Reflection Paper : a Streetcar Named Desire

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The Streetcar Named Desire is a play that greatly influenced history in America. This play was highly controversial in the topics and ideas presented by Tennessee Williams. This play was set in New Orleans in 1947, the same year in which it was written. During this time period women were still deemed inferior to men and stepping out of gender roles was still looked down upon. This era was also highly controversial in respect to class and racial boundaries. In the 1940s, people were expected to climb the social ladder. Going down the ladder was detrimental to how one was perceived and respected. Tennessee Williams, unlike others during this time period, was not afraid to address these issues in his play. He showed society how people different from themselves were treated, viewed, and perceived. By analyzing A Streetcar Named Desire, it is evident that conflicts between social classes were prevalent during the 1940s.

Conflicts between social classes presented themselves in numerous ways in A Streetcar Named Desire. One example of class conflict is how Blanche perceives Stanley to be inferior to herself because of his socio-economic status. In the play, on page 157, scene 10, Blanche states, “…it was foolish of me to think that we could ever adapt ourselves to each other. Our ways of life are so different. Our attitudes and our backgrounds are incompatible. We have to be realistic about such things…” (Williams 157). This quote is an example of one instance in which Blanche’s perception of Stanley is shown in the play. Because Blanche believes her and Stanley to have been raised with such different backgrounds, she could not fathom a reality in which she and Stanley were able to see eye to eye. In the textbook Global Americans, a History in the United States, on page 575, Montoya states that “… the opposition to conservative Americanization embraced a vision of the nation as a mosaic consisting of many people who would not and should not be melted down into one culture” (Montoya 575). While in the quote from the play above, Blanche does not suggest that Stanley is unwelcome in her country, but she does indicate that their two different backgrounds should not be melted together.

To further analyze the conflict between Blanche and Stanley regarding Blanche’s claim to ideocracy at the idea of her and Stanley getting along, the textbook Culture and Diversity in the United States on page 96 states, “the “Upper Class” were born into wealth” and “The “low prole” who perform unskilled labor; they are sometimes poor despite having jobs,” (Eller 96). The play explains that Stella and Blanche were raised on a plantation which according to the class notes, “owning a large number of slaves was a symbol of wealth and status. Blanche’s family obtained their wealth from slavery” (Miles 1/16/19). The notes explain that owning a lot of slaves, especially on a large plantation, was in that time period the symbol of wealth. This symbol of wealth would place Blanche in the category from the textbook of “Upper class.” As seen in the play Stanley worked in a factory. According to the textbook, those who worked as unskilled laborers would be placed in the category of “low-prole.” Blanche believed that the reason she and Stanley were unable to get along was because of their conflicting socio-economic status. This was an example of a class conflict in which Blanche looked down upon Stanley because of their backgrounds.

Another example of class conflict is Stanley’s perception of Blanche. On page 34 in A Streetcar Named Desire Stanley is speaking to Stella about Blanche’s clothes and jewelry. The text says, “Look at these feathers and furs that she comes here to preen herself in! What’s this here? A solid-gold dress, I believe…” (Williams 34). The conversation continues to page 35 discussing Blanche’s “diamond” tiara, stating, “Are you kidding? I have an acquaintance that works in a jewelry store… Here’s your plantation, or what was left of it, here!” (Williams 35). In this conversation one can infer that Stanley, someone who has likely never had a lot of excess money in his life, is disgusted by Blanche’s frivolous spending of money. He believes that Blanche has spent all the money she got from their plantation on fur pieces and priceless jewelry. In the textbook Culture and Diversity in the United States, on page 312, the phrase conspicuous consumption is defined as, “the notion that the upper class consumes specific kinds and quantities of goods and services in order to display its superior social status” (Eller 312).

Stanley views Blanches purchases to be an unnecessary display of her wealth. According to the class notes, “Conspicuous consumption is the idea that the upper class buy and wear certain products. This is an action Blanche exhibits,” (Miles 2/20/19), which further illustrates the point that Stanley views Blanche’s expensive clothes and jewelry as frivolous and a waste. According to the textbook Global Americans, a History in the United States, on page 572, “immigrants went where the work was available” (Montoya 572). Stanley, while not an immigrant was a descendent of one and as seen in the class notes, “It’s very rare for someone to move up in their classes” (Miles 2/20/19). Stanley is stuck in a class that makes little money to spend on frivolous products whose sole purpose is a display of wealth. This explains why Stanley views Blanche owning numerous ball gowns and a “diamond” tiara as an example of conspicuous consumerism and why this viewpoint is an example of a class conflict in which Stanley looks down on Blanche.

A third example of class conflict in A Streetcar Named Desire is the detrimental effect of Blanche’s actions on her class and how others perceived her. Throughout the play Blanche’s class slides down the socio-economic ladder. At the beginning of the play she as perceived as a southern belle, the “ideal woman.” As Blanche’s history begins to come to light, the way others treat her changes too. While Stanley’s attitude was never respectful toward Blanche, by the end of the play Stanley sees Stella as less than the dirt on his shoe. It is not however just Stanley who has a change of heart once Stella’s past is revealed to them. When Stella first interacts with Mitch, on page 105, Mitch is very polite and respectful, only acting how a “gentleman” would. The text states, “I am ashamed of the way I perspire. My shirt is sticking to me” (Williams 105). He is ashamed of not acting in the proper manner, and he doesn’t want to offend someone with such class and elegance as he perceives Blanche to have. Later in the text after Stanley has told Mitch of Stella’s history with men, on page 139, the text states, “Mitch comes around the corner in work clothes: blue denim short and pants. He is unshaved” (Williams 139). This description of Mitch describes him in his work clothes which one can assume to be sweaty and unclean. According to the class notes, “Mitch doesn’t respect her [Blanche] anymore, she’s low and unclean, there’s no reason for him to clean himself up” (Miles 2/22/19).

This interaction between Mitch and Blanche can be analyzed using the book Global Americans, a History in the United States, which states, “the New Woman embraced independence, individual freedom… and claimed sexual autonomy and pleasure” (Montoya 579). Blanche is an example of this “New Woman,” however, during this time period (while the “New woman” was becoming more prevalent) the “Ideal Woman” was still what one had to achieve to become married. According to the class notes the “ideal woman,” is “…considered upper class. During this time period she is traditionally from a plantation, a traditional southern belle. The ideal woman was not supposed to step outside of her gender role at all, especially in regard to her sexuality” (Miles 2/8/19). The textbook Culture and Diversity in the United States, on page 13, states, “Physical/natural characteristics are assigned differential meaning and value in society. We are talking here of the relation between… sex and sexism… between appearance (or beauty) and lookism” (Ellis 13). This explains how the perception of one’s sexuality has different meaning and values in society. During this time period women were not allowed to enjoy sex and in doing so made them unclean and greatly decreased their socio-economic status. In many cases, including Blanche’s, a woman who stepped out of her traditional gender roles regarding her sexuality was inevitably sent to an insane asylum. Because of this viewpoint regarding women who acted as Blanche did, it is clear why her status decreased, and why Mitch suddenly viewed Blanche as someone who he no longer needed to impress. In Mitch’s mind, Blanche was no better than another prostitute.

These three examples of class conflict clearly demonstrate how conflicts between social classes were present during the era of A Streetcar Named Desire. Blanche viewed Stanley as lower in socio-economic status than herself because of her wealthy upbringing and his poor one. Stanley looked down upon Stella’s perceived wealth because of her conspicuous consumption to further prove her high-class status. After Stella’s history was revealed, Mitch considered Stella to be lower in social standing than himself and gave her the respect he deemed appropriate for someone of that class. While these examples were from a play, Tennessee Williams used these character conflicts to demonstrate the behavior and struggles he saw in America during this era. It is because of his real-life examples, and ability to tell stories that others deemed unspeakable topics (sexuality, abuse, racism, and class) that this play had such an impact in society. It is also because of Williams ability to change minds with his writing that America has been able to progress to a more understanding and open-minded society. While there are still many steps that still need to be made toward progress, historically prominent texts like A Streetcar Named Desire aid in changing minds one act at a time.

Works Cited

  1. Eller, Jack David. Culture and Diversity in the United States. Routledge, 2015.
  2. Miles, Andrea. “”Lecture 1.”” Humanities 152, 16 Jan. 2019. University of Louisville. Lecture
  3. Miles, Andrea. “”Lecture 9.”” Humanities 152, 8 Feb. 2019. University of Louisville. Lecture
  4. Miles, Andrea. “”Lecture 14.”” Humanities 152, 20 Feb. 2019. University of Louisville. Lecture
  5. Miles, Andrea. “”Lecture 15.”” Humanities 152, 22 Feb. 2019. University of Louisville. Lecture
  6. Montoya Mari?a E. Global Americans: a History of the United States. Cengage Learning, 2018.
  7. Williams, Tennessee, and Arthur Miller. A Streetcar Named Desire. 1965.”
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