“Streetcar Named Desire” is a play by Tennessee Williams in which the theme of desire is effectively highlighted by one specific scene. The theme is explored through the use of symbolism and characterization. Scene 4 is effective in deepening my understanding of the play as a whole and reinforcing characterization within the play. Stella is well educated, decides in Scene 4 to abandon her values and embrace Stanley’s lower-class way of living; for example, Stella is reading “a book of coloured comics.” She has become dependant on Stanley.
Reading comics is childish, and Stella has purposely left behind her well-educated background on her quest for Stanley’s approval. We can see that by lowering her expectations of life and by marrying a commoner, Stella has given in to desire. This is effective because you wouldn’t expect an educated woman to read a comic as they are associated with illiterates and low social classes. Another example of desire in Stella’s life is that scene 4 occurs the morning after Stanley hits her. Stella explains that she is “thrilled” by Stanley’s passionate anger.
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She is honest about why she likes Stanley and what excites her, unlike Blanche, who troubles herself with hiding her promiscuity. She admits that the violence is the attraction. Stella’s bluntness is surprising because she comes from the North, where it is unusual for women to be so open about their desires and needs. Stella also loves the fact he is a potentially dangerous man. We are shown this when Stella tells us of his violence on their wedding night. Stanley “rushed about the place smashing the light-bulbs.” This allows us to understand that Stella chooses to stay with Stanley because the strong desire for him physically has made her blind to his bad qualities.
This helps us understand that Stella embraces New World’s open-minded values, and Blanche refuses to accept them by hiding her lewdness. The theme of desire is also highlighted when Blanche tries to convince Stella to leave Stanley. The juxtaposition between Blanche and Stella’s reaction to the brutal attack on Stella is ironic because Blanche is hysterical. In contrast, Stella is calm and indifferent to the situation, even though she was attacked. Although the irony highlights Stella’s weakness for Stanley’s brutality, this is effective because we are given an insight into how Stanley uses his animalistic side to control the people around him.
Stella defends herself against Blanche by saying, “I’m not in anything I want to get out of,” this reinforces that Stella does not want to leave Stanley because of her strong desire for him. Blanche’s response, “I don’t understand you.”, then allows us to see that Blanche will not listen to anyone else’s point of view, which shows she is completely absorbed in herself and what she wants. It could also suggest that Blanche has never known desire for somebody, only the desperation and need for somebody to love her. Blanche depends on male sexual admiration for her self-esteem, which means that she often has to succumb to the pressure of desire rather than finding a perfect suitor. This helps us understand her relationship with Mitch and why she can’t bear to see Stella being so naï¿½ve and completely controlled by Stanley.
The central symbol “a streetcar named desire” is mentioned in the dialogue between Blanche and Stella in Scene 4. ‘” Haven’t you ever ridden on that Streetcar?”, “It brought me here.”‘. The dialogue about the streetcar is ambiguous because a streetcar named desire literally brought her to Stella. In Laurel, Blanche created a disreputable name for herself, sleeping around with men for shelter and the vain comfort that she is still desired by the opposite sex, even as an ageing Southern Belle. Her promiscuous ways were looked down upon in Laurel, and she was disowned by the community, which led to her arrival in New Orleans. But the streetcar also has a deeper meaning; it is a metaphor for Blanche’s poor state of mental deterioration and how once you are on track, you can never come off it.
It is a one-way ticket to destruction. We are aware of Blanche’s fragility throughout the play, and Scene 4 is useful in demonstrating her hysterical state because calm Stella acts as a foil to Blanche. The streetcar symbol reminds us of why Blanche is present in Scene 4 at all because desire destroyed her life in Laurel. Throughout the scene, Tennessee Williams makes successful use of characterization and symbolism in unravelling the central idea of the play, desire. By exploring the theme of desire, we are compelled to appreciate that Tennessee Williams believes that desire is a destructive force and will always end in tragedy. Therefore, the aftermath of the violent attack on Stella was significant in enhancing my understanding of the play as a whole.