A Streetcar Named Desire Atmospheres
“The south of the United States of America as a setting provides diverse symbols to the reader in Tennessee’s Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire. In the 1940s, the southern region of America was generally characterized as racist, poor, and soulful. The influence of gender, race, culture, and Williams’s personal life contributes to modeling the mood, tone, and actions within the play.
“Each of Williams’s work challenges readers perception of style, structure, society, and the meaning of literature, drama, theater, humanity, and ultimately, life itself” (Heintzelman ix). The symbolizing within Williams’s works provides a profound interpretation to the work questioning racism, society, and the language arts. By using his life experiences as inspiration, Tennessee Williams’s works exhibit distinct aspects of his life through the characters, setting, and actions performed. A Streetcar Named Desire provides the reader with incidents and individuals from Williams’s childhood. Hardships, failures, and brutality best describe Williams’s childhood and his life as a writer. The most excruciating influencer affecting Williams at an early age was his father, Cornelius Williams.
Williams’s parent, Cornelius and Edwina Williams, had southern ties to either Knoxville, Tennessee and Columbus, Mississippi. Knoxville was modernized with industry while Columbus remained a customary city with old-fashion ethics. “Knoxville was a part of the industrial south, far different than the genteel, ante-bellum plantations of Columbus. During their [Cornelius and Edwina] courtship, Cornelius hid the side of his Knoxville character that enjoyed hard drinking, loose women, and all-night poker games” (Griffles). Cornelius proved to be an untrustworthy man, husband, and father as he lied, cheated, and manipulated Edwina throughout their marriage. The theme of a despicable man is demonstrated primarily through Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire character Stanley Kowalski. Stanley repeatedly beats, lies, manipulates, and even belittles his wife, Stella Dubois, along with other female characters contained within the play. As mentioned by Scott Griffles, Cornelius routine in performing gambling bets, acholic drinks, and sexual activities. Stanley participates in two poker games, drinks acholic beverages, and rapes a female character within the play. The character Stanley is a direct symbolic representation of Cornelius Williams through his physical activities and dialogue.
While writing A Streetcar Named Desire, Williams developed the play while living in New Orleans, embedding the culture within the play. Williams accounts his living situation to a colleague through a letter he mails during his stay. “At least part of the play was written while he was living in New Orleans in ‘one of the loveliest apartments I’ve ever occupied near the street corner of St. Peter and Royal St.”’ (Griffles). Williams was able to encounter the people, culture, and social norms of New Orleans first hand. Characteristics of New Orleans are illustrated acutely through scents, living conditions, and music throughout the play. “You can almost feel the warm breath of the brown river beyond the river warehouses with their faint redolence of bananas and coffee” (Williams 13). Despite the comfortable, relaxing atmosphere Williams endures at his apartment, Williams experience an exceptionally painful, traumatic moment in his life. “He was having severe abdominal pain at the times, and though he was dying of pancreatic cancer. He made mentions in his memoirs of the intensity of his writing, and the thought of death may have compelled and even compulsion to write” (Griffles).
Throughout A Streetcar Named Desire, the atmosphere of New Orleans and Laurel symbolical represents Williams’s stay in New Orleans. Blanche savored Laurel’s traditional atmosphere where she lived the life of a noblewoman. However, Blanche was disrupted and apprehensive by New Orleans’s lifestyle. Laurel portrays the pleasant memories Williams experiences in the south while New Orleans represents the tragic events Williams suffered from. The childhood and life experiences Williams gained from living in the south combined to form the writing style of his works. A Streetcar Named Desire, like majority of his works, follows a theme of comedy relief and disquieting experience. “While working on A Streetcar Named Desire in 1945, he [Tennessee Williams] commented a letter to his agent, Audrey Woods, that, ‘he was writing it with as much lyrical and comedy relief as possible while preserving the essentially tragic atmosphere’” (Bloom 87). The laughable but tearful style behind Williams’s works is reflective in the symbolic details of Williams’s life as an adult and a child.
The culture of New Orleans, Louisiana, and Laurel, Mississippi contributes to influence differing aspects of symbolism within A Streetcar Named Desire. Blanche Dubois is a female character within the play who is forced by economic issues to relocate from Laurel to New Orleans. “Like the piece of paper she carries, Blanche has been fragmented, severed, torn from one world (Belle Reve to Laurel) and slipped into another (Stanley’s New Orleans)” (Kolin). The change in environments displays a vast array of differences between the two cities’ social norms, traditions, and culture. “Presenting Blanche as a character moving from Bella Reve symbolizing the values of the past and New Orleans as all the modern ways of life which Blanche cannot adapt, Williams portrays the binary state of the previous life with a new one” (Hootie et al 90). Laurel represents the history and the past traditions of New Orleans. Laurel remained an unindustrialized city infuse with plantations reminding the residents of a past containing slavery. Traditional methods, such as the idea of noble and pure women, remained intact in Laurel whereas new modernized methods spawned in industrialized cities such as New Orleans. Although Blanche’s past does not abide by traditional Laurel values, Blanche persuades characters within the play to believe she is noble.
“The deception involves her acting out the tradition refusing any sexual activity beyond a kiss, because she tells Mitch she has ‘Old-fashioned ideals’” (Murphy 78). New Orleans supposedly represented a new era fulfilled with equality and freedom for residents, African Americans, and foreign immigrants. However, acts of racism and impure sexual activities interfered and manipulated the idea of equality and freedom into an idea of loose women and social dominance. “Through the play, we recognized that Blanch descends from a noble family and the house of Stella quite unfits her because of her previous noble way of life” (Hooti et al 87). Blanche believes she is a noble and innocent woman, which should be true regarding the traditional values of Laurel. “She surely was the typical southern belle, delicate and pretty, meant to be protected, and protected from the world she certainly was. She obviously grew up unaware of the harsh realities of life, love, and sex especially” (Thomieres). The pure, traditional representation of Laurel contrasts vastly with the evil, modernized New Orleans. While viewing the culture of New Orleans without regard to Laurel, music and immigration are the main principles within A Streetcar Named Desire. The music of New Orleans is utilized in the play to serve a multitude of purposes. The predominant purpose of the music is to maintain or manipulate the mood and tone of the play. At defining scenes within the play, Williams indicates through stage ques how the music slowly becomes audible. At the end of scene nine, a dramatic scene between Blanche and Mitch tasks places as ”the polka music fades away” (Williams 120).
The music cues are strategically planted in-between character dialogue and before scenes to either increase the tension, set the tone, or smooth stressful situations. The musician symbolizes the history of New Orleans through the perspective of African Americans. “In this part of New Orleans, you are practically always just around the corner, or a few doors down the street, from a tinny piano being played with the infatuated fluency of brown fingers” (Williams 13). The African American musicians in the play expressed their emotions through music. Williams utilizes this aspect to contribute to the mood and tone of the play. The lyrics of music being played serves as a symbolic message to the audience. Blanche is a disfunction character relying loosely on fantasy and the attention of other characters to remain mentally stable. Blanche’s personality faults are important aspects while viewing the song “Paper Moon” in the play. “It’s only a paper moon, just as phony as it can be- but it wouldn’t be make-believe if you believed in me” (Williams 100). The lyrics from “Paper Moon” ties directly into Blanche’s personality. The song re-estates the idea of fantasy Blanche relies on to maintain a social purpose within the play.
Immigrants of varying races migrated to New Orleans in hopes of obtaining an opportunity for success. A Streetcar Named Desire describes a culture filled with foreign immigrants experiencing low economic profits, racism, and poor living conditions while searching for a new beginning. “Williams, after all, gives Stanley a backstory that introduces the possibility of a life across borders. His Polish heritage, the promise of assimilation, and the hardscrabble condition of immigrant neighborhoods all confront Stanley as he chases upward mobility” (Rea 188). Immigrant workers were often forced to take to undesirable labor jobs in the United States of America society. In A Streetcar Named Desire, Mexican immigrant labor as street venders in New Orleans while in poor health. “She is a blind Mexican woman in a dark shawl, carrying bunches of those gaudy tin flowers that lower class Mexicans display at funerals and other festive occasions” (Williams 119). Stanley Kowalski’s is fortunate to work as a salesman in an industrial factory, but he suffers from low wages. Due to economic strains, Stanley and Stella are forced to live compressed inside a tiny three-roomed apartment. The apartment serves as a symbolic message of foreign immigrants’ social status in American society. Stanley, a Polish immigrant, and Stella lives underneath an African American couple. The culture presented within the play represents the African Americans and foreign immigrant face similar social issues in America. Racism and social inequality directorates the level of success available to the undesirable races within the play.
“Like all of Williams’s plays, A Streetcar Named Desire is autobiographical. The story has many layers and many levels of symbolism, but the central conflict is between the animalist Stanley and the sensitive and vulnerable Blanche” (Griffles). The differences between gender are highly depicted in A Streetcar Named Desire. The role of male characters in the play is to oversee their household, wife, and job. The women are expected to become mothers, house takers, and submissive to all males in society. The conflict between Stanley and Blanche represents more than sister versus brother-in-law; the struggle represents women verses men in all aspects of society. The relationships within the play suggest men should be and are in control over their women. Stanley, in particular, uses brutality, ignorance, and sex to compel Stella to stay with him. Men in the play are able to perform sexual activities without destroying their social status. However, women’s lives could be destroyed if sex associated with their name. “Critics pinpoint Blanche as the tragic example of the disfranchised individual because of her sexual urges warring against social norms (Bauer-Briski) and, paradoxically, as the representation of a politically dominant race (Van Duybenvode)” (Kurowska 115). Blanche symbolized the sexual desire men have but disguises her urges with the culture of Laurel. “She is singled out in her new community and exclude from it when the play is over in what looks like a real lynching, except that she is not put to death” (Thomieres). Blanche is rejected by the society of Laurel as a disgrace for pursuing her sexual desires.
The southern region of the United States of America was perceived as racist, poverty-stricken, and soulful during the 1940s. A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams was influenced by the culture and life of the cities Laurel, Mississippi and New Orleans, Louisiana. Gender, race, and personal experiences of Williams represent the diverse atmospheres within A Streetcar Named Desire.”