A Streetcar Named Desire
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A Streetcar Named Desire is a play by Tennessee Williams that was first performed in 1947 .
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- Scene Three
- Scene Seven
- Scene Eight
- Scene Eleven
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See a complete list of the characters in A Streetcar Named Desire and in-depth analyses of Blanche DuBois, Stanley Kowalski, Stella Kowalski, and Harold “Mitch” Mitchell.
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- Blanche DuBois
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- Stella Kowalski
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Violence is the driving force behind ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ Essay
- Author Kimberly Ball
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Throughout ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, Williams presents violence as a multifaceted and complex issue that manifests itself almost constantly in varying guises. However, despite acknowledging that violence is almost certainly the central theme of the work, I would not argue that it is the ‘driving force’, unlike the majority of works from the Southern Gothic (to which otherwise the play belongs) which focus heavily on violent characters and warped physical actions. Although the main effect Williams achieves on-stage is the effect of violence, I believe that it is in fact the clash between the Old South and New America that is the driving force behind character dynamics, thus the plot is pushed forward in its quest for violent effects.
The first violent example of characterisation the audience is shown is in Scene Two where Stanley appears extremely aggressive and visceral onstage; when he becomes angry at Blanche’s seductive flirtations “he seizes the atomiser, and slams it down on the dresser”. Here, Williams has deftly chosen the dynamic verbs “seizes” and “slams” to direct the actor of Stanley to conduct himself on stage not just as brash and violent, but also with an air of superiority and unquestionable power, so we can see the function of this stage direction as introducing a clear conflict dynamic between Blanche and Stanley, which will give much of the verisimilitude to the violence we see between the two. Indeed, we begin to understand later in the play that Stanley is likely content with this deeply inflammatory dig through Blanche’s possessions as she is a woman, and he is a man, and as such has a natural and rightful power over her; this view is externalised in Scene Eight where Stanley exclaims “I’m the King around here!”, with the capitalisation of the ‘K’ in “King” suggesting, alongside the definite article “the” (as opposed to an indefinite article such as ‘a’) and sheer declarations of the sentence, that Stanley views himself not as a metaphoric but a literal “King”. Ultimately, such dynamic verbs position the audience into considering the physical prowess of Stanley over Blanche- it is obvious there can be no true change in the power structure as Stanley is insurmountably more physical. As such, violence is clearly a major part of this scene in its physical manifestation, but we must remember that the cause of this violence is the contextual period in which William sets the play: contemporary (or 1940s) America, in which societal values rewarded ‘hyper-masculine’ traits, such as brutish, unthinking dominance, and violence. For example, the ‘anti-intellectual’ movement was gaining support in America during the postwar period for glorifying the supposed superfluousness of the arts, literature and even science, and we can see the direct clash of appreciation for such subjects between Blanche and Stanley.
Furthermore, even when intellectualism is beneficial to Stanley’s desire to dispose of Blanche from Elysian Fields, such as to find out the true monetary value of Belle Reeve or Blanche’s jewellery, he still will not externalise his reliance on education, seeking advice from various professional “friends”. Considering this, we learn from the stage directions that, whilst violence, true, does dramatically heighten the audiences (perhaps subconscious) momentary fear of Stanley, it is the tropes and values of the emerging New America which are the driving force here, pushing on the plot to cause sudden and dramatic shifts to the effect of emphasising the change in American society post-war from a focus on the group to a focus on the individual.
On a more symbolic level, by taking Blanche’s perfume and ‘slamming’ it, Stanley is mirroring his violent and intrusive dramatic on-stage actions earlier in Scene Two where he “hurls” and “jerks” through Blanche’s vilase in front of his wife in order to try and find some “papers” relating to his assumed sale of “that place in the country”, namely Belle Reeve. Upon uncovering Blanche’s collection of (we learn from the stage directions, costume) jewellery, Stanley exclaims “Here’s your plantation, or what was left of it, here!”. Here, the embedded clause “or what was left of it” is peculiar, suggesting that Stanley, characterised in the contemporary archetype of a decorated war veteran who has returned home to decorate himself further in material gain, is more than aware that Belle Reeve’s decline is likely due to the “epic fornications” of various du Bois ancestors, yet he will still position blame firmly on Blanche’s head, with her being no more than a ‘swindler’, not merely without good reason but actually in spite of it. Stanley’s megalomaniacal characterisation shows, again, how the clash between the hyper-industrialising post-war United States that were developing into the ‘New America’ (Stanley, the literal ‘blue collar worker’) and the more genteel -yet downright racist- Old South (Blanche, our fading Southern Belle) having violent consequences. In other words, the blind-eyed realism of post-war free enterprise clashes with the specific geo- cultural identity of the South, which had a stronger attachment to localised social structures and customs. Dramaturge Robert Cardullo may look relatively favourably on Stanley’s actions here, believing that Stanley’s “objective is always to deflate pretense[s]” -with no character embodied more by pretenses than Blanche- but, supporting my line of argument, this violence is an effect, not a cause- once again, we see changing societal views as the ‘driving force’ of the play.
However, how can so much be learned from stage directions, which have informed a large part of my analysis, which have a surely limited value, as they are basically invisible to the audience? I believe that all throughout ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, Williams uses the stage directions to portray his dramatic purpose, and to suggest to directors and production companies how to specifically portray characters, which means that, as a critic (who can view the work both holistically and then its entirety) I should place extra value to stage directions.
Acknowledging that stage directions will be crucial for a nuanced understanding of the significance of violence in the play, it is vital to note that, whilst characters make numerous intertextual references in speech to art – “Walt and Whipman and Poe!”– , the only art referenced in the stage directions is the Van Gogh painting “A billiard parlour at night”, when introducing Scene Three. A cursory reading may render this specific mimetic reference unnecessary or even “incongruous”, but we must consider that, particularly in this painting, Van Gogh used to colour consciously and precisely to create a general mood, tone and feeling, as opposed to an accurate and reliable image, thus, through this pseudo-ekphrasis, Williams suggests that he wishes us to view his often extended, almost lyrical stage directions not as a precise guide to stage production and acting methods (indeed, the directions often deals in the possible or the unknown) but as a way to suggest the overall feel of a specific plot point, with language connoting moods and feelings. Analysing through this perspective, Scene Two contains a multitude of dynamic verbs (“hurls”, “jerks”, “pulls” etc.) to suggest a violent and oppressive atmosphere. Moreover, as before, this violence is an affect caused by Stanley jealousy to Blanche’s supposed material wealth (which we learn from Williams the stage directions is non-existent, consisting of “costume jewellery”, with stage directions here again not manipulating the audiences allegiance but showing the writer’s purpose). The ‘cause and effect’ idea of my argument is strikingly obvious here: it is the clash between Stanley and Blanche that pushes the plot on, and violence is the result of developments in the text.
Although violence is the result of conflict throughout the play, Williams doesn’t just present it as something physical, he combines his perpetual motif of colour symbolism with this ever present theme, indeed, this ever-present threat, and thus dramatic technique. Consider how Blanche is always carry in dressed in white, be that “gloves”, a “pearl necklace” or “bodice”, whilst Stanley appears in garish primary colours of “rough denim” or “solid blues”. Again, violence is not causing any of the conflict we see on stage, but the violence of colour is a clear effect- on an allegorical level, the reason Stanley and Blanche wear such polar opposite colours is the social backgrounds from which they stem: while Stanley is a literal ‘blue collar worker’, Blanche is dressed right from the mise-en-scene for “a summer tea or cocktail party in the garden district”. Here, Williams’ true magic is exemplifying the common literary trope of colour symbolism and raising it to ‘colour causality’, with the shades on stage not only connoting ideas, coming from a specific contemporary socio- cultural sub-society such as the genteel and monied “Garden District” of New Orleans for Blanche or the garish “the Four Deuces” for Stanley.
There are, however, nuances that we can appreciate as critics are unlikely to provoke the same reaction from an audience, who have no time to mull over the temporal art form of drama until they have left the theatre, likely sometime after. For example Blanche connotes in her dress sense (and name etymology) purity and chastity, yet the colour white is, in fact, a commingling of all the colours of the lights spectrum at a high speed, so it is actually the most sullied colour of all. The polluted nature of white foreshadows, very subtly, both how Stanley violently uncovers Blanche’s illicit past in Scene Eight, and, more obviously, how the physical and psychological pollution of Blanche by Stanley’s rape of her in Scene Ten. (Indeed, the psychological effects of the sex act are so acute that it effects even Stella, who is literally removed from Blance’s physicality). Furthermore, if we consider that, in homage to Blanche, an early title of the play was “The Moth”, we can view the colour white as symbolic also of ghosts the wider issue of decay a true theme of almost all Southern Gothic texts. Indeed, there are many layers to this interpretation, as the number of metaphorical ‘ghosts’ haunting Blanche increases as the play goes on. We have the death if her husband revealed in Scene Six, further revealing of backstory when Stanley tells Stella about her expulsion as a schoolmaid in Scene Seven and Scene Nine’s incredibly disturbing character of a “Mexican Woman” who appears on-stage over a mixture of diegetic and nondiegetic sounds, so the audience and critics alike are unsure if she is a figment of Blanche’s imagination or an actual person.
Most memorably for the audience, however, is obviously Stanley’s rape of Blanche in Scene 10, a violent act which shatters not only Blanche’s illusion of Shed Huntley’s fairy-tale-esque rescue of her from the poverty of Elysian Fields, but, on a much deeper psychological level, destroys her sanity completely.
Prior to Scene 10, Blanche has created a persona to ‘other’ herself from fellow inhabitants of Elysian Fields, particularly Stanley, to emphasise her (supposed) social and cultural superiority. These senses of hierarchy are not just explored through myriad means (such as the clothing, jewellery and literary allusions discussed earlier) but also through dialogue in the form of weaponised refined language. This discourse thread is established as early as Scene Two when she responds to Stanley’s imperative to “lay [her] cards on the table” through her use of Latinate diction, such as her declaration that “life is too full of evasion and ambiguity”. Building tension towards Stanley’s sexual attack, Stanley’s diction begins to mimic Blanche’s register, with Stanley utters the interrogative “You think I’ll interefere with you?”, followed in rapid conjunction with the declaration “Maybe you wouldn’t be bad to – interfere with…”. (Williams has collapsed the space onstage via his trademark plastic theatre, which functions to provide a sense of verisimilitude in their exchange, but also dramatically foreshadows both the warped closeness of the rape and the subsequent total collapse of Blanche’s mental state come Scene Eleven). In this hypophora, the diacope of the dynamic verb “interfere” reflects the kind of elevated diction we associate with Blanche: it is almost as though Blanche’s refusal of social Darwinism has forced Stanley into upward convergence. Regarding function, this appropriation of elevated mannerism reveals Stanley’s warped desire for his wife’s sister- whilst he is disgusted at Blanche’s unending deceit and insincerity, having found out about Blanche’s prostitution at the Hotel Flamingo, he see is attracted not spite of this but because of it: for him, the lure of possible humiliation and sexual degradation of Blanche is overwhelming seductive. Unlike Mitch, who feels cheated and disgusted when he uncovers Blanche’s past, Stanley, again appealing to the archetypal capitalist hero of the time, sees it as a weapon to achieve his narrative goal: assuming that Blanche will now be leaving the household soon, he is keen to reassert his power over Stella in a particularly sexual way, saying “it’ll be okay when she’s gone”, and that he’ll “get those colored lights going again”. This interpretation appeals to my argument clearly, showing that violence (here, in its sexualised form) is the outcome of the struggle of the Old South against New American ideals (a struggle which, again, is what causes plot developments).
This scrutiny is concreted when we consider how, to make Stanley’s intoxication with his own sexual power clear, Williams has him say “We’ve had this date with each other from the beginning!”. The abstract noun “date” (instead of ‘rape’) is obviously euphemistic, yet also metaphorical, enhancing the brutality of the heinous act to come as Williams make it clear he his mocking her (much akin to the use of “interfere”). Stanley’s laissez-faire attitude towards brutish violence evokes pathos in the audience for Blanche, not likely for the first time, due to her condescending and contrived persona (which is, of course, superficial, acting as a contextualised mask for Blanche’s neurosis). Responding to Blanche saying she “could twist the broken end” of a bottle in Stanley’s face (with the epistemic modal verb highlighting her helplessness), Stanley responds with “let’s have some roughhouse!”. Through this exclamatory Stanley is clearly revelling in his own sexual dominance, with the colloquial expression “roughhouse” meaning rough sex, externalising not just pleasure in raping Blanche, but in the marked horror it holds not just sexually and emotionally but also physically, on a level removed from the sex act itself, therefore strengthening my line of argument, showing the play’s most visceral section to be concerned ultamley with power.
Overall , it is clear that violence, in its numerous manifestations, is a very crucial theme in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, and is the result of almost every second the audience views the play. However, the obvious necessity of violence to contextualise Elysian Fields is not, by default, the ‘driving force’ of the play. Indeed, I believe that the conflict between the values of the dying Antebellum class of the Old South and the rapidly-emerging New America is the play’s driving force, as it creates the major conflict dynamic of mutual desire for Stella and lead to every change in the plot. Importantly, though, this is not to say that socio-cultural changes are more significant purely because they move our story along: whilst cultural change ‘pushes on the plot’, violence is the texts most important component, due to the effect it has over audience allegiance, which ultimately allows ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ to be, as Williams wished, “a plea for the understanding of the delicate people”.
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A Streetcar Named Desire Tennessee Williams
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A Streetcar Named Desire Essays
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December 3, 1947, Tennessee Williams
Play; Southern Gothic
The French Quarter and Downtown New Orleans
Blanche DuBois, Stella Kowalski, Stanley Kowalski, Harold "Mitch" Mitchell
1. Vlasopolos, A. (1986). Authorizing History: Victimization in" A Streetcar Named Desire". Theatre Journal, 38(3), 322-338. (https://www.jstor.org/stable/3208047) 2. Corrigan, M. A. (1976). Realism and Theatricalism in A Streetcar Named Desire. Modern Drama, 19(4), 385-396. (https://muse.jhu.edu/pub/50/article/497088/summary) 3. Quirino, L. (1983). The Cards Indicate a Voyage on'A Streetcar Named Desire'. Contemporary Literary Criticism, 30. (https://go.gale.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CH1100001571&sid=googleScholar&v=2.1&it=r&linkaccess=abs&issn=00913421&p=LitRC&sw=w&userGroupName=anon%7E8abc495e) 4. Corrigan, M. A. (2019). Realism and Theatricalism in A Streetcar Named Desire. In Essays on Modern American Drama (pp. 27-38). University of Toronto Press. (https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.3138/9781487577803-004/html?lang=de) 5. Van Duyvenbode, R. (2001). Darkness Made Visible: Miscegenation, Masquerade and the Signified Racial Other in Tennessee Williams' Baby Doll and A Streetcar Named Desire. Journal of American Studies, 35(2), 203-215. (https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-american-studies/article/abs/darkness-made-visible-miscegenation-masquerade-and-the-signified-racial-other-in-tennessee-williams-baby-doll-and-a-streetcar-named-desire/B73C386D2422793FB8DC00E0B79B7331) 6. Cahir, L. C. (1994). The Artful Rerouting of A Streetcar Named Desire. Literature/Film Quarterly, 22(2), 72. (https://www.proquest.com/openview/7040761d75f7fd8f9bf37a2f719a28a4/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=5938) 7. Silvio, J. R. (2002). A Streetcar Named Desire—Psychoanalytic Perspectives. Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry, 30(1), 135-144. (https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/abs/10.1521/jaap.220.127.116.1185) 8. Griffies, W. S. (2007). A streetcar named desire and tennessee Williams' object‐relational conflicts. International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 4(2), 110-127. (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/aps.127) 9. Shackelford, D. (2000). Is There a Gay Man in This Text?: Subverting the Closet in A Streetcar Named Desire. In Literature and Homosexuality (pp. 135-159). Brill. (https://brill.com/display/book/9789004483460/B9789004483460_s010.xml)
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Essays Further Study Buy Now A Streetcar Named Desire is a play by Tennessee Williams that was first performed in 1947 . Summary Read one-minute Sparklet summaries, the detailed scene-by-scene Summary & Analysis, the Full Book Summary, or the Full Book Analysis of A Streetcar Named Desire . Sparklet Scene Summaries Summary & Analysis Scene One
A Streetcar Named Desire Violence as a Driving Force and Theme in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’’ Anonymous 12th Grade Throughout ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, Williams presents violence as a multifaceted and complex issue that manifests itself almost constantly in varying guises.
ESSAY - STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE - VIOLENCE ‘The violent scene of the poker night reveals how violence lies at the centre of A Streetcar Named Desire’ In the light of this comment, explore William’s dramatic presentation of violence in this scene of the poker night and the rest of the play (36 marks)
Throughout ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, Williams presents violence as a multifaceted and complex issue that manifests itself almost constantly in varying guises.
"A Streetcar Named Desire" is a story of damaged people. Blanche DuBois, a repressed and sexually warped Southern belle, seeks either atonement or reassurance; she wants someone to help lift the burden of her guilt for her twisted sexuality.... Establishing the Potential for Tragedy in A Streetcar Named Desire Charlie James Watson 11th Grade
“A Streetcar Named Desire” is a story of damaged people. Blanche DuBois, a repressed and sexually warped Southern belle, seeks either atonement or reassurance; she wants someone to help lift the burden of her guilt for her twisted sexuality. Meanwhile, Stanley Kowalski, a horrifyingly abusive... A Streetcar Named Desire Band Topics: