosphere in this particular setting of New Orleans, especially as Blanche brings to the Kowalski apartment her prejudices, which prove to be out of time and place. Class distinctions don’t matter here, which is why Stella and Stanley seem to make a fine match despite their backgrounds.It was at this time, during the 1940’s, that all of those in surrounding areas began to move there along with many different groups of immigrants as well, making it a centre for multiculturalism in the USA at the time. New Orleans attracted people from all walks of life. And with this different variety of groups of people from different classes and backgrounds coming together and living in one place, there was a sort of a cultural revolution that at this point in time was completely and utterly unprecedented. Blanche was completely unused to this, and so her prejudices may have been a cause for conflict in the play.
When Blanche shows up at Elysian Fields, Williams writes that “her appearance is incongruous to this setting. She is daintily dressed in a white suit with a fluffy bodice, necklace and earrings of pearl, white gloves and hat, looking as if she were arriving at a summer tea or cocktail party in the garden district.” Not only are these clothes incongruous to the setting, but also may represent more expensive items of clothing only worn by those of the higher class.Blanche owns many furs, which Stanley immediately assumes to be expensive, causing a small conflict between the pair. She also owns costume jewellery, such as a tiara, which could represent a past member of higher class wishing to climb back up the hierarchy.
Blanche assumes the superiority inherited with her family name. She is disparaging about the small size of Stella’s home, and expects her to have a maid. Most of all, however, she is astonished that her sister has married someone so lacking in refinement or culture as Stanley. She also shows her prejudice in referring to him as a ‘Polack’. She makes her feelings about him abundantly clear in Scene Four, after witnessing his violence in the poker party of Scene Three. In her damning account of him, which he overhears, she calls him ‘sub-human’ and ‘ape-like.’ This display of ignorance towards the lower class and immigrants causes conflict within the play.
Stanley becomes irritated at Stella’s lack of respect for him, supposedly caused by Blanche’s influence. Stella claims that Stanley “makes a pig of himself,” which causes conflict between the pair, due to Blanche’s superficial ways.
Operating on the idea that all men are created equal, the “American Dream” is an ideology in the United States in which freedom includes the possibility of prosperity and success to all, regardless of social class or race. It emphasizes a direct link between individual effort and success in an open, merit-based system and attracts most people to this country in the first place. However, America’s “dream” dramatically changed as the country’s definition of success applied primarily to white middle class men from the 1930s to the 1950s, creating a class structure fuelled by discrimination. In the play, the audience see that it is Stanley who appears to benefit most from the “American Dream,” as an immigrant who has made a decent life for himself in America. Stanley states that the “pulled Stella down,” referencing that she married down the hierarchy of society. This fact displeases Blanche, and so is another element in which class is the driving force between conflicts within the play. Stanley also claimed that “she loved it,” meaning that she enjoys living life as a lower-class citizen, which would also cause conflict between her and Blanche, as Blanche was left to defend Belle Reve alone.
Certain elements in Blanche and Mitch’s relationship could be viewed as a conflict between classes. Blanche acts as a refined lady, which “old-fashioned ideals.” It is clear that Mitch wishes to act upon his desires with Blanche, but is stopped by her pretence. She tries to act like a higher member of society, who will not lower herself to be handled by a man, and lose his respect. After Blanche asks Mitch if he speaks French, an attribute associated with the more refined and educated higher class, he responds that he doesn’t, displaying the gap in the hierarchy between them. Blanche teases Mitch in the language he can’t understand, asking, “Do you want to sleep together this evening? You don’t understand? What a shame!” Blanche grows rapidly more amorous, irritating Mitch and causing underlying themes of conflict to increase.
Throughout Blanche’s stay at his house, he feels that she has drunk his liquor, eaten his food, used his house, all of which he has provided with his own money from hard work, but still has belittled him and has opposed him. She has never conceded to him his right to be the “king” in his own house. Thus, he must sit idly by and see his marriage and home destroyed, and himself belittled by someone of a supposed higher class than him, or else he must strike back. His attack is slow and calculated. He begins to compile information about Blanche’s past life. He must present her past life to his wife so that she can determine who the superior person is, and show that she is in fact, not one of a higher class. When he has his information accumulated, he is convinced that however common he is, his life and his past are far superior to Blanche’s. Now that he feels his superiority again, he begins to act. He feels that having proved how degenerate Blanche actually is, he is now justified in punishing her directly for all the indirect insults he has had to suffer from her. Thus he buys hera bus ticket back to Laurel, and reveals her promiscuous past to Mitch. This is a major conflict within the play, with the driving force being class.
The “Varsouviana” represents the higher class, thus represents Blanche. The “Blue Piano” represents New Orleans, and so represents the lower class, Stella and Stanley. The music plays during scenes of conflict and drama, and so is a representative of conflict throughout the entire play.
Blanche’s dialogue, juxtaposed against Stanley’s, shows her as a more refined, well-spoken lady. Stanley’s speech consists of colloquial language, associated more with a less educated citizen. It is clear that Blanche has received an excellent education; however it is also evident that Stanley is smarter when it comes to manipulation, etc. Blanche is naïve, and so this could be an argument that Class isn’t necessarily a main driving force behind the play, it may only be due to Stanley’s cunning ways and tricks.
Class features strongly throughout this play. There are many arguments to suggest that class differences lie behind conflict in the play. However, we must consider other factors that may have caused conflict, such as manipulation, deceit, lies, and abuse. Blanche clearly demonstrated that she sees those of a lower class inferior to her. Here, Williams could have been trying to suggest that those who do not see society as one will not succeed in life. He was trying to convey ideas of a more united America, one in which those of higher and lower classes could potentially one day live as one.
The Gender In Nella Larsen’s Novella Quicksand And Tennessee Williams’ Play A Streetcar Named Desire
The central female protagonists in Nella Larsen’s novella Quicksand and Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire embrace material culture for a multitude of reasons. Helga Crane’s love of colour is both aesthetic in the clothing she adores and it serves as a metonym to criticize racial prejudice. There is also a duality of meaning in how Blanche DuBois approaches material culture. Her fondness for pretty clothes and the decorations in her room is a source of whimsy and the means that empower her to seduce men. However, dominant males and powerful institutions attempt to pacify the statements Helga and Blanche make with their displayed bodies. Whereas Helga becomes disillusioned with how others dismiss and appropriate her colorful, adorned body, Blanche is temporarily able to challenge for space only because she masks the true age of her body from male through dress. This sense of confusion and deception coupled with the temporal limitations of age and waning reproductive power, mark the female body as an illusory source of power.
Dominant males like Stanley Kowalski view a woman’s attempt to decorate her room and dress up her body as a passive, non-threatening act. It is easy to dismiss Blanche as materialistic and vain as she prances around the Kowalski home in flowery print dresses and hangs up frilly decorations like the paper lantern. Upon Blanche’s arrival Stella asks her husband to admire her sister’s dress and tell her that she’s looking wonderful, insisting, “That’s important with Blanche. Her little weakness!”. According to Stella, these physical displays of beauty are harmless. They please a male spectator and a woman eagerly accepts this validation of the male gaze as Blanche needs to be told that she does indeed look good. The very name ‘Blanche’ has connotations with something lacking substance or being bland, like a white canvas which can be the basis for a colorful work but on its own remains an empty space. When Blanche mentions where she is from Stanley retorts, “Yeah, in Laurel, that’s right. Not in my territory”. Stanley is quite determined in this first meeting with Blanche to point out that the apartment is not just his space but his ‘territory,’ as if he is salivating for the chance to mark and defend it. Based on the reader’s first encounter with Blanche, it is doubtful whether her non-substantial body will pose a serious threat to the power imbalances in the Kowalski home.
Helga is treated in a similar manner by her colleagues at Naxos. Her attempt to assert control over her body and to adorn it in an attractive manner is dismissed as shallow, materialistic and vain rather than an assertive action empowering the female body. The reader first encounters Helga through the objects in her room, such as the reading lamp and carpet painted in deep shades of black, red and blue. While in Naxos it is revealed, “most of her earnings had gone into clothing, into books, into the furnishings of the room”. Since she spends so much time sheltered in her room with these possessions, Helga’s celebration of colour and beauty is considered by her colleagues to be an excuse to revel in her own appearance and to justify the collection of material things.
Helga’s room and the overwhelmingly negative response to her vibrant outfits actually help reinforce the power of the institution. Her room is described as an oasis of colour in a uniformed, highly regimented school system. The furnishings of Helga’s room “held her” which implies that this personal space, decorated with flashes of colour like the gold and green negligee, acts as a sanctuary from the politics of Naxos rather than a direct attack on the system. Helga’s frustration is infantilized by her colleagues. She becomes the upset daughter running to her room and acting out in this secluded space.
Despite what her colleagues may think, Helga is not simply having a tantrum or playing dress up. She uses colour as part of a feminine aesthetic toward beauty to criticize a society that flattens difference and forces people into categories based on ridiculous notions such as racial purity. The words of a white politician reinforce how colour can be manipulated into a tool of repression rather than the outlet for personal expression Helga thinks it should be. When this politician visits Naxos he refers to the crowd of schoolchildren and the black staff as Negroes. This description is not commented on directly in the story, which gives it the power of being unspoken, matter of fact racism. Labeling his audience all as Negroes raises the white politician above the crowd and groups them together as poor inferior black folk. Helga gazes upon the same crowd and sees a sea of diverse coloured faces with shades of ebony, bronze and gold.
Helga’s vibrant descriptions of colour reach out to include blacks, persons of mixed race, and even whites. This sense of diversity is expanded upon in a Harlem night club where she observes, “There was sooty black, shiny black, taupe, mahogany, bronze, copper, gold, orange, yellow, peach, ivory, pinky white, pastry white”. Helga does not comment on the race issue explicitly. She attempts to look beyond racial divisions to find simple colour and celebrate an array of shades and unique experiences instead of dividing people into binary groups pitting black against white.
It is important to note that Helga’s uplifting and impassioned rhetoric toward skin colour is part of an internal monologue. Her discussions and celebrations share a quality of distance and remoteness. They either take place in her mind, or through the observations of the narrator who is removed from the world of the story and its characters. When Helga is fed up with Naxos she decides to run away to Denmark. She flees from repressive societies multiple times, and it is difficult to view these flights as more than passive acts of resistance that fail to challenge the societies that have created the social inequalities she despises.
Helga ultimately loses control over what statement she is making with her body. In Denmark her aunt and uncle decide what she wears and her image is appropriated by the artist Axel Olson. When Helga is shopping with her aunt and uncle she “consents” to a pair of shoes they have picked out. On the one hand, Helga gets what she desires in Denmark. She admits the shoes are nice and they do fit her feet quite well. Even though in this new society she is encouraged to wear pretty things that would have been unheard of in Naxos, such as bright orange dresses, what is missing is her own personal choice in the matter. As the day wears on and the clothing piles up Fru Dahl insists, “you ought to have higher heels – and buckles”. These two items are uncomfortable and they distort Helga’s body. The buckles are eerily reminiscent of the shackles of slavery, and the associated loss of control over one’s body.
The artist Axel Olson also physically violates Helga by seizing control over her female body. When Helga sees the finished portrait of herself she is outraged. It does not look like her at all. Axel has transformed her into a wild eyed and exotic animal. Helga is only able to catch isolated words of his description of her, “superb eyes … color … neck column … yellow … hair … alive … wonderful”. Axel dissects the female body. This chopped up description demonstrates the power of the male gaze to assert control over and rearrange elements of the female body according to a man’s values of physical beauty, which in this instance reduce Helga to an objectified, exotic black body.
Whereas Helga struggles with how to publicly confront dominant institutions, her colleagues, and men in general through material culture, Blanche is able to use her dressed up body to convey the message she wants. She is a seductress who uses flirtation to counteract Stanley’s boorish behaviour. Where Helga is at times passive, Blanche is passive aggressive. When Stanley questions her about Belle Reve, Blanche sprays herself with perfume and then playfully sprays him, retorting, “My, but you have an impressive judicial air!” (Williams 2200). Stanley marks his territory with empty beer bottles and the refuse of last night’s poker game. Blanche has left her own distinctly feminine scent to linger in the air and challenge for space in the apartment.
Through examining material culture it becomes evident that the female body is not a source of power on its own. Blanche’s flirtatious behaviour demonstrates how the female body needs to be carefully presented, even in a deceptive manner. Many times Blanche is behind a curtain or employing some sort of disguise to hide her aging body. She masks her face with powder, is constantly bathing or dabbing on splashes of perfume, and she insists on only meeting Mitch at night in the dark. A curtained partition removes Blanche from the hyped-up masculine world of Stanley’s poker games. Behind this curtain men are putty in her hands. When she turns on the radio and starts to waltz to music Mitch is delighted. He moves, “in awkward imitation like a dancing bear” (Williams 2207). Blanche has temporarily emasculated him and she keeps him in her space in the Kowalski home while Stanley bellows for him to return to their game. Unlike Helga, Blanche is able to control and manipulate space. In another instance, Blanche undresses behind the curtain, “she takes off the blouse and stands in her pink silk brassiere and white shirt in the light of the portieres”. Stella promptly yells at her that she is standing in the light, to which Blanche dryly responds, “Oh, am I”. Blanche is essentially stripping in front of the poker players with one small caveat, her body is mostly hidden behind the curtain.
It is interesting to note contradictions between Helga and Blanche in relation to age, and how this problematizes the notion of agency over the body. Whereas a young female body like Helga’s is put on display and the subject of paintings by a Axel Olson, Blanche’s older body is hidden under layers of clothing, perfume and shade. When Blanche dresses up her female body and parades around in public she is viewed as manipulative and deceitful. At the beginning of the play when it is unclear how old Blanche exactly is, her body is valued and desirable. Stanley, in an act that demonstrates how he views all space in his home as a masculine domain, violently rummages through her trunk. He bellows, “What’s this here? A solid gold dress I believe … Genuine fox fur-pieces, a half a mile long” (Williams 2198). These images of wealth and luxury fit the southern belle image Blanche comes into the Kowalski home trying to maintain. At this point in the play she is in control of the statement her body is making. Once Stanley finds out Blanche’s real age and digs into her past this very same trunk of clothes is deemed to be worthless. He berates her, “Take a look at yourself, in that worn-out Mardi Gras outfit, rented for fifty cents from some rag picker”. The line ‘take a look at yourself’ is quite interesting in that it is Stanley’s opinion of Blanche that has changed. This is the same trunk of clothes from the beginning of the play. The worth of a female body is mediated not only by the physical limitations of age but also through the male observer.
The female body is adorned, concealed and carefully presented, its meaning a point of contention to be fought and struggled over. The male body, on the other hand, can be openly and simply displayed. Throughout the play Stanley’s body is depicted rather nakedly. He strips in front of the window, in the middle of the apartment, and in front of members of the opposite sex. Compared to the fading Blanche and soon to be too-old-to-marry Helga dressed up in their elaborate outfits, there is a sense of permanence and effortlessness in the exhibition of Stanely’s male body. His act of stripping in front of Blanche is in some ways an interesting challenge to her femininity in that he also has a desirable body and can exert power from being able to hold the Other’s gaze.
Lacking the supposed permanence of a man’s seed the female body is marked as an empty reproductive vessel. Stanley is described as compactly built and “the gaudy seed-bearer” (Williams 2195). His reproductive power will not diminish so drastically over time. At the conclusion of Quicksand, Helga is mired in a cycle of southern poverty where she has effectively lost her reproductive rights. The narrator observes, “And hardly had she left her bed and become able to walk again without pain … when she began to have her fifth child” (Larsen 1803). Other women tidy her house, take care of her children, and pay attention to her husband. In this limited role as a mother and caretaker Helga is merely a passive receptacle for the reverend Pleasant Green’s children, unable to walk or get out of the marital bed.
Unlike Helga who is young and somewhat disillusioned, her mind clouded by racial prejudice and stigma, Blanche is old enough to realize that she is powerless. When Mitch rejects her Blanche exclaims, “I don’t want realism. I want magic”. In a few short weeks Blanche’s body is progressively devalued from a southern belle, seductress, and even potential mother like Stella, to a harlot as Stanley and Mitch try to rape her in a final act of violation over a woman’s body and personal space. Once the clothing, colour, and decorations are stripped away, the tone of the endings of both these works reads as a death sentence rather than a celebration of new life or personal expression. The act of dressing up is a veil, a temporary distraction that obfuscates power imbalances Helga and Blanche cannot escape from or change.
An examination of the theme of premeditated rape in A streetcar Named Desire
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.
How Blanche Dubois is portrayed in Scene 6
The protagonist of A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche Dubois, is a fallen southern Belle whose troubled life results in the deterioration of her mental health. She has just returned from a date with Mitch and their conversation turns to her past. This topic is extremely important in shaping our understanding of Blanche as a character; her present circumstances, as well as the way she acts in the play, are very strongly influenced by her past. Through carefully chosen language and key symbols, Williams highlights several aspects of this in scene 6.
Blanche begins by asserting ‘You have a great capacity for devotion’, which could either be construed as perceptive and an indication of how well she is getting to know Mitch, or as manipulative flattery, attempting to draw attention to his need for her. Williams reinforces the latter through her next question: ‘You will be lonely when she passes on, won’t you?’. The syntax of this sentence, a statement followed by a question, seems leading and manipulative; Blanche clearly wants him to believe that he will be lonely so that he pursues her more urgently, perhaps more out of her need for his provision and stability than out of love and desire for him.
When describing her discovery of love, Blanche metaphorically compares it to a ‘blinding light’, and later a ‘searchlight’. The symbol of light is drawn attention to repeatedly throughout the play, often representing uncovering, or revelation. In this case, however, it seems to be symbolic of sexuality and love; she states it had ‘always been half in shadow’ and after Allan’s death was gone, leaving no light ‘stronger than this – kitchen – candle’. This suggests that her relationship with Allan was her only experience of love, and that all that she has been involved in since has been a mere shadow of what they shared. There are also many negative connotations of the phrase ‘blinding light’: it comes across as painful and dangerous. Williams could be suggesting that the passion of her love for Allan made her blind to other important parts of life, such as family, and perhaps also to his homosexuality. Earlier on in the play, Blanche is described as ‘a moth’, which gives greater significance to the idea of light; it attracts moths, but often kills them. This implies that a relationship with Allan was irresistible to her, but perhaps was the catalyst for the deterioration of her social life and sanity. This theme of destruction by one’s own tendencies is one which is common in modern tragedies, which A Streetcar Named Desire arguably exemplifies.
Blanche describes herself as ‘deluded’ in her love for Allan. This adjective has connotations of not only ignorance (in this case of Allan’s homosexuality), but also of self-deception. This aptly describes Blanche’s attitude to many aspects of her life, such as her relationship with Mitch and, even more seriously, her fictional relationship with Shep Huntleigh. Williams therefore conveys to the audience Blanche’s tendency to be optimistic, to the point where she is blind to the problems in her life.
By littering Blanche’s speech with emotive language such as ‘help’, ‘unendurably’ and ‘disgust’, as well as by using exclamation marks, Williams conveys the strength of Blanche’s emotions and of her recollections.
This is also highlighted by the graphic description of Allan’s death: ‘He’d stuck the revolver into his mouth, and fired – so that the back of his head had been – blown away!’ As this sentence is followed by a pause, it comes across as extremely abrupt, as well as coarse; both highlight how damaged Blanche has been by these words. In particular, the verbs ‘stuck’, ‘fired’ and ‘blown’ come across as very brutal, highlighting the insensitivity of those who said this in Blanche’s hearing, evoking sympathy for her from the audience.
Williams also explores Blanche’s character through the symbol of the Varsouviana, a polka ‘in a minor key’. Blanche reveals that this is the song which they were playing when Allan, her young husband, died and it is clear that she associates the song with this event, particularly with the gunshot that signified his suicide, as shown by the fact that it ‘stops abruptly’ when she mentions the shot. The Varsouviana is therefore linked with the regret she feels towards her past, as well as with the emotional damage she received from hearing the shot that killed her husband. The Polka tune seems to be affected by Mitch, however, as it stops when he ‘kisses her forehead’ and at other points in the play when he enters. This could suggest that Mitch represents hope for the future for Blanche and so drives away her regrets and emotional damage.
In conclusion, in scene 6, Blanche is presented as manipulative but also damaged woman who yearns for attention, perhaps as a result of the pain of her past.
Illusions Causing Rejections of Uncertain Futures
An individual’s perception of reality can be impacted by negative events from her past. These events could cause the person to develop an illusion of reality that feels more secure than what is real. However, an imagination of reality can affect a person negatively by causing them to reject dubiety in their life. “Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams follows the journey of Blanche who has created a fantasy of an alternate reality in her mind to escape the grips of guilt and uncertainty. Williams uses “Streetcar Named Desire” to express how imagination affects individual willingness to reject an uncertain future.The modern drama portrays Blanche’s interactions with the other characters and the memories of her troubled past to effectively establish this idea.
Blanche is affected by her past relationships with other men that have resulted in disastrous consequences for her emotional well-being. She is in pursuit of a person whom she can trust and who can help her in her struggle for emotional security. This is evident in the multiple partners she has had with whom she had sexual intercourse with in a bid to receive self worth and affection in return. This is further expressed in the memory of her previous husband which is essential in affirming how the past has affected her on a personal and emotional level. She married her husband without the knowledge he was homosexual and did not know his secret till she found it out accidentally. After Blanche’s remark to her husband that he was disgusting, he had killed himself in shame for which Blanche blames herself to have caused. Her heart is broken as a result of his death and she has creates an illusion of her innocence to escape the confines of this guilt. She is desperate to find someone whom she can marry to try to evade the uncertainty of remaining single. Blanche feels she needs a stronghold to which she can hang onto to prevent being subjected to uncertainty which she has also experienced in her past. She felt affected by the circumstances of her life and tried to hold onto her husband unknowingly to her that she herself was slipping from a fear of uncertainty in life. She lies to Mitch by saying she lives by “old fashioned ideals” to try to create the impression that she is a suitable bride for him. She creates this imaginary reality of who she is and how she sees herself to win Mitch’s affection. She tries to make herself more presentable by exaggerating that she is of a high class and has “never more than kissed” another man. This imagination of hers is essential to provide her with a sense of security about what she feels and to forget the memories of the past and reject the anticipation of a future that is uncertain. Blanche does this in an attempt to be recognized by Mitch, because she feels affected by the idea of an uncertain future. She chooses not to embrace the constantly changing events of her life and chooses to find certainty and refuge in Mitch. She feels betrayed by the circumstances of her life and that of Stella’s who is being abused by Stanley and thus yearns to avoid imminent consequences. The fear of acquiring an uncertain fate paralyses her ability to think rationally or morally so she resorts to lying to escape from her reality. She uses this same tactic with Shep Huntleigh to whom she often writes to in the hopes of maintaining her illusion of what she is truly like. Blanche’s past relationships have sparked illusions in her mind which make her reject the uncertainty of being single because she feels she is unable to embrace the future.
Blanche resorts to lying on a regular basis in an attempt to create an imaginary reality where she feels safer than looking forward to a life that is unexpected. This is expressed vividly through stage directions which create an atmosphere where Blanche lies and drinks in an attempt to remain in the world she has created for herself. The symbolism of light and darkness in the drama exists to emphasise the idea that Blanche tries to hide from the reality of her unknown future. She tries to hold onto someone who is willing and able to keep her stable and away from uncertainty. While Blanche talks with Mitch, she leaves the room dark and they have a conversation in the darkness while she drinks. It is under this cloak of darkness representing the hidden reality in her mind, she lies about her previous sexual activity and her eligibility as a partner for Mitch. It is under this same shadow of darkness that she tells him that they were “made for each other”. The symbolism of darkness emphasize the fictional world she has created for herself and which she chooses hides under. Blanche’s conversations with Mitch are made under a counterproductive veil of illusion which further reinforce her evasion from a future she cannot control. She constantly tries to win Mitch’s affection by lying to him under the cover of the fictional world she has created in her mind. She tells him that she hasn’t felt love in a long time and she feels that feeling of assuredness and security in the person of Mitch. Blanche constantly does this because she feels the necessity to reject the uncertainty that her future holds. Her imagination causes her to believe that the only way to be redeemed from the thought of uncertainty is by being dependent on Mitch. It is also similar to her behavior and the content of her letters to Shep Huntleigh to whom she attributes an image of a perfect husband. Blanche has this illusion in her mind and it is what causes her to lie to him about her lifestyle by saying she is rich and highly privileged. She believes that by lying to Shep she can achieve security from an anticipation of the future. This is a result of the sorrow and emotional stress from her experience with men because of which she wishes for the fanciful world in her mind where everything is perfect and nothing is unexpected.
Blanche’s past affects the way she views her world and how she interacts with it. She grew up as a rich Southern girl but ends up penniless and losing all of the wealth. Her life is riddled by the unresolved grief of her past relationships and mistakes. Furthermore, she has lost a sense of what the world is like and drinks to forget the reality she is in. This illusion of reality for her is delicate and even the slightest notion against it deeply agonizes her. When Stanley offers her a ticket back to Laurel, she is devastated at the thought of leaving the imaginary life she so deeply holds onto. This expresses the impact of her illusion as she has rejected the uncertainty of a future life which her mind cannot control. Since her mind is dependent on the illusion that she can avoid the uncertain reality, this statement provokes her mental state and emotions. This is further expressed when Stanley reproaches her for lying about Shep waiting for her when she goes back. Blanche’s imagination serves to give her comfort and to make her forget the reality of how her world is crumbling at her feet. Shep is a symbol of security to her and it affects her ability to see reality as her mind is still focused on rejecting the uncertainty of life. After Blanche is raped, the fictional world that Blanche had made up in her mind intensifies. The more she is affected by grief and sorrow, the greater the illusion in her mind of who she is. Blanche tries to hold onto this illusion of her innocence because she does not want to accept an uncertain future which she does not understand. She tells Stella that Shep Huntleigh is coming for her and that she will die with her hand in a doctor’s hand travelling in a cruise. During the doctor’s visit, she finds herself giving into the doctor’s kind words saying she always depended on the “kindness of strangers”. The doctor’s kindness is something she feels her fragile mind can hold onto because it is dependable and she feels secure in it.
Blanche’s past affects her present feelings and emotions in a major way. She is challenged by unresolved guilt of past relationships and bad luck in life. The circumstances of her life affect her emotional stability which results in the creation of a fictional world in her mind where she finds emotional security. Her mind is affected by these illusions to the point her heart breaks when people negate them. Blanche constantly finds hope in the fact that her illusions shield her from the uncertainty of the future which she fears. Blanche’s fictional reality prevents her from seeing the real world and she resorts to lying to ensure others do not see her past and who she really is. “Streetcar Named Desire” effectively portrays how Blanche individuals are affected by their illusions to reject an uncertain future.