A Streetcar Named Desire is a web of complex themes and conflicted characters. Set in New Orleans immediately following World War II, Tennessee Williams infuses Blanche and Stanley with the symbols of opposing class and differing attitudes towards sex and love. Yet there are no clear-cut lines of good vs. evil, no character is neither completely good nor bad, because the main characters, especially Blanche, are so torn by conflicting and contradictory desires and needs.
The most obvious difference between Blanche and Stanley is one of social background. Whereas Blanche comes from an old Southern family and was raised to see herself as socially elite, Stanley comes from an immigrant family and is a proud member of the working class. They meet one another in the socially turbulent post-war period in New Orleans, one of America’s most diverse cities.
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When Blanche is introduced to the play Tennessee Williams describes her as ‘incongruous’ to the setting. As she appears to be wearing upper-class vestments and expensive jewellery ‘…daintily dressed in a white suit with a fluffy bodice…necklace, earrings, white gloves and a hat.’ Which immediately contrasts with the simple but poor New Orleans. Giving the impression that somehow Blanche has a sense of superiority over its inhabitants.
However despite her appearance, Blanche is already a fallen woman in society’s eyes as she avoids reality, preferring to live in her own imagination instead of reality, due to the many misfortunes that occurred in her life; She claims to have lost Belle Reve, the DuBois family home, however, maintains no proof of the happening, lost her job as a teacher, lost her young husband to suicide years earlier, also has been known to have had many lovers to satisfy her strong sexual urges and needs for survival, her restless drinking addiction, poorly hidden and finally her persecuting vanity which deprives her to be exposed to bright lights due to her obsession of fading beauty. However despite all the above, throughout most of the play, Blanche puts on the airs of a woman who has never known indignity.
On the other hand, Stanley is introduced as a down-to-earth. His chief amusements are gambling, bowling, sex, and drinking, and he lacks ideals and imagination. Could be described as the typical ‘macho man’, womanizer. ‘…since earliest manhood the centre of his life has been a pleasure with women…his appreciation of rough humour, his love for a good drink and food and games, his car, his radio..’ Stanley has no patience for Blanche’s distortions of the truth, he sees her as untrustworthy and does not appreciate the way she attempts to fool him and his friends into thinking she is better than they are.
In the introducing descriptions Tennessee Williams already shows what could be the possible reasons for conflict between the two characters, by simply using contrasting words to describe them; different views on life, different backgrounds, and different aspirations, with only the love for Stella as a common point.
The conflict between Stanley and Blanche begins in scene two, as Stanley becomes suspicious of the sudden loss of the family home Belle Reve, and questions Stella on the expensive clothing in Blanche’s trunk insinuating she sold the house and spent the money. At this point, Tennessee Williams begins to show glimpses of Stanley’s animal behaviour ‘…He pulls open the wardrobe trunk…and jerks out an armful of dresses.’ Tennessee Williams uses these stage directions to show the anger building up in Stanley, also the choice of the phrase ‘jerks out’ shows the lack of respect Stanley has for Blanche, and by the way, he let himself in her possessions without permission.
When Blanche finally leaves the bathroom, she is confronted by Stanley. She fishes for compliments but Stanley gives her no satisfaction, by being insolent and accusative. When he questions Blanche about her fur-piece and she replies it’s a present from an admirer, Stanley comments in a rudely sarcastic way ‘He must have had a lot of – admiration!’ Tennessee Williams uses the dash to show the dark sarcasm in Stanley’s reply, to put across his disbelieve in Blanche’s answer.
However, Blanche continues with her flirtatious actions to provoke Stanley, but with no result but of making him angrier. She fiddles about with her perfume and tries to spray some on Stanley, but he is not impressed. ‘…he seizes the atomizer and slams it down on the dresser.’ Tennessee Williams decides once again to use Stanley’s aggression to show a build-up of tension between the two characters. The word ‘slams’ can be referred to as an onomatopoeia for loud intimidating noise, to show how he is making Blanche feel uncomfortable.
More tension is built up as Stanley questions Blanche on papers regarding Belle Reve, and she replies by playing dumb and answering with deceiving answers. ‘What papers…There were some papers…they probably are somewhere’ The uncertainty in her answers shows that somehow she is trying to discreetly provoke his patience. She successes, and as she reveals some papers from her trunk, he immediately snatches them from her hands. This mutual provocation between the characters shows the conflict of interests between the two. Tension is finally released as Stella enters the scene and Blanche is in some way saved.
In scene three the conflict continues between Stanley and Blanche. The men are sitting around the table playing poker, as Blanche enters the room she insinuatingly says ‘Please don’t get up’ to make the men feel rude and herself superior. However Stanley comes back to her equally insolently ‘Nobody’s going to get up, so don’t be worried.’ Tennessee Williams uses sarcasm very often in their conversations by this point in the play, that at this point Blanche and Stanley are practically incapable of being in the same room harmoniously.
Blanche continues to provoke Stanley throughout the night, by talking loudly, distracting the game and turning on the radio. I feel she behaves like this because she feels she is in the power of the situation, as Stanley requires something from her so she feels she can provoke him. However, Stanley’s short patience comes to an end as he takes out his anger on the radio, as he rages to switch it off. Tennessee Williams uses a stage direction to show the reader the emotions between the two as so happens. ‘He stops short at the sight of Blanche…she returns his look without flinching.’ The fact that Blanche shows no intimidation by Stanley shows her confidence in having the power in this conflict.
However, by scene four the roles begin to change. Blanche tries to ‘open’ Stella’s eyes on Stanley and his aggressive and violent manners. She reveals her true feelings towards Stanley, openly insulting him and comparing him to an animal, with animal manners and habitudes, not knowing Stanley is present, behind a curtain not in view of the women. Nevertheless of what Blanche had been saying Stella runs up to Stanley as he finally enters the room and embraces him with both arms. Stanley after overhearing Blanche previously, simply grins at her over Stella’s head. I feel Tennessee Williams uses the simple gesture of a grin to pursue many feelings and thoughts. The grin represents the confidence in Stanley who has now gained power over the conflict, by witnessing that Stella is somehow on his ‘side’. He now feels stronger with Stella as his back up, against Blanche.
At this point Stanley reveals his revengeful side by committing spiteful acts towards Blanche, hurting her in many ways; his investigations of her past, his birthday gift to her, his sabotage of her relationship with Mitch. By this point in the play, Mitch and Blanche have established a growing relationship, due to their common wish of marrying, however, Stanley’s unexciting trust towards Blanche leads him to investigate her past. He finds out about her dirty deeds committed at her previous employment in a school and her addiction to sleeping with strangers to fulfil her sexual fantasies and needs for survival, spitefully he reveals his knowledge to Mitch sabotaging every hope Blanche had of settling down and being happy. This action shows how Stanley is slowly gaining more control of the situation, degrading Blanche, and pushing her to leave more and more.
Another of his spiteful ‘jokes’ towards Blanche is his present to her, from him, a bus ticket back to Laurel. Blanche has no direct reaction to Stanley already distraught because of Matches absence that night, all she does is run to the bathroom crying and choking. I feel Tennessee Williams, does not make Blanche react directly to Stanley to show her loss of power in the conflict, and how she is slowly giving up to him. . Blanche’s final, deluded happiness suggests that, to some extent, fantasy is a vital force at play in every individual’s experience, despite reality’s inevitable triumph.
In Scene Nine, when the Mexican woman appears selling “flowers for the dead,” Blanche reacts with horror because the woman announces Blanche’s fate. Her fall into madness can be read as the ending brought about by her dual flaws-her inability to act appropriately on her desire and her desperate fear of human mortality. Sex and death are intricately and fatally linked in Blanche’s experience. When Stanley rapes her, he removes the last grains of dignity that remained in Stella, and finally gains full power and control. This scene is somehow in contrast with the first time Blanche and Stanley met. In the begging, it was Blanche provoking and flirting with Stanley. However, by this point, Blanche has lost all her confidence and has developed fear towards Stanley. In the beginning, she flirtatiously asked him to button up her dress whilst now she shouts at him to get out.
Stanley’s action of raping Blanche and showing no remorse shows he is the triumph of the conflict, he achieves what he wants by winning over Blanche, and manages to make her leave his home, as he desired however in the most brutal of ways. Blanche is deceivingly lead to a mental instate by a doctor who comes to receive her at Stella’s and Stanley’s home. The play ends with an image of Stanley as the ideal family man, comforting his wife as she holds their newborn child. The wrongfulness of this representation, given what we have learned about him in the play, ironically calls into question society’s decision to ostracize Blanche.
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