The Story A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams
“A Streetcar Named Desire” is the famous story of Blanche du Bois and Stanley Kowalski’s passionate power struggle; written by Tennessee Williams in 1947, the Play is set in New Orleans, Louisiana in the late 1940s.
To judge what extent Stanley is a villain it is necessary to first assess which criteria of a typical villain he fits. Throughout the play Stanley proves that he inflicts emotional pain on Blanche, and by not letting her forget her past and by destroying any possibility of love in her life Stanley becomes an obstacle she must attempt to overcome. It is Stanley who brings about the protagonists demise. However, although it appears that Stanley is vindictive and only bringing Blanche down for his own personal gain, one could argue that he is doing it for his relationship with Stella as Stanley would like things to return to the way they were before Blanche arrived. Stanley talks about how he wants their relationship to simply go back to normal: “Stell, it’s gonna be all right after she [Blanche] goes…”
Stanley first shows signs of villainy in scene three, through his need to be dominant which foreshadows the conflict between him and Blanche which, later, leads to the rape. At the start of the scene, he tries to assert his authority by telling Stella and Blanche to “cut out that conversation in there!” Throughout the scene, when he feels that he is losing control and authority, he loses his temper; one trait of a traditional villain, in the form of striking Stella after she yells at him – “Drunk – drunk – animal thing, you!” It is clear to the audience that Stanley would have liked to hit Blanche instead. The fact Williams stages the scene so that the ‘strike’ was off stage shows that this violence would have been just as shocking at the time the play was written as it would be to a modern-day audience.
This scene establishes Stanley as a villain and an obstacle to Blanche’s progress early on. It is possible, however, to argue that Stanley is not a traditional villain; in the opening scene, it is Stanley who is the civil character, not Blanche. He seems friendly and even welcoming; “Well, take it easy.” The audience feels sympathy for Stanley who has just had his wife’s sister arrive, clearly out of the blue, as he says; “didn’t know you [Blanche] were coming in to town.” We can relate to Stanley more than to Blanche in this scene, because Blanche is invading his home and although this comment is reserved, it is undeniably civil. The fact Blanche has drunk some of Stanley’s liquor does not go unnoticed as the stage directions tell us that Stanley ‘holds the bottle to the light to observe its depletion’ before he says to Blanche “Some people rarely touch it, but it touches them often” – both indicate that he knows Blanche is a heavy drinker and that she had had his alcohol, yet he does not question it.
At first, he seems to have no objection to Blanche and tries to make conversation, even though he appears to dominate it. Although Stanley is not villainous in this scene, there is a growing sense of tension and opposition forming. The tension is shown when the two try to engage in small talk throughout the scene, and there is an obvious dichotomy between them. Blanche is portrayed as having pale skin, a white suit and fluttery manner, suggesting a fragile moth, which is contrasted with Stanley’s bold colours and obtrusive nature. At the end of the scene, Stanley mentions Blanche’s dead husband, Allan, unnecessarily; hinting properly for the first time that Stanley has a cruel and villainous side as he clearly intends to inflict emotional pain by making Blanche remember Allan with the comment “What happened?”
Another scene in which the audience feel sorry for Stanley is in scene four, when he overhears Blanche trying to persuade Stella to leave Stanley. Blanche points out the differences between her and Stanley, saying “Stanley Kowalski, survivor of the Stone Age!” “Such things as art – as poetry and music – such kinds of new light have come into the world since then!” We also feel sympathetic towards Stanley at the end of scene three when he begs Stella to come back – “I want my baby down here. Stella, Stella!” It is in scene ten that Stanley reveals the true extent of his villainy as well as being the dramatic climax of the play.
At the very start of the scene, Blanche is staring in to a mirror, she ‘Tremblingly lifts her hand’ before slamming it down ‘with such violence that the glass cracks’, giving a distorted image – a metaphor for her distorted view of the world. Stanley enters wearing a ‘vivid green’ shirt – the bold colour emphasising his personality and mood. Stanley senses Blanche’s distress and mocks her fantasies and illusions of a rich admirer coming to rescue her; “Well, well. What do you know?” The fact she need to be rescued emphasised the fact she is trapped; unable to escape her mind and the memories that she tries to repress.
Dramatic irony is used effectively in Stanley’s line “It goes to show, you never know what is coming” that foreshadows the rape. The audience expect a climax to the tension that has built throughout the play and the scene is full of sexual references such as ‘pounding the bottle cap on the corner of the table’, ‘the bottle cap pops off’, “bury the hatchet” and “loving cup”, which hint at the play’s conclusion.
Throughout the scene, tension mounts as the atmosphere between the two fluctuates; at the start of the scene, there is a moment when it seems as though Stanley is going to make a friendly gesture towards Blanche, however, when she refuses, the previous animosity between them is restored. Blanche then makes a biblical reference “casting my pearls before swine” which Stanley does not understand and takes as a direct insult. For a short while, he plays along with her illusions before suddenly turning on her again.
As the scene closes, Williams uses imagery to make Blanche’s terror take on a physical form as ‘grotesque and, menacing shapes’ that close in around her and animalistic sounds can be heard and frightening, sinister ‘shadows and lurid reflections’ appear on the walls, moving like ‘flames’ which mimic Blanche’s nervous movements. Stanley’s last line “We’ve had this date with each other from the beginning” shows his intent and to a certain extent, Stanley is right when he says this; Blanche and Stanley’s relationship has always been sexual to a certain extent – Blanche was fully aware of Stanley’s intense masculinity and she responded with provocative seductive and sexual behaviour, even admitting to her sister that she knows about sexual desire – “when the devil is in you”.
This scene is technically very dramatic in technique and the use of the blue piano and ‘inhuman voices like cries in a jungle’ create a threatening and animalistic effect. The sounds of the train, the streetcar named Desire Blanche arrives on, are heard throughout the play and get louder and louder as well as faster. The train will inevitably crash like Blanche. The visual effects represent the present evil and Blanche’s decent in to madness. Williams intended to shock the audience with the full extent of Stanley’s villainy in this climatic scene and his act seems even monstrous due to the fact he is raping his pregnant wife’s sister. It is in this scene that Stanley displays almost all of the traits of a traditional villain; he both emotionally and physically causes Blanche pain as well as clearly finding pleasure in bringing about her demse. In the penultimate scene the line; ‘she sunk to her knees’ tells us that Blanche has given up and Stanley has finally destroyed Blanche completely.
In conclusion, I personally see Stanley as a villain because although at certain points in the play the audience is sympathetic towards him and can see the motive behind his actions, and even relate to them, it is hard to forgive his ruthless and systematic destroying of Blanche both emotionally and physically as well as his lack of control when hitting Stella. Blanche destroys Mitch and any chance of a relationship with him with her lies, however, Stanley destroys Blanche with the truth and does so in such a spiteful, manipulative and ultimately villainous way; it tears her apart. Stanley defines himself by displaying all the traditional characteristics of a villain.
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