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A Streetcar Named Desire written in 1947 by Tennessee Williams is a play which explores the themes of reliance’, belonging’ and evolution’. It tells the story of Blanche DuBois, Stella and Stanley Kowalski, and informs the audience of all the complexities of a life of transition and instability. Stella, though a minor character, plays a pivotal role in the plot and the events that unfold and also represents many of the themes and ideas which Williams drew from his personal life experiences which add emphasis to and justify her behaviour throughout the play.
Her vulnerability and perseverance, like Williams’, is what enables her to survive in the ever-changing American society. Critics such as Nora Vifquain Svihus claim that Stella is torn between Blanche and Stanley which results in her having to pick who she would rather life the rest of her life, thus representing her dependence on whomever she chooses.
Stella Kowalski, the sister of the protagonist, and the wife of the antagonist, is first described as a gentle young woman, about twenty-five, and of a background obviously quite different from her husband’s. She is portrayed as a strong-willed, kind natured woman who does her best to please everybody. In her efforts to do so, it is made clear that she is more dependent on some than others. This dependence, mainly on Stanley, is first made evident to the audience through the playwright’s manipulation of Stella adapting to the New Orleans environment.
Born in the American South, at Belle Reve, Stella was brought up under very different circumstances to Stanley yet her dependence on Stanley is quite evident through her marriage to him, her ability to adjust herself to the hustle and bustle of New Orleans and also of her dismissal of the obvious negatives that characterise Stanley. This is commented on by John Kundtz who says, Through all this brutality, Stella can still make excuses for Stanley. This shows her ability to accept Stanley’s flaws and ignore Blanche’s criticisms such as I thought you would never come back to this horrible place!, and Well-if you’ll forgive me-he’s common!, which also represent her partiality towards her husband and emphasises her independence as a woman and dependence on Stanley as a wife.The events of the play draw the audience’s attention to the conflict between traditional and modern values which are symbolised by Stella and Blanche.
Stella, common ground to both sides of the conflict, supports both traditional and modern values but is undoubtedly more inclined toward the new, contemporary style of living which is revealed to her by Stanley. This, along with her willingness to adapt to this new lifestyle, demonstrates her dependence on Stanley. Her Southern upbringing provides the framework of her character and shows deep-rooted, strongly upheld southern values which Williams brings to light occasionally as seen during instances such as I like to wait on you, Blanche. It makes it seem more like home which indicates to the audience that Stella has not changed completely to suit her modern environment. We also see her respect for the traditional values through her respect for Stanley which is commented on by Mihaela Magdi who states that Southern women like Blanche and Stella grew up to be submissive to the power of their fathers, and later their husbands . With this, the audience is made aware of the strong traditional values which govern Stella’s behaviour and also displays her dependency on Stanley through her acquiescence to him and his authority as the man of the house.
In relation to the modernised version of Stella, there is a marked difference in Stella’s values and her beliefs when it comes to her opinions of her new wedded life which could also be interpreted as her dependence on Stanley. Firstly, Williams portrays this through her description of her wedding night during which he snatched off one of my slippers and rushed about the place smashing the light bulbs with it.. While this evokes Stanley’s raw, violent nature, it also draws attention to the fact that he provides Stella with a life of excitement which justifies her dependence and reliance on him due to his colourful input into her life. Accordingly, the fact that Stanley pulled [Stella] down off [the] columns of Belle Reve also implies the transition Stella had made from old to new and makes her dependence and reliance on Stanley credible as he was able to change Stella’s thoughts and behaviours such that they are more accustomed to life in the modern society and environment of New Orleans
Stella’s dependence on Stanley is also displayed through the fact that she, like other women in society, requires a male figure in her life in order to be protected and provided for. Ruth Foley states that When Williams shows how Stella Kowalski is also a victim; he is stating that America is no less chauvinistic in modern society than it was in the antebellum South, and women are still powerless and subordinate to men. This reiterates the fact that Stella’s dependence on Stanley is a result of the fact that women are unable to survive in society without the protection of a man. Williams displays the consequences of being alone in a male dominated world through the destruction that Blanche undergoes which the audience sees through her being sent to a mental institute as a result of her mental breakdown symbolised by Stanley’s harsh actions where he seizes the paper lantern, tearing it off the light bulb. Blanche’s downfall can be said to resemble or resonate with Williams’ personal experiences in that they are both rejected by society because of their frail personality. Thus, Smaranda Stefanovici & Andreea-Maria Sancelean’s observation that Stella abandoned her home at Belle Reve to seek a new world to which she managed to adapt and even enjoy conveys to the audience the idea that these modern ideas upheld by Stella puts expresses her reliance on Stanley because without him, she would not have been able to survive as a single woman in society, and would have ended up very much like Blanche.
Williams also brings Stella’s dependency to light through her antithetical reactions to Blanche and Stanley and is seen through the stage directions which indicate that upon her reunion with Blanche, They catch each other in a spasmodic embrace and that She laughs but her glance is a little bit anxious. The palpable tension between Blanche and Stella and more importantly Stella’s awkwardness during this reunion is juxtaposed by her radiance when she describes the relationship she shares with Stanley which is emphasised by the lines Oh, you can’t describe someone you’re in love with!, along with the stage direction which indicates that Stella looks up with a radiant smile. Her contrasting moods around the two individuals who mean the most to her is indicative of the fact that she may be more dependent and reliant upon the one who makes her most comfortable.
Stella’s behaviour around Stanley and Blanche also differ based on the characteristics which make them who they are. Blanche’s presence brings an ever present cloud of gloom and sadness which is exhibited by the music of the blue piano which provide the audience with a subtle hint as to the state of mind and personality of that character. Thus with Blanche, Stella is careful of what she says and what she does in case it upsets her. As Blanche’s younger sister, Stella clearly is aware of the fluctuations in Blanche’s emotions and behaviour. This is proved when she says …because I don’t know how she would take it . Through this significant use of characterisation, Williams portrays the relationship between Blanche and Stella as one that is full of careful consideration.
In contrast to Blanche’s upsetting presence, Stanley creates an atmosphere that is packed with masculinity and animalistic magnetism. Williams creates this atmosphere by making Stanley’s first appearance very rough and primal which is made evident through his description of Stanley as roughly dressed…[carrying] a red-stained package from a butcher’s. Stanley’s primitive qualities are emphasised by the package of meat that he carries which immediately create an image of a Neanderthal hunter-gatherer, strong and dominant. This strength and power are further highlighted by Williams through his description of Stanley as possessing animal joy , the power and pride of a richly feathered male bird among hens , and as being a gaudy seed-bearer .
Stella’s behaviour around Stanley is one in which she can be herself and not have to be concerned about how anyone else will be affected. This uncomplicated relationship is portrayed by the fact that she is able to call Stanley a drunk ” animal thing whilst also being loving and caring towards him. Hence, her dependence on Stanley is highlighted by her ability to be her natural self around him which she cannot be around Blanche because she, like the audience is extremely aware that Blanche’s responses may fluctuate for good or bad.Accordingly, connections can be drawn to the male head, Stanley, and Stella’s dependence on him as a result of her fear of his intimidating persona. Despite her self confidence in arguing with and criticising Stanley, Tennessee Williams give Stella fewer lines in which she can critique Stanley. This reiterates the role of women in society while also implying that his dominant, dictatorial figure leads to her obedience and dependence as a result of intimidation.
With regard to American History, it is a well known fact that the more traditional and conservative South Americans opposed the industrial movement and evolution as well as the increasing acceptance of the coloureds. This is juxtaposed by the attitudes of the more modern Americans, especially in places such as New Orleans which were more cosmopolitan, open-minded and accepting. This clash between traditional and modern values and beliefs is a major theme which recurs throughout the play. This clash is presented in the form of the background of the DuBois’ which clashes with Stanley and Williams’ use of him as a symbol of evolution.
Therefore, it can be concluded that Stella is dependent on Stanley because he represents the change from old to new that provides her with an independent life that is not full of restrictions about what she can and cannot do as a wife and mother. Her impending motherhood and the fact that the life provided for her by Stanley is more colourful than the muted life presented by Blanche solidify her character as dependent on Stanley. This life of unexpected surprises, both good and bad, shape Stella’s character making her more human and relatable and portrays her as the only holistic character in the play.
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