Introduction to A Streetcar Named Desire
Written by the great American playwright, Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire, first emerged on the stage in Broadway in 1947 after which it became Williams’s representative play. It has also become one of the best plays of the last century and was performed and adapted into several other plays across the globe. The play presents the story of Blanche DuBois, a belle from the South, who goes through tough times of her life after she sells her mansion and goes to live in a dinghy apartment in New Orleans with her sister.
Summary of A Streetcar Named Desire
The play presents the story of two sisters; one is a teacher living in the town of Laurel in Mississippi, while Stella Kowalski, her elder sister is living in a rented yet shabby apartment in New Orleans. Blanche DuBois, the younger one who is a teacher, happens to come to New Orleans to live with her sister after she loses her inherited property. She rather expresses shock at the shabby condition of the apartment, which is nothing as compared to their ancestral mansion, Belle Reve. Following that she also mentions her long teaching leave due to a nervous breakdown. Despite expressing outrage at the shabby apartment, she does not afford to get a hotel and stay there, causing resentment and brouhaha in the apartment. Stanley Kowalski rather dislikes her for her fake snobbery, making Stella satisfied but simultaneously harboring ill will against Blanche, suspecting her of ditching them from the family legacy. To clarify her position, she tells that she has lost the property due to her financial profligacy and alcoholism.
On the other hand, Stella, too, is a victim of sexual gratification which emerges when Stanley hosts such a party at home in which his friend, Mitch, is also present, who becomes a cynosure of the eyes of Balance. When Stanley sees this, he storms into the bedroom to frustrate their meeting, causing a brawl between husband and wife at which Stanley thrashes Stella. The game comes to an end after both sisters go to Eunice’s, the neighboring apartment at which Stanley cries for Stella who also returns and embraces him passionately. Brooding over this matching mismatch, Blanche asks her sister to part ways and meet Shep Huntleigh, a millionaire, inviting laughter from Stella. However, when they are engaged in feminine chitchat, Stanley eavesdrops and causes consternation later by mentioning her past.
Meanwhile, Blanche even tries to love a newspaper boy when alone at home and go with Mitch on a date. Both of them tell each other their sides of the story and commit to loving each other despite past issues. Around after a month, Stella is going to celebrating Blanche’s birthday, inviting Mitch as well but Stanley arrives with the bad news of knowing her past escapades as well as her job loss. Due to her past issues, Mitch misses her birthday, while Stanley brings a one-way back ticket, asking her to leave yet Stella’s imminent delivery of the baby prevents the issue from exploding. After a while, when Stella and Stanley leave, Mitch arrives and after both of them have discussed their issue, Mitch finally decides not to marry her due to her promiscuity yet he tries to have sex with her at which she creates a fuss. Meanwhile, Stanley also arrives, finding Blanche alone after which a fight ensues over blames and accusations with Blanche’s bluff of leaving with her imaginary millionaire, Shep Huntleigh at which Stanley rapes her after a physical brawl.
After some week, Blanche is going to be sent to the lunatic asylum due to her loss of the sense of reality while her own sister does not believe her claim of Stanley raping her. Meanwhile, she suffers from panic after which a doctor arrives to take her to the asylum, leaving Stella mourning her sister’s insanity and Stanley comforting her with caresses.
Major Themes in A Streetcar Named Desire
- Fantasy: The play shows the theme of fantasy in that Blanche DuBois is living in the world of fantasy. She thinks that she belongs to an elite class having a great mansion once in the recent past. She does not want to face this stark reality that she has lost that mansion and that the world does not accept a carefree and snobbish lady despite her being no malignant toward anyone. Her illusion further alludes to her when she is engaged in hooking Mitch but is get raped by Stanley, her brother-in-law, yet she wants to stay true to her sister in whose house she is currently residing. Stella, her sister, who is a realist, too, alludes to this fact when she has a kid because of the life that she is to live with her husband. However, contrary to both the sisters, Stanley is a realist who manipulates circumstances as well as people to his own interests.
- Dependence: The play demonstrates the theme of dependence and independence through Blanche DuBois and Stella Stanley, her real sister with whom she comes to live in the shabby apartment. Although Stella also suffers due to her husband’s unruly and untrustworthy behavior, she ultimately depends on him, a man, who is supposed to provide her home and comfort. On the other hand, Blanche has not only lost her home but also her independence after losing her job due to her promiscuous behavior and nervous breakdown. Therefore, her dependence on Stella and Stanley leads to her lunacy and ultimately to the lunatic asylum.
- Gender Conflict: The play shows the theme of gender conflict through the characters of Stanley and Blanche. When Blanche visits her sister’s apartment, she immediately comes to blows with her brother-in-law, deriding their poverty and criticizing their poor lifestyle. He, too, becomes puzzled and quizzical at her sudden personal attack after which he retaliates crudely to her verbal attacks by resorting to physical rape after disclosing her past. This gender conflict ensues as suddenly and fiercely as it has ended with Blanche being taken away to a lunatic asylum and Stella standing firm with her husband and a kid.
- Conflict of Old and Modern South: The play puts the old world of the South having Belle Reve in conflict with the new world of reality where Stella is living with her husband Stanley in a dingy apartment. Blanche sees this world of a dingy apartment as compared to her mansion, Belle Reve where the family has passed the prime time. The fading civilization of the old South has taken away its interdependence, leaving Blanche free to do and face the consequences and then leave for the new world where even a brother-in-law is revengeful and retaliatory if pricked. Thus, she finds herself in a lunatic asylum instead of living with her sister.
- Desire: The play shows the theme of physical as well as the mental desire of the main characters specifically Blanche Dubois. In fact, the carnal desires become the motivation of her social mobility in a literal as well as symbolic sense. When she reaches her sister, her chagrining behavior toward her sister and her household gets understood only by Stanley, her brother-in-law, who unearths her past, comprising satisfaction of her desires only. That is why he launches retaliatory accusations and even rapes her to satisfy her promiscuous desire. In fact, her expulsion from Belle Reve and school, too, points to her unhealthy lifestyle of satisfying her carnal desires, leaving aside her mental and spiritual desires.
- Class Differences: The play shows the theme of class difference through the identity that each character is having. Blanche shows her identity as the southern belle engaged in the aesthetic pleasures of having a sense of evaluating art and poetic writings. However, her class consciousness faces a huge shock at the Kowalskis’ when she visits them. She comes to know that Stella has started abandoning her claim to this lifestyle after sensing the reality. Then when she faces the reality after some time and the pragmatism of the people around her, including her sister, she comes to her senses but it is too late now as she is sent to the lunatic asylum.
- Loneliness: The theme of isolation and loneliness a character faces seems to appear from the situation in which Blanche has put herself. She has lost her house, Belle Reve, and has reached New Orleans to her sister to live with after being abandoned by her relatives and her first husband. This loneliness bites her and forces her to get to her sister. However, her behavior does not match the time in which she is living. She soon finds herself with the doctor pressing her to get with him to the asylum for having mental issues.
- Sexuality: The theme of sexuality in the play is significant in that Blanche has lost her world due to her sexuality after losing her husband and facing trauma. Stanley, on the other hand, demonstrates his extreme obsession for sexuality, tying him up to his wife, while Stella, too, is the slave of her sexuality, the reason that she is ready to live with her husband who has sent her sister to the asylum after violating her.
Major Characters A Streetcar Named Desire
- Blanche Dubois: Blanche Dubois is not only the heroin but a very complicated central figure of the play who is a snobbish aristocrat outwardly but a highly volatile character inwardly. A symbol of an effete southern belle tradition, she has lost her Belle Reve, ancestral mansion, as well as job and visits her sister to berate her on the shabby conditions of her apartment as well as her lowly husband but later starts flirting with her husband’s friend, Mitch, a lowly person. Full of contradictions, Blanche has already lost one husband who has committed suicide and still tries to escape realities by living in illusions. Barely able to suppress her own nymphomaniac state, she finally faces rape from her brother-in-law and expulsion from her sister, who as a realist makes up with her husband after a brief skirmish. She finally leaves for lunatic asylum after Stanley, her brother-in-law calls for a doctor and a nurse.
- Stella Kowalski: Despite her youthful age and being pregnant by Stanley Kowalski, Stella is not only a realist but also a pragmatic lady, who sees her life in ruins in case she leaves her husband. Impulsive in nature, she takes up a brawl, but her sister finds her in the embrace of her husband after they make it up. In fact, their husband-wife relationship is based on physical passions instead of an idealistic outlook, unlike her sister. Although her love for her sister stays, she does not accept her mentally poor state to continue and lets the doctor take her to asylum.
- Stanley Kowalski: A physically burly fellow, Stanley is not only passionate but also a solid and direct person who speaks his mind out when confronting aggressive Blanche at his home. He even does not shun attacking her physically and rapes her when sees her brimming with passion. Despite his controlling and dominant nature, he wastes most of his time playing with his friends and proves a very calculated fellow when he calls for the doctor to take his sister-in-law to an asylum on account of her mental illness.
- Harold Mitchell: Called Mitch among his friends a well as in the play, Harold Mitchell is also a burly and tough fellow like his friend, Stanley Kowalski. Despite his physical strength, he is sympathetic and feels the heavy impact of the death of his mother. Initially, Blanche succeeds in attracting him but later when he comes to know her real situation and past, he feels duped and leaves her.
- Eunice Hubbell: Eunice is a very social person who intervenes in every brawl when it seems her easy to resolve. She takes Blanche and Stella when Stanley becomes unruly and advises Stella to stay calm and cool to make her conjugal life successful. Her advice works, and Stella stays with her husband despite this problem.
- Steve Hubbell: The character of Steve is significant in the course of the novel, for he is not only the owner of the building but also the mate of Stanley who takes part in his games of poker. The cool manner in which he continues playing when Blanche leaves for asylum exposes his real personality.
- Pablo Gonzales: The character of Pablo seems significant in the play only in that he is engaged in the poker game with Steve, Mitch and Stanley and often cuts them short with his Spanish utterances.
- The Doctor: The character of the doctor is significant in the play in that he comes to take away Blanche who has caused unruly behavior at Stanley’s apartment. He calms her down and takes her with him with the help of a nurse.
- The Nurse: As compared to the doctor, the nurse is, though cool, yet very impassionate as she pins down Blanche and wrestles with her to control her.
- A Mexican Lady: She comes to sell flowers and appears in the play when Blanche recounts her stories of how she has been expelled from the school and how she has lost her home.
Writing Style of A Streetcar Named Desire
The writing style of Tennessee Williams in the play, A Streetcar Named Desire, is direct but poetic. The dialogs expose the real nature of the character such as Blanche DuBois shows through her sarcastic character that she is a hollow lady and that she is hiding something. Similarly, some of the lines are very heavy in terms of meanings, showing the excessive stress of Williams on artificiality and impulsiveness of the female characters such as Blanche and Stella. However, in terms of sentence structure and phrases, Williams stays simple and to the point, yet becomes cumbersome when it comes to using a figurative language where he uses the extended metaphors of the South with similes, irony, and sarcasm.
Analysis of the Literary Devices in A Streetcar Named Desire
- Action: The main action of the play comprises the arrival of Blanche DuBois to her sister’s apartment, her chagrin at their poverty, her rape by her brother-in-law, and the final arrival of the doctor to take her to asylum. The falling action occurs when Blanche faces expulsion after her sister plans to send her to the asylum after her rape. The rising action occurs when Stanley suspects her of expelling her sister from her inheritance.
- Anaphora: The play shows examples of anaphora such as,
Now, then, let me look at you. But don’t you look at me, Stella, no, no, no, not till later, not till I’ve bathed and rested! And turn that over-light off! Turn that off! I won’t be looked at in this merciless glare! (Scene-One)
ii. No, now seriously, putting joking aside. Why didn’t you tell me, why didn’t you write me, honey, why didn’t you let me know? (Scene-One)
These examples show the repetitious use of “look at” and “why didn’t tell.”
- Allusion: The play shows a good use of different allusions such as,
i. You came to New Orleans and looked out for yourself! I stayed at Belle Reve and tried to hold it together! I’m not meaning this in any reproachful way, but all the burden descended on my shoulders. (Scene-One)
ii. No, I have the misfortune of being an English instructor. I
attempt to instill a bunch of bobby-soxers and drug-store Romeos with reverence for Hawthorne and Whitman and Poe! (Scene-Two)
iii. I shall but love thee better—after—death!” Why, that’s from my favorite sonnet by Mrs. Browning! (Scene-Two)
The first example shows the reference to a city, the second shows references to different authors, and the last one to a famous author, Mrs. Browning.
- Antagonist: It seems that as he is a violent person and also rapes a mentally destroyed sister-in-law, he is the real antagonist of the play.
- Conflict: The play shows the external conflict that is going on between Blanche and her sister on the one hand, and Blanche and her brother-in-law on the other hand.
- Characters: The play, A Streetcar Named Desire, shows both static as well as dynamic characters. The young girl, Stella, and her husband, Stanley, are dynamic characters as they show a considerable transformation in their behavior and conduct by the end of the play. However, all other characters are static as they do not show or witness any transformation such as Blanche, Mitch, and the neighboring woman, or even Steve.
- Climax: The climax in the play occurs when Stanley rapes Blanche, taking advantage of her physical vulnerability and psychological weakness.
- Epigraph: The play shows the use of epigraphs in its initial pages such as
i. And so it was I entered the broken world
To trace the visionary company of hue, its voice
An instant in the wind (I know not whither hurled)
But not for long to hold each desperate choice. (From “The Broken Tower” by Hart Crane)
- Hyperbole: The play shows the examples of hyperboles such as,
But what I am is a one hundred percent American, born and raised in the greatest country on earth and proud as hell of it, so don’t ever call me a Polack. (Scene-Seven)
ii. I was common as dirt. (Scene-Seven)
Both of these examples show exaggeration of being an American person and common as dirt, which is not possible.
- Imagery: A Streetcar Named Desire shows the use of imagery such as,
But when the rooster catches sight of the farmer th’owing the corn he puts on the brakes and lets the hen get away and starts pecking corn. And the old farmer says, “Lord God, I hopes I never gits that hongry!” (Scene-One)
ii. I simply couldn’t rise to the occasion. That was all. I don’t think I’ve ever tried so hard to be gay and made such a dismal mess of it. I get ten points for trying! —I did try. (Scene-Six)
These two examples show images of feeling, sight, and movement.
- Metaphor: A Streetcar Named Desire shows good use of various metaphors such as,
Why no. You are as fresh as a daisy. (Scene-Two)
ii. Their literary heritage is not what most of them treasure above all else! But they’re sweet things! (Scene-Three)
iii. He didn’t know what he was doing. . . . He was as good as a lamb when I came back and he’s really very, very ashamed of himself. (Scene-Four)
These examples show that several things have been compared directly in the play such as the first one shows the lady compared to a flower, the second shows literature compared to sweet things, and the third shows the person compared to a lamb.
- Mood: The play, A Streetcar Named Desire, shows various moods; it starts with a carefree and jolly mood when Blanche arrives at her sister’s apartment and starts becoming tense, worrisome, and finally tragic when she goes to the asylum.
- Motif: Most important motifs of the play, A Streetcar Named Desire, are light, bathing and drunkenness.
- Personification: The play shows examples of personifications such as,
Faded white stairs ascend to the entrances of both. (Scene-One)
ii. You can almost feel the warm breath of the brown river beyond the river warehouses with their faint redolences of bananas and coffee. (Scene-One)
iii. Its grey front stood out well from the background of a rookery, whose cawing tenants were now on the wing: they flew over the lawn and grounds to alight in a great meadow, from which these were separated by a sunk fence, and where an array of mighty old thorn trees, strong, knotty, and broad as oaks, at once explained the etymology of the mansion’s designation. (Chapter-XII)
These examples show as if the watches and the trees have feelings and life of their own.
- Protagonist: Blanche DuBois is the protagonist of the play despite her being not able to stand up to the stature of good person in most situations.
- Setting: The setting of the play, A Streetcar Named Desire, is in the Downtown of New Orleans city in the French Quarter area.
- Simile: The play shows a good use of various similes such as,
And when he comes back I cry on his lap like a baby. (Scene-One)
ii. It’s a French name. It means woods and Blanche means white, so the two together mean white woods. Like an orchard in spring! You can remember it by that. (Scene-Two)
iii. Mitch is delighted and moves in awkward imitation like a dancing bear. (Scene-Four)
These are similes as the use of the word “like” shows the comparison between different things.