Evaluation of the Social Class Ranking As Illustrated In the Book, A Streetcar Named Desire
Class differences lie behind conflict in the play. Through close analysis of the dramatic methods used in the play, and drawing upon relevant external information on social class in the southern states of America, show to what extent you agree with the statement above.
Throughout “A Streetcar Named Desire,” William’s presents conflict as a main theme. Class is a prominent factor within this theme, displayed through characters and their actions.
Clear contrasts can be viewed between characters almost immediately. Blanche DuBois, the Southern Belle, who is still living within the ideals of the “Old South,” and Stella DuBois, the former Southern Belle who chose to marry down the social hierarchy and wed Stanley Kowalski, a Polish immigrant of lower class. Blanche is initially surprised by her sister’s new standards of living, surrounded by those of the lower class; not only her husband, but her friends also. Social class issues are clearly illustrated throughout the two opening scenes. Although both sisters are from the same family, they both have different lifestyles which they’ve adapted to. The social class differences between them demonstrate how society behaved during the 1940’s.
It’s important to establish the atmosphere in this particular setting of New Orleans, especially as Blanche brings to the Kowalski apartment her prejudices, which prove to be out of time and place. Class distinctions don’t matter here, which is why Stella and Stanley seem to make a fine match despite their backgrounds.It was at this time, during the 1940’s, that all of those in surrounding areas began to move there along with many different groups of immigrants as well, making it a centre for multiculturalism in the USA at the time. New Orleans attracted people from all walks of life. And with this different variety of groups of people from different classes and backgrounds coming together and living in one place, there was a sort of a cultural revolution that at this point in time was completely and utterly unprecedented. Blanche was completely unused to this, and so her prejudices may have been a cause for conflict in the play.
When Blanche shows up at Elysian Fields, Williams writes that “her appearance is incongruous to this setting. She is daintily dressed in a white suit with a fluffy bodice, necklace and earrings of pearl, white gloves and hat, looking as if she were arriving at a summer tea or cocktail party in the garden district.” Not only are these clothes incongruous to the setting, but also may represent more expensive items of clothing only worn by those of the higher class.Blanche owns many furs, which Stanley immediately assumes to be expensive, causing a small conflict between the pair. She also owns costume jewellery, such as a tiara, which could represent a past member of higher class wishing to climb back up the hierarchy.
Blanche assumes the superiority inherited with her family name. She is disparaging about the small size of Stella’s home, and expects her to have a maid. Most of all, however, she is astonished that her sister has married someone so lacking in refinement or culture as Stanley. She also shows her prejudice in referring to him as a ‘Polack’. She makes her feelings about him abundantly clear in Scene Four, after witnessing his violence in the poker party of Scene Three. In her damning account of him, which he overhears, she calls him ‘sub-human’ and ‘ape-like.’ This display of ignorance towards the lower class and immigrants causes conflict within the play.
Stanley becomes irritated at Stella’s lack of respect for him, supposedly caused by Blanche’s influence. Stella claims that Stanley “makes a pig of himself,” which causes conflict between the pair, due to Blanche’s superficial ways.
Operating on the idea that all men are created equal, the “American Dream” is an ideology in the United States in which freedom includes the possibility of prosperity and success to all, regardless of social class or race. It emphasizes a direct link between individual effort and success in an open, merit-based system and attracts most people to this country in the first place. However, America’s “dream” dramatically changed as the country’s definition of success applied primarily to white middle class men from the 1930s to the 1950s, creating a class structure fuelled by discrimination. In the play, the audience see that it is Stanley who appears to benefit most from the “American Dream,” as an immigrant who has made a decent life for himself in America. Stanley states that the “pulled Stella down,” referencing that she married down the hierarchy of society. This fact displeases Blanche, and so is another element in which class is the driving force between conflicts within the play. Stanley also claimed that “she loved it,” meaning that she enjoys living life as a lower-class citizen, which would also cause conflict between her and Blanche, as Blanche was left to defend Belle Reve alone.
Certain elements in Blanche and Mitch’s relationship could be viewed as a conflict between classes. Blanche acts as a refined lady, which “old-fashioned ideals.” It is clear that Mitch wishes to act upon his desires with Blanche, but is stopped by her pretence. She tries to act like a higher member of society, who will not lower herself to be handled by a man, and lose his respect. After Blanche asks Mitch if he speaks French, an attribute associated with the more refined and educated higher class, he responds that he doesn’t, displaying the gap in the hierarchy between them. Blanche teases Mitch in the language he can’t understand, asking, “Do you want to sleep together this evening? You don’t understand? What a shame!” Blanche grows rapidly more amorous, irritating Mitch and causing underlying themes of conflict to increase.
Throughout Blanche’s stay at his house, he feels that she has drunk his liquor, eaten his food, used his house, all of which he has provided with his own money from hard work, but still has belittled him and has opposed him. She has never conceded to him his right to be the “king” in his own house. Thus, he must sit idly by and see his marriage and home destroyed, and himself belittled by someone of a supposed higher class than him, or else he must strike back. His attack is slow and calculated. He begins to compile information about Blanche’s past life. He must present her past life to his wife so that she can determine who the superior person is, and show that she is in fact, not one of a higher class. When he has his information accumulated, he is convinced that however common he is, his life and his past are far superior to Blanche’s. Now that he feels his superiority again, he begins to act. He feels that having proved how degenerate Blanche actually is, he is now justified in punishing her directly for all the indirect insults he has had to suffer from her. Thus he buys hera bus ticket back to Laurel, and reveals her promiscuous past to Mitch. This is a major conflict within the play, with the driving force being class.
The “Varsouviana” represents the higher class, thus represents Blanche. The “Blue Piano” represents New Orleans, and so represents the lower class, Stella and Stanley. The music plays during scenes of conflict and drama, and so is a representative of conflict throughout the entire play.
Blanche’s dialogue, juxtaposed against Stanley’s, shows her as a more refined, well-spoken lady. Stanley’s speech consists of colloquial language, associated more with a less educated citizen. It is clear that Blanche has received an excellent education; however it is also evident that Stanley is smarter when it comes to manipulation, etc. Blanche is naïve, and so this could be an argument that Class isn’t necessarily a main driving force behind the play, it may only be due to Stanley’s cunning ways and tricks.
Class features strongly throughout this play. There are many arguments to suggest that class differences lie behind conflict in the play. However, we must consider other factors that may have caused conflict, such as manipulation, deceit, lies, and abuse. Blanche clearly demonstrated that she sees those of a lower class inferior to her. Here, Williams could have been trying to suggest that those who do not see society as one will not succeed in life. He was trying to convey ideas of a more united America, one in which those of higher and lower classes could potentially one day live as one.
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