How does Williams portray the character of Stanley and his attitudes? In your answer you should consider Williams’ use of language choices and dramatic techniques.
Stanley is the primary male character in A Streetcar Named Desire. His dominating role encompasses the cultural values of Elysian Fields, where men are breadwinners and women are the homemakers. On first appearance Stanley is portrayed as a physically attractive man and dominating attitude towards his wife. He is he is a proud ‘American’ and dislikes people who think they are superior to him. Behind the uneducated and almost degenerate-like behaviour of Stanley, the audience see his manipulative side and determination to break Blanche’s spirits.
The first appearance of Stanley is when he and his friends are coming back from bowling one night. He is carrying a “red stained package from the butchers”, this gives the image that Stanley is dirty and untidy man possibly even a caveman bring home the meat to his wife. The audience can begin to build a picture of who Stanley is by his apparel, he is “roughly dressed in blue denim work clothes” suggesting that he is employed in a low skilled labour-intensive job, not a comfortable office role, this adds to the untidy and ruthless image of him.
The stage directions show he is physically attractive “medium height, about five feet eight or nine, strongly, compactly built” the asyndentic description is not dressed in abstract adjectives but it is to the point and factual. The straightforwardness quality about this description hints that Stanley is a man of few words and ‘what you get is what you see with him’.
Williams’ explores Stanley’s appearance particularly when the character “rips off his shirt” and changes to a “brilliant bowling shirt”. The alliteration in this phrase emphasises how much of a wonderful piece of clothing it is, the image of a peacock showing off its feathers is painted in the audiences mind because him replacing his shirt with a ‘brilliant’ one. The dramatic technique of Stanley ripping his shirt off allows the audience to see his well built physique as well, effectively seeing the “animal joy in his being”.
His masculine image is illustrated furthermore when he aggressively and very abruptly “throws the screen door open” and the description of what he looks for in a partner, “sizes up women…with sexual classifications”. He does not care much about personality and intelligence but rather beauty and obedience, this adds to the cavemen like portrayal of him. Stella is “thrilled by” Stanley’s masculinity; she enjoys his empowering and sexual presence. Stanley finds attracting Stella very satisfying as he believes he has the power to attract women from higher social lasses and bring them to ‘his level’.
He forces his attitudes and way of living on to Stella for instance it is almost the social norm for the men to get drunk on the ‘poker nights’. He does not like the women disrupting his game. This point is highlighted when Stanley uses an imperative “You hens cut out the conversation in there!” the noun ‘hen’ demeans the women in the play. Stanley’s attitude is that women only exist to give birth and to produce eggs (cook food). The animal itself is quite weak and the noises it makes can be quite annoying, this hints on how feeble the women are and how Stanley finds them annoying when they talk too much.
The use of imperatives and interrogatives directed at his wife suggest he is the dominating person in their relationships. In Scene Eight Stanley is outraged when Stella calls him a disgusting pig, he reacts with repeating the words they have called him. The hyphens used in “pig – Polack – disgusting – vulgar – greasy!” with the added exclamation mark suggest that he is becoming angrier by the second. The letter harsh sounding letter ‘g’ in most of the words puts emphasises how disdainful the words are. Williams is trying to steer the audience into thinking that Stanley very much dislikes his confidence being battered by women.
Male chauvinism is something that is part of Stanley, he believes “Every Man is a King”, he reinforces the declarative sentence with “and I am the king around here” this conveys his attitude to family-life, that males are superior.
He ends his turn in the conversation by hurling the cup and saucer and says “you want me to clear your plates”, the image of him hurling the plates symbolise his strength and in this context his rhetorical question is almost a threat. Perhaps he is suggesting that he could physically hurt them with. The dramatic technique of this is of how Stanley hit his wife and how he could do it again just as he has hurled other things.
The male character is portrayed as being highly aggressive and physically powerful throughout the play. The audience in today’s world may well have been shocked by Stanley when he hit Stella during the Poker Night. Regardless of Blanche’s very fake, delusional and manipulative behaviour, Stanley is questionably the real antagonist for hitting his wife.
A counterargument to that though maybe that it was socially acceptable in the time the play was set. Eunice and Steve illustrate this argument, they symbolise an exaggerated version of Stanley and Stella. They have an argument, Steve hits his wife and yet they embrace in affection later on, mirroring what happens with Stanley and Stella. William hints on the women’s great dependence on men in this play Stella has always loved Stanley despite his cruel behaviour.
The representation of old and new America is a theme that takes part in the play. Stanley is highly offended by Blanche calling him a ‘Polack’ in Scene Eight. Even though Stanley is of Polish descent, he regards himself as “one hundred percent” American is “proud as hell of it”. The complex sentence he uses creates an effect of him almost reciting a speech on how patriotic he is or singing the national anthem. In his past, he used to be in the army, giving an understanding of how he is prepared to fight for ‘his country. William’s develops the fearless and possibly even noble side of Stanley by projecting his pride.
Compared to Blanche and sometimes even Stella, Stanley’s use of language is not poetic. He does not refer to many early literature examples, he does not use different languages from different cultures or think of many abstract adjectives. Williams uses incomplete sentences for Stanley, after Blanche makes a joke about him, he replies with a “huh” implies that Stanley is slightly lost and dim-witted.
The use of language by Stanley is sometimes incorrect. “Wasn’t we happy together” represents his non-standard English, he expects Stella to be used to the way he talks. On the other hand, Williams may have wanted to make this language choice to illustrate spontaneous speech.
Stanley’s behaviour is characterised as rather degenerate-like. Stage directions that connote animalistic behaviour are weaved through the play. Stanley “stalks into the bedroom”, “jumps up” and “hurls the fur”. He describes their intimacy as “making noise in the night” and getting “them coloured lights going” rather than thinking of a more romantic expression.
He describes it quite vividly and slightly childlike as well. However it is arguable that this phrase is quite an evocative phrase and suits their physical relationship. The reference to light foreshadows one of the key themes in the play; this could be a dramatic device to remind the audience of Blanche’s anxious behaviour.
Blanche describes Stanley as an ape in her disjointed yet poetic and almost planned out extended speech on him. She says he “Eats like one, moves like one, talks like one” the repetition of ‘like one’ creates a narrative element to her speech. The way she describes him sounds as if she is describing a villainous character in a fairytale. Williams generally creates a view that Stanley and Blanche are polar opposites but on close analysis they have some similar characteristics.
When the opportunity arises for them to have a cathartic moment, they dramatise themselves. An example of this is at the beginning of Scene Seven “So I been told. And told and told and told!” the build up for the four-part repetition allows Stanley to have a raising tone of voice after each repetition. Stanley also describes Blanche as the villainous character in a fairytale showing they are both in conflict.
Despite his somewhat ‘blunt’ way of speaking and the suggestion that he is uneducated. Stanley can become manipulative on occasions and therefore he is seen as an antagonist at some points. In Scene Five Stanley tries to shock Blanche with his knowledge about her past. “Say, do you happen to know somebody named Shaw?” the lexis “say” is subtle manipulative devise.
There was no need for the word to be part of the imperative question but he is trying to soften his question in front of Stella although Blanche knows its deadly meaning. The stage directions of him advancing towards her add tension as he is trying to show he has some aggressive tactics.
Stanley’s manipulative side is presented when pretends to not have heard Blanche trying to convince Stella to leave Stanley, this triggers what is most likely his permanent hatred against her. He tries to act nonchalant but it is clear that he is putting up a facade due to the unusual optimistic tone in his language. He asks where Blanche is and says hello to her in a friendly manner.
There is a feeling of déjà vu as Stanley was only this friendly when he spoke to Blanche in Scene One. Yet the difference here is that towards the end of this scene is the “grin” he has when he looks at Blanche suggesting he is ready to ‘break’ Blanche.
Blanche and Stanley are similar to each other in terms of manipulating Stella. Stanley calls Stella ‘baby’ and ‘honey’. The pronoun ‘baby’ is slightly demeaning and makes her seem more like an ‘object’ rather than a person. Stanley’s attitude on how to get Stella on ‘his side’ is quite simple. He refers to their passionate nights alone and calls her as ‘Stell’ more often. She becomes a person not an object when he name is shortened. Blanche calls her ‘sweetie’ and ‘honey’ when she wants her to do something such as getting a lemon-coke. The similar technique hints on how they are both highly manipulative.
Arguably William portrays the characters particularly Stanley in a humorous manner at times. Stanley’s harsh humour is presented in Scene Five when he laughs at Blanche saying her star sign is a ‘Virgo’, the virgin.
The audience can’t help but feel either anxious and sad or full of laughter when Stanley’s sarcasm is demonstrated. Perhaps the most iconic moment of him enjoying Blanche react negatively is in Scene Nine. Blanche is tricked by Stanley when he gives her a ‘birthday present’. The dramatic technique of a build up of excitement in Blanche, who seems lost for words, until she finds out what the present is. The irony in Stanley’s “I hope you like it” shows us his comical but cruel side.
In this same scene, Varsouviana “steals” in softly and continues, the stage direction adds to the dramatic effect of Stanley ruining her birthday. The music symbolises the suicide of her husband so in turn we expect Stanley will bring something traumatic to Blanche’s life. He is not the visionary ‘heroic, white knight’ Blanche is looking for her in her fairytale; he is the toxic that poisons her ‘Prince Charming’ dream. Blanche begins to cough and clutches her throat afterwards. This is another dramatic effect because Stanley has the power to even hurt people without touching them – the villainous side is portrayed…
Stanley is characterized as the figure who abandons the chivalric codes Blanche so desperately needs. His forceful behaviour, chauvinistic attitudes toward women, forceful and uncivilised manners are the opposite of the ‘prince’ Blanche so ‘desires’. He can be perceived as the antagonist because of how he treats Blanche.