In the novel ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ by Tennessee Williams, a scene that often catches the attention of readers is the poker scene. It begins when Blanche and Stella return from seeing a show too early, not wanting to have been a distraction or a nuisance while the men played poker. Stanley rudely dismisses the ladies making sure they know they aren’t welcome to join in, the tension escalates as does the banter and Stanley whacks Stella’s thigh to end the discussion. Mitch and Blanche then meet for the first time as he exits the bathroom and they are both immediately taken with each other.
The poker games continues to progress and the ladies listen to the radio and gossip about the men, Stanley becomes unnecessarily agitated by the music and insists that they turn it off. Mitch then deals a hand and leaves to talk to Blanche, he offers a cigarette from a silver case, which he then continues on to explain the significance behind it, being from a girl whom he was once involved with that passed away. They continue to talk and Blanche explains how she was an English teacher and enjoyed her job even though the majority of her students didn’t retain much interest in the English curriculum.
Then, the real action begins to unfold; Blanche turns the radio back on, not aware of what her actions will lead up to. Stanley was already at his wits end by the first time he ordered the radio turned off and a second provocation would only lead to trouble. The music begins to play ‘Wein, Wein, nur du allein’ which translates to ‘Wine, Wine, and you alone’ giving the reader auditory imagery. I find this ironic, as I believe Blanche is an in denial alcoholic, perhaps the song suggests that the only think she can really rely on for comfort is alcohol.
She then begins to dance, waltzing ‘with romantic hand gestures’, this gives proof of her aristocratic and privileged upbringing for few of lower standing would know how to waltz. As for the romantic hand gestures, Blanche is utilizing her means of coquettish seduction on Mitch (who seems all too happy to be at the receiving end to her tryst) as she desperately clings to the idea of a stable and supportive relationship with a husband (as well as a source of income and roof over her head).
This course of action has Stanley very riled up, even more so then before. The first time I read this passage I believed his anger to be unwarranted and simply unnecessary, but by putting yourself in his shoes it is possible to visualize where he’s coming from. Stanley sees himself as a ‘manly man’ completely sure of himself and filled to the brim with testosterone.
Now combine that with whiskey, more testosterone, a little friendly competition and the fact that he’s losing, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. Stanley prides himself on his authority and control of his friends, so when his winnings start to go south and he begins to loose face among them; something he prides himself upon. Its logical to say that his reaction will be harsh to any form of provocation using it as an outlet to his frustration and anger, no matter how unconscionable it was.
As Stanley reacts to the radio being played the visual imagery and his disposition becomes wild, animalistic and primal. He ‘stalks fiercely’ to the radio, snatches it up, shouts an oath and then throws it out the window. In my opinion Stanley gives off a strong sense of Neanderthal attitudes because his actions are so primal and savage. In the next line Stella even accuses him of being such stating ‘Drunk – drunk – animal thing, you!’
I think it is this accusation from Stella that makes Stanley snap, taking his anger and need for violence past the point of no return. Stella was the last string in his anger coming to be so severe, because after his friends winning more then he, taking some authority and control away form him, his wife then blatantly insulting him in front of his friends on top of that had to do it. Even in his approach he is like an animal ‘Stanley charges after Stella’ as if he is predator and she is prey (which in this scenario it is safe to say was the case).
His friends make feeble attempts at calming Stanley down, trying not to anger him further and at the same time avoiding his wrath being directed towards them. At this point I think Stella knows what’s going to happen and her threats of retaliation are empty as she warns ‘You lay your hands on me and I’ll – ’ as she backs out of the scene with Stanley in pursuit. A cacophony of noises is then heard as Stanley hits Stella and then as if the limelight has been off Blanche for too long she begins to scream and run around. Bringing attention back to herself, it also has to do with the fact that she has never been put in conditions as such and is useless, thus she must find some way to give herself the importance she craves so badly.
Stanley’s men finally step up to restrain him in the throes of the crazed mist of rage he has succumbed to. Even in a condition as his ‘he nearly throws them off’ giving the reader a reminder of the brute force and strength that is Stanley. Then as if hit with an epiphany of great importance, realization hits, he surfaces from his delusions ‘all at once he subsides and is limp in their grasp’. Stella, presumably still in shock and fear from what has occurred claims that ‘[in a high, unnatural voice, out of sight] I want to go away, I want to go away!’ what’s interesting about this line is that her tone brings us back to Stanley’s demeanour before he attacked her, inhuman, very much like an animal which brings one to wonder that if Stella can react as such that maybe they aren’t so different from each other in that they can be both very animalistic at times.
Mitch is one of the quieter characters in this play, much more reserved and miles more civilised then any of the other male characters. And after all these things have occurred he finally speaks up, simply stating that ‘Poker shouldn’t be played in a house with women’ Now, what I see he’s trying to get across is that all of the previous conflict and violence is solely to blame upon the fact that women were in the same building in which poker was being played, Surely this combination cannot be so dangerous as to inspire domestic abuse? Mitch is wrong on this matter because it is obviously not a dangerous combination; it is Stanley’s overbearing and easily angered personality that makes the situation so volatile. As I said before, Stanley was just a time bomb waiting to go off it was just a matter of someone setting him off (in this case, Stella).
After all of this has come to pass, Blanche hastily takes Stella upstairs to the neighbours, Stanley realizes what has happened, that Stella is gone and becomes frantic. Becoming violent and telling his men to ‘Let go of me, you sons of bitches!’ it is unsure whether he is going to become mad with anger once again. His friends see this and hastily make their way out, not forgetting to reclaim their winnings. Tennessee Williams then uses repetition to enforce Mitch’s sexist opinion on the matter by having him state, again, that ‘Poker shouldn’t be played in a house with women’ as if the outcome was unavoidable due to this.
Our attention is then taken back to Stanley as he continues through this almost heartfelt and emotional realization that Stella has left him, sobbing and crying out for her, this period is brief though and he soon becomes demanding and stubborn with Eunice (the neighbour) in wanting Stella back. When his plight proves useless, it’s as if he’s relapsed back into the desperate, sobbing man he was a moment before, maybe in thinking that this is the best course of action to manipulate Stella into returning.
An animalistic reference is made again to Stanley in the description of his actions in that ‘he throws back his head like a baying hound and bellows his wife’s name: ‘Stella! Stella, sweetheart, Stella!’ This continues along with more banter with the neighbour until with one last attempt, as if he is back to his normal self, he cries out ‘[with heaven-splitting violence]: STELLL – AHHHHH!’ After a moment, Stella emerges and the two come together with an unspoken amount of emotion.
This passage is extremely intimate and tender, not something that is often witnessed on stage or in books because it takes on such a personal and real feeling. Even as they come together there is still this animosity in the line ‘they came together with low, animal moans’. Stanley is a strong symbol of virility, manhood and all that is masculine but as he kneels half-naked and exposed on the pavement outside their house desperately crying out for his wife it makes you wonder if there is more to him then what the reader thinks.
It is a difficult scene to act out in my opinion because the actor must be enticing and terrifying at the same time. Hence, Stella’s unhealthy attraction towards him, even when shouting her name in desperation on the pavement he still remains a dominating force that pulled her towards him. Their reunion at the bottom of the steps is without words – purely physical with a hint of tenderness as Stanley carries her back into their flat.
What I think Tennessee Williams was trying to make the reader/audience feel when writing this passage was fear and curiosity at the same time. Fear from what would happen to the characters, namely Stella from Stanley and curiosity for the same reason. What makes this scene so interesting is the conflicting emotions coming from all of the characters, Blanche’s seduction of Mitch and need to feel useful, Stella’s embarrassment and fear of Stanley’s actions, Mitch’s defensiveness of Stanley’s actions, the other friends wariness if not fear of Stanley and Stanley’s anger and frustration at needing to be in control of the situation at all times. Needless to say, it is an incredibly complex situation, which at the same time remains extremely ironic.