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.
Stanley Kowalski:Why he is the villain that eveybody hates
When looking at A Streetcar Named Desire – a tragedy, after all – it is traditionally required that there should be a selected antagonist, a ‘villain’ so to speak. Stanley Kowalski, you could argue, is that ‘villain’. It is evident that throughout the play he is responsible for much of Blanche’s downfall and ultimate destruction, learning to break her down by his knowledge of her indiscreet past of promiscuity. In addition, we can look at the way he treats Stella, his wife, the other main female role in the piece – violent outbursts such as in Scene 3 and chauvinistic comments can lead us to assume he is a cruel character. However we have to consider the circumstances that this play is set in – the working class environment that is fueled by ambition and set for the future. Stanley is very much a family man who strives for success, acting in order to sustain his and their future together. So perhaps, he is not wholly the villain that we could assume him to be.
From the instance that we meet Stanley, it is apparent that he is a dominant force – the “richly feathered male bird” – and he is able to use this authority to cause Blanche extensive pain. This could be a reason for us to label him as a ‘villain’. His dominance over the people in his life is undeniably powerful and used cruelly. Stella, for example, inevitably chooses to stay with him over Blanche at the end of the play because of the sexual dominance he has over her. The audience is reminded of this libido in the very final image – of Stanley “[finding] the opening of her blouse”, and hence the reason that Stella chooses to ignore her sister’s “story” of the devastating rape that crushes Blanche and leaves Stanley superior. But his dominance over Stella is not the most important in the piece – since he is responsible for Blanche’s downfall it is necessary to consider his actions towards her. When he gives her the ticket back to Laurel in Scene 9, the audience sees how cruel Stanley can be. He wields dominance in this moment as he teases her with the ticket, as though it were a gift – saying “I hope you like it!”. When it is revealed to be a ticket back to Laurel, Blanche’s response reflects that of the audience, as we are horrified at the deceptive action. Not only is he symbolically sending her back to her troubled past, but he also chooses to set the moment up as though it would be a gift – something that would illustrate kindness and generosity. It is evident that these are not Stanley’s aims, and that he feels only antipathy for Blanche and all that she stands for (the gentility of the Deep South and the faded culture it has become). By controlling this scenario and twisting Blanche’s emotions around, Stanley is able to cause further emotional damage. Williams’ own sympathy for the destruction of the Deep South and its gentility means that this act was decidedly cruel – he wanted us as an audience to see Blanche’s horrified and sickening response to feel pity rather than believing that she deserves that pain. Williams creates empathy for his protagonist in this way. Additionally, use of plastic theatre in the form of the Varsouviana – which only the audience and Blanche can hear – emulates this further as they are invited to resonate and connect with Blanche’s emotions alone at this moment. Hence, Stanley is presented as cruel and intentionally harming to others in his life – particularly Blanche as he consistently adds to her distress and pain.
Furthermore, the way that he often treats Stella violently could indicate that Stanley is a villain. His outbursts are hugely forceful and often chauvinistic which suggests a lack of care as to how he considers those around him – including his loved ones. His comment during Scene 3 that the “hens cut out that conversation” is particularly misogynistic and suggests a level of selfishness, since his wife and sister-in-law are expected to be out of the way or silent during the men’s poker game. Later in this scene we see another moment that is far more violent, and illustrates the fact that he will remove anyone who stands in his pathway to a goal. When Blanche continues to play the radio and maintain a sphere of control over Mitch – “[waltzing]…with romantic gestures” – Stanley “fiercely…tosses the [radio] out of the window”. When Stella rushes through to the men and asks that they leave, to end the evening, Stanley wildly lashes out at her and she is hit. It is notable how quickly this happens. In the stage directions there are several quick-fire actions described, and the reader can imagine the speed at which they all happen. Using audible elements of the women “[crying out]” and “[screaming]” along with action verbs such as “advances” and “grappling”, Williams creates the sense of sudden aggression mixed with hysteria.
The rapidity of the dramatic moment illustrates how quickly Stanley lashes out and becomes wild with violence – he is willing in that moment to attack Stella who is standing in the way of his evening going as planned. We see this expectation – that he be the one in control – in Scene 8 when he exclaims “I am the king around here” and “hurls” some crockery on the floor. This reference to Huey Long indicates his belief in assertion of power, hard work and being the “king” of his family. In moments such as these, women (even the one he loves) are merely secondary in the way that he often treats them – he expects to be the “king” and maintain this position of power consistently. Williams’ own father, Cornelius, brought vicious anger into their family home and this had a significant effect on his younger sister Rose. Already coping with mental illness, Rose shrunk further into herself as a result of her father’s regular rage. It is possible then that Williams wanted to draw attention to the issues of violence in the home since it had strong effects on his sister and himself growing up – particularly as Rose later had to be hospitalized due to her fleeting mental security. Portraying this paternal violence through Stanley enables Williams to draw upon the damaging effects that ensues – including the effect that these sudden outbursts have on Blanche (who is particularly fragile and who we eventually come to pity the most) means that the audience becomes aware of such issues.
However it is notable that Stanley’s actions are in favor of his family and their future. He ultimately acts to sustain and provide for Stella at the end of the day, though his outbursts are often borderline abusive and intimidating. When we first see Stanley he is returning home with a “red-stained package” of meat – Williams portrays the image of a primitive hunter coming home with food for his family here. In addition, during an outburst of Scene 7, he announces that he is “one hundred per cent. American, born and raised in the greatest country on earth and proud as hell of it.” This patriotic moment reminds us that Stanley is loyal to and focused on the lifestyle he has built in America. Stella too indicates how intent he is on the future and working hard by telling Blanche “Stanley’s the only one of his crowd that’s likely to get anywhere.” So although it is immensely cruel what he does to Blanche, these actions have the sole purpose of removing the past – something that she very much embodies. Living in the modern world of New Orleans, Williams often felt nostalgia for the Deep South where he grew up and noticed how it’s remnants were gradually fading away. He embodies the beauty and the sadness of this culture disappearing in the form of Blanche to express his affinity with it. In order to proceed and move towards the future with Stella, Stanley has to eliminate the reminders of the Deep South (notably, Blanche) so that Stella will stay pulled down from the “columns” with him and their child.
Williams indicates to his audience, then, that there is a level of complexity to Stanley that cannot be underestimated – we cannot pin the label of ‘villain’ onto these characters as we can do with traditional tragedies. Though he is indeed, cruel at times, his goal has the best interests of Stella (and himself) at heart…though it is difficult for others to understand – including audience members – Stanley intends to proceed in life even if it does mean harming individuals who stand in his way. However, he cannot simply be labelled as a ‘villain’.
The concealed homosexuality in A streetcar Named desire
A Streetcar Named Desire is at its surface, an undoubtedly heterosexual play. Allan Grey, its unseen gay character, makes homosexuality a seemingly marginal topic within the play. But a deeper reading of the text suggests the opposite. Tennessee Williams uses heterosexual characters as surrogates to discuss queer sexuality in a time when homosexuality was a taboo, and typically discussed through metaphor.
Allan is merely a footnote in the plot of Streetcar but thematically, he’s a vital character. Georges-Claude Guilbert explains his significance in“Queering and Dequeering the Text,” Allan fits several gay stereotypes without being “the least bit effeminate-looking.” He exemplifies gay stereotypes through the “dead queer motif, a trope commonly employed by Williams in his plays. This trope equates the lonely “poet maudit” to a “monster, freak or mad(wo)man,” and therefore queer. So although his purpose is mainly expositional, it establishes homosexuality as a presence within the text. Williams uses Allan to frame desire beyond the binary of straight men and straight women, facilitating queer interpretations of the text.
In his analysis of The House of Bernarda Alba, Juan M. Godoy explains that gay playwrights often express homosexual desire through heterosexual female characters. When I first read the article, I felt his analysis was simplistic and stereotypical. I agreed that Adela was a highly dramatic character, but she didn’t seem campy enough to be interpreted as a drag queen. Godoy’s analysis seemed like it focused more on the author’s sexuality than the text itself. But when I read A Streetcar Named Desire, I thought his analysis described Blanche perfectly. He also describes Pepe el Romano as “the character who incarnates the object of desire.” The same could be said about Stanley Kowalski. Williams doesn’t characterize Stanley as a well-rounded character. He characterizes Stanley as the embodiment of visceral sexuality; a focal point for gay men and straight women.
If there’s a woman in theatre that could be described as a drag queen, it’s Blanche Dubois. Godoy cites Susan Sontag’s explanation that while camp isn’t used “exclusively” by gay writers, it’s an “aesthetic stance” used “more often by them than others. Godoy focuses his discussion on camp around exaggeration and artifice. Tennessee Williams uses artifice and exaggeration to full effect when characterizing Blanche, which makes him a perfect example of a gay playwright using the camp aesthetic. Guilbert and Godoy make similar arguments, with Guilbert mentioning how Blanche has “often been seen” as a man in drag. Blanche’s aversion to harsh lighting and obsession over her fading youth and glamour is campy, regardless of whether she was written as a drag queen or gay man. Guilbert categorizes Streetcar as “the tragedy of the ageing queen,” another trope used extensively by Williams. To Guilbert, an ageing movie star, drag queen, and Southern Belle are all the same narrative: each have “banked on glamour, dealt in hyper-femininity for years, and find their powers of seduction faded.”
John S. Bak mentions in his analysis of A Streetcar Named Desire and M. Butterfly, that while clothing isn’t used to “signify the gayness” of Allan, it’s used instead to “construct” the identities of heterosexual characters in Streetcar. Aside from her preference for white clothing, Blanche dresses herself more like a drag queen than a Southern Belle or schoolteacher. While rifling through her luggage, Stanley pulls out “inexpensive summer furs,” fake pearl necklaces, and a rhinestone tiara. This is consistent with the camp component of artifice. Blanche desperately tries to appear upper-class but fails miserably. Even her “pretty white dress” is an example of drag. She uses it to present herself as virginal, an identity threatened by cola stains and an awareness of her past.
In “There Was Something Different About the Boy” Queer Subversion in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire,” Francisco Costa argues that “the queer subversiveness of Streetcar resides namely to a great extent in its social, political and historical context.” More realistically, it’s these social forces which forced the play to be subversive. Like Guilbert, he argues the “theme of homosexuality in Streetcar is “more crucial to the play than most critics recognize. Historical context gives additional significance to Blanche’s affair with her underage student as an indicator of homosexual themes. When Streetcar premiered, Gay men were viewed as sexual predators. And women being punished for their sexual relationships was already a common trope in literature, but this particular situation would have been especially relevant to gay audience in light of its historical context.
Blanche may pursue young men in an attempt to regain her fleeting youth, but it’s worth noting that Allan’s sexual partner was an older man. By sleeping with a high school student, Blanche switches the roles, fulfilling the desires of an older gay man. If Godoy is correct that gay writers express their sexuality through female characters, it’s no coincidence that Blanche has a preference for younger men.
But more importantly, Williams creates a parallel between straight women and gay men. Desire leads Allan and Blanche to similar destinations, suicide and a mental hospital. Both scenarios are associated with mental illness. In 1947, gay sex was a criminal act and homosexuals were considered mentally ill until 1973. At this time, Women were still lobotomized against their will. Committing Blanche to a mental institution was a powerful image, especially for gay men and straight women in the audience. They could sympathize with Blanche’s fate. Unlike Stella and Stanley, Blanche and Allan didn’t comply with the patriarchal norms of their time and were therefore punished.
Guilbert mentions the significance of the poker motif, especially through the play’s final line. “In 1947, studs rule, ‘real men’ control the game, and queers and dissolute women lose.” Williams presents poker as a masculine activity which highlights Mitch’s alterity. He stands out among the crowd of excessively masculine personalities. The other men like Stanley and Pablo are crude, but Mitch is noticeably well-mannered. He wants to go home and take care of his mother but Stanley makes fun of him, suggesting they’ll “fix [him] a sugar-tit.” Mitch can be interpreted as either a closeted homosexual or as an alternative view of heterosexual masculinity. Mitch and Allan share certain personality traits including sentimentality and an appreciation for poetry. It could be argued that neither character seems interested in women. Mitch only dates Blanche to appease his dying mother. To Guilbert, Allan reminds audiences that homosexuals “could be lurking anywhere.” Anyone, including your husband, could be gay “without you ever expecting.” Mitch’s unclear sexual orientation might serve the same purpose.
While Stella is the opposite of Blanche, Mitch is the opposite of Stanley. This parallelism might indicate that Mitch should be viewed as heterosexual, yet nonconforming in his masculine identity since the same could be said about Blanche in comparison to Stella. Mitch is also offended that Blanche kept her scandalous past a secret. He may have thought there was potential for a legitimate relationship. So it’s unclear whether he dated Blanche as a cover-up; the pressure for him to get married could have been a catalyst to date Blanche. Still, if Mitch were a closeted gay man trying to convincingly appear straight, he would probably want to date a woman his mother would find respectable. This ambiguity may have been intentional. Williams didn’t need audiences to know Mitch was gay, he may have wanted audiences to ask that question themselves.
A Streetcar Named Desire may lend itself to queer interpretation, but it would be overly simplistic to consider it a simple metaphor for homosexual desire. By focusing primarily on heterosexual characters, Tennessee Williams shows audience that gay and straight desire aren’t foreign concepts. His commentary on gender relations and sexuality transcends the social and political contexts of 1947, proving its continued relevance in the literary canon.
Bak, John S. “Vestis Virum Reddit: The Gender Politics of Drag in Williams’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” and Hwang’s “M. Butterfly”. South Atlantic Review 70.4 (2005): 95. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.
Costa, Francisco. “There Was Something Different About the Boy: Queer Subversion in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.” Interactions. 23.1-2. 78. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.
Godoy, Juan M. “The Voice From the Closet: The Articulation of Desire in La Casa De Bernarda Alba.” Pacific Coast Philology 39. (2004): 107-109. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
Guilbert, Georges-Claude. “Queering and Dequeering the Text: Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire.” Cercles. 85, 91-92, 110-11. 2004. Web 25. Apr. 2016.
Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire, The Norton Anthology of Drama. Norton. New York. 2014. 857-920. Print.
How Tennessee Williams is influenced by the work of Chekhov
The shape of American drama has been molded throughout the years by the advances of numerous craftsmen. Many contemporary playwrights herald the work of Anton Chekhov as some of the most influential to modern drama. Tennessee Williams has often been compared to Anton Chekhov. When asked about the influences in his life and work Tennessee Williams once said, “The Strongest influences in my life and my work are always whomever I love, Whomever I love and am with most of the time, or whomever I remember most vividly. I think that is true of everyone, don’t you?” (Brainy Quote). Williams unquestionably found Chekhov’s work to be memorable enough to incorporate some elements of Chekhov’s style into his own plays. Through his innate sense of the human condition, Anton Chekhov served to influence the shaping of Tennessee Williams’ characters in such plays as: The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire.
The newness of Chekhov was his portrayal of daily life and its encompassing crisis. He illustrated how the average person suffers, their imperfections, without making excuses for the characters. Interestingly, he managed to capture the way that life is a mixture of emotions. In his plays something could be awfully tragic whilst at the same time being amusing. In life like in Chekhov’s work a situation that is awful would be amusing because it was ironic or because it had to be to make it through the situation. Chekhov saw this and allowed his characters to be real in this way. Characters in Chekhov’s work told the story without Chekhov imposing his voice on the audience. This allowed characterization rather than plot to carry the drama.
In The Cherry Orchard the plot revolves around a woman and her family who are losing a cherry orchard that has been in the family for generations due to their lack of funds. The main character, Ranevsky, is unable to move past the problems of her history and deal with the current crisis. The plot follows her character through a very real and sincere problem and manages to combine the misery of her problem with the natural humor and irony of life. Seeing as The Glass Menagerie is a play of memories it is fitting to compare the character of Ranevsky in The Cherry Orchard to the characters in Williams’ play, in particular Amanda is a reminiscent character. Streetcar Named Desire, whilst not being a play that focuses on the memories of the characters is similar to The Cherry Orchard in plot because it also has to do with losing a family estate and includes the use of wit and irony in a play that seems almost tragic.
There is a natural appeal to a writing style, such as Chekhov’s where characters can be natural and still holds their entertainment appeal. “Williams himself acknowledged the influence of Chekhov [on his work] (…)” (Vannatta 79). Both playwrights share a similar attitude in regards to characterization, so much so that they face some of the same problems. There is breach between the character’s feelings and their ability to verbalize these emotions. This crack can threaten to become a void, which will leave the audience lost (Stein 10). The hopelessness and the mediocrity of the characters in Williams’ The Glass Menagerie as well as the characters in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard can be summed up in this quote of Chekhov’s on his plays, “Any Idiot can face a crisis-its day to day living that wears you out.” (Brainy Quote).
In Williams’ drama The Glass Menagerie the delivery of the actors is imperative. Realism is necessary in performance to avoid down-playing expressionist elements, much like the realism Chekhov needed from his actors to extract the essence of his meaning (Borny 101-117). To create this sense of naturalism in his writing, Williams drew from his life to create his fiction. Chekhov used this same fuel to add to his integrity as a writer. Chekhov had experiences being a physician that put him in contact with a myriad of individuals and social classes (Rayfield Preface xv and p.106).
The duality of the characters in The Glass Menagerie is a depiction of how personalities are in real life. Humans feel and act one way in an instance and another way a second later. Williams like Chekhov is capturing how humans can balance different feelings and personality traits at any one time2E People can juggle being forgiving and being angry, being hurt and laughing, being happy while crying. The beauty of the work of Chekhov and of Williams is that through their understanding of this fact they create depth to their characters that makes the more appealing to the audience.
Another famous work of Williams’, A Streetcar Named Desire, bares a great resemblance to the substructure of The Cherry Orchard. Sentimentality and symbolism in Streetcar are like Chekhov’s work because the staged action moves toward the conclusion negating a circuitous plot line, dealings with social themes, and the main characters are relatable human beings with recognizable problems but they are all escapists. The characters are meant to tell the story without the imposing voice of a narrator. Naturalism of actions and words, down to the natural gaps in conversation, are stressed to portray scenes in a graspable manner. (Gassner 75-77). Music is a unifying theme in both plays; it is used to carry the characters into their own dream worlds. It is used to relay themes, for instance, in Streetcar, “The love of Stanley for Stella describes precisely this rhythm of violence and reconciliation, and it exists beyond Blanche’s ken. The jazz motif which alternates with polka music—in contrast to Blanche’s affinity for the romantic waltz—establishes the primitive norm to which each character adapts or suffers a dissonant psychic shock.” (Corrigan 84). The rhythm in each author’s writing helps to propel the action. “The substructure of the story [Streetcar] has some resemblance to The Cherry Orchard, whose aristocrats were also unable to adjust to reality and were crushed by it.” (Gassner 76). That sums up how the two plays are on parallel social bases and are born of Chekhov’s perceived normal human forbearing.
The presence of Anton Chekhov’s influence in Tennessee Williams’ work is widely recognized not just in The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar named Desire, but he held Chekhov as one of his inspirational heroes and lent his own twist on Chekhov’s style throughout many of his plays. There are similarities to be drawn to that if Anton Chekhov, between Williams’ characters, political/social beliefs, substructure of the stories, and symbolism. Williams saw in Chekhov an ability to truly understand and portray human nature through his revolutionary drama and wanted to emulate that unique talent. Chekhov was a master at understanding the human condition; he emphasized the human ability to be flexible and feeling on a multitude of levels. Chekhov was one of the first to pull away from the highly dramatic monologue style of acting but Williams recognized the fact that making your characters realistic and easily relatable would never be out of style.
Borny, Geoffrey. “The Two Glass Menageries: Reading Edition and Acting Edition” Modern Critical Interpretations: Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988.
Brainy Quote. 20 Mar. 2001. Xplore, Inc. (parent company to all BrainyBrands) 3 Feb 2003 < http://www.brainyquote.com>.
Corrigan, Mary Ann. “Mary Ann Corrigan on Music and the Ineluctable Primitive Forces” Comprehensive Research and Study Guide: Bloom’s Major Dramatists. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2000.
Gassner, John. “Critical Views of A Streetcar Named Desire: John Gassner on the Social Base of Private Drama” Comprehensive Research and Study Guide: Bloom’s Major Dramatists. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2000.
Rayfield, Donald. Anton Chekhov: A Life. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1997.
Stein, Roger B. “Catastrophe Without Violence” Modern Critical Interpretations: Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988.
Vannatta, Dennis. Tennessee Williams: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988.
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.
Alienation And Isolation in Brooklyn and A Streetcar Named Desire
Loneliness and isolation are themes explored in various differing ways throughout Tennessee William’s play ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ (1947) and Colm Toibin’s novel ‘Brooklyn’ (2009), mainly through the way their protagonists are presented and developed.
In ‘Brooklyn’ and ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, loneliness is caused by the changes in culture and location each protagonist faces. In ‘Brooklyn’, Toibin depicts how Eilis is thrust from her quaint life in Ireland into the alien and bustling world of Brooklyn, New York City. Toibin himself, an Irish-born writer, had been a victim of homesickness during his long stay in America, which gives the reader insight as to how much of himself Toibin wrote into Eilis. Toibin comments that, “I found America a strange, alien, hostile place”. These feelings he shares with his character, Eilis. Ireland did not prosper in the post-war boom like many other Western Europe economies – they were still suffering the effects in the 1950s, when this book was set – and there was a mass exodus of young men and women to England and North America in search of work. Not only had Eilis’ three brothers immigrated to England, it’s evident that there is little work available for someone with Eilis’ potential, therefore she is encouraged to seek better employment in America. However, this change comes ever so suddenly for Eilis, leaving her struggling to catch up with the events unfolding around her. Before she leaves her home in Ireland, however, in Part One of the novel, it occurs to her that, “she was already feeling that she would need to remember this room, her sister, this scene, as though from a distance”. This reveals that before she’s even undergone this cultural change and environmental displacement, Eilis is already separated from her family and her life in Ireland. “As though from a distance” reinforces the notion that she is already mentally removed from where her body remains. Similarly, in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, Williams illustrates how Blanche had quite a traumatic experience when she moved to New Orleans to live with her sister. While not technically a foreign land, it felt like it was to Blanche – she was, like Eilis, a complete outsider. Blanche was the only one of her class and background, besides her sister. While Eilis was referred to as a ‘ghost’ in her setting, in the first scene Blanche’s appearance is described as, “incongruous to this setting”. The adjective ‘incongruous’ connotes to ‘odd’ and ‘incompatible’, and while it may not have the sharp sting that comes with the imagery of the noun ‘ghost’, it certainly foreshadows what is to be one of the reasons for Blanche’s downfall – her alienation and isolation in the unfamiliar setting. For both Eilis and Blanche, they are outsiders thrust into an unfamiliar world, and it damages them psychologically.
This damage manifests itself different ways for each protagonist. In the novel, as Eilis’ tries to adapt to Brooklyn life, the isolation only becomes more apparent, manifesting in the form of homesickness, whereas in the play, Blanche’s loneliness leads to a dependency on alcohol and a near nervous breakdown. In ‘Brooklyn’, as critic Christopher Taylor of The Guardian puts it, “Tóibín patiently dramatizes Eilis’s homesickness” – referring to how it is a gradual process; Eilis initially tries to act as normal, going to work and talking with the others in her boarding house, but her actions are hollow, like stones skimming along the surface of a pond. The idea of separation and being ghost-like appears again; as Toibin states in Part Two, “She was nobody here. It was not just that she had no friends and family; it was rather she was a ghost in this room, in the streets on the way to work, on the shop floor. Nothing meant anything.” The noun ‘ghost’ is a deceased being that still wonders the earth, a fragment of its former self, unable to leave this realm on its own volition. For Eilis to think of herself as a ghost shows the devastating psychological impact homesickness can have; she’s trapped in the nothingness of her own existence. “Nothing meant anything” is somewhat existential, separating Eilis from reality and claiming her as a victim of depression due to her seemingly never-ending loneliness. In ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, Blanche, too, fell victim to depression and, as these feelings of isolation build up, she is left on the cusp of a nervous breakdown and quickly forms a dependency on alcohol. Williams shows the audience how Blanche makes herself dependent on other people, and when they abandon her (or she pushes them away), she’s forced to rely on alcohol as a substitute to keep herself together. Thus, in Scene 9, Williams notes that she is “drinking to escape”. In this context, the verb ‘escape’ refers to how she wants to escape the “rapid, feverish polka tune” that overwhelms her mind. By saying that the tune is ‘feverish’ means that it is ‘frenetic’, ‘manic’ and ‘overwrought’, a collection of adjectives that demonstrates how the tune is steadily driving Blanche insane. As Brooks Atkinson, a drama critic for the New York Times at the time of Streetcar’s premiere on Broadway, commented, “out of nothing more esoteric than interest in human beings, Mr. Williams has looked steadily and wholly into the private agony of one lost person [Blanche].”
What Blanche really longs to escape from, however, is her lonely existence. It’s the same thing Eilis wants to escape from. Thus, for both protagonists in both texts, they find a coping mechanism to their loneliness in the form of male company and blossoming love. In the novel ‘Brooklyn’, Eilis eventually meets Tony, an Italian-American who rapidly fills up her lonely life with kindness and love. Once she falls for Tony, her feelings of isolation and homesickness start to fade away. However, when she is forced to return to Ireland, life interferes with her established coping mechanism. It is quite clear she has feelings for Tony, as when back home in Ireland, in Part Four, Toibin says that, “all [Eilis] could do was count the days before she went back”. Like Eilis, Blanche longs for a man in her life, though Williams presents her as going about it with much more desperation than Eilis, resorting to intimate encounters with strangers in The Tarantula Arms, as they were, “all [she] seemed able to fill [her] empty heart with”, as remarked in Scene 9. The use of the adjective ‘empty’ connotes to ‘hollow’ and ‘abandoned’, and garners sympathy for Blanche’s tragic character who’s heart – the vessel of love – is empty. She’s a protagonist wrapped in fantasy and romantic ideals of a bygone era, but in the harsh reality of being widowed and stuck in New Orleans, her true loneliness is really accentuated. Critic Melanie Skiba labeled Blanch as the “incarnation of human loneliness”, and the admittance of her past only serves to endorse that claim.
While she turns to brief sexual encounters to keep her loneliness and depression at bay, Blanche’s primary coping mechanism seems to be her efforts to find a romantic partner in the hopes of quashing the loneliness inside her. This comes in the form of Mitch. Mitch comforts Blanche by confiding in her that he, too, is alone, and proposes that if they are together then neither of them will be lonely anymore, commenting to Blanche in Scene 6: “You need somebody. And I need somebody too. Could it be–you and me, Blanche?” Here, Williams implies that Blanche and Mitch’s relationship is built out of necessity and it being mutually beneficial, rather than true love, which is reaffirmed when Stella asks Blanche in Scene 5 if she wants Mitch, to which Blanche replies, “I want to rest”, not answering decisively one way or the other. Hence, such a tenuous relationship broke apart very easily after Mitch finds out the extent of Blanche’s deception. When Mitch breaks up with Blanch in Scene 9, she is pushed back into loneliness. In ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, Williams presents an accurate portrayal of the restrictions placed on women’s lives in 1940s postwar America. Being written in 1947, the attitudes present in the play were present at the time of Williams’ writing. His use of Blanche’s and Stella’s dependence on men exposes the treatment of women in that era of American history. Both Blanche and Stella see male companionship as their only way to security and happiness, which is why Blanche is so desperate to find a partner, and so lonely and depressed when she cannot.
Blanche puts obstacles in the way of her finding a partner. Williams shows her building walls for herself, while Toibin’s Eilis, on the other hand, builds bridges. In the novel ‘Brooklyn’, Toibin shows this with Eilis’ commitment to move forward in life, despite the effects of her isolation in Brooklyn. Her strength is shown in her adaption, while Blanche wallows in weakness. Regarding coping with her homesickness, Eilis knew that, “no matter how bad she felt, she had no choice, she knew, but to put it all swiftly out of her mind. She would have to get on with her work if it was during the day and go back to sleep if it was during the night. It would be like covering a table with a tablecloth, or closing curtains on a window.” In part of this metaphor from Part Two of the novel, Eilis is the table to be covered with a tablecloth. One uses a tablecloth to protect what’s underneath or to hide any damage; Eilis wishes to put on a façade to cover up her damage in order for her to continue with day to day life, hoping that the pain would go away on its own if she “put it all swiftly out of her mind”. Unfortunately, Eilis’ façade proves just as damaging as Blanche’s, for it only acts like painting over cracks in a crumbling foundation – the underlying problem of homesickness and loneliness does not go away. Hence, it’s a relief for Eilis when she finally finds a crutch in Tony and Jim to help fend off her isolation and subsequent depression. While Toibin comparing Eilis to a tablecloth seems like a simple metaphor on the surface, it adds layers to Eilis’ character subtle but effective ways. Toibin’s literary devices are often subtle and written with a great deal of ambiguity, which John Mullan of The Guardian comments on by saying, “the author’s stylistic restraint is in imitation of his protagonist’s self-restraint”. This hints that he believes that Eilis and Toibin are one in the same in terms of inconspicuousness. The fact that ‘Brooklyn’ is written in the third person detaches Eilis from the reader, thus isolating her from the reader.
Once back in Ireland in Part Four, Toibin depicts Eilis quickly assimilating herself back into her homeland and culture; she’s an outsider now that she’s associated with the glamour of America, which Eilis enjoys, but she opts not to tell anyone about her marriage to Tony for a long while. This gives her the freedom to pursue Jim, a man that gives her companionship and fulfillment during her stay in Ireland. Keeping this secret to herself forces Eilis to be isolated inside her own mind. Soon enough, Eilis falls for Jim, and is thrust into a moral dilemma between two lovers. Whilst at her friend’s wedding, she has a realization: “It occurred to her, as she walked down the aisle with Jim and her mother… she was sure that she did not love Tony now.” The imagery of her walking down the aisle with Jim alludes to their suitability for marriage, breaking Eilis further as she is so close to the marriage and life she has always wanted, but now cannot have, due to her marriage to Tony. As critic Dr Jennifer Minter puts it in her English Works (2014) critical essay on ‘Brooklyn’: “Eilis will now have to make choices between two desirable options, which means that once again the decision to return to Brooklyn will lead to loss but for different reasons. She now has a great deal more to lose. Foreshadowing a renewed cycle of loneliness and isolation” – no matter her choice, sorrow and isolation is in her future, just like it is with Blanche in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’.
In conclusion, Blanche DuBois and Eilis Lacey succumb to depression due to their change in circumstances, and both share a similar need to overcome their loneliness and isolation through the comfort and companionship of others. In the end, however, both cannot escape their loneliness in one form or another. Eilis may come out of the situation better than her ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ counterpart, but she still sacrifices a life with the friends and family she has grown up with and is ushered back to Brooklyn to be the wife of someone she isn’t completely sure she loves anymore. She’s isolated herself from everyone she’s ever loved and from the future she still secretly longs for. Blanche, on the other hand, in my opinion, is written as the more tragic of the two – her loneliness drives her to near madness, and every chance at companionship she is offered falls apart. As Philip Weissman concludes when quoted in ‘Criticism on A Streetcar Named Desire: A Bibliographic Survey, 1947-2003’: “Blanche DuBois’ fear of loneliness and abandonment is probably based on a disturbance of early object relationship”, referencing her late husband’s Allan’s premature death. Since then, she has floated by, wrapped in fantasies and quests for companionship that mask her loneliness. She’s never been ‘whole’ since the death of her late husband, and is doomed to a tragic and lonely existence, even though she obviously deserves better.