A Streetcar Named Desire Essay
A Streetcar Named Desire
The setting for, A Streetcar Named Desire is the home of Stanley and Stella in down-town New Orleans. Their house is portrayed as simple and small, ‘weathered grey, with rickety outside stairs’. The surrounding area is alive with both white and black, American and non-American, situated next to the ‘brown river’ and in close proximity with a busy railway line. It is in this multi-cultural area that Stanley Kowalski is resident male. Stanley is very much a product of his society, comparable to his surroundings; his living section is described as having a ‘raffish charm’ – this could very well be a description of Stanley himself.
The first impression we gain of Stanley is of the primeval male; he is at the peak of physical fitness, a man in his late thirties. His outlook is evident from the very start; his purpose is to be the protector and the provider. The very first action of the play involves Stanley ‘heaving’ a package of meat at his wife Stella, and the use of this verb in the stage directions emphasises his raw quality, he is the hunter, the American all-male figure. The play is set in New Orleans the American capital of music during the 1940s, blues plays a big part in setting the mood, and its diversity can be compared with that of Stanley Kowalski.
The ‘Blue Piano’, expresses the spirit of life which is going on. It is Blanche who steps into this lower class atmosphere of diverse music and male dominance, and provides contrast in so many ways. Upon entering the stage, Blanche’s appearance is described as, ‘incongruous to this setting’. She is dressed ‘daintily in a white suit with a fluffy bodice’, an outfit clearly unsuitable for downtown New Orleans. Our first impressions of Blanche are formed on this initial appearance and the thing most noticeable to the audience is the excessive jewellery she sports and her superfluous dress sense.
Her clothing is a costume that she wears in order to create how she would like to be perceived, ‘Please don’t get up. ‘ – As a lady of superior and respectable upbringing. Blanche signifies something of a society far away from where the play is set, a society of times gone by, hence being described as a ‘moth’. As Christopher Bigsby says: ‘Blanche tries to reverse time’s arrow, wishing away any reality she finds unbearable’. Blanche appears unable to comprehend the changes she sees in her sister, I thought you would never come back to this horrible place!
‘ And this conveys the extent to which she is entrenched in the past. Blanche’s past is also brought into question very early in the play, and becomes a central theme and consumes Blanche throughout the play. Ironically it is Blanche herself who regularly refers to her past, ‘You haven’t asked me how I happened to get away from the school… You thought I’d been fired? ‘ She does this in an attempt to clear her name, yet it has the effect of drawing attention to her dubious past. Blanche’s nervous attitude enables Williams to draw upon her past, which he reveals gradually during the play.
In her first meeting with Stella Blanche refers several times to her drinking, telling Stella ‘don’t get worried, your sister hasn’t turned into a drunkard’ and thus taking us immediately to one source of her problems. Her constant lying about her drinking capacity serves merely to emphasise her problem, ‘[she pours half a tumbler of whiskey and tosses it down. ]’. Tennessee Williams style of characterisation is unique, it has been said that, ‘Once his characters speak, they are completely identifiable and unforgettable’ (Gari Jones). This is certainly very true of Blanche – her language contrasts that of any other character introduced.
Her speech is full of punctuation and is extremely exclamatory – in one of her speeches eleven of fourteen sentences finish with an exclamation mark, (‘Now then, let me look at you… You haven’t said a word to me. ‘). This abundance of punctuation illustrates Blanche’s insecurity and theatrical personality; she has become so disillusioned and dissatisfied with the world of reality that she engineers her own world, a world in which she can regain the control she so desires. Blanche’s attitude is summed up by one sentence in her vast speech as she admits, ‘A woman’s charm is fifty percent illusion’.
Tennessee Williams explores human insecurity and the desire to stay in the past in his character Laura, (from his 1943 play, ‘The Glass Menagerie’) Laura has spent her life unable to move on from high school after failing there. At almost twenty four years of age, all she can be proud of is, ‘my-glass collection’. She looks after her glass with the utmost care, ‘Oh, be careful – if you breathe, it breaks! ‘ She is extremely fragile, as is Blanche – they are similarly stuck in their past lives. Blanche’s speech is crammed with hyperbole, ‘all the burden descended my on my shoulders’ and it is lengthy.
Blanche has by far the majority of the speech during the play as she desperately seeks attention in a world that is falling from her grasp, ‘I want you to look at my figure! [She turns around. ] You know I haven’t put on an ounce in ten years? ‘ Blanche’s language is very poetic, containing archaisms, ‘These are love-letters, yellowing with antiquity’ and this has the effect of emphasising the act she is projecting onto the world. Her lack of control becomes more apparent as she uses her ‘superior’ knowledge in an attempt to gain control over others, particularly Mitch and Stanley, ‘[Blanche] Ambler and Ambler.
Hmmmmm… Crabtree…. More Ambler and Ambler [Stanley] what is Ambler and Ambler? ‘ The relationship between Blanche and Stanley is one of an extreme power struggle between too dominating characters. Upon their first meeting the contrast between them can immediately be seen. The stage directions tell us Stanley, ‘sizes women up at a glance, with sexual classifications’, and Blanche’s response is clear in her body language as she, ‘involuntarily back from his stare’. This initial conflict and clash of ideals will remain throughout the play and result in an immense battle for power, which Stanley eventually wins.
The relationship between Blanche and Stanley is extremely complex, because at the same time as the conflict, there is a strange attraction between them, and Blanche uses her sexuality to attempt to regain control in the relationship, ‘Would you think it possible that I was once considered to be – attractive? ‘. Blanche sees Stanley as entirely below her in status and unfit for Stella, she even attempts to break up their marriage because she has not, ‘noticed the stamp of genius on his head’.
Stanley is a very attractive character to the audience, his charm is ‘raffish’ and there is something about his domineering presence that Stella finds very appealing. He is first described of as having, ‘the pride of a richly feathered male bird among hens’. Blanche refers to her dead husband as, ‘boy’ and Stanley as ‘man’ and this intensifies her flirting with Stanley when Stella is not there. This power of seduction he has is so strong that he is fully in control, ‘you can hear me and I said to hush up! ‘ Stanley’s prime function within the play is to contradict Blanche, mainly because he is the only other character strong enough to do so.
He criticises Blanche until her confidence is almost non-existent and her nerves so high, that the truth finally becomes apparent. Stanley is immediately suspicious of Blanche when he hears about the loss of Belle Reve, ‘let’s have a few more details on the subjeck… Let’s see the papers! ‘, and from that point forward it is he who gradually brings forth all the revelations about Blanche’s past until we finally know the full truth about her past. Stanley is different to other characters in the play in that he has ‘drive’, he will be the one to succeed and make something of his life, and this is a very positive quality.
Stanley’s language is another form of contrast between himself and Blanche. His speeches tend to be short, he is abrupt and direct, often using monosyllabic words and colloquialisms, ‘Let me enlighten you on a point or two baby’. Stanley is a very physical character and this is seen particularly in scene three, the poker scene. During the scene Stanley is extremely destructive. From tossing ‘melon rinds on the floor’ to throwing the radio out of the window and finally hitting Stella we see this destructiveness.
This is due to his absolute need for control; he has not got the articulacy to control them verbally, so he uses physical action. At the end of the scene we see Stanley diminished, he is alive with self-pity and apology, his language exaggerated and still violent, ‘[with heaven-splitting violence] STELL-LAHHHH! ‘ It is at this point that we understand Stanley best, particularly in his relationship with Stella, when we see just how physical Stanley is as Stella’s eyes, ‘go blind with tenderness’ and he ‘bears her into the flat’ – almost bestial imagery.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 12 July 2017
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