Tennessee Williams (1911 – 1983) was an American playwright who received many of the top theatrical awards for his works of drama. He moved to New Orleans in 1939 and changed his name to "Tennessee", the state of his father's birth. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948 and for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955. In addition, The Glass Menagerie (1945) and The Night of the Iguana (1961) received New York Drama Critics' Circle Awards. His 1952 play The Rose Tattoo received the Tony Award for best play. In 1980 he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter.
Plot and structure:
The Kowalski apartment is in a poor but charming neighborhood in the French Quarter. Stella, twenty-five years old and pregnant, lives with her blue collar husband Stanley Kowalski. It is summertime, and the heat is oppressive. Blanche Dubois, Stella's older sister, arrives unexpectedly, carrying all that she owns. Blanch and Stella have a warm reunion, but Blanch has some bad news: Belle Reve, the family mansion, has been lost. Blanche stayed behind to care for their dying family while Stella left to make a new life for herself, and Blanche is resentful. Blanche meets Stanley for the first time, and immediately she feels uncomfortable. We learn that Blanche was once married, when she was very young, but the boy died. The situation grows more and more tense. Stanley initially distrusts Blanche, thinking that she's swindled them; the idea is ludicrous, and eventually Stanley realizes that Blanche is hardly the swindling type. But the animosity between the two never stops. Blanche takes long baths, criticizes the squalor of the apartment, and irritates Stanley. Stanley's roughness bothers Blanche; he makes no effort to be gentle with her. One night, the night when Stanley hosts a poker game, he gets too drunk and beats Stella. The women go up to their upstairs neighbors' apartment, but soon Stella returns to Stanley, the two coupling with an animal-like need. Blanche is shocked by these events. That night, she also meets Mitch, and there is an immediate mutual attraction between the two. The next day, Stanley overhears Blanche saying terrible things about him. From that time on, he devotes himself fully to her destruction. Blanche has a shady past in Laurel. In her loneliness, during the last days of Belle Reve and after the mansion was lost, she turned to strangers for comfort. Her numerous amorous encounters destroyed her reputation in Laurel, leading to her loss of her job as a high school English teacher and her near-expulsion from town. Tensions build in the apartment throughout the summer. Blanche and Stanley look on each other as mortal enemies, and Blanche turns increasingly to alcohol for comfort. Stanley bides his time. Stanley looks into Blanche's past, and he passes the information on to Mitch. Although previously it seemed that Blanche might marry Mitch, after he learns the truth he loses all interest. In autumn, on Blanche's birthday, Mitch stands her up. Stanley presents Blanche with her gift: bus tickets back to Laurel. Blanche is overcome by sickness; she cannot return to Laurel, and Stanley knows it. As Blanche is ill in the bathroom, Stella fights with Stanley over the cruelty of his act. Mid-fight, she tells him to take her to the hospital: the baby is coming. That night, Blanche packs and drinks. Mitch arrives. He confronts her with the stories of her past, and she tells him, in lurid detail, the truth about her escapades in Laurel. He approaches her, making advances, wanting what she has denied him all summer. She asks him to marry her, and when he doesn't, she kicks him out of the apartment. Hours later, Stanley comes home. Stella is still in labor, and will be until morning, so Stanley's getting some sleep. Stanley mercilessly destroys Blanche's illusions, one by one, and then rapes her. Weeks later, another poker game is being held at the Kowalski apartment. Blanche has suffered a mental breakdown. She has told Stella what Stanley did, but Stella has convinced herself that it can't be true. A doctor and nurse come and take Blanche away to the asylum. Stella weeps, and Stanley comforts her. The other men continue their poker game as if nothing has happened.
Blanche DuBois: Neurotic central character who lives in a fantasy world of Old South chivalry but cannot control her carnal desires.
Stella Kowalski: Blanche’s down-to-earth sister who seems satisfied with her life as the wife of a factory worker
Stanley Kowalski: Stella’s churlish husband and the bane of Blanche’s existence
Mitch, Steve, Pablo: Stanley’s poker partners. Mitch, Stanley’s best friend, woos Blanche until he finds out about her seamy past
Eunice: Stanley and Blanche’s upstairs neighbor
Allen Grey: Deceased husband of Blanche. His homosexual affair and suicide deeply scarred Blanche.
Young Man: Collector for The Evening Star newspaper.
Negro Woman: The Negro Woman seems to be one of the non-naturalistic characters
Mexican Woman: Sells flowers for the dead. She sells these flowers during the powerful scene when Blanche recounts her fall(s) from grace.
Shep Huntleigh: Imaginary beau of Blanche.
Doctor, Matron: Physician and nurse from a mental hospital
The action takes place between May and September in a shabby apartment building in the working-class district of New Orleans in the 1940's, shortly after the Second World War. The protagonist, Blanche Dubois, comes to New Orleans from Laurel, Miss., the site of the family homestead. Although no scenes are set in Laurel, the effect of the town and its Old South culture on the main character, Blanche DuBois, is important. Laurel is a real town in southeastern Mississippi. It has a a present population of about 18,000 and is the seat of Jones County. Laurel, which was named after the laurel shrubs growing abundantly in nearby forests, prospered early in the 20th Century as a lumbering center. Tennessee Williams, the author of A Streetcar Named Desire, was born in eastern Mississippi in the town of Columbus and was well aware of Mississippi customs and traditions.
Point of view:
In the script of the play Williams includes plenty of material that describes the set, the appearance of the characters, the sound and light needed to create moods and so forth. But he doesn't tell you how to view the characters: Is Blanche sane or insane? Does Stanley have redeeming qualities? Is it right for Stella to commit Blanche to an asylum? Although these are questions that Williams probably wants you to answer for yourself, he gives you his own bias by focusing the play on Blanche. Blanche stands apart as the central figure. Streetcar is her story, and you have a ringside seat to her private agony and disintegration. You never see anyone except Blanche on stage alone. Minor characters like the newsboy and the flower peddler are interesting only insofar as they touch Blanche. By the time the play ends you know Blanche better than any other character. You probably understand why she acts as she does and appreciate what has happened to her. That doesn't mean you cherish her. But you might feel compassion for her, as you might for anyone who has lost her way.
The most striking feature of Streetcar’s dramatic structure is its division into scenes rather than acts. Each of the eleven scenes that make up the play ends in a dramatic climax, and the tension of each individual scene builds up to the tension of the final climax. This structure allows the audience to focus on the emotions and actions of Blanche — the only character to appear in every scene. The audience is sympathetic to Blanche because they see more of her inner thoughts and motivations than the other characters on stage. Note, for example, how only die audience is aware of how much alcohol she is drinking. The scene organization adds to the audience’s sense of tragedy — Blanche’s destruction is inevitable, signaling the inexorable passage of the drama and of her movement towards a final breakdown.
The tone of the play is most often one of poetically heightened realism.
The reluctance or inability of people to accept the truth. Blanche lives in a cocoon of unreality to protect herself against her weaknesses and shortcomings. including her inability to repress untoward sexual desire. To preserve her ego, she lies about her promiscuous behavior in Laurel; she shuns bright light, lest it reveal her physical imperfections; and she refuses to acknowledge her problem with alcohol. Stanley effectively penetrates her cocoon verbally with his crude insults and physically with his sexual coup de main near the end of the play. Stanley has his own problem: he lacks the insight to see what he really is–a coarse, domineering macho man ruled by primal instincts. Unlike Blanche, though, he is happy in his ignorance. For her part, Stella accepts the truth–partly. She acknowledges that Stanley is crude and that her apartment is cramped and shabby. But, in the end, she refuses to accept the truth about her sister’s past and about Stanley’s violation of Blanche. “I couldn’t believe [Blanche’s] story [about the rape] and go on living with Stanley,” Stella says.
The final destruction of the Old South, symbolized by Blanche and Belle Reve (the family property seized by creditors). This theme–not unlike that in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind–begins to unfold in the opening scene of the play. Two women, one white and one black, sit as equals on the steps of an apartment building while Blanche arrives on scene accoutered in the attitude and finery of a southern belle of yesteryear. She is an alien, a strange creature from another time, another place.
The despoliation of the sensitive and feminine by the feral and masculine. Blanche and her first husband, a homosexual, cannot survive in the world of Stanley and his kind. Stanley is a robust weed who grows in Blanche’s carefully cultivated garden of lilies.
Unbridled sexual desire lead to isolating darkness and eventually death. Williams establishes this theme at the beginning of the play, when Blanche takes a streetcar named Desire (sex), transfers to one named Cemeteries (Death), and gets off at a street named named Elysian Fields (the Afterlife). He maintains the theme during the play with references to Blanche’s first husband, a homosexual who committed suicide after she caught him with another man, and with Blanche’s literal and figurative retreat into the shadows after having many sordid affairs. She shuns bright lights; she dates Mitch only in the evening.
All that glitters is not gold. This Shakespearean motif manifests itself in Blanche’s inability to grasp how Stanley and Stella can succeed at marriage without the finer things of life.
Symbolism, allusions, myth:
Fantasy/Illusion: Blanche dwells in illusion; fantasy is her primary means of self-defense. Her deceits do not carry any trace of malice; rather, they come from her weakness and inability to confront the truth head-on. She tells things not as they are, but as they ought to be. For her, fantasy has a liberating magic that protects her from the tragedies she has had to endure. Unfortunately, this defense is frail and will be shattered by Stanley. In the end, Stanley and Stella will also resort to a kind of illusion: Stella will force herself to believe that Blanche's accusations against Stanley are false.
The Old South and the New South: Stella and Blanche come from a world that is rapidly dying. Belle Reve, their family's ancestral plantation, has been lost. The two sisters, symbolically, are the last living members of their family. Stella will mingle her blood with a man of blue-collar stock, and Blanche will enter the world of madness. Stanley represents the new order of the South: chivalry is dead, replaced by a "rat race," to which Stanley makes several proud illusions.
The only unforgivable crime, according to Blanche, is deliberate cruelty. This sin is Stanley's specialty. His final assault against Blanche is a merciless attack against an already-beaten foe. On the other hand, though Blanche is dishonest, she never lies out of malice. Her cruelty is unintentional; often, she lies in a vain effort to plays. Throughout Streetcar, we see the full range of cruelty, from Blanche's well-intentioned deceits to Stella self-deceiving treachery to Stanley's deliberate and unchecked malice. In Williams' plays, there are many ways to hurt someone. And some are worse than others.
The Primitive and the Primal: Blanche often speaks of Stanley as ape-like and primitive. Stanley represents a very unrefined manhood, a romantic idea of man untouched by civilization and its effeminizing influences. His appeal is clear: Stella cannot resist him, and even Blanche, though repulsed, is on some level drawn to him. Stanley's unrefined nature also includes a terrifying amorality. The service of his desire is central to who he is; he has no qualms about driving his sister-in-law to madness, or raping her.
Desire: Closely related to the theme above, desire is the central theme of the play. Blanche seeks to deny it, although we learn later in the play that desire is one of her driving motivations; her desires have caused her to be driven out of town. Desire, and not intellectual or spiritual intimacy, is the heart of Stella's and Stanley's relationship. Desire is Blanche's undoing, because she cannot find a healthy way of dealing with it: she is always either trying to suppress it or pursuing it with abandon.
Loneliness: The companion theme to desire; between these two extremes, Blanche is lost. She desperately seeks companionship and protection in the arms of strangers. And she has never recovered from her tragic and consuming love for her first husband. Blanche is in need of a defender. But in New Orleans, she will find instead the predatory and merciless Stanley.
Drunkenness: Both Stanley and Blanche drink excessively at various points during the play. Stanley’s drinking is social: he drinks with his friends at the bar, during their poker games, and to celebrate the birth of his child. Blanche’s drinking, on the other hand, is anti-social, and she tries to keep it a secret. She drinks on the sly in order to withdraw from harsh reality. A state of drunken stupor enables her to take a flight of imagination, such as concocting a getaway with Shep Huntleigh. For both characters, drinking leads to destructive behavior: Stanley commits domestic violence, and Blanche deludes herself. Yet Stanley is able to rebound from his drunken escapades, whereas alcohol augments Blanche’s gradual departure from sanity.
Streetcar named Desire is Blanche's desire. Although Blanche arrives in New Orleans as a somewhat broken woman, she keeps alive her desire to be with a man and to lead a life as an elegant, respectable woman.
Streetcar named Cemeteries is the old, disgraced Blanche, which she left behind–dead, so to speak–in her hometown of Laurel, Miss., to begin anew in New Orleans. This streetcar can also suggest that life is over for the new Blanche as well, for she is damaged property edging toward madness.
Street named Elysian Fields is the new life Blanche is seeking. In Greek mythology, the Elysian Fields (also called Elysium and the Elysian Plain) made up a paradise reserved for worthy mortals after they died. Because Blanche's old self "died" in Laurel, Miss., she traveled to New Orleans to seek her Elysium.
Belle Reve This is the name of Blanche's family home in Mississippi. It represents the "beautiful dream" (the meaning of Belle Rêve in French) that Blanche seeks but never experiences.
Blanche's white suit is the false purity and innocence with which she masks her carnal desire and cloaks her past.
Blanche's frequent bathing is her attempt to wash away her past life.
Alcohol is another way Blanche washes away bad memories.
Bright light is the penetrating gaze of truth that sees the real Blanche with all of her imperfections. When she greets Stella the first time in the apartment, she says, "And turn that over-light off! Turn that off! I won't be looked at in this merciless glare!" Blanche avoids bright lights throughout the play.
Blanche: Blanche means white in French, and–in keeping with her name–she wears a white dress and gloves in the opening scene of the play to hide her real self in the purity that white suggests.
Stella: Stella means star or like a star in Latin, although she lives in a shabby apartment building in a lower-class section of New Orleans. It could be argued that she is the star of her husband’s life and the star that led Blanche to New Orleans.
Stanley: Stanley is an Old English name meaning stone field. Thus, it is possible he represents a cemetery for Blanche. Stanislaus was the name of a king of Poland. Clearly, Stanley is the king of his household.
The small Kowalski apartment: The size and plain surroundings of the apartment suggest the size and plainness of the life to which Blanche, who formerly lived in a splendid mansion, must adjust.
Allen Grey: The memory of him symbolizes a gray area of Blanche's life, between the bright light that she avoids and the darkness she seeks. She loved him, but he betrayed her. In New Orleans, she remembers the good and the bad of her relationship with him.
A Streetcar Named Desire is a stage play with elements of tragedy (drama).
My own interpretation:
A Streetcar Named Desire contains issues from life; a guilty feeling of abandonment, the anger and frustration between two complete opposites, and the violation of a rape. Stella abandons her sister to try to make things work with her husband. She knows that she cannot stay neutral this last time. As Blanche is taken away, Stella is overcome with feelings of guilt, loss, and betrayal. She has abandoned her sister for her husband, which people in reality tend to do. in many family conflicts, one with side with their mate, even if they risk putting their family aside. Stanley and Blanche are opposities, trying to coexist in a small area and failing miserably. Her refusal to deal with Stanley and his rough nature causes her to revert further and further into her world of pretend, as he becomes more and more rough, culminating in the rape of Blanche by Stanley. She has mocked him in his home, and he cannot deal with her and her lies. He violates her in the most personal way, and she cannot deal with any semblance of reality anymore. If this rape had happened in 1999, it would have been all over the news, it would have been one the greatest crimes and/or scandals in local news. In the small neighborhood of Stanley's flat, it would have been news within the local area. However, if the rape was not believe and did not make the news, the commitment of Blanche to the mental institution would not have been made a big deal, for if it was, the family would never be looked at in the same light again. After the rape, Blanche losses her mind. Her world becomes a world of almost complete fantasy. Blanche feels that she is the picture of femininity. She tries to be prim and proper, but fails the minute she says anything degrading about Stanley to Stella. Along those lines, Blanche's world of fantasy has been created by the lies that she cannot seem to stop telling. When she lies, she tended to contradict herself, revealing the falsities. When Stanley caught hold of this, he called a few people, found out the truth and destroyed her world. Had Blanche simply been truthful, and accepted her past, she may not have found herself in the sticky situation that she found herself in.
Blanche DuBois: I don't want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic. I try to give that to people. I do misrepresent things. I don't tell truths. I tell what ought to be truth.
Blanche DuBois: Deliberate cruelty is unforgivable, and the one thing of which I have never,ever been guilty of.
Stella: But there are things that happen, between a man and a woman, in the dark, that sorta make everything else seem unimportant
Blanche: What you are talking about is brutal desire. Just desire. The name of that rattletrap streetcar that bangs through the Quarter, up one old narrow street and down another.
Stella: Haven't you ever ridden that streetcar?
Blanche: It brought me here, where I'm not wanted, and where I'm ashamed to be.
Blanche: They told me to take a streetcar named 'Desire',transfer to one called 'Cemetery',ride six blocks and get off,at Elysian Fields.