The Use of Lightning, Music, and Mini-scenes in Williams Play “A Streetcar Named Desire”

The author of the play uses a different style which makes him achieve his objectives of dealing with those targeted by the play including music, lightning as well as mini-scenes. The used light in the play is important for the description of the characters and the themes. Contrasts dim light and harsh light to underscore the theme of truth versus illusion.

Dim light symbolizes Blanche’s world of illusion because it helps to disguise the truth about herself. For example, she asks? Mitch to place a paper lantern over a bulb to dim the glaring light in order to hide her true age from him. Later Mitch mentions to Blanche that she refuses to be seen in the harsh glare of the sun. He finds this suspicious because I’ve never had a real good look at you (126). Blanche fears if Mitch knows her real age or the facts of her life in Laurel, he won’t marry her.

In dissimilarity harsh light represents the naked truth, especially as seen by Stanley and Mitch. When Mitch wants to find out Blanche’s age, he removes the paper lantern, exposing Blanche to the harsh light of a naked light bulb. Blanche finds this action insulting, but Mitch sees it as truthful. Blanche believes a woman should be allowed some deceit to protect her vanity. A gentleman should understand this need. However, for Mitch and Stanley, the main goal is to expose the facts without any shadings. To show this Williams has the Kowalski apartment lit with glaring light. In fact, soon after Blanche arrives at the apartment, she tells Stella to switch off the upstairs light due to the reasons. “I would not be looked at in this merciless glare”(8) Blanche also has many unpleasant truths about herself she would prefer not to see.

Apart from the use of lightning, Williams utilizes music, like blue piano, the song “It’s Only a Paper Moon” and the Varsouviana polka, to represent his characters’ inner lives, set the mood, and further define the themes of the play. The term blue piano suggests the blues, mournful music often written in response to life’s hardships and tragedies. The music of the blue piano, which opens and closes the play, is often heard during particularly sad or tragic moments. For example, the blue piano grows louder as Blanche admits to Stella that Belle Reeve is lost, and again as Blanche flirts desperately with a young man. Later in the play, the blue piano’s music grows louder until it turns into the “roar” of a train as Stanley prepares to rape Blanche. In addition to this another song “It’s Only a Paper Moon” appears only once in the play, when Blanche sings it while taking a bath in Scene 7, while Stanley reveals Blanche’s sexual exploits to Stella. Its lyrics focus on one of Blanche’s struggles to deal with truth versus illusion: “But it wouldn’t be make-believe if you believe in me!”(107). the song “It’s Only a Paper Moon” reveals Blanche’s reliance on illusion to help her find true love. She believes that manipulative flirtation and hiding the truth about her sexual escapades is the only way to secure romantic love.

The use of songs continues with Varsouviana polka which signifies the combination different things such as desire, destruction, and death that haunts Blanche, and which began with her husband’s suicide. The author cues this polka when Blanche describes the death of her husband, at the time Stanley gives Blanche a go back ticket to Laurel, where her life has fallen apart after she is caught having sex with one of her teenage students, and when the Doctor and Matron arrive to take Blanche away in Scene eleven.

The division of the play into eleven acts in the paper enables the author write what he intended in short acts hence displaying his talents. This is not a typical structure use by different plays but the author chose it to present their ideas in a unique manner. Each of the eleven scenes ends with a dramatic expression or gestures. The scenes are linked well through the play with no rest between the readers. The author’s choice of the use enables him to develop the themes and the characters as well.

Works cited

Kolin, Philip C. Williams: A Streetcar Named Desire. Cambridge University Press, 2000.

A Street Car Named desire (2017). Available at: [Accessed 2 Dec. 2017].

Portrayal of Blanche Dubois 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.

Blanche’s Character in A Streetcar Named Desire

In Tennessee Williams’ play, A Streetcar Named Desire, the nature of theatricality, “magic,” and “realism,” all stem from the tragic character, Blanche DuBois. Blanche is both a theatricalizing and self-theatricalizing woman. She lies to herself as well as to others in order to recreate the world as it should be—in line with her high-minded sensibilities. To that extent, much of her creations arise from a longing for the past, nostalgia for her lost love, her dignity, and her purpose in life. She is haunted by the ghosts of what she has lost, and the genteel society of her Belle Reve, her own beautiful dream. Blanche arrives at Stella’s doorstep with, essentially, a trunk full of costumes from her past. She is intensely self-conscious and a performer in the utmost sense. We meet Blanche at a point in her life where few, if any, of her actions do not seem contrived or performed to some extent.In Scene 3 of Act I, she produces a small performance for her suitor, Mitch, in her efforts to seduce him. She turns on the radio for soundtrack, directs Mitch to “…turn on the light above now!” and exclaims, “Oh, look! We’ve made enchantment (39)!” as she dances away as the self-cast star of the impromptu performance. Stella applauds from the sidelines as her audience, and Mitch sings and sways to the music. This caricature of a production is repeated in Scene 1 of Act II, where Blanche assigns roles to others as well. With her slightly unwilling newspaper collector, she attempts to set the mood as narrator of sorts. While he answers her request for the time promptly, Blanche chooses to meander into a dreamy digression—“So late? Don’t you just love these long rainy afternoons in New Orleans when an hour isn’t just an hour—but a little bit of eternity dropped in your hands—and who knows what to do with it (59)?” After she drapes herself in a gossamer scarf from her costume-like trunk, she directs the boy across the stage of her room to receive a kiss before his exit. Mitch’s immediately following entrance with an “absurd little bunch of flowers” further emphasizes the surreal, parody quality of this exaggerated production. “Bow to me first!” she orders adamantly, “And now present them!” Blanche’s deep curtsy and melodramatically affected, “Ahhh! Merciiii!” give this scene a profoundly self-aware sense of the theatrical. Stanley himself indulges in theatricality at the end, when he dons his wedding night silk pyjamas to celebrate alongside Blanche, who is clad in her tiara and “fine feathers.” Commenting on their mutual costuming, Stanley acquiesces, “I guess we are both entitled to put on the dog! You having an oil millionaire, and me having a baby (90)!” However, Stanley’s reason for celebration is grounded in reality (Stella is giving birth in a nearby hospital), and Blanche’s reason is pure fantasy. Streetcar is filled with such instances in which audience and performer are one. The play has been seen by many as postmodernist in this deconstruction of the self. There is no true self—just performances projected out into the world in endless recursivity. In her final confrontation with Mitch, Blanche comes to terms with her deceitfulness. “I don’t want realism. I want—magic! …I try to give that to people. I do misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be truth. And if that’s a sin, then let me be damned for it! Don’t turn the light on (84)!” Much of Blanche’s fabrications result from an acute awareness of sexual double-standards she tries to offset—disadvantages that Williams himself was very attuned to as a homosexual writer. Blanche lies primarily to manipulate her circumstances to better suit her feminine agenda, explaining to Mitch that she refuses to accept the hand fate has dealt her. Streetcar is, at heart, a work of social realism. Blanche’s need to alter reality through fantasy is partly an indictment of the failure of modernity for women, a critique of the social institutions and postwar attitude of America that so restricted their lives. Blanche lies about her age because she views it as another setback of reality. She puts on an act of propriety for Mitch as well, to better fit the role of a desirable, acceptable woman. As she confesses to Stella, “I want [Mitch’s] respect. But…men lose interest quickly. Especially when the girl is over—thirty…of course, he—he doesn’t know—I mean I haven’t informed him—of my real age (57)!” When Stella asks why she is so sensitive about her age, Blanche responds, “Because of the hard knocks my vanity’s been given. What I mean is—he thinks I’m sort of—prim and proper, you know! I want to deceive him just enough to make him—want me…” Blanche’s creation of magic is borne of a necessity to cope with and survive reality. Her complete dependence on men blurs her distinction between survival and marriage, and instead she associates Mitch with precious reprieve. When Stella asks Blanche if she even wants Mitch (after Blanche’s rambles of wanting Mitch to want her), Blanche’s response is very telling: “I want to rest! I want to breathe quietly again! Yes—I want Mitch…Just think! If it happens! I can leave here and not be anyone’s problem…” Her desperate obsession with securing Mitch’s desires glosses over the fact that she likely does not desire Mitch for who he is, only what he represents. Their differences are jarring, and his bumbling and boorish nature falls far from her romantic ideals. This is sadly reminiscent of her impossible love for her closeted husband, Allan Gray—that is, love of an image she created. The role she created for her first love proved ultimately unreal and irreconcilable with his true identity. In her present desperation, Mitch represents a sort of emancipation to Blanche, who is incapable of seeing around her dependence on men for financial and social sustenance. This limiting view deprives her of any realistic conception of how to rescue herself, and further deludes the logic of her world and secures her downfall. Her obsession with her own sense of mortality stems from her inability to see life outside of marriage—a life of solitude to her is synonymous to destitution, social death, and essentially, the end of life as she knows it. One has an image of Blanche drowning, struggling to stay afloat, and her growing exhaustion from keeping up pretenses is ominous, marking a looming deadline for the tragic heroine. “It isn’t enough to be soft—you’ve got to be soft and attractive—and I’m fading now. I don’t know how much longer I can turn the trick (56).” Throughout the play, Blanche also avoids appearing in direct, bright light as part of maintaining her painstakingly constructed image. She especially avoids light in front of Mitch so that he doesn’t see the reality of her fading beauty, refusing to go on dates with him in the daytime or to well-lit locations. She also covers the light in the Kowalski apartment with a Chinese paper lantern when she arrives. Light also symbolizes the reality of Blanche’s past, and her inability to tolerate it foreshadows her increasing inability to tolerate reality as well. Blanche describes being in love with Allan Gray as having the world suddenly revealed by a blinding, vivid light. Since his suicide, the bright light has been missing—“And then the searchlight which had been turned on the world was turned off again and never for one moment since has there been any light stronger than this kitchen candle (68)…” The bright light reflects Blanche’s greater acceptance of reality back then, as well as her youthful sexual innocence. In the aftermath of Allan’s death, she has experienced only dim light through inconsequential sexual affairs with other men, which represents her sexual maturity and disillusionment.These sexual experiences have made Blanche an increasingly hysterical woman, and her frequent need to bathe herself is another form of employing fantasy, in that they symbolically cleanse Blanche of her illicit past. Just as she can never fully erase or recreate the past, Blanche’s bathing is never finished. This use of water to undo a misdeed is turned upon Stanley as well, whose violent temper is soothed by the shower after he beats Stella, rendering him remorseful and longing for his wife. However, Stanley’s use of water doesn’t serve to alter reality to the same extent. This disparity in usage is seen in their use of alcohol as well. Stanley and Blanche both drink excessively in the play, though Stanley’s drinking is social and Blanche’s is antisocial. Blanche drinks on the sly in order to withdraw from reality, and her drunken stupors allow her imagination to take flight, e.g. concocting fantasies of escaping with Shep Huntleigh. While Stanley can rebound from his drunken escapades, Blanche further deludes herself and sinks into greater departures from sanity. Williams dramatizes fantasy’s inability to overcome reality through the antagonistic relationship between Stanley and Blanche, which is symbolic of the overarching struggle between appearances and reality. This struggle drives the plot, and establishes a tension that is ultimately resolved with Blanche’s failure to recreate her own and Stella’s existences. Stanley’s disdain of Blanche’s fabrications stem from being a practical man firmly grounded in the physical world, and he does everything he can to unravel her lies. However, one soon realizes Blanche and her fantasies are one and the same—the more Stanley succeeds at unraveling her made-up world, the more he unravels Blanche herself—ultimately to insanity. As Blanche gradually fails at rejuvenating her own life and saving Stella from a life with Stanley, her nerves make her increasingly hysterical over the more minor upsets, and the smallest of setbacks seems insurmountable. It is interesting to note that her final struggle with Stanley is also a physical one in which he rapes her, causing Blanche to retreat entirely into her own world. Whereas she originally colors her perception of reality according to her wishes, at this point in the play, Blanche ignores reality altogether. The play also explores the boundary between the exterior and interior through use of the set. The flexible set allows the surrounding street to be seen at the same time as the interior of the Kowalski apartment, expressing the notion that the home is not a domestic sanctuary. Blanche cannot escape from her past in Stella and Stanley’s home because it is not a self-defined world, impermeable to greater reality. The characters often bring into the apartment issues and problems encountered in the larger environment, such as Blanche bringing her prejudices against the working class. The back wall of the apartment also becomes transparent at various points in the play to show what is happening on the street. A notable instance of this is just before Stanley rapes Blanche, and the struggles on the street are shown to foreshadow the violation about to occur within the home. Although reality ultimately triumphs over fantasy in Streetcar, Williams suggests through Blanche’s final, deluded happiness, that fantasy is an important and useful tool, a vital force which colors every individual experience, despite the inevitable triumph of objective reality. At the end of the play, Blanche’s retreat into her own private fantasies enables her to partially shield herself from reality’s harsh blows. Her sensitive nature is seen in her reproach to Mitch, “I thanked God for you, because you seemed to be gentle—a cleft in the rock of the world that I could hide in (85)!” To Blanche, the world is hard, cold, and unfriendly like the rock, and she is unable to face its indifference directly. Blanche’s insanity emerges as she retreats fully into herself, leaving the objective world behind in order to avoid accepting reality. In order to escape fully, Blanche must come to perceive the exterior world as that which she imagines in her mind. When Mitch accuses Blanche of lying to him toward the end, she answers, “Never inside. I didn’t lie in my heart (85).” Thus, objective reality is not an antidote to Blanche’s fantasy world; rather, Blanche adapts the exterior world to fit her delusions.In Scene Seven, Blanche sings the popular ballad, “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” while she bathes. The lyrics of the song reflect Blanche’s fantastical understanding of herself and her approach to life: “It’s a Barnum and Bailey worldJust as phony as it can beBut it wouldn’t be make-believeIf you believed in me.” Similarly, Blanche views her fibs as harmless and as a means of enjoying a better way of life, requiring only her object of devotion to believe in this imagined reality as well. Williams ironically juxtaposes her bathroom singing with Stanley’s revelation of her sexually corrupt past to Stella in the room outside. Here, even within the domestic set, these fantasies cannot be compartmentalized effectively. Though the bathroom houses a temporary reprieve from reality, the boundary between fantasy and reality is essentially permeable on all levels—in both the physical and psychological realms, between the apartment and the street, and within the two-room apartment as well. While fantasy and theatricality begin with Blanche, they do not end with her departure in the play. As Blanche leaves with the doctor, Stella is still living in denial. “I couldn’t believe her story and go on living with Stanley!” she tells Eunice beforehand. Stella chooses to live with herself and Stanley by telling herself a much greater lie than any ever concocted by her sister. The necessity of fantasy in handling reality is reinforced a final time, as Eunice assures Stella, “Don’t you ever believe it. You’ve got to keep on goin’, honey. No matter what happens, we’ve all got to keep on going.”

The Relationship of Blanche and Stella To the Dramatic Effect of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’

Since the focal theme of “A Streetcar Named Desire” is that of integration and adaptation, the relationship between Blanche and Stella is important and its function evident: Williams establishes a contrast between them. For example, when Stella says, in Scene One, that ‘the best I could do was make my own living, Blanche’, Williams invites his audience to interpret the social transformation which Stella has undergone. This very base image of having to earn a living contrasts significantly with the image of ‘columns’, which Stanley introduces in Scene Eight. Stella has been forced to adapt her lifestyle in order to integrate in this modern, male-dominated society. Blanche, on the other hand, is self-immersed in a world of fantasy – or ‘make-believe’ as she suggests herself in Scene Seven – where she clings on to her past of wealth and comfort. Consequently, Blanche cannot integrate: she does not understand this society, in which she cannot fit, for she is ‘incongruous’, an adjectival choice by Williams which enhances this sense of disconnection from the brutal real world. Slight tension is visible in the relationship because of this contrast, for example in Scene Four, where Blanche appeals to her sister that she must have ‘sufficient memory’ of their dreamy (‘Reve’) past in order to find ‘these poker players impossible to live with’. The adjective ‘impossible’ is forceful here, and enhances this sense of incongruity which characterises Blanche; her sister does indeed remember her past, and demonstrates a slight flicker of hope to return to it when she says that waiting on Blanche feels ‘more like home’. However, she has moved-on from it in order to become a working member of her new community. This conflict of ideals creates dramatic tension and irony almost, since the audience knows well that Blanche cannot and never will be a welcomed, and understood, figure in society. Nonetheless, Stella has a privileged access to her sister’s personal heritage: she can sympathise with Blanche’s past and thus makes allowances for her, as she encourages Stanley to do, also. This is important in dramatic terms as Williams encourages his audience to take comfort in this sympathetic relationship, which is tested and shattered by the end of the play. For example, in response to Stanley’s revelation of Blanche’s somewhat shameful past, Stella is quick to defend her. Blanche, Stella argues, ‘had an experience that – killed her illusions’. The violent verb ‘killed’ is suggestive of the devastating ordeal which Blanche went through and therefore conveys Stella’s knowledge of it. Her affection for Blanche is also communicated through her reaction to the birthday party, to which Mitch does not come. Stella describes how upsetting she found ‘looking at the girl’s face and the empty chair’. The noun ‘girl’ serves as a reminder of Blanche’s child-like innocence, but also suggests a motherly understanding and connection. However, Williams sets-up room for Stella’s betrayal, when she says to Stanley, ‘there are things about my sister I don’t approve of’. The verb ‘approve’ sounds vague and ambiguous, suggesting an uncertain, almost unstable, quality to their relationship. The dramatic effect of this is that Stella is presented as a character who does not always understand or sympathise with Blanche. This, if the ending of this play can be seen as tragic, renders Stella’s choice to side with Stanley over Blanche regarding the rape more predictable and, in a sense, more shocking for the audience. Williams presents Stella as a platform on which the conflict between Blanche and Stanley takes place. This is effective dramatically because Stella appears not only as a character in the narrative of the play, but also as a symbol of tension and fighting: As Blanche and Stanley’s battleground of sorts, Stella becomes the person on whom they both rely and depend. For example, Stanley’s expression in Scene One, ‘not in my territory’, suggests that Stella is currently in his possession, as though she were the prize of the competitive power-struggle between him and Blanche. This assertion on Stanley’s part poses an initial threat to the relationship between Stella and Blanche, since Stanley phrases it in such a way that intimidates Blanche. He forces her to feel that her sister is, in fact, not so much her sister as Stanley’s wife, to the whole arrangement of which Blanche is quite unaccustomed, thus highlighting her isolation. Later on, Williams shifts the balance of power: in Scene Three, the stage direction ‘Blanche guides her’ suggests that Blanche is now winning the figurative competition against Stanley. The verb ‘guides’ connotes kindness and sisterly support; the visual image on-stage, presumably with Blanche wrapping her arms around Stella, would depict closeness and human intimacy, which contrasts with the image of the much more bestial nature of Stanley’s relationship with Stella, vivified theatrically by their coming together ‘with low, animal moans’. The end of the play leaves the outcome of this power-struggle questionable, with Stella holding her ‘sobbingly…crying now that her sister is gone’. She appears to finally show remorse for her act of betrayal against Blanche, and so the fact that she is crying places her figuratively back in Blanche’s possession. However, the play ends ironically with Stanley embracing her again, murmuring ‘now love’, where ‘love’ sounds possessive and territorial, as well as comforting. This is effective dramatically because any impact which Blanche has had on their relationship seems to have disappeared and this modern society which Blanche has temporarily invaded returns to its dysfunctional state.

Establishing the Potential for Tragedy 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 Wolf’s Jaws: Brutality and Abandonment in A Streetcare Named Desire

“A Streetcar Named Desire” is a story of damaged people. Blanche DuBois, a repressed and sexually warped Southern belle, seeks either atonement or reassurance; she wants someone to help lift the burden of her guilt for her twisted sexuality. Meanwhile, Stanley Kowalski, a horrifyingly abusive yet unexpectedly tender “common man,” seems to be crying out for help in a post-World War II world where all he has to offer are his “common” brutishness and his rough love. The visible troubles of these maimed characters tend, however, to hide the more fundamental crimes of Stella Kowalski, the spectator who watches her husband destroy her sister’s life. In observing Blanche’s torment and Stanley’s cruelty, and ultimately making the decision that throws Blanche into the jaws of her worst nightmare and affirms the triumph of “animals” like Stanley, her transgression is less discernible–but it is also much graver. From the beginning of the play, Stella pretends Blanche’s obvious anguish is invisible to her. In Scene One, their first meeting, Blanche is visibly distraught, even in her first words to Stella, saying, “I thought you would never come back to this horrible place! What am I saying?…I meant to be nice about it and say-Oh, what a convenient location and such…” (19). She even bluntly expresses her self-disgust with her exclamation “Daylight never exposed so total a ruin!” (21). Later, when Blanche timidly broaches the subject of the loss of Belle Reve, she all but demands clemency: “I’ll expect you to be understanding about what I have to tell you….you’re bound to reproach me-but before you do-take into consideration…I stayed and struggled!” (25). Yet Stella refuses to express compassion for her sister’s anguish, even chiding her, “Stop this hysterical outburst!” (26) and answering Blanche’s frenzied request with coldness: “Stella, I knew you would take this attitude about it!” (26). Moreover, after Blanche’s gruesome speech about the sickness and death she has observed, Stella reacts only to the fact that Blanche has insulted her husband. In her reunion with her sister, Stella has managed to ignore Blanche’s suffering, support Stanley instead, and refuse Blanche’s unmistakable appeal of “Forgive me” (27). Once Blanche has met Stanley, the three characters form a painful triangular relationship. Stanley arrogantly abuses Blanche, while Stella tries merely to preserve peace. Stanley’s rudeness to Blanche when Stella is not present could be considered outside Stella’s jurisdiction. However, his disrespect toward Blanche is hardly hidden from her view, and at the end of Scene Three, when he is drunk and unforgivably aggressive toward both of them, Stella still returns to his bed. In Scene Four, Blanche’s protective instincts toward Stella, whom she calls “My baby sister!” (62), reveals her caring, gentle nature. In fact, Blanche even concludes that Stella is in greater need than herself, remarking, “Your fix is worse than mine is” (65). However, all this well-meant concern is rebuffed. Stella acts superior and condescending, asserting that Blanche is “making too much fuss about this” (63). Confronted with the “empty bottles” and the “mess in the room,” evidence of Stanley’s destructive rage, Stella construes, “Oh, well, it’s his pleasure, like mine is movies and bridge. People have got to tolerate each other’s habits, I guess” (65). Indeed, in a relationship where she “tolerates” the abusive habits of a man who has insulted and terrified her own sister, Stella is in a worse “fix” than Blanche. Yet, simultaneously, she is ridiculing Blanche’s concern and undermining her self-confidence. In a classic tragedy, the opening actions of the characters set into place events from which it becomes impossible to turn back. After Stanley rapes Blanche in Scene Ten, she petitions once more for Stella’s support. Blanche offers her sister the chance to believe her instead of Stanley. It is the same opportunity she has offered Mitch and every other figure over the course of her existence: to believe the awful history of her sins and forgive her as one victimized. At this point in the play, the point of no return lies in Stella’s hands. She can choose to defend her husband, evidence of whose violence she has already experienced many times in the past, or she can finally side with her sister, whom she has always known as a misunderstood, sincerely troubled, but essentially well-meaning person. Yet Stella decides according to her acceptance of Stanley’s power over her. She illustrates this selfish, unquestioning acceptance herself: “I couldn’t believe her story and go on living with Stanley” (133), implying that “living with Stanley” is, for her, the ultimate and indisputable ideal. When Stella decides to send Blanche to a mental institution in order to maintain her life of “colored lights” and “noises” with Stanley, she commits the worst offense in the play. She has denied Blanche trust and respite and allowed Stanley–who represents the primal, merciless forces in the world that obstruct mercy toward the meek–to prevail. The enormity of Stella’s error is heightened by the fact that Blanche and Stanley are both on the precipice. Blanche is on the verge of a complete mental breakdown, while Stanley’s erratic brutality must be stopped for his own safety, not to mention that of all the people around him. From their first conversation in Scene One, Blanche reveals her precarious mental state to Stella, who disregards it. Later in the play, when Stella spills Coke on Blanche’s dress, her hysterical reaction is notable: “Blanche gives a piercing cry” (80). Explaining her tense condition, Blanche begs for a refuge to which she can turn, “I want to rest! I want to breathe quietly again” (81). Faced with this confidence, Stella promises that Blanche will someday achieve the peace she longs for, and finally defends her in front of Stanley in Scene Seven. Yet when it matters most, when Blanche, crestfallen, demands an explanation for Mitch’s absence in Scene Eight, Stella fails once again to support her sister. The only consolation Stella can manage in the face of Blanche’s heart-breaking despair is a “pitying look” (110). Meanwhile, Stanley’s troubles have been, if possible, even more noticeable than Blanche’s. Stanley thinks nothing of hitting his wife in public (48) or pitching a radio out the window, simply because he does not like the music Blanche is enjoying. Stella simply stands by, observing all this outrageous violence as an uninvolved, unaffected person, rendering her even more of a fiend. One can say it’s not Stella’s fault. She chose this life with Stanley from the beginning, making him her priority, rather than her sister. But how is it justifiable to completely abandon one’s sister? Although Stella’s crime may be hidden by the troubles of Stanley and Blanche, her atrocious passivity is much worse. Here, Williams is asking us not to become Stella. He has created a martyr in Blanche’s character, sacrificing her to a mental institution in the hope that the audience, charged as witnesses, will learn not to allow the Blanches of the world to be downtrodden in the same way, nor to allow the Stanleys of the world to succeed in their abuse. A Streetcar Named Desire is Williams’ warning to us of what will happen if we fail in our duty as witnesses. It is also his reminder of how close Blanche is to all of us, and how easily we, too, can be victims abandoned to the jaws of the wolf.

Comparing Social and Ethnic Tensions in A Streetcar Named Desire and Blues for Mister Charlie

A Streetcar Named Desire and Blues for Mister Charlie are both concerned to a large extent with tensions between different ethnic groups and, since in both plays the ethnicity of each group defines its social position, different social groups as well. The two plays are stylistically similar, employing expressionist techniques while maintaining naturalistic dialogue and only occasionally making forays into lyricism. The plays differ in that while A Streetcar Named Desire explores the tension between two specific characters, each implicitly representative of a particular group, Blues for Mister Charlie deals explicitly with large societal groups at loggerheads.After the founding of the Washington Square Players and Provincetown Players in 1920, American drama grew more concerned with bringing social analysis to the stage. This movement towards ‘social drama,’ of which A Streetcar Named Desire is a product, found its impetus in admiration for turn-of-the-century European drama from the likes of Ibsen and Brecht. American drama quickly detached itself from Europe by developing a style of its own, merging expressionism and naturalism to express concerns central to America. The economic boom and civil unrest after World War II led many writers to question the essence of the American identity. In A Streetcar Named Desire, Williams seeks to define America’s new identity in relation to its old one by adopting a form present in many of Ibsen’s plays (e.g. Ghosts), an exploration of how suppressed emotion from the past erupts in the present.Though principally an American, Williams was also a Southerner. Through films like Gone With The Wind, American cinema had fostered a national fascination with romantic perceptions of the South. In A Streetcar Named Desire, Williams probes that notion of a romantic South and its relation to modern America. The tension between past and present finds expression in the conflict between Stanley and Blanche, representatives of, respectively, the booming industrial North and the fading bucolic South. Stanley descended from 20th century Polish immigrants and Blanche from French founding fathers. This difference points to not only the ethnic, but also the temporal separation between their respective social groups.Thus the tension between Stanley and Blanche mirrors the tension between the old and new America, the recently immigrated and long-established, the North and the South. Bound up with these conflicts are those between the poor and the wealthy, crude and refined, animalistic and artistic. These tensions emerge in the language, appearance and mannerisms of Streetcar’s characters, as well as the workings of its plot.Stanley does not speak, but “hollers”, favoring monosyllables and simple sentence structures and often employing flawed grammar, as in: “When we first met, me and you, you thought I was common. How right you was, baby. I was common as dirt.”Stanley values directness of expression and rarely uses imagery. When he does use imagery, it is hackneyed and primitive (“Common as dirt…shut her up like a clam”). His language is equivalent to the “grunt”, as Blanche comments, of Stone Age man: perfunctory, purely at the service of reality. When asked for a compliment by Blanche, Stanley replies that he does not “go in for that stuff.” Such language is fitting for a man who dwells so much in the world of the physical, rather than the intellectual or emotional, and who sees things in terms of what they are, rather than what they suggest.In contrast, Blanche’s language is ornate and often lyrical: “I, I, I took the blows in my face and body! All of those deaths!…funerals are pretty compared to deaths.” She also uses images from literature in everyday speech, comparing New Orleans to the “ghost-haunted woodland of Weir.” For Blanche, language is less a tool for communicating reality than obscuring it. She frequently uses euphemism (Belle Reve is “lost” and Mr Graves “suggested [she] take a leave of absence”) to preserve the illusion of her happiness and beauty and, by implication, that of the romantic South.Blanche sustains this illusion through her appearance and behaviour as well as her language. She wears a “rhinestone tiara,” an image of opulence the hollowness of which is demonstrated when Stella describes it as “costume…next door to glass.” Blanche’s avoidance of harsh light is symptomatic of her avoidance of truth – she does not wish to be perceived as she is. In contrast to Blanche’s nebulousness, Stanley is vivid and vital, surrounded by bright “primary colours”: “yellow linoleum…vivid green…solid blue…purple…red-and-white”. Moreover, despite his apparent simplicity, Stanley is highly perceptive and often witty. He perceives Blanche’s artificiality and her concealed baseness, and hence is able to destroy her. For example, when Blanche claims that she “rarely touch[es]” alcohol, Stanley replies that “some people rarely touch it, but it touches them often”.The stage directions concerning Stanley are telling. He is “primitive” in his physicality and animalism, tossing bloody meat to Stella like a prehistoric hunter depositing his catch. Stanley does not walk but “stalks;” he “hurls” furs and “jerks open” drawers: his every move is forceful and savage. In comparison, Blanche is a picture of delicacy and fragility. She is physically weak and sickly (“I’m going to be sick”) and Williams likens her to a “moth,” suggesting her fragility and the airiness of her movement. She frets about not having “washed or powdered” her face, and her clothes are made from “feathers and furs.” Even the name “Dubois” sounds delicate compared to the harsher “Kowalski”.At certain points of tension between Stanley and Blanche in the play, Williams interrupts the action with the noisy passing of a tram. This expressionist technique underlines the importance of the moment and helps build an association between Stanley and the tram, a symbol of industrialisation. It is significant that in an earlier draft of the play, Williams had Blanche die by running in front of a tram.Stella may be considered the focal point of A Streetcar Named Desire, the woman over whom Stanley and Blanche conduct their battles. A constant interchange of power occurs as the play proceeds, with Blanche and Stanley alternately gaining and losing influence over Stella. For example, after the poker incident, Blanche gains influence and seizes the opportunity to lead Stella away from Stanley’s apartment. The stage directions describe her with “arms around” Stella, “guiding her.” When Stanley wins her back with a display of animal passion (shouting “STELL-LAHHHHHH”) he has defeated Blanche, who walks “fearfully…as if struck.” The battles between Stanley and Blanche are also enacted over territory. They argue over Blanche’s extensive use of the bathroom, for instance, and Blanche even re-covers one of Stanley’s chairs as if to claim it for her own.Whereas A Streetcar Named Desire dramatizes the conflict between two social groups (or, more accurately, two sets of values) in terms of a conflict between two individuals, Blues for Mister Charlie deals with conflict at the level of the community. Furthermore, whereas in Streetcar Blanche’s systematic lying is exposed and Stanley emerges as a clear victor, no clear winner appears in Blues for Mister Charlie. Rather, the conflict is seen as purposeless and detrimental to both sides. Blues for Mister Charlie was written later than A Streetcar Named Desire, and so the societal groups upon which it focuses are different. Baldwin wrote his play in 1964, when racial tensions were at fever pitch. In 1963, Martin Luther King had led his march on Washington and delivered his “I have a dream…” speech, protesting about the widespread discrimination against black Americans. The play was in fact precipitated by real events: the murder of a black man in Mississippi by a white shopkeeper. It focuses on conflict between black and white sectors of society and takes place in the South, where such conflict was most intense.Baldwin’s set is highly expressionistic and contributes greatly to the sense of a community at war with itself. A central aisle separates action involving whites and that involving blacks. Baldwin calls the aisle a “gulf” and indicates that “The stage should be built so that the audience reacts to the enormity of this gulf.” As another example, Baldwin writes that in final act, the “audience [should be] aware of the steeple, of the church and the cross”. Since religion is shared by both blacks and whites and is yet used as justification for discrimination, this arrangement is starkly ironic.The conflict between blacks and whites in Blues for Mister Charlie is similar to the conflict between Stanley and Blanche in many ways, and characteristics of Stanley and Blanche can be perceived in each racial group. In the same way that Stanley, representing the new, destroys Blanche, who represents the old, the growing Negro unrest threatens the old order of white supremacy. It was in the North that Richard developed his rebellious ideas. When he brings them to his Southern hometown, he engenders a conflict between progressive Northern values and conservative Southern values similar to the one that developed in Streetcar. Also, Richard’s method of confrontation is akin to Stanley’s in its physical violence. He uses his sexuality to injure his enemies (“to screw up their minds forever”) in the same way that Stanley does when he rapes Blanche.Like Williams, Baldwin explores the question of the essence of the American. Stanley, though an immigrant, claims to be “one hundred percent American;” in the face of oppression, the blacks are struggling to assert their identity as Americans. To them, America is still “a strange land” although it is their “home.” Indeed, much of the struggle between the whites and blacks is primitively territorial and tribalistic. Juanita ironically describes Lyle as an “honourable tribesman [who has] defended, with blood, the honour and purity of his tribe.” Just as Stanley and Blanche each feel they need to protect Stella, white characters frequently cite their need to protect their women against black men. For example, Lyle complains that he won’t have “no big buck nigger lying up next to Josephine.”Baldwin cultivates a sense that the whites are trapped within their prejudice, and conflict results from their inability to adapt to black empowerment. As Parnell remarks, “It is not so easy to leap over fences.” Similarly, it is Blanche’s inability to adapt to her changing situation after the loss of Belle Reve that leads to her destruction. Whereas there is very little pathos evoked for Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire, it is important to Baldwin that his audience feels sympathy for every participant in the tragedy of racial prejudice. He emphasizes the entrapment of each group within its prejucides and highlights the characters’ sensitive natures (e.g. Lyle: “she looked at me like she loved me. It was in her eyes. And it was just like somebody had lifted a great big load off my heart”).The plots of Baldwin’s and Williams’ plays work similarly. In Streetcar, suspense and tragedy develop by the slow revelation of Blanche’s past and her consequent collapse. In Blues for Mister Charlie, Baldwin establishes tension by slowly revealing information in flashbacks, a method drawn from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. The plots differ in that Blues for Mister Charlie has no real resolution. Lyle’s last words are “I ain’t sorry,” and the audience is left feeling that the sequence of events could easily be repeated. We are reminded throughout the play that Richard is Lyle’s second victim: there might easily be a third.Both plays reflect the tensions of the historical moments in which they were written, Streetcar by encapsulating social and cultural differences in two individual characters and Blues for Mister Charlie by examining two entire communities. Through two different approaches, they both successfully convey the gravity of their times.

Traditionalism versus Defiance in a Streetcar Named Desire

The themes of Tennessee Williams’s Streetcar Named Desire follow Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind: the emotional struggle for supremacy between two characters who sym – bolize historical forces, between fantasy and reality, between the Old South and a New South, between civilized restraint and primitive desire, between traditionalism and defiance. If Blanche DuBois represents defunct Southern values, Stanley Kowalski represents the new, urban moder – nity, and pays little heed to the past. If Stanley cannot inherit the DuBois’s plantation, he is no longer interested in it. Williams’s stage directions indicate that Stanley’s virile, aggressive brand of masculinity is to be admired. His cruel intolerance of Blanche is a justifiable response to her lies, hypocrisy, and mockery, but his nasty streak of violence against his wife appalls even his friends. His rape of Blanche is a horrifying and destructive act, as well as a cruel betrayal of Stella. Ultimately, however, this survivor disposes of the “paper moon” (99) Blanche, and, as we see in the closing lines of the play, he is able to comfort, with crude tumescence, Stella’s weeping, as the neighborhood returns to normality.Blanche and Stella are the last in a line of landed Southern gentry. Years of “epic forni – cations” (43), as Blanche puts it, swallowed up the material resources of the family; all that re – main are the manners and pretensions. Yet Blanche, with all her possessions in a valise, clings to her gilded, gaudy garb and imagines a world in which the values of the Old Guard, e.g., charm, wit, chivalry, and appearance‹indeed, she‹are still relevant. Stanley, in sharp contrast, is born of Polish immigrants; a sweat – shirted bowler and lothario, he is, as one critic has remarked, “a new breed, without breeding”‹and “not the type that goes for jasmine perfume” (44). Stella, meanwhile, has renounced the worn dictates of class propriety to marry this uncouth sweetheart; she plays the placating intermediary between the poles of her husband and sister.Since her husband, understandably, shot himself many years ago, Blanche has been avoiding reality in one way or another. In New Orleans, reality catches up to her in Stanley, who greets her brusquely. When he mentions her dead husband, Blanche becomes first confused and shaken, then ill. Later, while Blanche, as is her wont, is bathing, Stanley, imagining himself cheated of the Belle Reve plantation property, tears open Blanche’s trunk looking for sale papers. Blanche demonstrates a bewildering variety of moods in this scene (two), first flirting with Stanley, then discussing the legal transactions with calm irony, and finally becoming abruptly hysterical when Stanley picks up old love letters written by her dead husband.As the play proceeds, Blanche copes by dissimulating the problem – full Elysian Fields for “a moonlight swim at the old rock quarry” (122). Her feelings against Stanley galvanize when she sees him strike his pregnant wife in a fit of drunken rage; Stanley’s feelings for her similarly harden when he overhears her belittle him as Neolithic and brutish. Blanche’s imposition, her airs, and her distortions of reality infuriate Stanley, and he begins to chip away at her veneer of armor.Williams, who was an overt homosexual in a time unreceptive to such concepts, implies that Blanche, like himself, is society’s scapegoat; yet despite her neuroses, she is not a “bad per – son”‹perhaps “no crazier than the average asshole out walkin’ around on the streets,” as McMurphy of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest proclaims. Alas, her doomed, dandy personality is no match for the destructive, dissolute Stanley, who represents the raw animal, the prevailing dog in a dog – eat – dog world, the “one hundred percent American” (110).As Blanche admits to Stanley and later to her fiancé Mitch, “a woman’s charm is fifty percent illusion” (41), and this woman has “old – fashioned ideals” (91): she doesn’t “tell the truth, [she] tell[s] what ought to be truth” (117), and prefers fantasy and shadows to the light of reality. Stanley, as her foil, is a no – nonsense, cut – to – the – chase kind of guy; he expects persons to “[l]ay . . . [their] cards on the table” (40), as if life itself was a game of seven – card stud. He is unamused by “Hollywood glamour stuff” (41), that is, the genteel lawn culture of French chitchat, social compliments, and humoring a fool and fraud like Blanche.Thus, in one sense Blanche and her brother – in – law are trying to do outdo each other in competing for Stella; each would like to pull her beyond the reach of the other. But there is something more elemental in their opposition. They are incompatible forces, and harmony is no more than an evanescent regard for family. And yet there is a precarious sexual tension‹they sleep separated by but portieres‹and the mutual comprehension of the other’s weakness: just as Stanley recognizes the dependence (“on the kindness of strangers” [142]) in Blanche, Blanche “ha[s] an idea [Stella] doesn’t understand you [Stanley] as well as I [Blanche] do.” Thus culmi – nates, amid “hot trumpets and drums,” the “date” (130) (rape) to which Blanche’s pomp and cir – cumstance ineluctably give rise.Indeed, in both origin and occupation, Stanley is new blood to Blanche and Stella’s blue blood. He stands on no ceremony; it is nothing for him to crush the outmoded sense of entitle – ment and superiority that Blanche personifies. That Williams has him trounce a lonely and wid – owed gadfly – gadabout, illustrates the new rules of ruthlessness and perhaps soullessness.And yet Blanche, having watched her family estate slip through her fingers, fails to see the decadence of her patrician Belle Reve existence; Social Darwinism has replaced gentility, and this “old maid schoolteacher” (55) is really an alcoholic, nymphomaniac, parasitical casualty of the changeover. She puts on the airs of a belle who has never known indignity, but Stanley sees through her. As Eunice says, “Life has got to go on. No matter what happens, you’ve got to keep on going” (133).

The Presentation of Mental Suffering: A Comparison of Plath and Williams

This essay will look at both the polarity and unity within the mental suffering of characters and voices from Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire (‘Streetcar’) and Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems, focusing specifically on the extent to which they suffer due to their imagination and whether or not this is a more frequent commodity than the times that they suffer due to reality. Both, Plath and Williams’ dichotomy and duality will allow explorations to be made across their texts, relating back to the suffering of the playwright and poet themselves and how this has attributed to their own work.

It appears that within Plath’s Ariel collection and Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, the protagonists’ suffering is a result of them placing themselves in situations that they thought would rid them of the aspects of their past causing them misery, however, we see this result in them being subjected to further suffering of another form. Fundamentally, both writers convey elements of themselves within the characters and voices that they portray. Williams, himself, has admitted to his work being emotionally autobiographical[1] and with Plath, it is possible to detect parallelism with her work of fiction and that of her journals; it’s symptomatically shown and contextually proven that she suffered from an unspecified (though arguably either manic or endogenous) form of depression. With Williams, we can interpret from both the input from Elia Kazan (the director of many of Williams’ plays who was greatly attracted to the freedom and mobility of his work[2]), and Williams’ confession, himself, of basing Tom and Laura Wingfield’s character from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on himself and his sister Rose, that he was portraying elements of Rose in Blanche through having her reflect Rose’s qualities. After all, as Kazan has stated, “Everything in his life is in his plays, and everything in his plays is in his life.”[3] Considering this, we can establish that, as with Rose, the disorder that Blanche is potentially suffering from is schizophrenia. This makes it important to note: Blanche’s debaucheries do not define her. They are symptomatic of her disorder, not attributive to her personality. This misunderstanding is what leads the characters around her to mistake her speech and actions for that which it is not, hence the suffering she is forced to endure after Scene 11. Having now established that the two are both presenting individuals with disorders, I will therefore examine the ways in which their work shows them attempting to fix this, whilst avoiding the consequences of it too.

Watzlawick’s theory[4] works well to explain this. It conjectures that miscommunication happens because all of the communicators are not speaking the same language, which happens because people have different viewpoints of speaking[5]. This is seen clearly in Streetcar through the representation of Blanche’s character. Her inability to be understood by those surrounding her is ultimately what led to her suffering as it meant that she was incapable of receiving help from them in the correct manner. Williams himself was considered an outcast at school due to his diphtheria; his weakened heart prevented him to do what other people do. This is presented through Blanche’s character and the marginalization that her illness causes for her. Plath shares this ostracism caused by people’s inability to understand. In ‘The Moon and The Yew Tree’ we see her referring to herself as a planet and the people around her, her children, as planets too (in ‘The Night Dances’). The mention of receiving a gift from the sky could refer to the remainder of matter around her, matter that is both smaller and stuck in one place (as the sky would refer to the sky to one planet). In this way, she could be emphasizing how small-minded the people around her are and how they are not great enough to reach the universe or other planets but are merely limited to a single worldview. Her suffering, in this way, is due to the parochialism of the people around her. This is a theme that is vaguely hinted at across her poems as in ‘Little Fugue’ she speaks of how “the deaf and dumb // Signal the blind, and are ignored” and in ‘Years’ she speaks of how “They freeze and are”, again addressing their limitation and how she does not share this outlook, hence the following phrase “O God, I am not like you”. She also speaks of how she is “Incapable // Of licking clean” as she evidently cannot cure herself from her illness but this isn’t something that is understood by those around her.

Stella informs us that “There are things about [her] sister [that she doesn’t] approve of – things that caused sorrow at home. She was always – flighty!” … “very young, she had an experience that – killed her illusions!” raising the idea that the deterioration of her mental health began at a young age and that she was always predisposed to this; the death of Allan (and other relatives) and Stanley’s assaultive actions merely triggered the onset of her condition, causing a drastic behavioral decline. It is arguable that Blanche’s imagination could be what led to her reality, although, I think often in Streetcar when we refer to Blanche’s imagination, we are doing so in a way that is synonymic for her illness as it can be difficult to differentiate between the two once the disorder has behaviorally consumed the individual. This is one of the problems with schizophrenia; it alters the individual’s perception causing the lines between reality and imagination to blur so to determine whether an individual truly perceives what we’d call an imaginative thought as their reality, is both difficult to decipher and impossible to measure. Considering that it is the occipital lobe that is responsible for our imagination and that many studies have found a correlation between there being evident changes in the volume of grey matter (and white matter) in the occipital lobe for individuals with schizophrenia[6]. For this reason, it seems clear that Blanche’s imagination, as a mentally ill character, could really be her reality so which of the two she’s suffering from is questionable. In further depth, her auditory hallucinations would have initiated within her temporal lobe, a lobe, too, associated with schizophrenia (as when the volume within the lobe decreases, schizophrenia becomes symptomatic). Therefore, seeing that this is mentally ill individual’s reality, it can be argued that it is their own reality that they are suffering from, not the alternative.

Similar principles apply to Plath and her posthumous writing. Critics, such as Alvarez[7], argue that Plath wrote with mostly death on her mind, however, I argue that her writing was an attempt to rid herself of her suffering, not her entire life. Although Plath did later commit suicide, I feel that her pessimistic outlook was merely characteristic of her disorder and not a forewarning that she was sending out. Plath’s depression has been identified through many critical and psychological interpretations of her work though it became an established fact when she was institutionalized for it in the 1950s.[8] In her last written poem ‘Edge’ for example, she describes two children (presumably hers) as “serpents” indicating that they have poisoned her, but she doesn’t specify what they have poisoned her with. It could perhaps be happiness as in various other poems, she feels joy around them and shows a great deal of worry and concern regarding their well being. In ‘The Night Dances’, for example, she writes of how Nicholas used to dance at night. Nicholas, her son, also suffered from depression and completed suicide in his late 40s. Plath almost foreshadows this in her poem through focusing, in the first stanza, on his irretrievable smile and, in the second stanza, how answers will become clear in the future. Here, Plath’s suffering may seem illogical, however, she judiciously fears what illness will do to him and rightfully so as it can be assumed that Otto passed down his defective genes to Plath and that she, too, has passed hers onto Nicholas. In her poem ‘Little Fugue’ she talks of how, “Dead men cry from it.” As dead men cannot actually cry, her suffering due to paranoia (aka her imagination) is emphasized here.

Divulging into this deeper, the relation to dead men (i.e. Otto, the closest dead man in her life) raises the question: was Otto suffering from his imagination too? The focus of the poem is incongruous with the facts as there is no evidence found of Otto being soldier but the poems suggests this anyway. For this reason, the poem may be hinting at the fact that Otto passed down his defective genes which would work well to explain Plath’s fear that her children will get sick as she did too. The paranoia surrounding her children is seen in ‘Death & Co.’ where she says, “Look in their hospital // Icebox”. Her calling the incubators an icebox is evidently her suffering from her imagination as she perceives a perfectly protective environment to be a threatening piece of apparatus. Her paranoia that they will get ill, mentally ill, is further emphasized through the hovering midwifes wearing “death gowns”. Furthermore, the idea that both Blanche’s character and Plath’s vocalizer are in anguish due to an illness that they were predisposed to emphasizes that their suffering is caused by their harsh realities.

The absence of Giddens[9] ontological security in both the voice that comes through in Plath’s poems and Williams’ character Blanche, draws emphasis to the lack of meaning in the lives of the two. It refers to consistency of events in an individual’s life. Meaning, as Elias (1985) has stated, is found in the absence of anxiety and chaos in one’s life, allowing an individual to experience positive and stable emotions; one must function in opposition to Beck’s cognitive triad[10]. Contravening this threatens ontological security. Focusing specifically on Blanche, ontological security is often threatened by death. We know that (as with Williams and Hazel[11]) Blanche lost Allan to suicide and so this, as Philip A. Mellor has stated, causes people to “question the meaningfulness and reality of the social frameworks in which they participate, shattering their ontological security”[12] Catharine from Suddenly Last Summer is attributive to this too; all individuals characterizing Williams’ schizophrenic sister, Rose. Arguably with Plath, it can be interpreted that her ontological security was shattered by the death of her father. Despite her euphemistic journal utterings, it seems evident that Plath refrains from speaking about it and creates alternative fantasies to convince herself to hate him as to admit that a person she loves is gone would simply be too painful to bear.

Mental suffering in Streetcar is presented in a societal manner through the characterization of Blanche and was used to justify changes in later psychiatric treatments. For this reason, the text itself can be argued to have contributed to the anti-psychiatry movement of the time, considering its advocation of the same idea that psychiatric treatments are often more harmful than helpful to patients. Blanche’s hesitation towards the unjust methods that are used to deal with her in the 1940s emphasizes the suffering that we can assume she is subjected to at the end of the play. When Stella asks, “Shall we go, Blanche?” and Blanche responds, “Must we go through that room?” her hesitation emphasizes that perhaps there is something wrong with what Stella is doing, thus creating doubt within the audience’s minds. Despite the topic of their conversation being in regards to how to cross over to the Doctor and Matron waiting outside without encountering the other characters, Williams’ intention may have been to emphasize Blanche’s disapproval of the method of treatment that Stella has selected for her. She establishes earlier in this scene that “this place is a trap!” The emphasis on the abstract noun “trap” denotes a situation in which she unknowingly landed herself in but now, cannot escape. In A Glass Menagerie’s production notes, Williams wrote, “To escape from a trap, he has to act without pity.”[13] Blanche didn’t escape the trap due to her compliance with the Doctor and Matron. She wasn’t ruthless enough to further disrupt Stella’s life; she didn’t project her suffering onto others, never intentionally. This is evident through stage directions such as “she lets them push her into a chair”. We see at the end that she has acquiesced her disorder thus her cooperation as even when the Matron releases her arm, she still follows. Stella’s involvement within the denouement of the play is of great significance, particularly where she screams, “Don’t let them do that to her, don’t let them hurt her! Oh, God, oh, please, God, don’t hurt her! What are they doing to her? What are they doing? [She tries to break from Eunice’s arms.]” Williams purposively uses repetition in the final sentences to emphasize the lack of awareness that people had regarding mental illness, hence their ineffectual actions when deciphering how to help cure it. Blanche’s character is both a visual and dialogistic representation of everything that is wrong with the psychiatric treatments used in the 1900s; the other characters in the play are merely there for accompaniment and emphasis of the matter. Considering that Streetcar was published in 1947, it can be seen to act as one of the most powerful texts of its time due to the contribution that it has made to the movement.

Williams’ play was especially significant in the 1940s due to the societal search for stability after the nuclear attacks and general fear of the government[14]. The universality of his plays and the rendered themes within them allowed the new Americans to connect with it during the post-depression and WWII period. The undertones of the play struck a chord with the audience as it drew attention to the victimization of women, highlighting their role in a male-dominated society (this was done so through the self-expression of female characters – Stella choosing Stanley and settling down with him, Blanche and her public debaucheries). It allowed audiences to see the result of reality not coinciding with an individual’s imagination and also when societal perceptions of an individual deviate from that of their true self. As Williams himself has said, all of his plays “had subliminally at least – a great deal of social content.”

Another 19th century movement was Romanticism; one critic[15] claimed that “Blanche [was] literally a conduit of Romanticism”. The presentation of her as an embodiment of inspiration, subjectivity and primacy of an individual may perhaps have been unintentional on Williams’ part but links to the progression of the anti-psychiatry movement of the time as, although Blanche’s speech when questioning the path to the Doctor and Matron waiting for her at the door, it was also highly reflective of her boisterous personality. As Robert Bray says in the introduction of ‘Vieux Carré’, “Williams’ semitropical relocation marked the beginning of an artistic awakening of a period of vigorous self-discovery.”[16]

In regards to Rose, the character that Blanche is potentially a manifestation of, Williams stated that, “She could have become quite well by now if they hadn’t performed that goddam operation on her; she would have come back up to the surface”[17] (the operation being a prefrontal lobotomy). This element of guilt is plagued across Williams’ plays; in The Glass Menagerie, Williams’ character, Tom (which is actually Tennessee’s real forename!) says “Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!” After Rose’s institutionalisation, Williams made it his mission to get Rose out of there having seen what the lobotomy did to her; he claimed[18] that aside from a few pieces of work, getting Rose out was one of the best things he’d ever done.

In regards to the form of Williams’ text, he has spoken about how American theatrical productions don’t have the audience support that other forms of literature, elsewhere, receive. In an interview with the New York Times, Williams stated that, “The public isn’t conditioned to have the patience to allow them (the characters) to develop as artists.” It’s no wonder the Blanche was misunderstood by those around her as she was misunderstood by the contemporary audience too. R.D.Laing[19], in fact, studied the coercion of psychiatric treatments to patients. His research focused on the anti-psychiatry movement of the 1970s. Laing’s research actually goes to say that delusion is self-deception in the most absolute form. An illusion, he claims, isn’t as deceptive as the whole being is not deceived and, therefore, it would not classify as a total act of deception. The mutuality within the self-deception is an essential part as collusion is supposed to be an interpersonal process. Collusive entrapment is where, symptomatically, the individuals begin voicing their feelings of self-estrangement and depersonalization. Furthermore, the individuals are described as able to function on their own but dramatically incapable when the scene changes and they are in another’s company. It is suggestive that being alone caused her to suffer less than being in the presence of those who interfere greatly but understand very little (hence Blanche being alive and seemingly well on her arrival at Elysian Fields). Laing and Watzlawick’s work actually worked in conjunction in regards to this matter, condemning that the study of pragmatic effects of disturbed human behavior is a communicative reaction to the situation that the individual is in as opposed to their disease itself.

This is illustrated so profoundly in both Streetcar and Plath’s Ariel collection as we see Blanche was, although destroying herself and others in the process, functioning satisfactorily on her own and it was only when she came to Stella’s and was in the presence of individuals like Stanley for an extended period of time that she became increasingly incapable. This, too, is seen in Plath’s poems. For example, focusing on ‘Tulips’, Plath was initially fine in her other poems from when she was hospitalized but the invasion of her husband and the tulips her brought her caused her to feel extremely conflicted and uncomfortable. Her poems are extremely paradoxical in this sense as we see throughout the collection that at times she’ll claim, “I am too pure for you or anyone” only to later contradict it through stating, “It is they who own me”.

There are implications of rape in Streetcar as Stanley “picks up [Blanche’s] inert figure and carries her to the bed” emphasizing that it was a real occurrence and not something Blanche imagined. Similarly, it has been conjectured[20], from ‘Daddy’, one of Plath’s poems that deeply emphasize Freud’s Electra complex, that there was an incident of rape. Although figurative, when sticking with this speculation (as the poems are polysemic) it can be interpreted that in order to surpass and move on from these memories, Plath must face them to cease her suffering, hence her awareness of them as they are becoming unrepressed. Plath in ‘Little Fugue’ states “I was seven, I knew nothing… I am lame in the memory”, thus providing the opportunity to explore why she chooses imagination over reality at times (because reality is not remembered). It may not be a selective choice as her imagination may just be filling in due to having undergone such large-scale repression that there are now significant gaps in her mind for where those memories originally were, hence her conscious mind’s decision to resolve to imagination. In both texts, the situations are did occur, thus accentuating that the cause of their suffering is due to their reality.

Communicatively, we primarily saw Blanche’s husband, Allan, to whom she spoke to but he, of course, failed to understand her and killed himself as a result. We also saw Blanche seek help from Stella, her only remaining family member that we know of and that, too, ended disastrously as there was involvement from Blanche’s brother-in-law, an individual who most definitely had a foreign viewpoint, and the results were again, disastrous. Ultimately, it appears that Watzlawick’s interactional view could work to explain why it is that Blanche was so misunderstood by the people around her and why this led to her suffering further. The lack of actually addressing Blanche’s disorder throughout the course of the play could perhaps be what led her condition to significantly decline towards the end of the play, leaving her vulnerable to Stanley (hence the events of the rising action of the plot). Streetcar, too, is suggestive of rape as we see in Scene Ten that “She sinks” and Stanley “picks up her inert figure and carries her to the bed.” We were primarily aware that Blanche was un-amenable to Stanley’s behaviors, however, this action just instigated the denouement of the play where we see Blanche’s plot arch to come to an end and her suffering to decline into a complete loss of reason and identity.

She may also, potentially, be suffering from the reality of motherhood. Or, contrarily, she may be suffering from her imagination and motherhood may have acted as her salvation. The half-rhyming couplet from lines 21-22 forms a soothing tone; the smooth enjambment introduces this. She also references her children as lamps. This imagery of light is seen in Streetcar in a very different way as we see Blanche constantly in the dark, hiding from the light as much as possible and when Mitch asks to see her, she’s reluctant to let him and Stanley’s final removal of the paper lantern is a huge contribution the denouement of the play. Plath, in the majority of her other poems, is engulfed in darkness so describing her children through the concrete noun “lamps” although perceivably derogatory, is seen as positive imagery. In Streetcar we see this to be just the opposite as Blanche hides from the light, disguising her age through only allowing the visibility of penumbras to form her appearance.

The happiness Plath receives from her children interferes with her suicide ideation, thus her wanting to put them back into her body. In ‘Edge’ she speaks of how “She has folded // Them back into her body as petals”. She also describes herself as the “Pitcher of milk, now empty”, feeling as though she has fulfilled her duty (of breastfeeding them aka carrying out a duty to them that only she can do), her emptiness indicating that having done this, she is now no longer of use to them. Following this, the use of an inanimate object (“petals”) to describe them insinuates her feeling that the children aren’t real, as this is what she needs to believe in order to die with minimal difficulty. In this way, perhaps her imagination is her savior as opposed to her cause of suffering as it enables her to carry out what she intended to, minus the interference of reality; the poem did begin with the statement, “The woman is perfected” and thus, Plath committed suicide a week after completing this poem. Although the context for Blanche is completely different, she also euphemizes the reality of situations that cause her to suffer and instead created a desired version of the truth. We see her admit to this in Scene Nine as she admits “I don’t tell the truth. I tell what ought to be the truth.” Arguably, underplaying the reality of their situations and succumbing into balls of oblivion may be what is preventing them from curing the cause of their suffering.

Overall, Plath tends to focus more on the individualism in mental suffering, causing her to somewhat differ from Blanche in her outlook and approach to treatment. This is due to them suffering from different types of mental illnesses which Plath interpretably believes she can overcome herself, but Blanche searches for assistance. In the title poem of Plath’s Ariel Collection, we see Plath embark on a journey to recovery in which, although she fails, she independently strives towards. The individualism in this emphasizes the polarity between the two writers but even within this, there is duality as, just like with Blanche, the voice in Plath’s poem Ariel strove towards recovery but landed in the wrong place.

In her journals, Plath mentions the death of her father, stating that she’d live “a jolly life anyhow, to spite his face.”[21] This all works in conjunction with the journey undergone in ‘Ariel’, a poem that could be likened to Blanche’s entire journey to Elysian Fields. The voice in Plath’s poem sets out on a horse, like an arrow intending to rid itself of the past, i.e. her repressed memories of her father, just as Blanche sets out to Elysian Fields to start over and forget her past (her memories of Allan and his suicide) but she ends up in the wrong place. This undesired destination works for both, the voice in ‘Ariel’ and Williams’ character Blanche as she thought she’d end up better with support and stability from Stella who is, presumably, her only close living relative left. The vocaliser in Plath’s poem, too, thought that this would be a journey to allow her to move on from her past but instead she loses control of the horse (i.e. the situation in which she’s in, or perhaps the men around her due to the masculine imagery associated with stallion – the horse that Ted Hughes confirmed she rode) landing her in the wrong place. Both characters thus, in attempt to rid themselves of their suffering, lose control of their current situations and end up suffering regardless. The “red” that the vocaliser sees in ‘Ariel’ could relate to the shade of red one sees when closing their eyes after seeing light. This could signify many things, blood, danger but above all, hell. In relation to Streetcar, the package that Stanley throws to Stella at the start of the play shares this same color. This could indicate the beginning of both, the voice in Plath’s poem suffering and Blanche’s too, both further emphasized by the poetic undressing of ‘Ariel’ and Blanche’s character arc. An interesting observation to coincide with this unification of texts was John Gassner’s remark that within Streetcar, “poetic drama becomes psychological reality.”

In Plath’s poem, The Bee Meeting, she uses the bees to characterize her disorder. She comes face to face with it, realizing that it’s here and it’ll cause havoc. Present and intrusive, it stings her and she accepts that it is now a part of her. The speaker then, in the next bee-focused poem (The Arrival of the Bee Box) questions, “How can I let them out?” Blanche, too, was looking for help as to how she can rid herself of her disorder, but as established, it was not possible to help oneself. As with Blanche, the speaker in Plath’s poem then concludes that “The box is only temporary” (the box representing the entrapment accompanying the disorder). Blanche was although blindly ambitious, adamant that all would be okay once she was with Shep Huntleigh and had his monetary support. Plath, too, perceived the box/illness to only be temporary as her metaphorical journey in the poem Ariel was supposed to free her from this is what is holding her back. It’s arguable whether this represents strong female characters or obliviously sick protagonists who cannot see beyond the self-created limits of their imagination. The indistinctiveness of the actual disorder is seen later in the poem in Plath’s linguistic decision to use a pronoun over a noun, “I have to live with it overnight // And I can’t keep away from it. // There are no windows, so I can’t see what is // in there.” The disorder isn’t identified but the awareness of it and the acknowledgement that it will cause her to suffer is present.

In Stings, Plath describes both herself and “The man in white” to be “bare-handed”. In regards to Streetcar, this emphasises how Blanche but also Stanley (or perhaps even Mitch), who offers an ineffective solution, have nothing in their hands, no idea or solution as to how to solve the suffering. For Plath, this additional individual unable to help her may be Ted Hughes. We see in the poem Tulips, too, that Plath’s main reason for feeling conflicted with her surroundings was due to him and what he brought her, the same way Blanche reacts to Stanley; his actions cause her to feel out of place. His actions cause her to suffer further. ‘Stings’ emphasises that despite all this interference, neither the protagonist nor those surrounding her know how to rid the suffering. As the poem progresses, we hear lines like “my strangeness evaporate” raising the idea that her illness will just leave on its own. Although it appears that this was Plath suffering from her imagination as a disorder wouldn’t just leave without treatment, psychologists have argued that it was manic depression that Plath was suffering from. This meant that her depression would have a periodic occurrence that Plath would be familiar with, hence the line “It is almost over. // I am in control.” She also mentions that “The bees are flying. They taste the spring.” Spring refers to the birth of things, which could indicate the time at which her illness becomes symptomatic and gets worse. There are implications of the seasonality of Plath’s disorder across her poems; the bees tasting it first may just be them detecting it due to their enhanced animalistic sense. Bees live complex social lives, abiding by the English tradition of informing other bees about major events. The bees could therefore be warning Plath, informing her of the arrival of the depression aspect of her disorder to warn her of the suffering that is about to come.

In the poem ‘Cut’, Plath focuses on how the top of the narrator’s thumb is gone. This is significant as it represents that part of the body used (by magicians) for vanishing, producing or switching small objects. Her loss of this pollical digit may be a metaphorical representation of her inability to make her pain vanish or to even replace it with another feeling. This is seen with Blanche too, though through less visceral imagery. Blanche becomes more and more incapable of stopping her pain as when things escalate, her alcohol dependence isn’t enough to stop her from hallucinating the Varsouviana and the sound of Allan’s gunshot. The detached statement that follows the caesura in the first stanza emphasizes the simplicity of the narrator’s actions, drawing attention to how little she is concerned with the action, almost as if it’s an ordinary occurrence (which his illicit of deliberate harm to herself). In this way, it is clear that the two are suffering from reality as Blanche’s hallucinations are just as real as Plath’s depression. Psychologists, such as James C. Kaufman[23], who coined the term the Sylvia Plath effect thought that poets were more susceptible to mental illness and that Plath herself possessed characteristics of manic depression, having spent time institutionalized (for depression). Correspondingly, in one of Plath’s later poems, ‘The Bee Meeting’, the speaker says “I am the magician’s girl who does not flinch” emphasizing that despite the loss of a thumb, she remains the magician’s girl, the magician taking her to her supposed death. The vocal similitude detected later in the poem between “long white” and “light” indicates perhaps light therapy, a rare treatment for SAD and psychiatric disorders.[24] However, considering that the line reads “that long white box in the grove” it’s safe to assume she’s referring to a coffin in a graveyard, thus sublimating her metaphorical death (or suicide, more accurately, as earlier in the poem it’s established that “there will be no killing”).

Considering that both Blanche’s character and the voice in Plath’s poems are surrounded by those that do not understand them, it can be argued that their imagination works as their salvation as opposed to acting as the cause of their suffering; their imagination may be the thing that is setting them free. As Catharine says in Suddenly Last Summer, “I know it’s a hideous story but it’s a true story of our time and the world we live in.”[25]

[1] (Date Accessed: 24/02/2017) [2] See the foreword of Williams. T (1953) Camino Real: A Play [3] See paragraph four of: (Date Accessed: 09/02/2017)

[4] Watzlawick. P (1967) Pragmatics of Human Communication: A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies, and Paradoxes [4] Watzlawick. P (1976) How real is real?: Confusion, disinformation, communication [4] A.A. James (1996) Communication Theory: Epistemological Foundations [5] Sasani. S (2015), Oscillating between Madness and Badness: The Untenable Situation in A Streetcar Named Desire, Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, MCSER Publishing, Rome-Italy: Vol 6 No 1 S1

[6] See Page 89 of Williamson. P (2006) Mind, Brain and Schizophrenia

[7] Wagner-Martin. L (1997) Sylvia Plath: The Critical Heritage [8] Brown. S, Taylor. L. C (2004), “Plath Sylvia (1932-1963)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxord University Press [8] Kibler. James E. Jr (1980) Dictionary of Literary Biography. 2nd, volume 6: American Novelists Since World War II. Bruccoli Clark Layman Book, University of Georgia. The Gale Group (pg. 259-264)

[9] Craib. I (2011) Anthony Giddens. Routledge Revivals [9] Hoover R. K (2004) The Future of Identity: Centennial Reflections on the Legacy of Erik Erikson. Lexington Books [10] Beck T. A (Rector A. N, Stolar. N, Grant. P) (2008) Schizophrenia: Cognitive Theory, Research, and Therapy, The Guilford Press [11] See Page 27 of Spoto. D () The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of Tennessee Williams[12] See section on ‘Ontological security threatened by death’ (Date Accessed: 13/03/2017)

[13] S. Jacob (2013) Blow Out Your Candles: An Elegy for Rose Williams, The Paris Review

[14] (Date Accessed: 25/02/2017)

[15] (Date Accessed: 28/02/2017) [16] See introduction of Williams. T (1977) Vieux Carré [17] (Date Accessed: 24/02/2017) [18] Lahr. J (2014) Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh

[19] Kotowicz. Z (1997) R.D. Laing and the Paths of Anti-psychiatry

[20] See Kathleen Margaret Lant’s section: (Date Accessed: 27/02/2017)

[21] See (Page 430) of Plath. S, Kukil. V. Karen (2014) The Journals of Sylvia Plath 1950-1962[22] Gassner. J (1948) Tennessee Williams: Dramatist of Frustration, College English, X

[23] See Page 204 of Kaufman. C. J (2016) Creativity 101, Second Edition [24] See Page 290 of Gabbard O. G (2014) Gabbard’s Treatments of Psychiatric Disorders

[25] Williams. T (1958) Suddenly Last Summer

Bibliography Primary texts: Plath. S (1965) Ariel. Faber and Faber Williams. T (1947) A Streetcar Named Desire. New Directions S

econdary texts: Plath. S, Kukil. V. Karen (2014) The Journals of Sylvia Plath 1950-1962. Faber and Faber D. Spoto (1969) The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of Tennessee Williams. Ballantine Books Li. M, Spaulding. D. Williams (2016) The Neuropsychopathology of Schizophrenia: Molecules, Brain Systems, Motivation and Cognition. Springer

Stanley Kowalski: Villain or Family Man?

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’.