A Streetcar Named Desire
Author Tennessee Williams (Thomas Lanier Williams, 19111983)
First Produced 1947
Locale New Orleans, Louisiana
Time of Plot The 1940s|
Type of Work Drama
BLANCHE DUBOIS, a neurotic young woman in her late twenties
STELLA KOWALSKI, her younger sister
STANLEY KOWALSKI, Stellas husband, a primitive, brutal man
HAROLD MITCHELL (MITCH), and
PABLO GONZALES, Stanleys poker-playing friends
EUNICE HUBBELL, Steves wife
A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE was Tennessee Williams third New York success, winning for its author the 1948 Pulitzer Prize and a second New York Critics Circle award. Williams won the earlier award for THE GLASS MENAGERIE in 1945. The play has been successful in a number of translations, notably French, German, Spanish, and Italian. One of its peculiar strengths is the attraction of the role of Blanche for such important actresses as Jessica Tandy and Vivien Leigh. Also, the role of Stanley served to establish the acting career of Marlon Brando.
The Elysian Fields address of the Kowalski family is not really in the French Quarter of New Orleans, although Mitch identifies it as French Quarter in contradiction to Williams introductory description. There was, perhaps, a concession to stage designers attracted to fan light windows and period lamp posts. In point of fact, the set designer was Jo Meilziner, and the set he produced for this play is one of the glories of his craft. Street cars, however, do not fit into the small streets of the French Quarter. Possibly Williams envisioned a drearier neighborhood, one with less color and character. The choice of New Orleans as a setting for his play comes from its transplanted Mediterranean character. In the context of D. H. Lawrence and Tennessee Williams, such an atmosphere is a good place to discuss desire.
Two street cars, one named Desire, the other Cemeteries, bring Blanche on a spring afternoon to the Elysian Fields address of her sister Stella, whom she has not seen since Stellas marriage to Stanley Kowalski. Blanche, dressed in a fluttering white garden party outfit, jars against the shabbiness and menace of the neighborhood from her first appearance. The blowsy proprietress of the building admits her to the Kowalski apartment some minutes before Stellas return. One of Blanches primary weaknesses is established in that brief time when, after a successful search for Stanleys whiskey, she drinks a half-glass of it neat.
When Stella returns, Blanche makes only a token effort to hide her dismay at her sisters new surroundings. Stella is happy with her wild man and regards Blanches criticisms with good-humored tolerance. Blanche turns on Stella and defends herself against a fancied accusation that she had allowed Belle Reve, the family mansion, to be lost. When Stanley enters some time later, he greets Blanche brusquely. When he mentions her dead husband, Blanche becomes confused and shaken, and then ill. One of the expressionistic touches in the play is the polka that drifts out of the atmosphere like an operatic leitmotif whenever Blanches husband is mentioned. Later, while Blanche is in the bath, he and Stella are free to discuss the implications of her sudden visit. Stella asks him not to tell Blanche that she is going to have a baby, a request that Stanley disregards. Stanley is suspicious over the loss of Belle Reve and imagines himself cheated of some property. He tears open Blanches trunk looking for papers. Blanche enters, makes a pretext to get Stella out of the house, and presents him with legal papers detailing the forfeiture of all the DuBois property. Blanche demonstrates a bewildering variety of moods in this scene; she flirts with Stanley, discusses the legal transactions with calm irony, becomes abruptly hysterical when Stanley picks up some old love letters written by her dead husband. Her reaction to the news that Stella is going to have a baby is reverent wonderment.
Williams designates the third scene of the play "The Poker Night," a title he once chose for the entire play. It is Stanleys poker night with two cronies as violent as himself, and a third, Mitch, a large sentimental man who lives with his mother. Stella and Blanche enter after an evening in the French Quarter that they have extended to two-thirty in the morning in order to keep out of the way of the poker game. They cross into the bedroom, separated only by portieres from the living room, and meet Mitch as he leaves the bathroom. Blanche looks after him with some interest as he returns to the game. She begins undressing in a shaft of light through the portieres that she knows will expose her to the men in the next room. She dons a robe in time for Mitchs next trip to the bathroom. Out of the game, he stops to talk to Blanche. During their conversation she adopts an air of primness and innocence. Not wanting Mitch to see how old she really is, she asks him to cover the naked light bulb with a little Chinese lantern she had bought in the French Quarter. They dance briefly to some music from the radio, but when the radio distracts the poker players, Stanley becomes violent and throws the radio out of the window, at the same setting off displays of temperament that involve everyone on stage. Blanche and Stella flee to the upstairs apartment, leaving the men to deal with an outraged Stanley. When Stanley discovers that he is alone, he bellows up the stairway like a lost animal until Stella comes down to him.
The next morning Blanche persists in regarding as desperate a situation that Stella has long since accepted as pleasantly normal. Blanche remembers an old admirer, Shep Huntleigh, who she thinks will rescue them. When Stella defends Stanley, Blanche retaliates with a long speech describing Stanley as a Stone Age man. The noise of Stanleys entry covered by the sound of a train, he hears the entire speech. To keep them from realizing that he has overheard, he leaves and enters again. Stella runs into his arms.
When Scene Five begins, the time is well into a humid Louisiana summer. Blanche and Mitch have been dating and she is hoping for a proposal of marriage. Stanley, who has been making investigations into Blanches conduct in Laurel, Mississippi, torments Blanche with hints of what he has found out. At the end of this scene, Blanche is left alone on stage. A young man comes to the door to collect for the newspaper. Blanche makes tentative advances to him. Before he leaves, she kisses him very gently on the lips. This scene makes an ambiguous impression in performance, adding one more hint of Blanches depravity, but combining in this young man a seventeen-year-old boy she had corrupted while teaching in a high school and the young man who was her husband.
In the following scene, later in the evening, Blanche and Mitch return from a date. He stays on for a talk in which Blanche tells him she is hardly able to put up with Stanleys boorishness any longer. Mitch almost stops the conversation by asking Blanche how old she is. His mother wants to know. Blanche diverts his attention from her age by telling him about her husband. She and the boy had married when they were very young. One evening she discovered her husband in a homosexual act with an older man. Later, while they danced to the Varsouviana at a casino outside town, she confronted him with her knowledge. Rushing outside, the young man shot himself. In some way, the mood of this speech prompts the long-awaited proposal from Mitch. Blanche is incoherent with gratitude and relief.
The last section of the play begins in autumn, on Blanches birthday. Like D. H. Lawrence, Williams is fond of giving zodiacal signs for his characters. Stanley is Capricorn, Blanche Virgothe goat and the virgin. Stella has prepared a birthday dinner for Blanche. Stanley spoils it as effectively as he can. First he tells Stella that Blanche was a prostitute at a disreputable hotel in Laurel, a hotel she was asked to leave. She lost her high school job because of an affair with a seventeen-year-old student. At first Stella refuses to believe Stanley. Then she defends Blanches behavior as a reaction to a tragic marriage. Stanley has given the same information to Mitch, who does not appear for the birthday dinner. The evening is a shambles. Stanley climaxes the scene by smashing the dinner dishes on the floor and giving Blanche his birthday present, a bus ticket back to Laurel. At this point Stella reveals that she is in labor, and Stanley takes her to the hospital.
Much later that same evening Mitch comes to the Kowalski apartment in an ugly mood. He repeats to Blanche the lurid details of her past that he has learned from Stanley. Angrily she admits them and volunteers worse. A symbolic counterpoint to this scene is provided by an old Mexican woman selling her flowers for the dead in the street outside the house. Mitch no longer wants to marry Blanche, but he begins a clumsy sexual assault on her that she repels by screaming, illogically, that the building is on fire.
With the help of Stanleys liquor Blanche retreats into the safety of madness. When Stanley returns from the hospital she has decked herself fantastically in scraps of old finery from her trunk. Their long conflict reaches a bizarre resolution. He decides to rape her. Their struggle is underlined by jazz music from a neighboring bar and by a fight between a drunk and a prostitute in the street outside.
In the final scene Blanche is taken away to an asylum. Stella cannot accept her sisters story that Stanley has raped her. To do so would mean the end of her marriage. (In the Hollywood movie Stella trundled the baby carriage off down the street in self-righteous indignation.) To persuade Blanche to leave quietly, Stella has told her that Shep Huntleigh has come for her. Another poker game is in progress. When Blanche sees the attendants she is at first frightened, but quickly responds to their kindness. Her long exit is invested with real tragic import. Mitch rages at Stanley and has to be pulled off him by the other men. Stanley comforts Stellas weeping, and the neighborhood returns to normal, its values undisturbed.
A major difficulty with the play is the problem of identification with Blanche or Stanley. Blanche is psychotic and outside the range of our identification, however we may pity her. If we are to be psychologically sophisticated and accept her nymphomania, alcoholism, and exhibitionism as something any of us would do, then we must question the plays assertion that these things were induced by early widowhood, however shocking the circumstances. If Stanley represents the natural man, his code for judging Blanche seems middle class and harsh rather than primitive. He is most appealing in his sensual exchanges with Stella, but his cruelty antagonizes us elsewhere in the play.
Whatever the confusion in point, the work exhibits characters of unusual vividness. The dialogue is natural and frequently eloquent. The events compel our interest and sympathy, and in the theater are often electrifying.
Introduction to Tennessee Williams
He was born on March 26, 1911, in the Episcopal rectory of his grandfather in Columbus, Mississippi. Christened Thomas Lanier, he was the second child and first son of Cornelius Coffin Williams, a traveling salesman for a shoe company, and Edwina Dakin Williams, the daughter of the local rector.
See - Tennessee Williams: 1911-1983: His influence in the American Theater has been monumental. As the "fool" that walked "where angels fear to tread," he has helped to create an atmosphere of freedom for up-and-coming playwrights.
When young Williams was eight years old, his father was promoted to a managerial position with his company's subsidiary in St. Louis. Leaving the rural, leisurely life in Mississippi, the family moved to St. Louis. For Williams, and for his older sister Rose, the uprooting was violent. Throughout his adolescence and youth the family lived in a succession of small apartments which were a far cry from the comfortable home of his childhood. A sensitive youth, his life became increasingly interior. He was extremely close to his mother and sister, but felt little affection for his father, whose bluntness and rough manner alienated the boy.
Early Interest In Writing
When Williams was eleven years old, his mother bought him a typewriter, and from that moment he began to turn out works of fact and fiction by the carload. Once he began writing he did not stop for a day. Poems, vignettes, sketches and short stories flickered to life. His abundant imagination had found the perfect means for expression. After graduating from high school, he entered the University of Missouri, where he spent two years as a journalism major. By now it was 1932, the height of the Depression, and Williams' academic career came to a halt when his father withdrew him from college and shuttled him into a position as clerk with his firm. Williams' three years with the shoe company were probably the most difficult and unhappy of his entire life. The drudgery was endless and his anguish was intensified by his inability to find time to pursue his writing. Unable to write during the day, he tried to write in the evenings and into the night. Finally the inevitable happened: the combination of long hours of work he hated and long nights of subsistence on coffee and cigarettes took its toll. He suffered a breakdown. Fortunately, he recovered rapidly and was sent to his grandparents' home, now in Tennessee, to convalesce. That summer, Williams wrote his first play, a comedy called Cairo! Shanghai! Bombay!, about two sailors on shore leave who become involved in a series of riotous adventures. It was presented at a small summer theatre and its warm reception encouraged the young writer to continue with playwriting.
Free of the shoe company, he enrolled at Washington University, St. Louis, where he hoped to complete his education. His imagination fired by writers like Anton Chekhov and D. H. Lawrence, he turned out a second play, The Magic Tower, which was produced in 1936 by a local theatre group. He entered the senior class at Washington University and joined a dynamic group of young actors and writers called The Mummers. Stimulated by his association with this exciting and invigorating troupe, Williams wrote two more dramas, a one-act pacifist play called Headlines, and a full-length drama entitled Me, Vashya!, which dealt with a munitions maker who during World War I sold his products alternately to the highest bidders.
Despite his newly discovered vocation, Williams' final year at Washington University was a dismal one. His general apathy for the classroom was one reason. Another was his issue with the school over a matter of policy. But something much more serious than school setbacks was preying on his mind during the years of 1936 and 1937. The relationship between his parents was becoming increasingly hostile. In a few years it would disintegrate into a separation; now it made home life difficult. In the midst of this friction and despair another catastrophe was evolving. Rose Williams was succumbing to mental illness. The anguish Williams felt at this was almost unbearable. She had been almost his exclusive companion during childhood and the ties between them were intensely close. Nine years later, after Rose was hopelessly committed to an institution, Williams would pay his most moving tribute to her in his semi-autobiographical drama, The Glass Menagerie. But in 1936, in the midst of extreme despair, Williams turned to his writing with an almost demoniac intensity. Candles to the Sun, a violent story of the exploitation of Alabama coal miners, was too strong for the stomachs of many critics when it was produced by the Mummers, although it received a generally enthusiastic response from audiences in St. Louis.
Initial Success And Failure
In 1937 Rose was sent to an institution and Williams' final tie with his home and family was broken. He had been dropped from Washington University more from a lack of interest than anything else, but as autumn came around he again became determined to complete college. Feeling he needed a change of atmosphere, he enrolled at the University of Iowa, where he wrote three plays. The first, The Fugitive Kind, was sent act by act to the Mummers in St. Louis who produced it in 1938. It dealt with the dredges of humanity and was replete with stock characters including the beautiful but "lost" heroine. Williams' other two plays at Iowa were written for the late Professor E. C. Mabie's seminar in playwriting. Spring Storm was a play very specifically about love. Not About Nightingales, begun at Iowa and completed in St. Louis during the summer of 1938, was about a prison riot based upon an actual occurrence at the time. The Mummers were eager to produce it but the Depression had finally taken its toll. In financial straits, they were unable to go on and they disbanded before they could stage the play.
In the spring of 1938, Williams received his Bachelors degree from the University of Iowa. He returned to St. Louis for a few months, then journeyed to New Orleans where he hoped to join the W.P.A. Writers' Project. He was unsuccessful but he remained in New Orleans during the autumn and winter of 1938. He felt thoroughly at ease in the Bohemian atmosphere of the old city, and he marked what he felt to be his newly found liberation with a change of name. He dropped the name Thomas and dubbed himself Tennessee. That winter he wrote one-act plays dealing for the most part with the individual's struggle for freedom in the face of hopeless odds. Almost all these short plays manifested an acute social consciousness on the part of their author.
The turning point in Williams' life presented itself quite unobtrusively. Through a small article in a paper he learned that the Group Theatre in New York was sponsoring a playwriting contest. He submitted his four long plays, Candles to the Sun, The Fugitive Kind, Spring Storm, and Not About Nightingales, together with a group of his one-acters which he named American Blues. Not only did Williams win an award from the Group Theatre for the American Blues selection, but, more importantly for him, he won the admiration of theatrical agent Audrey Wood, whose friend Molly Day Thatcher was one of the Group Theatre's judges. Miss Wood contacted the young writer and he became her client. While he continued to write she began to see what financial assistance she could get for him. She succeeded admirably, obtaining a Rockefeller grant enabling Williams to come to New York. In New York he enrolled at the New School for Social Research, where John Gassner and Theresa Helburn were conducting a playwriting seminar. It was here that Williams completed a play which he had begun earlier, Battle of Angels. With Gassner's help, the Theatre Guild took an option on it and prepared to open it in New York in the winter of 1941. But after an unsuccessful pre-Broadway engagement the drama closed in Boston and Williams' first big opportunity ended in failure. He was to wait five years for another chance. In the meantime he continued to write. He turned out short stories and poems, some of which were published in small literary magazines; he revised Battle of Angels; and he worked on new plays. He completed a one-act drama about the last days of D. H. Lawrence, which he titled I Rise In Flame, Cried the Phoenix. Early in 1942 he completed a full-length play called Stairs to the Roof, which is a fantasy about a young man who liberates himself from the drudgery of a job with a shirt manufacturer very similar to the shoe company in which Williams had worked. He also wrote a play in collaboration with a friend, Donald Windham. It was called You Touched Me! and was based upon a short story of the same name by D. H. Lawrence. To support himself while writing, Williams took a variety of odd jobs from a night elevator operator to a waiter in an all-night cafe. He roamed from New York to Florida, living a hand-to-mouth existence as he sought new material and new inspiration. In the spring of 1943, through the efforts of Audrey Wood, Williams obtained a position as a scriptwriter for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in Hollywood. But he soon found that he did not care for his new vocation. He listlessly worked on a few scenarios, but spent most of his time on an original screenplay titled The Gentleman Caller. He submitted it to the studio but it was rejected, so he refashioned it into a stage play and renamed it The Glass Menagerie.
The play was optioned to producer-director-actor Eddie Dowling, who cast the aging Laurette Taylor in the role of the mother and himself as the narrator, Tom Wingfield. At first nothing seemed to go well. There was bickering among the members of the company, Miss Taylor seemed to be unsteady in the part, and as the troupe arrived in Chicago for the pre-Broadway opening in December of 1944, a pall of gloom seemed to hang over everyone. But on opening night, December 26, the pall was dispelled in a burst of theatrical radiance. Miss Taylor gave a luminous performance and the critics were lavish in their praise of her and of the play and its author. Even after this auspicious beginning, hard luck continued to haunt The Glass Menagerie. Despite the glowing reviews, the play failed to draw audiences and the producers decided to close it. But again the press came to the rescue. The Chicago drama critics exhorted the public to attend the new drama, and slowly at first, and then in increasing numbers, the public attended. By the end of its third week in Chicago, The Glass Menagerie was playing to full and enthusiastic houses. On March 31, 1945, the play opened in New York to immediate critical and popular acclaim, and on April 1, after more than fifteen years of continual effort and disappointment, Tennessee Williams was being hailed as an overnight success.
Further Success And The Pulitzer Prize
With The Glass Menagerie an established hit, Williams and Donald Windham began to prepare their collaboration, You Touched Me!, for Broadway. It opened only six months after The Glass Menagerie. The latter was still enjoying a successful run, and `You Touched Me! paled considerably by the inevitable critical comparison. A slight play, without the depth of characterization found in The Glass Menagerie, You Touched Me! managed a modest run of a few months. But Williams was already immersed in work on two new dramas, Summer and Smoke and The Poker Night. He finished them almost at the same time and retitled The Poker Night as A Streetcar Named Desire. It opened first, on December 3, 1947, and confirmed the talent and promise inherent in The Glass Menagerie. Unanimously hailed by critics and audiences alike, it was subsequently awarded both the Drama Critics' Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and it established its creator as the leading American playwright of his generation. Summer and Smoke opened in October of 1948 to a mixed critical reception. Like You Touched Me!, it had the misfortune to open when it could still be compared with a Williams success still playing on Broadway. It had a moderate run, and Williams, disappointed, returned to his writing.
He continued to work on Battle Of Angels, which, since its failure in Boston, eight years before, had become a kind of private obsession with him. He wrote a few short stories which he collected with some earlier ones into a volume called One Arm. In a few years a second collection of stories entitled Hard Candy would also be published. Two new works evolved out of a few months' time he spent in Italy. One was a novella called The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone and the other a play, The Rose Tattoo. Williams had written the latter with the tempestuous Italian actress, Anna Magnani, in mind, but she was unable to perform in it (although she later played in the movie version). The drama, which opened on February 3,1951, was a moderate success. In 1953 Williams tasted failure in his cruelest professional reversal since the collapse of Battle of Angels. His most ambitious undertaking, Camino Real, was a flop on Broadway. Since A Streetcar Named Desire six years before, his works had been greeted with diminishing enthusiasm by critics and audiences alike. Williams was plagued by doubts. He was not getting younger and to all apparent purposes he had attained his artistic peak six years previously. The following year was a difficult one for the playwright. He continued to write but could not shake the feeling that possibly all his efforts were in vain. He again returned to Battle of Angels, determined to justify the drama which he felt had never been given a fair chance. He also began to write a play based upon one of his short stories. During the summer and autumn of 1954 this play became his main project. He called it Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. When he completed the first version he showed it to director Elia Kazan, who had staged A Streetcar Named Desire and Camino Real. Despite reservations about the final act (which was revised in the Broadway production) Kazan was enthusiastic and took the directing assignment. Cat On A Hot Tin Roof opened in March, 1955, to critical and popular acclaim. It garnered Williams his second Pulitzer Prize and reestablished him as one of America's most vital and powerful dramatists.
In 1956 Williams accomplished the feat he had hoped to for sixteen years. He at last brought Battle Of Angels to Broadway. Much of it was rewritten and it also had a new title, Orpheus Descending, but it remained in essence the same play Williams had written in 1939. Its fate was somewhat better than that of Battle Of Angels, but it was neither a critical nor a popular success. Williams was bitterly disappointed. He had invested more of himself in it than in any other play and now it had collapsed a second time. He became gloomy and morose. But the failure of Orpheus Descending was not at the core of his depression. Death had struck the Williams family twice in the past two years. In 1955 the Reverend Walter Dakin, Williams' maternal grandfather, died of a stroke. He had lived a long, full life, and his death was not a shock to the playwright, but Williams was deeply saddened. The relationship between the old man and his grandson had been based upon a deep mutual admiration and respect, and the playwright felt his loss keenly. In 1957 Williams' father died in Knoxville, Tennessee. Although the relationship between the father and son had always been strained, Williams was at last able to understand and pity this older man who had misunderstood his family and had been in turn misunderstood by them. The surviving members of the family were now Mrs. Williams, Dakin, a younger brother, and Rose, still incurably ill. The pressures and anxieties resulting from the deaths in his family, from Rose's illness, and from the failures of Camino Real and Orpheus Descending, plagued Williams throughout 1957. It was out of this oppressive situation that the playwright wrote Suddenly Last Summer, a one-act play which he since stated was a kind of personal catharsis. It was his first play, since a successful revival of Summer And Smoke, to be performed Off-Broadway, and it received a substantial run.
Williams followed the success of Suddenly Last Summer with Sweet Bird Of Youth, which opened on Broadway in March of 1959. The play was an overwhelming popular success and proved to be the most substantial triumph for the playwright since Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. By this time Williams' writing for the stage had to share a position of importance with his work in films. Most of his major plays were being made into films and he was busy writing the screenplays for some of them. In 1956 he had written an original screenplay based on three of his short dramas. It was called Baby Doll and was made into a highly controversial motion picture.
But the theatre remained Williams' first love and he returned to it enthusiastically. Period Of Adjustment, a comedy about marital problems, was produced in 1960. It was followed a year later by Night Of The Iguana and in 1962 by The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore. By the beginning of 1964, Tennessee Williams was working on drafts of two new plays.
On the evening of March 31, 1945, the New York drama critics, along with hundreds of theater enthusiasts, witnessed the arrival of one of America's most promising young playwrights, Tennessee Williams. The opening night of The Glass Menagerie did not meet with the unanimous approval of the critics; the memory of a Boston failure, Battle of Angels in 1940, was still vividly recalled. But two years later, on December 3, 1947, the expectations of Williams' faithful admirers were undeniably justified when A Streetcar Named Desire opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theater in New York City. It was acclaimed as "the most moving American play of the past dozen years." Tennessee Williams' career as a playwright was fully established-but not without anguish and difficulties.
He was born Thomas Lanier Williams on March 26, 1911 in the rectory of the Episcopal church in Columbus, Mississippi. His mother, Edwina, was the daughter of a clergyman in Delta County, the Reverend Walter E. Dakin. She was gentle, strait-laced, prim, and vivacious, and romantically attracted to life on the beautiful Southern plantations. She had a strain of Puritanism in her which stood in marked contrast to the dueling-pistol-corn-liquor brand-background of her husband, Cornelius Coffin Williams.
Tennessee's father was a violent, aggressive man with a gruff, booming voice. A descendant of frontiersmen and Indian fighters, he had himself been a lieutenant in the Spanish-American War. This heritage of adventurousness and violence fused with his mother's romanticism and Southern gentility seems to have determined the conflict of emotions expressed in Williams' plays.
When he met Edwina Dakin, Cornelius Williams was working for the telephone company in Memphis. Shortly after their marriage, he became a travelling shoe salesman for the International Shoe Company. Since he was always on the road, his wife was compelled to return to her family in Mississippi. Thus young Tom spent the first eight years of his life, along with his mother and his older sister Rose, under the influence and tutelage of his beloved grandfather, Reverend Dakin.
Early Years In Mississippi
Life in the Columbian rectory was rather sheltered, but Tom loved to tag along after his grandfather on parish calls and listen to the conversations. At the age of five, young Williams became ill with diphtheria, the first of many illnesses. During his convalescent period he was very much pampered by his mother, who read to him constantly. His grandfather, who was "crazy" about Edgar Allan Poe and macabre stories, recited poetry to him. This early exposure to literature developed a strong interest in reading and a rich imagination, but Williams' many illnesses also made him a hypochondriac, and he remained delicate and shy. During these years, his sister Rose was his constant companion. He regarded her as a symbol of loveliness.
Years In St Louis
In 1918, when Williams was eight years old, his family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, to join his father who had been promoted to sales manager of a branch office. But the close union of father and son proved disastrous. Cornelius Williams was a man with a strong masculine personality, and he found it difficult to accept his quiet, sensitive son. He tried to encourage Tom in baseball and other virile activities, but young Williams' inability to conform to his father's demands led the latter to denounce him as "sissified." Tom regarded such treatment with bitter resentment and withdrew further into a world of feminine companionship, his mother and his sister Rose.
Life in St. Louis was tainted with bitterness and resentment for the younger Williams. He found it difficult to adjust to living in small, shabby apartments, a necessity caused by his father's refusal to support the family adequately. He hated the school he attended because of the ridicule and abuse he received from the other boys. Only in the presence of his sister Rose, and the little world of unreality they built together, was life tolerable.
Rose, too, was affected by the move to St. Louis. She was entering puberty, but due to the lack of a stable family life, she was unable to make the transition successfully. Filled with fear and anxiety, Rose became mentally ill, finding it totally impossible to communicate with the world of reality. Thus Thomas Williams was left alone in a world of reality which he did not enjoy. To find his escape, he turned to writing.
Beginning Of A Writing Career
When he was twelve, Mrs. Williams presented her son with a gift of a ten-dollar typewriter. Sitting behind the typewriter in the solitude of his small and lonely room. Tennessee found it possible to forget his uncomfortable connection with the outside world. The moment he began writing, he found not only a satisfaction, but a desperate need for the means of expression it offered him.
Recognition first came to Williams as the result of writing contests. He won his first prize of $24 in a contest sponsored by a Southern women's poetry club. While in high school, he received $35 for a story titled "The Vengeance of Nitocris" when it was sold to the Magazine, Weird Tales. For answering the question "Can a Good Wife Be a Good Sport," a publication called Smart Set awarded him $25. Ironically, he also received recognition from his father, who believed the success of a job was measured by its monetary value.
Writing became part of Williams' daily routine. He wrote poems, stories, film reviews, and contest essays. After finishing high school, he entered the University of Missouri as a major in journalism. Within two years, Williams realized his interest in writing did not include the recording of news. Bored with his studies, he became involved in fraternity life and neglected his classes. His grades fell. When his father discovered that he had failed a course in R.O.T.C., he forced Williams to withdraw from school.
From Clerk To Playwright
The Great Depression of 1929 was now in full swing. As a practical man, Corneluis Williams entered his son in the world of business. Williams became a clerk in the shoe factory that employed his father. He was totally unsuited for the job, but persisted in it for two years. His only means of escape from the drudgery of his meaningless employment were his evenings of writing. Night after night, when supper was finished, he would go to his room and type until three or four o'clock in the morning. At six o'clock in the morning, his mother would call him with the familiar "Rise and shine, rise and shine," as Amanda does in The Glass Menagerie. When she opened his door, she usually found him lying across his bed, still fully clothed.
Two years later Williams was back with his grandparents at their new home in Memphis, recuperating from a nervous breakdown. An excess of coffee, cigarettes, and long hours of writing had broken his health, but had liberated him from the monotony of the shoe factory.
Interest In Drama
During his period of convalescence in Memphis in the summer of 1935, Williams was introduced, for the first time, to drama. He wrote a play for the Rose Arbor little-theater group called, Cairo! Shanghai! Bombay! For the audience, the play-about the adventures of two sailors on shore leave-was a moderate success. For Williams, the discovery of the thrill of people responding to his work confirmed him in the belief that the theater was the medium that would make use of his best efforts.
On his return to St. Louis, he continually sought outlets for his newly discovered interest. He became a member of a group of young poets headed by a poet called Clark Mills. This association proved invaluable in his formative years. Through it, he became acquainted with the works of Anton Chekhov, Herman Melville, Rainer Maria Rilke, D. H. Lawrence, and Hart Crane-his greatest poetic idol.
Four Plays And "The Mummers"
Under the influence of such literary greats, he wrote his second play, The Magic Tower, which was produced in 1936 by a little-theater group in Webster Groves, Missouri. He then became associated with a small theatrical group in St. Louis called the "Mummers." Williams was greatly stimulated by this small acting group which, he says, was "a disorderly theater group of St. Louis, standing socially, if not artistically, opposite to the usual Little Theater groups." They produced three of the playwright's works; Headlines, a one-act play denouncing compulsory military training, used as a curtain raiser for Irwin Shaw's play, Bury The Dead; Candles to the Sun, a full length drama depicting the life and despair of the laboring population in an Alabama mining camp; and Fugitive Kind, a character study of destitute men in the slums of St. Louis.
While writing plays for the Mummers, Williams had the opportunity to develop a fuller understanding of the theater. He grew sensitive to the use of light, music, and theatrical effects. He had always been attracted to a world of make-believe, but not without a sense of guilt; it had remained for him an escape when the pressures of reality were too great. In the theater, Williams discovered the means of treating reality through a kind of make-believe, using symbolism and poetic language.
A Lost Contest
During his association with the Mummers, Williams enrolled as a senior at Washington University, St. Louis. In one of his classes, playwriting, each student was to submit a one-act play at the end of the year to be judged in competition for a $50 prize. Williams' entry was a play about a World War I munitions manufacturer who sold his products to the highest bidder: Me, Vashya. Encouraged by the success of his work with the Mummers, Williams fully expected to win the contest. When his name did not appear among the winners, he reacted violently; it was a humiliation which he could not endure. He terminated his association with the University before the end of the year.
But Williams' interest in writing persisted, as did his concern for the difficulties in his life at home. His mother and father were constantly quarrelling, and he often became the object of his father's vindictiveness. Cornelius Williams loved the adventure of a salesman's life on the road; it was difficult for him to adjust to a sedentary home life. Unlike his son, whose world was enriched through his creative imagination, he found his means of escape in drinking and playing poker in the company of other salesmen. He remained alien to the needs and interests of his family. Edwina Williams, conditioned by the necessity of raising a virtually fatherless family, became dominating and demanding.
The strife of this unsettled homelife took its major toll on Rose, Tom's sister. Her gentleness and sensitivity were crushed under the pressure of her mother's domination. Her father was a stranger to her, who barged in and out of her life with no real meaning. She was embarrassed when Tom, at his mother's insistence, brought home "gentleman callers," as Tom Wingfield does in The Glass Menagerie. Her mother usually dressed Rose in old-fashioned Southern costumes; she looked lovely, but she never talked-her mother never gave her a chance. She found no release for her pent-up emotions. In 1937, Rose was committed to an asylum for the insane.
Williams was greatly affected by the loss of his sister. His distress at his inability to help her and the memory of her helplessness are hauntingly echoed in The Glass Menagerie.
The Road To Success
In the fall of 1937, Williams, determined to complete his college education, enrolled in the University of Iowa. Finding a theatrical environment that suited him, he was encouraged to write two plays. Spring Storm was composed for a seminar in playwriting conducted by the late Professor E. C. Mabie. It is a play which has been praised for its dialogue and atmosphere, but is considered to be of no great value. Williams considers the second play, Not About Nightingales, to be the best of his early efforts. It was a play that dealt with horror and violence, using for its plot an actual incident that occurred in a prison at that time.
By the spring of 1938, Williams had managed to finish his college career at the University of Iowa and received his degree as a Bachelor of Arts. Upon graduating, his immediat
Important Dates In The Life Of Tennessee Williams
The data in this section were collected from many newspapers, magazines, and periodicals. This information is important, as it attest to the popular success of Tennessee Williams.
March 26-Thomas Lanier Williams born in Columbus, Mississippi, where maternal grandfather was a minister in the Episcopal Church; childhood illnesses gave extra time for reading many books.
Family moved to St. Louis when Williams was about eight years old. This move to the ugliness of urban life had a harsh effect on him and his slightly infirm sister; led to the beginning of certain neuroses in Williams.
Published first story in Weird Tales.
1931 to 1934
Attended University of Missouri for three years; joined a fraternity, flunked R.O.T.C., won small prizes in poetry and prose, and discovered that alcohol was a sure cure for shyness.
1934 to 1936
Went to work in a shoe company due to the Depression. Nervous breakdown, attributed to long days in warehouse and to nights of writing. Spent year of recuperation with grandfather who had retired and moved to Memphis.
Attended Washington University, St. Louis; won first prize sponsored by the Webster Groves Little Theater for a one-act play; Williard Howard, director of the Mummers, asked for a play on anti-militarism. Cairo, Shanghai, Bombay! produced in Memphis.
Withdrew from Washington University.
1938 to 1940
Received B.A. degree from University of Iowa; wrote Spring Storm for seminar in playwriting; rewrote Fugitive Kind into Not About Nightingales; went to New Orleans where he was a waiter in the French Quarter; won $100 for one-act plays; returned to St. Louis; finished Battle of Angels.
1940 to 1942
Received Rockefeller Grant of $1000 with the assistance of Audrey Wood; rewrote Battle of Angels, produced in Boston by the Theater Guild, bad reviews, closed; heart condition led to 4F classification by the draft board; first operation on left eye for cataract; small Rockefeller Grant; lived in New Orleans; second operation on left eye; worked as elevator operator and usher in New York.
Audrey Wood secures $250-a-week contract at M.G.M., two scripts rejected; worked on The Glass Menagerie script, refused by M.G.M.
National Institute of Arts and Letters Citation.
Award from American Academy of Arts and Letters and $1000; The Glass Menagerie opened in Chicago on December 26 to rave reviews.
New York opening of The Glass Menagerie (561 performances, closing August 3, 1946); April 10, won New York Critics' Circle Award for 1944-1945 on the first ballot. After another eye operation, wrote The Poker Night, later incorporated in A Streetcar Named Desire; You Touched Me opened September 25 in New York for 100 performances.
1946 to 1947
Twenty-seven Wagons Full of Cotton; Stairs to the Roof, written in 1941, produced at Pasadena Community Playhouse, theme used later in Camino Real; Actors Laboratory Theater in Southern California produced Mooney's Kid Don't Cry, Portrait of a Madonna, and The Last of My Solid Gold Watches.
A Streetcar Named Desire opened in New York on December 3 for 855 performances, closed December 17, 1949; won Pulitzer Prize for 1947-1948; won a second New York Critics' Circle Award for 1947-1948; You Touched Me published by Samuel French.
Summer and Smoke opened in New York City October 6 for 100 performances, closed on January 1, 1949; first visit to Rome and Paris.
Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone published by New Directions.
The Rose Tattoo opened February 3 in New York City for 306 performances, closed October 27, 1951.
Won election to National Institute of Arts and Letters. Summer and Smoke revived off-Broadway; directed by Jose Quintero, and starring Geraldine Page.
Camino Real opened March 19 in New York City for 60 performances, closed May 9, 1953.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof opened on March 24 in New York City and closed November 17, 1956; won Pulitzer Prize for 1954-1955 (Williams' second); won Critic's Circle Award for 1954-1955 (Williams' third); Twenty-Seven Wagons Full of Cotton produced as part of All in One in New York.
Baby Doll, the film, opened in New York City December 18; The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Summer and Smoke, Camino Real staged in London.
Orpheus Descending opened in New York City, March 21 for 68 performances.
Garden District (Something Unspoken and Suddenly Last Summer) opened off-Broadway January 7 at playwright's request; Mooney's Kid Don't Cry, The Last of the Solid Gold Watches, This Property Is Condemned produced on television by Kraft Theater.
Sweet Bird of Youth opened in New York City March 10 for 95 performances; Portrait of a Madonna produced as part of Triple Play April 15; first trip to Far East. The Purification, single Anta production.
Period of Adjustment opened in New York City November 10, closed March 4, 1961.
Night of the Iguana opened late in December in New York City, best dramatic form since Streetcar.
The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore opened in New York City, complete failure. Williams totally revised the play.
The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore. Directed by Tony Richardson.
Night of the Iguana made into film.
The Glass Menagerie opened in New York City on May 4 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of its original opening in 1945.
A Streetcar Named Desire
The evening of March 31, 1945, marked a memorable day in the annals of American Theater. The New York drama critics, along with hundreds of theater enthusiasts, witnessed the arrival of one of America's most promising young playwrights, Tennessee Williams. The opening night of The Glass Menagerie did not meet with the unanimous approval of the critics; the memory of a Boston failure, Battle of Angels in 1940, was still vividly recalled. Two years later, on December 3, 1947, the expectations of Williams' faithful admirers were undeniably justified: A Streetcar Named Desire opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theater in New York City. It was acclaimed as "the most moving American play of the past dozen years." Tennessee Williams' career as a playwright was fully established but not without anguish and difficulties.
Blanche DuBois-aging Southern belle; sister to Stella.
Stella Kowalski-sister of Blanche; wife of Stanley.
Stanley Kowalski-husband of Stella.
Harold (Mitch) Mitchell-friend of Stanley; suitor to Blanche.
Steve Hubbell-friend of Stanley; husband of Eunice.
Eunice Hubbell-friend of Stella; wife of Steve.
Negro Woman-friend of Stella and Eunice.
Mexican Woman-flower vendor.
Pablo Gonzalez-friend of Stanley.
Young Man-collects for newspapers.
A Doctor-takes Blanche away to the asylum.
A Nurse-accompanies the doctor.
A slum area of New Orleans, called Elysian Fields.
The late 1940s.
The scene opens on an early evening in May. The darkening blue sky reveals the outline of a two story corner building on a street in New Orleans called Elysian Fields. A faded white staircase, on the right side of the stage, leads to the doors of two flats, one upstairs and one down. In the background, music can be heard emanating from a bar just around the corner. The tune is slow and mournful, it is played in the style of a Negro entertainer on a "blue piano." This music is heard as a theme throughout the play. The music adds charm to an otherwise poor and decaying environment. In the dull blue glow, that illuminates the outside stair area, we see Eunice, a white occupant of the upstairs flat, talking with a colored neighbor from down the street. Around the corner come two men, Stanley Kowalski and Harold Mitchell (Mitch). They are about twenty-eight or thirty years old, dressed in working clothes. As they stop at the foot of the stairs, Stanley calls to his wife Stella. She appears from out of the downstairs flat, mildly irritated by hearing her name hollered in the streets. Stanley throws her a package of meat which she manages to catch, protestingly. Then, with a smile, she asks Stanley if she can go bowling with him. He, already around the corner and on his way, answers "yes." Stella puts the meat away and runs off to catch her husband.
In these first few moments of the play it is apparent that Stella comes from an entirely different background than her husband. She is a young woman of about twenty-five years of age and has a gentle and graceful manner. It is obvious that her standard of living was much beyond the situation we see her in at the present time. Stanley, on the other hand, is a person who has lived, and is capable of living, a much rougher existence than his wife.
After a moment of silence, filled only with the laughter of the two women on the steps, another figure appears from around the corner. It is Blanche DuBois carrying a valise. She is dressed in a manner which is totally out of place in her present surroundings. She is daintily dressed in white with a necklace, earrings of pearl, white gloves and a hat. She appears to be about five years older than her sister Stella. Her uncertain manner indicates a delicate nature which requires protection. She is obviously disturbed by her surroundings and keeps looking nervously at a slip of paper in her hand. Eunice, finally noticing Blanche, asks her if she is lost. Much distressed, Blanche repeats the directions she was given: "To take a streetcar named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and get off at Elysian Fields."
These directions are an obvious attempt on the part of the playwright to establish a symbolic motif for the play. They indicate that Blanche was brought to Elysian Fields by means of desire and despair, or death.
Eventually, the truth is revealed to Blanche that her sister, Mrs. Stanley Kowalski, lives in this neighborhood and in this very building, the lower flat. Eunice also tells her that Stella can be found around the corner watching her husband bowl. The Negro Woman offers to fetch her while Eunice takes Blanche into the lower flat to wait. As they enter, a dull blue light discloses the interior of the apartment. It consists of two rooms: a kitchen which contains a bed at the far end, eventually used by Blanche, and a second room, a bedroom, off which is a bathroom. Blanche is noticeably startled by the crude appearance of the flat. Eunice, aware of the fact that Blanche is Stella's sister, and that they were born and raised on a plantation in Mississippi, asks about "The great big place with white columns," Belle Reve. Blanche is very tired and finds talking with Eunice a chore she cannot endure. She indicates to Eunice that she desires to be left alone. Good-naturedly, Eunice leaves with the intention of hurrying Stella. Blanche sits in the semi-darkness for a moment without moving. She appears frightened of something more than her present situation. A cat screeches and she catches her breath with a startled gesture. Suddenly she notices something in a half opened closet. She springs up and crosses to it, and removes a whiskey bottle. She pours a half tumbler of whiskey and tosses it down. Carefully, she replaces the bottle and washes out the tumbler at the sink. Then she resumes her seat in front of the table. Stella enters on the run calling her sister's name. She stops when she sees Blanche and for a moment they stare at each other. Then they come together in a frantic embrace. In a moment of hysterical comment, Blanche blurts out her feelings about Stella being found in such a horrible place. Blanche then expresses a need for a drink of liquor to calm her nerves. As Stella pours Blanche a drink, a look of nervous relief comes over Blanche's face.
It is rather incongruous that Blanche, who presents herself as an example of good manners and gentle living, should find such great need for liquor.
Blanche now continues to criticize Stella's way of life in New Orleans. Stella doesn't seem to be at all disturbed by her own existence so Blanche decides to change the subject. Feeling committed to explain why she visited her sister unexpectedly, Blanche tells her story. While teaching in a high school, Blanche felt the need for a rest. Her superintendent suggested that she take a leave of absence before the term was officially over. While talking, it becomes obvious that Blanche is desirous of another drink of liquor, but when Stella offers to pour another Blanche refuses with the false admonition that one is her limit. As the two women continue talking, Blanche realizes that the apartment has only two rooms and she will be required to sleep in the kitchen with no door between the rooms. Stella explains that this condition is not unusual in their level of society. Blanche then becomes concerned about Stanley. In explaining Stanley's character Stella cautions Blanche not to compare him with the type of men they went out with in Mississippi. Stanley is rough and crude, but he is also handsome and lovable and she tells Blanche how much she misses him when he is away on a business trip. Blanche is amused and somewhat revolted by her sister's feelings for someone who swept her off her feet with his virility. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that Stella is very much in love with her husband. Blanche becomes somewhat envious of her sister's happiness and begins to tell of all the hardships she has endured since Stella left Belle Reve. Blanche becomes slightly hysterical as she tells Stella of the loss of their family home. Stella is dumb-founded with disbelief. Thinking her sister is reproaching her for the loss, Blanche enumerates how Stella abandoned Belle Reve as soon as she was able and left its responsibility to her. She tells of the death and continued destruction of family and property to the point where nothing was left. First their father and mother died, then their sister Margaret, followed by their cousin Jessie. Death is expensive and Blanche was forced to sell bits and pieces of their family home to pay expenses. No one came to her aid.
Blanche feels deeply the loss of Belle Reve. It was the last remnant of a life and tradition that she greatly admired. Now gone, she attempts to cling to this dream with the use of manners, speech, and habits that are foolishly out of place.
Blanche concludes her story by admonishing Stella, for while all this was taking place she was in the arms of her "Polack" husband. Stella begins to cry and goes into the bathroom to wash her face. The sound of men's voices is heard outside. Blanche, apprehensive at meeting Stanley, darts into the bedroom. The end of a conversation about a poker game scheduled for the following evening is heard as Stanley enters. He is of medium height, about five feet eight or nine, and strongly, compactly built. Because of his animal instincts, Stanley notices Blanche immediately. For a moment they stand staring at each other, sizing each other up. Then Blanche introduces herself and Stanley responds with similar words and gestures.
They are both uneasy; Stanley, because of his crudeness which only becomes apparent to him in situations like these and Blanche, for reasons which will become apparent later. It is obvious that they are two entirely different people and that true harmony will never exist between them.
Stanley offers Blanche a drink which she refuses immediately on the grounds that she rarely touches it. Stanley then observes the depletion of his liquor by saying "some people rarely touch it, but it touches them often." Stanley next decides to take off his sweaty bowling shirt before he catches cold. Affected by his crudeness, yet admiring his manliness, Blanche becomes tired and faint. Stanley attempts to carry on this awkward conversation by recalling to mind that Blanche was once married. Blanche admits that she was married when very young and that her husband had since died. Overcome with emotions, Blanche's head falls on her arms, the music of the Varsouviana is heard in the distance as the scene ends.
Summary: In this scene the following points become evident:
1. Stella and Stanley have come from different backgrounds, but they have found something in their married life that is mutually satisfying.
2. Blanche, although strong in her convictions, is physically weak and needs protection. Also, her nervous disposition comes from something other than her discontent with Stella's situation.
3. The contrast between the two sisters-Stella as the normal, happy, and average woman; Blanche as the refined, hypersensitive, and decadent aristocrat-is clear.
4. The contrast between Blanche and Stanley indicates that the arrival of this older sister will threaten the happy marital arrangement between Stella and Stanley.
It is six o'clock the following evening. The "blue piano" can be heard in the distance. It is the evening of Stanley's poker party. Stella, fearful that Blanche would find meeting Stanley's friends agonizing, has made plans to take Blanche out for the evening. Blanche is taking a bath while Stella finishes with her primping. Stanley enters from the outside and seeing Stella dressed in her best clothes questions her about her plans. He is very disturbed to hear that Stella and Blanche will be eating at Galatoire's, a very fashionable restaurant, while he is to be satisfied with a cold plate. Overcoming this irritation, he again becomes disturbed at hearing of the loss of Belle Reve. Stella pleads for Stanley's understanding and asks him to be nice to Blanche. Stanley only becomes more irritated and explains to Stella the Napoleonic Code. It is a statute in the State of Louisiana that states that any possession belonging to one or the other of a married couple belongs to both. Stanley, therefore, shows a personal interest in the loss of Stella's childhood home. He accuses Blanche of trying to swindle them. Stella professes her sister's innocence in business affairs and confesses that Blanche has no idea what happened to the money. Stanley stalks into the bedroom and throws open Blanche's wardrobe trunk which stands in the middle of the room. He shows Stella all the beautiful clothes and the jewelry Blanche owns. Being a very poor judge of such things, Stanley does not realize that all of Blanche's possessions are cheap imitations. Stella attempts to point this fact out to her stubborn husband, but he refuses to be dissuaded and an argument ensues. Angrily, Stella walks out on to the stair landing and demands that Stanley follow her to allow Blanche to dress in peace. Feeling that his manhood is being tested, Stanley refuses to budge. At that moment, Blanche emerges from the bathroom freshly bathed and scented, and feeling like a brand new human being. She utters a greeting to Stanley as she closes the drapes between the rooms. Conscious of Stanley standing on the other side of the drapes Blanche starts a meaningless conversation. She makes reference to the trunk being open and her clothes pulled out. Stanley tells her that he and Stella were helping her to unpack. Finally, Blanche asks Stanley to come and help her with the buttons on the back of her dress. Stanley crosses into the room and while he makes a clumsy attempt at the buttons, Blanche begins an innocent flirtation with him. Stanley brings this to an end by demanding to see the papers of the sale of Belle Reve. Blanche tells him they are in the trunk, whereupon Stanley tears open the trunk and begins to look through the papers he finds in it. One package, with a ribbon tied around, is a bunch of old love letters written to Blanche by her late husband. She grabs for them and in the struggle they cascade to the floor. Angry and hurt, Blanche shouts that she will now have to burn the letters because the touch of Stanley's hands "insults them." Stanley, taken back by this remark, allows Blanche to sort out the papers pertaining to Belle Reve. She hands them to him and he discovers that her story was true: Belle Reve was lost on a mortgage. Blanche then explains how her grandfathers, father, uncles, and brothers squandered the land away on their wild, irresponsible escapades. Stanley, feeling somewhat sheepish, tries to relieve his guilt by explaining the Napoleonic Code and the fact that he was looking after the interests of his wife's affairs-especially now that she is going to have a baby. Blanche is startled by this news and runs out to congratulate Stella. Stella, in turn, apologizes for her husband's behavior. Blanche, a bit shaky from the affair, but satisfied that she held her own, confesses the merit in mixing Stanley's blood with the blood of those who lost Belle Reve. The baby will be well received. Steve and Pablo appear for the poker game, carrying a case of beer. In the distance can be heard the "blue piano" and the voice of a vendor selling "red-hots."
The main objective in this scene was to establish the duel for supremacy between Blanche and Stanley. Stanley is fighting for his manhood, his virility, his dominance over women; the only things he has confidence in. Blanche is fighting to establish righteous indignation in the eyes of men. The first round ended with Blanche the victor, a situation Stanley feels must be righted.
It is 2 o'clock the following morning and the poker game is still going on in the kitchen. The light from a green shaded light fixture hanging over the kitchen table illuminates the figures of four husky, young men. On the table can be seen watermelon slices, whiskey bottles, and glasses. The rest of the stage is lit from the spill of the kitchen light. For a moment there is silence while a hand is dealt, then the usual conversation as the bidding begins. It is apparent that Stanley is still feeling the effects of his encounter with Blanche; he is irritated with Mitch for wanting to go home. Mitch has a sick mother to whom he is very devoted, she waits up until he gets home at night. Just then Blanche and Stella appear from around the corner of the building. Realizing the game is still in progress, Blanche prepares herself for the inevitable meeting with Stanley's friends. As they walk into the kitchen Stella introduces Blanche to the men. Stanley shows contempt for Blanche in remarking that the men needn't stand. Stella retorts by asking Stanley to bring the game to an end. Stanley orders the women out of the room. Stella and Blanche cross into the bedroom and pull the drapes closed.
Blanche, disturbed by this last encounter, decides to take a bath to calm her nerves. As she heads for the bathroom, Mitch emerges with towel in hand. Stella introduces him to Blanche. Blanche can see that Mitch is different from the others; he is more courteous and considerate. She is pleased to hear that he is not married. As the men continue playing cards Stella and Blanche become engaged in a women's type conversation. The noise of their voices irritates Stanley and he tells them to shut up! Stella is angered by this, but realizing Stanley has been drinking, she decides not to pursue the argument. She crosses into the bathroom as Blanche turns on a little radio sitting on top of her trunk. Rhumba music is heard throughout the apartment. Stanley jumps to his feet and despite assurances from the other men that the radio is not disturbing them, he rushes in and switches it off. Angry now, Stanley picks on Mitch. He accuses him of looking through the opening in the drapes at Blanche undressing. The rest of the men kid Mitch about winning all the money. Mitch, feeling uncomfortable, reacts good-naturedly to the comments and heads for the bathroom. As he walks through the drapes he sees Blanche who tells him that "the little boys' room is busy right now." Blanche asks Mitch for a cigarette. As Mitch offers his cigarette case, Blanche remarks how beautiful it is. Mitch explains that it was a gift from a girl whom he had loved. She has since died. Blanche sympathizes with Mitch-and the bond between them is complete.
Blanche feels a need for protection. She realizes that in this jungle of degeneracy, that is now to be her home, she must find a friend. Mitch, with his decency, courtesy, and potential for understanding, might be the one. Mitch, whose mother is ill and dying, feels a need for someone to take her place; someone who will be as perfect as his mother. As yet, he has not met a girl like this; no modern girl is. Perhaps Blanche, with her obsession for tradition, is the girl.
They begin to talk rather freely. Blanche tells Mitch a little of her past, that she is a schoolteacher and that her name, DuBois, is derived from the French Huguenots. In the midst of their conversation she asks Mitch to hang a Chinese lantern, which she brought with her, over the light bulb in the room: "I can't stand a naked light bulb, anymore than I can a rude remark or a vulgar action." She finds that the flirtation lost on Stanley works very well on Mitch. As Stella comes out of the bathroom, Blanche, in order to keep Mitch's interest, asks him to dance. She turns on the radio and they commence to waltz. Stanley charges fiercely through the drapes into the bedroom. He grabs the radio and with a shouted oath, he throws it out the window. Stella curses Stanley for his drunken act and runs into the kitchen to break up the poker game. Stanley follows, grabs her, and drags her into a dark corner of the kitchen. There is the sound of a blow. Stella cries out. Blanche screams and runs into the kitchen. The men rush forward and there is grappling and cursing. Something is overturned with a crash. Stanley is finally forced into the bedroom by the two men. Stella runs out the door crying. With a strange satisfaction, Blanche runs into the bedroom and demands Stella's clothes. She gathers up some things from a closet. Then goes outside where Stella is waiting and helps her up the stairs to Eunice's flat.
The fierce fight between Stella and Stanley gives Blanche great satisfaction. From the moment she entered the Kowalski household she has been trying to weaken Stella's strong love for her husband. At last she has been successful.
Stanley stands dazed like a losing prize fighter. The men rush him into the bathroom and under the shower. Sounds of curses and shouts are heard amid the splashing of water. Suddenly the men run for the poker table and sweep up their winnings on their way out. The door closes on them and the place is still. The Negro entertainers in the bar around the corner play "Paper Doll" slow and blue. After a moment Stanley comes out of the bathroom dripping water and still in his wet polka dot drawers. He calls for Stella. When he receives no answer he assumes that she has left him. He breaks into sobs. Then he goes to the telephone and dials a number. Eunice answers but refuses to let him speak with Stella. Shuddering with sobs, he stumbles out onto the porch to the side of the building. Standing half naked in the pale light of the moon, he throws back his head and bellows his wife's name: "Stell-lah h h h."
Finally, from out of the darkness at the top of the stairs comes his wife and tears are streaming from her eyes. Stanley meets Stella with an animal embrace, lifts her and carries her into their apartment. Blanche comes out of the upstairs looking for Stella. Mitch appears from around the corner and tells her everything is fine, Stella has gone back to Stanley. Defeated and confused Blanche sits down on the steps to have a cigarette with Mitch. He is tender and kind, and Blanche begins to realize that Mitch may offer the kindness she needs.
Summary: In this scene we realize the following points:
1. The conflict between Stanley and Blanche is coming to a head. Blanche shows her tremendous potential by succeeding in creating a fight between Stella and Stanley. However, in the end she comes out the loser.
2. There is a strong tie between Stella and Stanley. It is, however, only physical and can be broken. The substance of their marriage is being supported by a very tenuous foundation.
3. Blanche, again, depends upon the kindness of Mitch to give her stability and reason in a difficult and confusing world.
It is early the following morning. The brilliance of the morning sun acts as an antiseptic to the disease of last night's episode. Stanley has gone out and Stella is lying comfortably and serenely on an unmade bed. The table in the kitchen still shows signs of the previous night's poker party. Blanche appears at the door. She has spent a sleepless night and her appearance entirely contrasts with Stella's. She looks nervously through the door. Seeing Stella on the bed, she rushes to her in a state of hysterical tenderness. After what happened, she cannot understand how Stella can return to her husband. Stella tries to explain to Blanche that Stanley frequently acts that way when he has been drinking too much. She recalls that on their wedding night, Stanley broke all the light bulbs with the heel of her slipper. Blanche shows very little patience with this type of behavior. She tries to persuade Stella that she is married to a madman. She considers Stella's situation in life worse than her own, because Stella refuses to face facts. Stella tells Blanche that she is quite content with her situation because it is one of her own making. Blanche refuses to be convinced. She tells Stella of a plan that will help them both. Determined that money would satisfy all their ills, Blanche recalls an old admirer of hers, Shep Huntleigh, who has become a millionaire in Texas' oil wells. She decides to telegraph him for money, then realizing that won't work, she becomes confused and starts to ramble on about Stanley. She says that she can't live in the same house with him after last night. She can understand Stella's position, she can live with him because she is married to him, but all Stanley has to offer is brute animal satisfaction. Being a product of Belle Reve, she cannot understand how Stella can be seduced by such a desire. Desire was the name of the streetcar that brought her there and it was desire that also attracted Stella. One is a conveyance, the other is a craving and there must be a difference. As Blanche continues to talk, Stanley enters unnoticed and stands motionless by the door. He overhears Blanche describe him as "common," "bestial," and "ape like." She pictures him in the cave age, coming home with meat over his shoulder to a wife who waits upon his every whim, and in the evening the rest of the apes gather for a poker party. She contrasts this with all of the good things that Stella was taught to appreciate at Belle Reve; art, poetry, music and the ways of a gentleman. She ends with a plea to Stella not to "hang back with the brutes." Still unnoticed, Stanley turns and walks back out the door. Once again on the outside, he calls to Stella. She runs to the door to meet him and in full view of Blanche they embrace with fierce, animal intensity. The light fades with a lingering brightness on their embrace. And as the sound of the "blue piano" rises in the background the scene ends.
The importance of this scene is expressed in Blanche's desperate effort to regain her position of dominance over Stella, once her little sister. She was completely shattered by Stella's return to her husband. Her nervousness, her indecision, her strong contempt for Stanley, are signs of desperation. She is now in great need of assurance that her traditional way of life is the only respectable life. She shows contempt for Stanley, but her constant reference to his animal prowess indicates a strong fascination and subconscious desire. Blanche is becoming aware of this and she is frightened
A few days later. As the scene opens we see Blanche amused by a letter she has just written to Shep Huntleigh. In the letter she tells him that she is spending the summer visiting friends and it "has been a continued round of entertainments, teas, cocktails, and luncheons." Suddenly a disturbance is heard from the flat above. Eunice and her husband Steve are having a row. Then, Eunice runs out and down the stairs threatening to call the police. Shortly after she rounds the corner of the building Stanley makes an entrance. He walks into his apartment just as Steve comes down the steps looking for his wife. Stanley tells him she can be found at the corner bar getting a drink. Blanche observes this entire episode with smug righteousness. She makes a cynical reference to the language used and comments on Stanley's habit of banging things around. She is riding high at the top of her form when Stanley asks if she is acquainted with a man named Shaw. Blanche becomes pale and quiet as Stanley reveals that Shaw thinks he met her in Laurel, the town in which Blanche taught school. Shaw travels in and out of Laurel quite often and stays at the Hotel Flamingo. Blanche vigorously denies that she knows the man, for the Hotel Flamingo is not the sort of establishment she would dare to be seen in. Stanley admits that he might be mistaken, but he will check out the facts with Shaw. Blanche becomes nervous and faint, her hands begin to tremble.
When Stanley leaves she confronts Stella with questions. She is anxious to know if Stella has heard any gossip about her. Stella is surprised to hear Blanche ask such a question. But Blanche feels she must admit to Stella that there was a good deal of talk about her in Laurel. She blames it on the fact that she is getting older, and a person who is faced with advancing age without a husband must make herself attractive. Stella, not understanding her sister's dilemma, refuses to listen. Blanche changes the subject to Mitch. She wants Mitch to like her, but she refuses to sacrifice her virtue to get him. Not that Mitch has made improper advances, but on the other hand men lose interest quickly. Blanche has not told him her real age, she is afraid he will take exception to it and her vanity has already suffered a great deal. She wants Mitch because she wants to rest and breathe quietly again and to live in a place of her own. Stella assures her sister that that day will come. Then, upon hearing Stanley call from the outside, she kisses Blanche and leaves.
The lights are dim, for it is evening now. Blanche settles down in a chair with a drink of liquor mixed with coke. There is a glimmer of lighting seen about the building as a young man approaches the apartment door. He has come to collect for the newspaper. Blanche asks him to come in and offers him a drink, a strange look of joy has come into her face. The young man refuses the drink and cautiously tells her that if she doesn't have the money he can come back later. Blanche forces herself on him by asking a light for her cigarette. As the young man complies, Blanche continues her flirtation. She calls him a "Prince out of the Arabian Nights." The young man laughs uncomfortably and stands like a bashful kid. Uninhibited from the drink of liquor, Blanche kisses him. She then tells him to run along for she must "keep my hands off children." The young man departs hastily. Blanche is standing at the door as Mitch appears around the corner with a bunch of roses. She accepts the flowers gracefully and with great dignity, as the scene ends.
During this scene a good deal more of Blanche's character is revealed. We realize that the nervousness and anxiety she feels is caused by something in her past life. Up until this scene she has presented herself as the perfect young lady, with the exception of her taste for liquor. Now her puritanical facade is beginning to crack. She becomes ludicrous and pathetic in her desperate attempt to maintain self-control.
It is later the same evening. Blanche and Mitch are just returning from an amusement park. As the audience sees them, in a dim blue glow of light, it is obvious that they are both weary from physical exhaustion. They stop outside the apartment door while Blanche looks for her key. Noticing that the hour is late, Blanche asks Mitch how he plans on getting home. Mitch informs her that the streetcar named Desire is still running. Sensing Blanche's fatigue, Mitch observes that the evening was uneventful. He attempts to apologize to Blanche but she takes the blame herself. With the intention of leaving, Mitch asks Blanche if he may kiss her good night. Blanche taunts him about his habit of asking for a kiss. She would prefer that he just kiss her; however, it is the other little familiarities that she tends to discourage. She wants him to understand that a girl alone in the world has got to keep a firm hold on her emotions or she'll be lost. It is obvious that Mitch is attracted by this show of reserved emotions so Blanche invites him into the apartment. She decides to leave the lights off so they may delight in a drink by candlelight. She begins to create a scene of amour. Mitch begins to talk about himself and Blanche compliments his looks, his weight, and his strength. As he attempts to show his strength by lifting her, Blanche cautions him to behave. She again asserts herself as having "old-fashioned ideals." Mitch then changes the subject to Stanley and Stella. He suggests that the four of them go out together some evening. Blanche is repulsed by the idea. She plays on Mitch's sympathy by telling him how cruelly she has been treated by Stanley. Mitch finds this hard to believe, but Blanche's intention has worked and he feels very close to her now. He tells her of his mother, who would like to see her son married and settled down before she dies. Realizing that Mitch feels great devotion for his mother, Blanche senses the loneliness he would experience after her death. For loneliness has had a great effect on Blanche's life. She reveals to Mitch the story of the only man she has ever loved. She was sixteen when she first discovered love, and she married a boy who was gentle, tender, and handsome. She soon discovered she had been deluded. Too late she found out her husband was a homosexual. He came to her for help, but not understanding his affliction she taunted him unmercifully. One evening while dancing to the music of the Varsouviana he suddenly broke from the floor and ran out of the casino. A few moments later a shot was heard. The boy, unable to bear her scorn, committed suicide. His death was a terrible shock to Blanche for she loved him unendurably, and from that day on the light of the world has been no brighter than the flame of a candle. As she finishes her story Mitch takes her in his arms and kisses her. They both realize their need for each other as Blanche whispers softly, "sometimes-there's God-so quickly.!"
The construction of this scene is most interesting: it begins with Blanche's planned intention of seducing and winning Mitch. It ends with an expression of true and sincere emotion and an understanding of Blanche and Mitch's real need for each other. The scene reveals Blanche's basic needs and desires to be truly honorable, and that the tragedy lies in her inability to find satisfaction without sacrificing her honor. Also, the episode with the newspaper boy becomes understandable when we correlate it with Blanche's experience with a young husband.
It is late afternoon in mid-September. A table is set for a birthday supper with cake and flowers. Stella is completing the decorations as Stanley enters. He inquires about the preparations and is told that it is Blanche's birthday. He becomes irritated when he hears that Blanche is soaking in a hot tub on a day with the temperature of 100 degrees. Stella senses that something more important is bothering Stanley and forces him to reveal it. He tells her he has spent the past two months checking on Blanche and he is now prepared to prove she has been lying. Blanche's singing can be heard coming from the bathroom as Stanley unfolds his evidence. He has found that Blanche is not the prim and proper lady that she pretends to be. News of her reputation in Laurel exceeds that of the President of the United States, only not as well respected. Stanley has discovered that the Hotel Flamingo, a second-class hotel that pays little attention to the social life of their guests, was Blanche's home after the loss of Belle Reve. Her activities there became so disreputable that the management requested her to turn in her room key-permanently. This took place just a couple of weeks before she arrived in New Orleans. She has also been noted for her associations with soldiers from an army camp outside Laurel. Stanley also discovered that Blanche did not take a leave of absence from her position at that high school. They kicked her out before the term was over because of her intimacies with a seventeen-year-old student. As Stanley finishes his long lurid tale of investigation Stella is dumbfounded. She tells him his information is false, or at best half-truths. She admits that Blanche has always been flighty, but this was because of the disappointment she suffered from her young marriage. Stanley had no patience or sympathy with Blanche's early life. He asks Stella if anyone else is invited for the birthday party. She tells him that Mitch is coming for cake and coffee, but as she turns to look at Stanley she fears the worst. Stanley had told Mitch about Blanche and he will not be coming. Stella is disheartened. She had hoped for Mitch to marry Blanche; now what will Blanche do? Stanley tells her that Blanche will be leaving on Tuesday, for a birthday present he bought Blanche a one-way bus ticket back to Laurel. Blanche enters from the bathroom with gay expectation, but as she looks in to the face of Stanley and Stella sre realizes something has happened. She stares fearfully at Stella as the scene ends.
In this scene we realize, more vividly, the character of Blanche. We also have a greater understanding of the conflict between Stanley and Blanche; Blanche is repulsed by Stanley's manners, and behavior, but at the same time, because of her past experiences, she is attracted by his masculinity. We also see that Stanley is insistent upon getting rid of Blanche because of the disruption she has caused in his household. Like all men, and animals, he looks for security in his own home.
A short time later the birthday supper is over. Blanche still has hope that Mitch will arrive. Stanley is sullen and quiet. Stella is embarrassed and sad. Blanche is trying to make small talk, but she is unsuccessful. She prevails upon Stanley to tell a funny story, but he declines stating that she would not be interested in any story he would have to tell. She attempts a story of her own about a preacher and a parrot that cursed a blue streak. Stanley responds by eating another pork chop with his fingers. Stella is disgusted by her husband's behavior. She asks him to help clear the table. With one sweep of his hand, Stanley hurls the dishes to the floor and announces "the table is cleared." Then he turns on his wife and Blanche and declares that he is fed up with their attitude toward him, he demands respect in his own home for "every man is a king and I am the king around here, so don't you forget it." Stella begins to cry. Stanley stalks out of the door. Blanche, well aware that something is wrong, demands enlightenment from Stella. Stella refuses and walks out onto the porch. Blanche then goes to the phone and calls Mitch. Finding that he is not at home, she slumps into a chair, frightened. On the porch, Stanley approaches his wife repentantly. He assures her that soon everything will be all right. Stella, resigned to her duty toward her husband, accompanies him back into the apartment. While Stella is lighting the birthday candles Blanche enters from the bedroom. Stanley announces that he has a birthday gift and Blanche is delightfully embarrassed. The Varsouviana music is heard in the distance as Blanche opens the gift and finds a ticket back to Laurel. She is stunned. Suddenly she runs out of the room. Then they hear sounds of coughing and gagging coming from the bathroom. Stella is weak with pity and embarrassment. She turns on her husband and accuses him and all the men like him of having forced Blanche into her present condition. Stanley tries to ignore his wife's ranting, but Stella demands a reason for his cruel behavior toward Blanche. Stanley, in a fit of final revenge, boasts to Stella how he, a commoner, pulled her down off the columns of her aristocratic estates and made her love it. While he is speaking, Stella feels the beginning of pain. She quietly looks at her husband and asks to be taken to the hospital. Stanley, sobered by the thought of fatherhood, leads his wife to the door as the scene ends.
Hear - Stanley Demands Respect: "Every man is a king and I am the king around here, so don't you forget it.
In this scene is seen the beginning of Blanche's total destruction. She has nowhere to turn. All avenues of escape or comfort have been cut off. She still has a slight hope of being rescued by Mitch, but she is fearful that he also will reject her. Stanley has won the battle. His wife is now bound to him for the dependence of a newborn child.
It is later in the evening. Blanche is seen seated in a chair in the bedroom. She has been drinking, the bottle of liquor and a glass sit on a table next to her. In the background can be heard the rapid, feverish polka tune, the "Varsouviana." The music is in her mind; she has been drinking to escape it and the sense of disaster closing in on her, and she seems to whisper the words of the song. Suddenly, Mitch appears from around the corner. He is unshaven and dressed in his working clothes. He knocks at the door. Blanche is startled. She calls out to discover who it is. When she hears Mitch reply, she becomes desperately excited. She hides the bottle of liquor, powders her face, then hurries to the door. She plays coy when she sees him, but Mitch brushes by her and stalks into the room. In an effort to maintain her composure, Blanche acts tolerant and forgiving. Mitch sits on the bed and lights a cigarette. Blanche offers him a drink, but he refuses on the grounds that it belongs to Stanley. Blanche is afraid to ask Mitch why he came so late, she is just pleased that he came. He stopped the music of the "Varsouviana" from running through her mind. While Blanche is looking for another bottle of liquor, Mitch tells her he had not planned on coming tonight. Blanche pretends not to hear this, but finds the liquor. When she returns to the room Mitch has his foot on the bed. Blanche, feeling this as a sign of disrespect, asks him to remove his foot. She, again, offers him a drink and he, for the second time, refuses it. He then tells Blanche that she has been lapping up liquor all summer long like a "wild-cat." Blanche winces at this remark, but struggles to maintain her poise. Mitch then complains about the darkness of the room and recalls that Blanche always wants it dark when he is with her. She even refused to go out with him on a Sunday afternoon. Blanche admits that she likes darkness. Mitch decides to get a good look at Blanche. She becomes frightened as he rips the paper lantern off the light hanging in the middle of the room and turns on the switch. Blanche cries out and covers her face. Mitch realizes that Blanche is older than he thought, but he tells her this doesn't matter as much as the lies she has been telling him about her past. She asks where he got his information. He verified Stanley's stories, he tells her, by talking with three men, all of whom knew her. Blanche recognizes the names. The moment she feared most has arrived. She does not try to refute his proof, she is too numb for that.
With the feeling that there is nothing more to save in her relationship with Mitch, Blanche drops all pretense. In a rage of shame and abandonment she flaunts her adventurous past before her gawking suitor. She tells him she had many intimacies after the death of her husband-it was the only way "to fill an empty heart." In a fit of convulsive, sobbing laughter she relates the story of the seventeen-year-old student and her dismissal as a person "morally unfit for her position." She confesses that she came to New Orleans looking for sanctuary from a future that looked no more promising than her degenerate past. When she met Mitch she found hope, she recognized the pains of loneliness that can be smoothed by two people in need of each other. But her past is too close behind and the moment she feared the most has caught up with her. Mitch, fumbling for words, repeats his accusation "you lied to me, Blanche." A Mexican Woman is seen coming around the corner of the building selling flowers. The music of the Varsouviana becomes louder. Blanche stands fixed with a glazed look in her eyes. Mitch stands and crosses to behind Blanche. He places his hands on her waist and tries to turn her about. Blanche, awakened to reality, asks Mitch to marry her. Mitch answers by telling her she is not clean enough to live in the same house with his mother, but he wants the same consideration that she has given other men. Blanche's voice tightens with hysteria as she forces Mitch from the apartment. She then staggers back from the door and falls to her knees. The music of the Varsouviana fades as the scene ends.
It is realized now that Blanche is completely alone in the world. She has lost her last hope of survival in the rational world, she must now look for other means of escape. Mitch, also, is lost. He needs Blanche as desperately as she needs him for he must fight the loving domination of his mother. However, he is not able to withstand the truth. He will never be needed as a man as much as he was by Blanche.
It is a short time later the same night. Blanche is standing by her open trunk dressed in a somewhat soiled and crumpled white satin evening gown and a pair of silver slippers. In the process of packing and drinking she has reached a state of juvenile make-believe. She is looking into a small hand mirror and talking to herself. Suddenly, she slams the mirror down on the top of the trunk with such violence that the glass cracks. A moan of despair is heard as she attempts to rise. Stanley appears around the corner of the building. He has had a few drinks on the way and has brought some bottles of beer home with him. He slams the door after entering the kitchen and, seeing Blanche dressed in her white satin gown, gives a low whistle. Blanche enquires about Stella and the baby. Stanley tells her the baby is not expected until morning, so they told him to go home and get some sleep. Blanche realizes that she and Stanley will be alone during the night. Stanley questions Blanche about the outfit she is wearing. Blanche announces that she has received an invitation from Shep Huntleigh to cruise on the Caribbean in a yacht. Stanley expresses a pretended surprise as he leads Blanche on with questions about Shep. In the meantime he removes his shirt as he looks for a bottle opener. Blanche is distressed by his half-nakedness and asks him to dress behind closed drapes. Stanley ignores her remark and opens a bottle of beer in a spray of foam. He offers one to Blanche, but she refuses. Then he continues to taunt her about her oil-millionaire. Blanche explains, defiantly, that Shep is a gentleman and holds a great deal of respect for her; he is just a lonely man who wants company. A woman with culture, intelligence, and breeding, she continues, does not need physical beauty to enrich a man's life. She chastises herself for possessing these virtues and yet being foolish enough to cast them like "pearls before swine." Stanley is impressed by the word "swine." Blanche tells him that she not only uses the word in reference to him but also his friend Mr. Mitchell, who charged in on her this evening spouting lies and vicious stories about her. She then tells Stanley how she sent him away only to have him return later with flowers and a sense of forgiveness. She would not accept his bribe, however, for "some things are not forgiveable." Nothing was lost in her refusal, she admits, for they are totally incompatible. Stanley becomes cruel and indignant. He calls Blanche a liar. He does not believe the story about Shep Huntleigh, and he knows Mitch did not return with flowers because he knows where he is. Her whole life has been full of lies, conceit, and tricks, he tells her. Nevertheless, he has been on to her from the beginning, she has never once "pulled the wool over this boy's eyes." She has come into his house acting like a Queen and now he is fed up with her. Blanche pulls away startled as Stanley walks past her and into the bathroom. She reaches for the phone and asks the operator for long distance. She attempts to place a call to Shep Huntleigh, but finds that she doesn't know his address. Suddenly she turns and sees Stanley emerging from the bathroom in a pair of silk pajamas, the pair he wore on his wedding night. She pulls away from the phone stricken with fright. Stanley approaches her silently. Blanche feels her whole world slipping away from under her. She tries desperately to hold on to her sanity. She grabs a bottle and smashes it on the table, then turns facing Stanley with the broken end clutched in her hand, but this is not enough. Her world of reality is no more. She faints as Stanley struggles to free the broken bottle. He then picks up her inert body and carries her to the bed.
This scene shows the final destruction of Blanche. She has lost her last contact with the outside world. Now, in order to find peace and security she must escape inwardly, into herself and create a world of her own making. For Stanley, the rape of Blanche is the culmination and symbol of victory. He had already dragged Stella down to the level of his own existence, then, being threatened by Blanche and her appearance of respectability, he was again challenged by the tradition of Belle Reve. He triumphed by proving that she is not as superior as she has seemed. For Stanley that was not enough. He must prove that the world is a pigsty and he is the king of pigs so he extends his victory to the point of total destruction for his adversary, Blanche.
It is some weeks later. The four men-Stanley, Steve, Mitch and Pablo are sitting around the kitchen table playing poker. Stella is in the bedroom packing Blanche's things. She has tears in her eyes. In the background can be heard the splashing of water, coming from the bathroom. A strange solemnity is apparent in the scene. Eunice comes down the steps from the flat above and enters the kitchen. She is disgusted at the sight of men playing poker at a time like this. She then walks into the bedroom to help Stella with the packing. Stella enquires about her baby whom Eunice is caring for until the evening events are over. Eunice assures her their newly born son is sound asleep in the upstairs apartment. After a pause Eunice asks for Blanche. Stella points towards the bathroom. Stella has not told Blanche that she will be leaving this evening. She has made arrangements for Blanche to be taken to an institution. In her present state of mind, Blanche has the impression that she will be going for a cruise with Shep Huntleigh. She calls from the bathroom for Stella to check her clothing. Stella assures her that everything is in readiness. With tears streaming down her cheeks, Stella turns to Eunice and confesses that she has to send Blanche away for she could not allow herself to believe Blanche's story about Stanley. She could not believe it and continue to live with Stanley. Eunice tells her never to believe it for no matter what happens life must go on. Blanche enters and expresses grave disappointment that Shep has not called. Then Blanche hears Stanley's voice from the other room and suddenly, for one strange fleeting moment, she is shocked back to reality. Frantically she demands to know why Stella and Eunice stand staring at her with pity and sorrow on their faces. The moment passes and she once again becomes interested in preparations for her trip. Now she is anxious to leave, but Stella tells her to wait until the poker game breaks up. Not wanting to encounter the men on the way out, Blanche agrees. From around the corner of the building come a Doctor and a Matron. They climb the steps of the porch and ring the doorbell. Eunice glances fitfully at Stella and then crosses through the kitchen to answer the door. Blanche waits excitedly to hear if the caller is for her. Eunice returns and announces that the callers are for Blanche and they are waiting outside. Blanche immediately assumes that it is Shep Huntleigh, but is confused by the accompanying lady. She hurries to get ready. As Blanche passes through the kitchen Mitch is visibly affected. She steps out on the small porch at the side of the door and stops. She does not recognize the doctor as the man she was expecting. She suddenly gasps and starts back into the kitchen. Stella is at the door to block her way. There is a moment of silence-no sound but that of Stanley steadily shuffling the cards. Blanche catches her breath again and slips by Stella into the kitchen. As she heads for the bedroom Stanley stands in front of her. With a fury, she pushes past him and escapes into the bedroom. In response to Stanley's instruction, the Matron advances into the bedroom to bring Blanche out. With Stanley on one side and the Matron on the other, Blanche is trapped like an animal. They start to bait her. Stanley asks if she returned for her paper lantern which he rips off the light and holds out to her. Stella falls sobbingly into the arms of Eunice. Mitch, unable to contain himself any longer, c
Analysis Of Characters
Blanche DuBois is the culmination of many womanly characteristics in the repertoire of Tennessee Williams. She is first seen in a one-act play written in 1939 called The Lady of Larkspur Lotion. The story is about an abandoned forty-year-old blonde, Southern ex-belle who has degenerated into a prostitute. In order to defend herself against an insistent landlady and to cling to some shreds of respectability she invents a story about waiting for dividends from her rubber plantation in Brazil. Blanche Dubois is seen more clearly in Portrait of a Madonna, another one-act play written during Williams' earlier period in New Orleans. It is a sympathetic study of the mental deterioration of a Southern spinster. She is lost in a world of her own delusions. She imagines that she has finally won the young man that left her many years ago and that she is expecting his child. Toward the end of the play a Doctor and Nurse, performing their duty wearily but efficiently, come to take her away. The play closes as she is being led to the asylum by the doctor, who treats her with kindness and gallantry. Myra Torrance and Cassandra Whiteside in Battle of Angels, Matilda Rockley in You Touched Me, Laura and Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, and Alma Winemiller in Summer and Smoke are all identifiable in the fusion of characteristics that make up Blanche DuBois.
When Blanche arrives at the end of the line of the streetcar named Desire she is a desperate woman. She is desperate because she is a fugitive from a society that is deteriorating also. Her background is the life at Belle Reve, one from which she cannot escape without serious consequences. Her tradition made her a woman of importance. She felt secure within the function of her own society. Today that tradition no longer exists. It no longer works in our present society. Blanche, however, must believe in it, for without the tradition of Belle Reve, she cannot live; her whole life has been for nothing. She holds on to these shreds of Southern respectability, and by so doing she thinks she is performing an act of heroism, rather than absurd romanticism. Even the romantic episode with her young husband, who was tender, gentle, and sensitive, and whose tragic flaw was his sexual perversion, gives stature to her heroic character. She becomes one who is more to be pitied than censured because of her juvenile misunderstanding of her husband's need. By believing in her traditional background, Blanche finds an excuse for a great deal of her behavior. The present society rejects her as an anachronism, and therefore, makes her feel alone and insecure. When the strength of her belief in tradition weakens, she looks for security in drink and the human warmth of contract with strangers. This is a sacrifice, however, for she must meet them on their terms and forget her own. Since she cannot fully accept her actions she begins to forget them. She creates a world of fantasy wherein she can rationalize her behavior as being the result of an unprotected, sensitive and delicate nature. In doing this she avoids facing the reality of her real physical and sensual desires. Her tradition will not allow her to accept such feelings as other than "brutal desire" and to give vent to them is sinful. Nevertheless, she does give vent to her feelings out of loneliness and an agonizing realization that her attraction for men is beginning to fade. She is on the brink of middle age and is desperately in a hurry to find a man. Like most women, Blanche is dependent upon a man for protection, for security, and for love. Because of her background, she also has a great need for someone to defend and maintain her honor. She is looking for someone who does not exist in the New Orleans environment to which she has come-a gentleman. She wants an old-fashioned wedding dressed in white with music, poetry, art and people with tender feelings, and not to be held back with the "brute desire" that make such things impossible. So she is constantly in conflict, and out of this comes frustration and a need for protection. That is what a woman of tradition needs, protection from an alien world that is passing her by and to which she is unable to adjust. That is why she comes to Stella and Stanley. She comes as a beaten individual who is drowning in a mire of degeneracy, but, because she is proud, she must make one last attempt. She, once again, draws upon an impotent tradition to make herself superior. Stanley, mistakenly, interprets her demeanor as a challenge to his basic existence as a man. Because of his strong connection with reality, he is able to destroy her. Blanche, therefore, destroys herself because of her foolish insistence of living with the illusions of the past. In the meantime, however, she has one stroke of luck. She finds someone who needs her as badly as she needs him, Mitch. For a short time she lives in happy anticipation, but her past catches up with her. With no one left to turn to for protection she takes refuge in fantasy. She becomes insane.
When the audience first sees Stanley Kowalski they see him as a personification of what Blanche later describes as a "sub-human, ape-likf survivor of the stone age." One who bears meat home from the kill in the jungle and throws it down in front of his mate, who is waiting for him at the entrance to their abode. He might strike her or he might kiss her, depending upon his whim. In the evening the rest of the apes gather and they have an ape poker party with "grunting and swilling and gnawing and hulking." Stanley is like an animal who operates on essentially one dimension-the sensual. His life has been unpretentious and a matter of the survival of the fittest. His manners, speech, and appearance are all basic but sufficient to maintain life. However, he is different in the sense that he has a will and a desire to become more than just a common animal, he wants to become king, at least in his own home. If he can't become king, he will make sure that no one else gets ahead of him. Stanley can handle men because he believes in luck. He came out of the battle of Salerno with the odds four to five against him because he was lucky-"to hold front position in this rat-race, you've got to believe you are lucky." Stanley can handle women, too, although they are a little more complicated and, at times, little more difficult. He has sufficient physical potential to pull them down to his level and make them enjoy it, or to destroy them. Stanley takes pride in the domain he has built in his household and he also takes satisfaction in the security that it gives him. Pride and satisfaction are his two most prized possessions and when either is threatened he will fight with all of his animal instinct.
When Blanche first arrives at his apartment in New Orleans Stanley is suspicious of her. She comes from the same background as his wife and when Stella first saw Stanley she considered him common. Stanley was successful in toppling her from the white columns, which were symbolic of Belle Reve; will he be just as successful with Blanche? His main object, as Blanche first walks through the door, is to overcome her sexually for this is the way he won his wife. Regardless of what else might happen he will only truly be satisfied when he subdues her with his manly prowess. Blanche proves to be a more difficult adversary than Stanley had anticipated. Her formation in the depth of Belle Reve tradition was much more complete than Stella's. She insists upon the recognition of her time-honored habits and manners so strenuously that Stanley becomes suspicious of her motives. Driven by the fear of Blanche as a potential menace to his home, as a danger to his relationship with his wife, and as an object of sensuality that he may not be able to seduce, he sets out on his plan of destruction. Although Stanley is crude and powerful, he is not a fool. He is an animal that is in tune with nature and he finds that he can survive well in his jungle of men because he is more instinctively an animal than they are. He is the king among apes as long as he knows what the rest of the apes are thinking, and what makes them tick. He digs into Blanche's background looking for dirt, because to him all people are dirty. He recognizes it when he finds it, and he wallows in it because it is so much a part of him. Under another circumstance the sordidness of Blanche's life would be taken in stride. But Stanley has been made to realize the importance of his information by Blanche's insistence on playing the perfect young lady. When he attacks, he does it with all the cunning of a bestial marauder. He stalks his prey by telling Stella his findings and making sure that she will not interfere with his final attack. Then to prove his capability and strike terror in the heart of his adversary, he confronts her directly. He tells Blanche that he is on to her tricks and that she is nothing but a liar and a phoney, and incapable of fighting with other animals, because she has never admitted to being a beast herself. He adds that he has cut off her only means of escape by telling Mitch about her past life. Not believing him she runs in the direction of this last avenue of hope only to find that escape is impossible. Trapped, defeated, and defenseless, Blanche becomes vulnerable to physical attack. Driven by his need to satisfy a desire that became evident the first moment he saw her, Stanley attacks viciously and devours every remaining morsel of respectability.
Stella is Blanche's younger sister. She was brought up in the shadow of her older sister among the traditions of Belle Reve. Her parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts were part of a decaying Southern aristocracy and they spent all of their energies on trying to maintain their social position. The two sisters were very close and Blanche felt the responsibility of raising Stella. Together they learned to appreciate art, music, poetry, and the manners of Southern gentlemen. Being an older sister had its advantages: Blanche could command Stella to wait on her, to arrange her clothes when preparing for a ball or a carriage ride in the countryside. Because she felt the responsibilities of an older sister, Blanche affected a superior attitude, which caused an unconscious hostility in the mind of her sister. As Stella grew older she began to feel the pressures of her sister's domination and a lack of obligation to a disintegrating heritage. She looked for an escape and found one in the person of Stanley Kowalski. Because of a rebellious attitude fostered within her, she was willing to overlook any seeming appearance of outward respectability. Boredom and uncertainty gave way to happiness and womanhood without Stella really knowing why. She hesitated to investigate for fear that a world of pleasure would be taken from her. Stanley gives her joy and contentment in the world in which they live and this narcotic world will remain the same as long as neither one seeks to change it. The life that Stanley offers is completely satisfying to one who will live it according to his terms, and Stella has accepted these terms. She lives in a sensual stupor. She shuts out all challenge all day long. She loafs, does her hair, her nails, fixes a dress, doesn't eat much, but prepares Stanley's dinner and waits for Stanley. She hopes for no other meaning from life. Stanley has awakened her to her physical self as she never expected to be awakened; with him she realizes herself as a woman.
She is in a paradise, serenely limited paradise, when Blanche enters. Blanche immediately poses a threat to Stella's existence. She makes her consider Stanley in a different light, one that is reflective of the "gentlemen" they knew back in Mississippi. Stella is made to judge Stanley for the first time and, although she refuses to admit it, he is found wanting. Her reasons for marrying Stanley are now put on trial, because Blanche's presence causes her to revert to her former values. Her sympathies go out to Blanche because of her tragic marriage, and she tries to shield her from Stanley. Stella's doubts and fears erupt into open conflict for the first time on the evening of the poker party. Seeing Stanley drunk and disorderly disgusts her. Blanche's visions of apes and sub-humans come vividly to mind, as she rushes out the door after Stanley's blows hurt more in her mind than on her body. However, Stella realizes that without Stanley, she too might become a pathetic caricature of a fading Southern aristocrat. So no matter what Stanley does she must cling to him, as to life itself. When Stanley cries out for her, Stella rushes back into his arms. Later, when Blanche tells her about the rape, she must pretend that Blanche is mad to avoid losing Stanley. However, Stella is doomed too. She had settled for a temporary solution. She has denied a great part of her life just to live for Stanley's pleasures, but she cannot live drugged forever. She is much more of a human being than that. Eventually her life with Stanley will wear thin and her only hope will be her children. Like so many women she will start living more and more for her children. Blanche, despite apparent failure, makes Stella realize certain things about Stanley. At the end of the play, her life is entirely different. It will never be the same with Stanley again.
Harold (Mitch) Mitchell
Mitch is the disappointing hero of the play. When his character first becomes realized the audience sees him as a big, tough, burly fellow with a rough Southern voice and the manner of a homespun, awkward, overgrown boy. He is gentle and kind and sees Blanche as a real person, one to be respected and listened to. He seems capable and willing to understand the loneliness of other people because he has known loneliness himself. He and Blanche seem to be made for each other because they both have a fidelity to the roots from which they sprang. Mitch has a true devotion to his mother, he provides and cares for her and she in turn sets the standards by which he lives. Blanche also has true devotion to her childhood, and it in turn sets the standards by which she must live. Mitch needs Blanche as an escape from the conflicts that have arisen because of his gentlemanliness in a hostile environment: he is embarrassed by his poker-playing buddies who criticize him for being a momma's boy. Because he is no longer a boy he feels a need to prove his manliness, and a means by which he can satisfy his desires. Blanche is ideal for him. He can take her home and his mother will be proud of him and still she has the potential of satisfying his physical desires. In his relationship with Blanche he has finally found a girl who needs him, and he knows this is an important moment in his life to prevent a future of loneliness. Blanche needs Mitch, also, as an escape from the hostility of her environment. He is a caricature of a Southern gentleman, and yet, curiously, he is a gentleman. She needs Mitch for security, warmth, and protection of her honor. Mitch needs Blanche as desperately as she needs him. Then why did Mitch reject her in the end? There is a difference in the backgrounds of Mitch and Blanche, an important difference. By a quirk of fate, Blanche was cast out of her juvenile environment into a world that was alien to her. Although she found this world full of conflict and difficulty, she benefited by her exposure to reality. She understood the depths of sorrow and despair, and the degradation that can be caused by an inability to cope with such emotions. She had a keen awareness of the desperate fight a person must wage to prevent loneliness. However, she was unable to adjust to this type of reality and so she was destroyed. Mitch has never experienced life free from the protection of his mother. Neither by fate nor as the result of his own doing has he had the opportunity of facing up to reality. His responses to pity, sorrow, loneliness, are all conditioned by the tutoring of his mother. Although he can recognize the results of emotion in people he can never truly understand its cause. So when he was finally faced with the bawdy truth of reality his response was conditional, he ran to avoid confusion. Mitch will always be the big boy because he failed his test for manliness. In the environment of the New Orleans slums, Mitch's lack of manliness will eventually destroy him.
Eunice And Steve Hubbell
The Hubbells are the owners of the building in which the Kowalskis live. Steve is the prototype of Stanley. He lives his life and treats his wife in the same manner as does Stanley, only when he hits her she strikes back. Eunice is older than Stella and much wiser in the ways of living in the slums of New Orleans. She is content with her situation because she has learned to accept life for what it is and for whatever happens "life has got to go on."
Stella uses Eunice as a model of conformity to a life that was completely foreign to her. With Eunice's help and advice Stella not only endures the day by day existence with Stanley, but she also enjoys it. Unlike Blanche, Eunice offers no recognition of the better things in life and Stella can continue to live her narcotized existence with Stanley without the feelings of guilt.
Eunice and Steve have developed a harmony in their marital life that is envied by Stella and Stanley. They present an important example to follow if Stella and Stanley's marriage is to remain successful.
Negro Woman And Pablo Gonzalez
Tennessee Williams uses the characters of the Negro Woman and Pablo as a representation of the integrated neighborhood in which the Kowalskis live. New Orleans is a cosmopolitan city where there is a relatively warm and easy intermingling of races in the old section of the town.
The Young Man is a symbolic image of one of Blanche's weaknesses. Her flirtation with him in scene five and the past history of Blanche's seduction of a seventeen-year-old boy are explained by her tragic marriage to a young man, Allan Grey.
The Mexican Woman enters in scene nine as a flower vendor. Her cry is "flores para los muertos" (flowers for the dead). It is in scene nine that Blanche realizes that Mitch no longer wants her and that all hope is gone. The vendor's cry becomes a symbolic refrain for the play.
Doctor And Nurse
In the very last moment of the play the two solemn figures of the Doctor and the Nurse enter to take Blanche away to the asylum. Blanche's reaction to their individual approaches is indicative of her reaction to life. The Nurse approaches Blanche with harshness and physical cruelty and Blanche reacts vehemently, as she did to Stanley and the rest of the crudeness in the world. The Doctor approaches Blanche with tenderness and gentility and she responds favorably for she has "always depended on the kindness of strangers."
"It said everything I had to say," was Tennessee Williams' comment on his play A Streetcar Named Desire. After undergoing an operation that resulted in the removal of three inches of small intestine, Williams was convinced that his next play would be his last. He set out to explore the far recesses of his mind to establish his main philosophy of life, "The apes shall inherit the earth." Williams was a very sickly and sensitive person in his youth and very easily subjected to the harshness and cruelty of others. In A Streetcar Named Desire it is obvious that he regards most men as savages and that his sympathies lie with the sensitive, gentle, unprotected recipient of the world's cruelty, who intends not to "hang back with the brutes!" Therefore, Randolph Goodman feels that the play can "thus be read as an allegorical representation of the author's view of the world he lives in."
Most critics felt A Streetcar Named Desire to be a superior play to The Glass Menagerie, which at the time of the opening of Streetcar was the only other notable play the playwright had written. They recognized a distinctive talent and were intrigued by the scope and the complexity of the play. Brooks Atkinson in his review of the stage production found the play "almost unbearably tragic." The audience, he reported, came away "profoundly moved. . . . For they have been sitting all evening in the presence of truth, and that is a rare and wonderful experience." However, he made a subtle exception in the case of Blanche when he said: "Since she is created on the stage as a distinct individual, experiences identical with hers can never be repeated. She and the play that is woven about her are unique." Severe criticism has been made of the sensational moments of the play; the beating of Stella and the violation of Blanche, but Joseph Wood Krutch feels that, in spite of the sensational quality of the story, "the author's perceptions remain subtle and delicate and he is amazingly aware of nuances even in situations where nuance might seem to be inevitably obliterated by violence." He believed Williams' stories "enable him to communicate emotions which have special, personal significance," and that "his plays will be immediately recognizable by their familiar themes and a sensibility as unique as that of a lyric poet." To substantiate Krutch's remarks one has only to consider the method by which Williams handles the poetic overtones in Streetcar. Elia Kazan, broadway director, identifies this play as "poetic tragedy" and yet a strong reality of character, environment and dialogue is undeniably evident. We see the justification of Kazan's statement in the character of Blanche. Her traditional background abounds in refinement of language, manners, and education. Her present conditions of alcoholism, incontinence, and common prostitution are a drastic departure from all of the righteousness of her youth. In order to live with the knowledge of this social and physical degradation, Blanche must conceal her outward appearance with the affectations of a Southern lady. "Her consuming need, moreover, is to make herself and others constantly aware of her refinements," Gassner states. The memories of her past, however, are just as unbearable as her present circumstances so she must create a dream world of delusion, which becomes apparent in her outward behavior. She becomes a caricature of stylized manners and speech which encompasses the poetic quality of the play.
Thus, it becomes apparent that the poetic behavior of her past life is in conflict with the reality of her present life and, therefore, John Gassner observes that "In Streetcar, poetic drama becomes psychological reality." This fusion of the world of fantasy with the world of reality is important in the development of the main conflict of the play.
Blanche's opposition to the situation in which she is involved, as pointed out by John Gassner, creates a series of ambiguities. When she first arrives in the Kowalski household she is looking for a means of escape. She needs protection from a world to which she will not adjust. In seeking this protection, however, she refuses to realize her incongruity and benefit by her past mistakes. She insists that her way of life is the only correct way to live and, thereby causes a threat to the relationship between Stanley and Stella. It becomes evident that her stubborn insistence will shatter the very protection she seeks. Also, her insistence on the correct way of living is based upon a myth. Her previous life is nothing but a representation of a decayed society, one that has become extinct because of its refusal to adjust to modern times. Stella, who was reared in a similar tradition, made an attempt to adjust to modern society. It was a faulty adjustment, however, caused by a desperate need to escape the destruction of a rapidly disintegrating family heritage. Blanche, on the other hand, made no attempt to adjust and the result has been the destruction of not only her own life, but the lives of those whom she needed most, Stanley, Stella, and Mitch. Thus it appears that Blanche is the villain of the piece. When she first arrives she does nothing to commend herself. She drinks, she quarrels, she is superficial, and we can hardly wait for Stanley to tell her off. However, her adversary seems to fare no better in the hands of the playwright; Stanley is portrayed as the personification of disgusting normality, or as one of the brutes who will eventually inherit the earth. Stella is also pictured as one of the weaknesses rather than the strengths of civilization in her acceptance of a husband who gives her satisfaction of physical desires in lieu of a healthy social relationship. Nancy Tischner suggests that "apparently Williams wants the audience to believe that Stella is wrong in loving Stanley but right in living with him." With whom does the sympathy of the audience lie? Joseph Wood Krutch tries to clarify this ambiguity by making reference to a statement by Blanche in scene two while speaking to Stella about Stanley: "he's just not the type that goes for jasmine perfume, but maybe he's what we need to mix with our blood now that we've lost Belle Reve." Taking into consideration that Stella represents the decaying aristocracy and Stanley the natural man, Mr. Krutch answers that "virility, even orgiastic virility, is the proper answer to decadence." So the decaying aristocracy is rejuvenated by its union with a "representative of the people." Whereas part of the audience is in sympathy with Stella, the other part will share sympathy with Blanche in feeling "better decadence than this obscene surrender." Mr. Krutch, in appraising Blanche, insists, "Her instincts are right. She is on the side of civilization and refinement. But the age has placed her in a tragic dilemma. She looks about for a tradition according to which she may live and a civilization to which she can be loyal. She finds none. Ours is a society which has lost its shape." Behind Blanche lies a past which seems to have been civilized. "The culture of the Old South is dead, and she has good reason to know that it is. It is, however, the only culture about which she knows anything. The world of Stella and her husband is a barbarism-perhaps, as its admirers would say, a vigorous barbarism-but a barbarism nonetheless." In this dilemma, "Blanche chooses the dead past and becomes a victim of that impossible choice, but she does choose it rather than the 'adjustment' of her sister. At least she has not succumbed to barbarism." Thus we see the ambiguities are dramatically, indeed tragically, fruitful. The decision of the direction or division of sympathy lies entirely in the minds of the audience.
While Williams was successful in intensifying the dramatic interest in Streetcar with the use of ambiguity he, at the same time, caused confusion. John Gassner shows that he "reduced potential tragedy to psychopathology." Gassner diagnoses Blanche's psychological situation as "so untenable when she enters the home of Stanley and Stella that she should be receiving psychiatric care." Williams becomes improbable in his justification for the causes of many of Blanche's ills. Her background of the decline of an aristocratic family in the form of money, death, and morals and the tragic history of her marriage to a young sensitive homosexual hardly gives credibility to her own destruction. Despite the inefficiency of the stability of her early training, it is obvious that Blanche had received a good formal education. Her interest in the arts and her manner of conduct would warrant strong belief in her ability to make a reasonable living teaching school. The fact that a neurosis was caused by the suicide of her young maladjusted husband is a motivation found believable only in Williams' wild imagination. "Nor it is convincing," Mr. Gassner points out, "that the young husband's death should have led her to seduce school children and take up with soldiers in a neighboring camp. In Streetcar, in so far as Blanche's role is concerned, only her illness is believable-and even that is suspect, in so far as its inevitability is questionable." Blanche, then, although she has the intelligence, idealism, and tragic vision necessary for the classic heroine, falls short because psychopathology substitutes for Fate.
Williams intention of expressing the ills of the world in the brutish character of Stanley also smacks of dramatic excessiveness. In order to prove the validity of Stella's final decision of remaining faithful to Stanley, the ultimate and most important decision of the play, the audience must see proof of the fact that Stanley will make a good provider and father for her children. Initially it is apparent that Stanley has a great deal of confidence in himself as a man and a husband and that Stella can find security in his confidence. He can be admired for defending his home against the treachery of Blanche's influence and, for the sake of his own peace, to send her packing. But to justify the deliberate and brutal violation of Blanche on the pretense of dramatic effectiveness shows a basic weakness in the unity of the play. The audience is faced with the decision of whether Blanche and Stella's destruction was caused by their inability to adjust to the modern world or whether it was the result of a process of evolution that has succeeded in creating a society of monsters. Stanley is decidedly an abnormal member of society. His brutal attack on Blanche lowered him to a realm of degenerates who are in no way fit for society, much less to father children. Therefore, Stella's decision to choose her degenerate husband over an infirm sister lacks true
Essay Questions And Answers
Question: Discuss the major symbols used in A Streetcar Named Desire and show how they are related to the drama.
Answer: The most obvious symbol used in the play is its title and the actual reference in the play to the streetcars named Desire and Cemeteries. They are the means by which Blanche was brought to the home of Stanley and Stella and as the play unfolds we realize the names of the streetcars have a greater significance. Blanche's instructions were "to take a streetcar named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries." When Blanche first arrives she is possessed by a desire for love and understanding, but always in the background lurks the fear of death and destruction. If the one cannot be obtained a transfer to the other will be the inevitable alternative. Blanche indicates this in her speech to Mitch in scene nine: "Death-I used to sit here and she used to sit over there and death was as close as you are. . . . We didn't dare even admit we had ever heard of it? The opposite is desire." A subtle use of the symbol makes scene six very poignant: Mitch and Blanche have just returned from the amusement park and Blanche, concerned about transportation to take Mitch home, is surprised to hear that Desire runs all night long. The two basic drives, desire and death, are persistent throughout the play in determining Blanche's total behavior.
The destination for Blanche's streetcar travels is Elysian Fields, which also has a symbolic significance to the play. It is the section of New Orleans in which Stanley and Stella live as well as a reference to Greek mythology meaning paradise. In Streetcar, Stanley and Stella have created their own type of paradise in the sensual and blissful existence in which they live. Ironically, the location has an opposite effect on Blanche. Instead of finding happiness and contentment she encounters nothing but sorrow and destruction. Perhaps one can go further in suggesting that Paradise was originally created for two. The intrusion of a third member caused sin and despair. Elysian Fields will never be the same for Stanley and Stella after Blanche's departure.
During Blanche's slow and inevitable journey toward insanity she is constantly looking for a means of escape. Realizing that satisfaction is impossible in the Kowalski household, she reaches out desperately to Mitch. When this means of escape becomes unattainable she creates an escape of her own, Shep Huntleigh. He is a symbol of the perfect gentleman for whom Blanche searched but never really found. She found him, however, in her world of fantasy. As Blanche's deterioration increases, Huntleigh becomes a more vital and dominant illusion for her.
In scene nine we hear the vendor's cry of the Mexican Woman, "Flores, flores para los muertos" (flowers, flowers for the dead). It follows the moment when Mitch denounces Blanche as a liar and thereupon refuses to marry her. The vendor's cry becomes symbolic of Blanche's failure to remain among the living. Blanche protests by shouting "No, no! Not now! Not now!" but the cry persists and in the following moment Blanche loses her hold on reality.
Constantly, throughout the play there is a continual reference to light. It is used in the form of bright sunlight, on the morning following Stella's beating at the hands of Stanley, indicating they have settled their grievances. It is used in the form of candlelight for the amorous isolation of Mitch and Blanche in scene six. But most important, it is used as a foil for Blanche. From the moment she viewed the death of her young husband, Blanche was aware that the bright searchlight of the world was extinguished and since that time, life to her has been nothing more than the flicker of a candle; and she intends to keep it that way for she is prepared to protect herself from the harsh light of reality with the use of a paper lantern. The paper lantern becomes a symbol of Blanche. She covers every bare light bulb for fear that her life of illusion will be discovered. Mitch finds the real Blanche by tearing the lantern from the light, and Stanley hands her the remains of her torn illusion in the very last moment of the play as she is being lead away to an asylum.
Question: What is the main theme in A Streetcar Named Desire?
Answer: The play A Streetcar Named Desire is about Blanche DuBois; therefore, the main theme of the drama concerns her directly. In Blanche is seen the tragedy of an individual caught between two worlds-the world of the past and the world of the present-unwilling to let go of the past and unable, because of her character, to come to any sort of terms with the present. The final result is her destruction. This process began long before her clash with Stanley Kowalski. It started with the death of her young husband, a weak and perverted boy who committed suicide when she taunted him with her disgust at the discovery of his perversion. In retrospect, she knows that he was the only man she had ever loved, and from this early catastrophe evolves her promiscuity. She is lonely and frightened, and she attempts to fight this condition with sex. Desire fills the emptiness when there is no love and desire blocks the inexorable movement of death, which has already wasted and decayed Blanche's ancestral home Belle Reve.
For Blanche, Belle Reve was the remaining symbol of a life and tradition that she knows in her heart have vanished, yet to which she clings with a desperate tenacity. She is dated. Her speech, manners and habit are foolishly passe, but still she cannot abandon this sense of herself as someone special, as a "lady" in the grand tradition. She knows she is an anachronism in an alien world and yet she will not compromise. She cannot and will not surrender the dream she has of herself, and even though she wants desperately not to be lonely, it is precisely the clinging to this dream, the airs, mannerisms and sense of herself, which alienate her further. She is trapped in a terrifying contradiction. Her need to be special, to adhere to codes and a tradition no longer valid, creates an intense isolation, while simultaneously her desire not to be alone, to be loved, threatens to break through this isolation. It not only threatens, but does break through. Betrayed by love once in her life, she nevertheless seeks it in the effort to fill the lonely void; thus, her promiscuity. But to adhere to her tradition and her sense of herself as a lady, she cannot face this sensual part of herself. She associates it with the animalism of Stanley's love-making and terms it brutal desire. She feels guilt and a sense of sin when she does surrender to it, and yet she does, out of intense loneliness. By viewing sensuality as brutal desire she is able to disassociate it from what she feels is her true self, but only at the price of an intense inner conflict. Since she cannot integrate these conflicting elements of desire and gentility, she tries to reject the one-desire-and live solely by the other. Desperately seeking a haven she looks increasingly to fantasy. Taking refuge in tinsel, fine clothes, and rhinestones, and the illusion that a beau is available whenever she wants him, she seeks tenderness and beauty in a world of her own making.
Blanche is not really lost in illusions; rather she uses them as camouflage. She wears them as she wears her clothes and her glass necklaces, in protection from a reality which she finds horrifying. One must not think of Blanche as just a fragile, delicate blossom. There is a fierce desire in her for life at any cost. Her masquerade may be a defense against a brutal world, but it is a clawing, desperate defense. Tragically for Blanche, it is a losing defense. Blanche simply has too many strikes against her. Her past, the lies she must tell to conceal it, and her concept of herself as a Southern lady, all conspire to destroy her when Stanley Kowalski sets himself to the task of exposing her.
Question: Discuss the aspects of loneliness in the play.
Answer: Loneliness comes from an unfulfilled desire to be loved and needed. Blanche was lonely when she arrived at Elysian Fields, the home of Stanley and Stella Kowalski. She recognized this same condition in Mitch and thereby became attracted to him. Both are individuals who desperately attempt to achieve some kind of meaningful human communication and contact, but because of their respective characters and the situation in which they find themselves, are unable to succeed. Blanche's greatest dilemma is finding someone to take the place of the husband whom she loved and inadvertently lost. This search for love, for the need to fill the void within her, is the essential reason for her promiscuity. Mitch, too, is a victim of loneliness. Although bound to his aged mother, he is restless and unsatisfied. He feels incomplete and longs for someone who will give him a sense of wholeness. He, like Blanche, had loved once and lost. In the mutual need of Blanche and Mitch, and in their inability to fulfill this need, they beautifully and poignantly express the theme of loneliness.
Question: Compare the characters of Stella and Blanche.
Answer: The most obvious comparison between Stella and Blanche is that they are sisters, but this blood relationship suggests other similarities between the two women. They are both part of the final generation of a once aristocratic but now moribund family. Both manifest a great deal of culture and sensitivity, and because of this, both seem out of place in Elysian Fields. Blanche, of course, is much more of an anachronism than Stella, who has for the most part adapted to the environment of Stanley Kowalski. Finally, both Stella and Blanche are or have been married. It is in their respective marriages that we can begin to trace the profound differences between these two sisters.
Where Blanche's marriage proved catastrophic to her, Stella's marriage seems to be fulfilling her as a woman. Blanche's marriage to a young homosexual, and the subsequent tragedy that resulted from her discovery of her husband's degeneracy and her inability to help him, have been responsible for much of the perversity in her life; Stella's marriage to Stanley, on the other hand, seems to have given her the happiness and fulfillment which Blanche has attempted to fill in a guilt-ridden life of loneliness with promiscuity. As a result she has become neurotic and alcoholic, slipping increasingly into insanity. Stella, meanwhile, has been thriving in a profane, coarse, but wholly satisfying sexual relationship with Stanley. Thus, superficially, the main contrast between Stella and Blanche seems to be one between sickness and health, perversity and normality, particularly in the sexual relationship. Stella is thriving; Blanche is disintegrating. But a closer examination of these sisters begins to show more complex differences in their characters and situations. Blanche is disintegrating for reasons other than sexual perversity, and Stella is paying a rather steep price for her so-called "normal" life with Stanley.
Blanche is committed to a tradition and a way of life that have become anachronistic in the world of Stanley Kowalski. She is committed to a code of civilization that died with her ancestral home, Belle Reve. Stella recognizes this tradition and her sister's commitment to it, but she has chosen to relinquish it and to come to terms with a world that has no place for it. In a sense, Blanche is frantic in her refusal to relinquish her concept of herself as a lady belonging to a cultured and cultivated tradition, even though that tradition is all but dissipated. Stella, on the other hand, is the conformist, who has allowed herself to be pulled from the pillars of Belle Reve and has adapted to her new existence with the vital, amoral, and uncouth Stanley. But Stella has had to pay a high price for salvation: the submerging of every element in her character that makes her similar to Blanche-personal dignity, gentility, and the sense of herself as a lady. At the end of the play, Stella takes Eunice's advice and goes on living with Stanley even though she knows he has destroyed her sister. But this is not as much a triumph on Stella's part as it is a capitulation to the way things are. Blanche has been destroyed because of her commitment to some rather shopworn, but still noble ideals; Stella will thrive because she has paid a price Blanche could never pay: capitulation. Stella has chosen life, but life bereft of everything that, according to Blanche makes it meaningful. These choices, rather than their sexual relationships, are the main points of contrast between the sisters.