Introduction to A Streetcar Named Desire
A Streetcar Named Desire was written by the great American playwright, Tennessee Williams. It was first played on the stage on Broadway in 1947 after which it became Williams’s representative play. It is also considered 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 beauty from the South, who goes through tough times in her life after she sells her mansion and goes to live in a tiny 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 who is a teacher comes to New Orleans to live with her sister after she loses her inherited property. She rather expresses shock at the neglected condition of the apartment, which is nothing 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 apartment’s condition, Blanche knows that she must adjust as she can’t afford to stay in a hotel, causing resentment and quarrel in the apartment. Stanley Kowalski rather dislikes her for her fake snobbery, making Stella pleased 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 debauchery and alcoholism.
On the other hand, Stella is seen as a victim of sexual desire by Stanley, her husband. He also hosts parties at home where his friend, Mitch falls for Blanche. When Stanley sees this, he storms into the bedroom to discourage their meeting. Stanley also finds a reason to physically abuse Stella. The game comes to an end after both sisters go to Eunice’s, the neighboring apartment. However, when Stanley cries for Stella, she instantly forgives and returns, embracing him passionately. Brooding over this matching mismatch, Blanche asks her sister to leave her husband, and meet Shep Huntleigh, a millionaire, inviting laughter from Stella. However, when they are engaged in feminine conversation, Stanley eavesdrops, causing alarm in Stanley’s mind on knowing about her past.
Meanwhile, Blanche even flirts with the newspaper boy once as she can’t afford to pay for it. On the same day, she goes 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 celebrate Blanche’s birthday, inviting Mitch as well. In bitterness, Stanley tells about Blanche’s past troubles as well as the reason for her job loss. Mitch deliberately misses her birthday, after knowing about her affairs. And Stanley brings a one-way back ticket, asking her to leave yet Stella’s imminent delivery of the baby prevents the issue temporarily. 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 make love to her. Blanche who felt betrayed raises an alarm and makes Mitch leave. Meanwhile, Stanley also arrives, finding Blanche alone and drunk. He insults her, teases her about the imaginary millionaire, Shep Huntleigh, and ravishes her.
That incident makes Blanche lose her sense of reality. Stella refuses to believe her claim that Stanley had abused her. Thus, she suffers from hysteria after which a doctor arrives to take her to the asylum, leaving Stella mourning for her sister’s insanity and Stanley comforting. Mitch to feels sorry and helpless.
Major Themes in A Streetcar Named Desire
- Fantasy: The play shows the theme of fantasy as Blanche DuBois lives 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 the reality of losing her mansion and that the world does not accept a carefree and pretentious woman, even if she is not unkind toward anyone. Her illusion further gets complicated when she is dating Mitch but is ravished by Stanley, her brother-in-law. Stella, her sister, is a realist but still lives in her fantasy while ignoring the domestic and sexual abuse by her husband Stanely. However, contrary to both the sisters, Stanley is a realist who manipulates circumstances as well as people for his own interests.
- Dependence: The play demonstrates the theme of dependence and independence through Blanche DuBois and Stella Stanley, her sister with whom she comes to live in the messy apartment. Although Stella also suffers due to her husband’s unruly and untrustworthy behavior, she depends on him, a man, who is supposed to provide her home and comfort. On the other hand, Blanche has lost her home and 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 Stanley and Blanche. When Blanche visits her sister’s apartment, she comes to blows with her brother-in-law, deriding their poverty and criticizing their poor lifestyle. He doesn’t like Blanche’s sudden personal attack and retaliates crudely to her verbal attacks and even resorts to ravishing her. He even goes as far as to provoke Mitch into leaving her. 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 her child.
- 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 small apartment. Blanche sees this world 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. 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 character Blanche Dubois. In fact, the carnal desires become the motivation for her social mobility literally and symbolically. When she reaches her sister, her behavior toward her sister and her household is noticed by Stanley, her brother-in-law. He doesn’t like what he hears launches retaliatory accusations and even ravishes her to satisfy her promiscuous desire. In fact, her eviction from Belle Reve and school 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 beauty 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.
- Loneliness: The theme of isolation and loneliness can be seen mostly through Blanche’s life. She has lost her house, Belle Reve. She arrives in New Orleans to live with her sister after being abandoned by her relatives and her first husband’s death. This loneliness forces her to make bad choices. Her behavior does not match the time in which she is living. She is sent to the asylum for having mental issues after her abuse and failed relationships.
Major Characters A Streetcar Named Desire
- Blanche Dubois: Blanche Dubois is the main character. She is a very complicated central figure of the play who is haughty outwardly but highly vulnerable on the inside. A symbol of a decayed southern belle tradition, she has lost her Belle Reve, ancestral mansion, and her job. After moving to her sister’s place, she berates the conditions of her apartment as well as her lowly husband. She starts dating her husband’s friend, Mitch, who is also from a simple background. Blanche has already lost one husband to suicide. She tries hard to escape realities by living in illusions. Her brother-in-law tries to send her away and even abuses her. She is finally sent to a lunatic asylum after Stanley, her brother-in-law calls a doctor and a nurse.
- Stella Kowalski: Stella is young and pregnant by Stanley Kowalski at the start of the play. She’s also a realist who fears her life will be ruined in case she leaves her husband. Impulsive in nature, she fights with her sister but compromises with her husband after the abuse immediately. 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: Stanley is the antagonist and physically sturdy. He is not only passionate but also aggressive and cunning. He doesn’t want Blanche at his home. He attacks her physically and sexually and breaks her relationship with Mitch in revenge. Despite his controlling and dominant nature, he wastes most of his time playing with his friends and proves very calculated. He calls for the doctor to take his sister-in-law to an asylum on account of her mental illness while hiding his crime.
- Harold Mitchell: In the story, he is known as Mitch. Harold Mitchell appears tough but he is sympathetic. He feels the heavy impact of the death of his mother. Initially, Blanche succeeds in attracting him but later when he comes to know her past and refuses to marry her.
- Eunice Hubbell: Eunice is a very social person who intervenes in every fight when it seems easy to resolve. She helps Blanche and Stella when Stanley becomes uncontrolled. She encourages Stella to stay calm and cool to make her married life work. Her advice works, and Stella stays with her husband despite the domestic violence.
- Steve Hubbell: Steve is significant in the course of the novel as the owner of the building and Stanley’s friend. He 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: Pablo seems significant as another player with Steve, Mitch, and Stanley and often cuts them short with his Spanish utterances.
- The Doctor: The doctor comes to take away Blanche who was abused and lost her sense of reality. After the initial method fails, he calms her down and takes her with him with the help of a nurse.
- The Nurse: The nurse is seen as an impassionate person 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 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 meaning, showing the excessive stress Williams on the 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 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 ravishment 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 the violent attack. 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 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, 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 that the watches and the trees have feelings and lives of their own.
- Protagonist: Blanche DuBois is the protagonist of the play despite her being not able to stand up to the stature of a 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 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.