The Timeless Societal Issues in “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams
“A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams is a southern gothic play written in 1947 and has since been constantly called the greatest play to have been written by any American playwright. The play is more than entertainment- it includes numerous social conflict undertones which overall gives the story depth, relevance, and meaning. Tennessee Williams creates an intriguing play by using numerous literary elements that display the flaws each character conveys as the story unfolds, provides us with an insight into a variety of issues such as social inequality and mental health, and the theme of dependence on men, which ultimately defines it as a great work of literature.
To start off, this story is tied around Blanche DuBois moving in with her sister, Stella Kowalski, and her husband, Stanley, in New Orleans. Ultimately, Blanche’s flirtatious personality causes problems for Stella and Stanley, who already have a unstable relationship, leading to even greater conflicts in the household. This eventually leads to a heartbroken ending as it highlights male dominance during the time period. As the story progresses, the author effectively uses numerous literary aspects to show the changes all of the characters go through and the true colors of each person. For instance, the audience is initially given a poor view of Blanche. Right off the back in the opening scene, she brags about her “wealthy” lifestyle and judges Stella for how she lives, as well as flirting with a married man.
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Blanche also portrays the perfect Southern-belle rich personality, by having evening dresses, feather boas, fur stoles, and costume jewelry look expensive but it is all just an act. The specific details of what was in her trunk when she arrived was puroposly added by the author to add imagery and insight of the feminism stereotypes in women wanting to be portrayed as wealthy. She is described as a talkative and fragile woman around the age of thirty, who has had many lovers and avoids reality, as a she prefers to live in her own imagination. As the play progresses, Blanche’s instability grows along with her misfortune, where she was raped and put into a mental asylum by her own sister and her husband. At the same time, Stella is first conveyed as mature and finding success in her own life when she first ignores Blanche’s comments until she disrespects her husband, which wasn’t a red flag to the audience at first.
The audience also first thinks Stanley is an amazing husband to Stella, but then are quick to learn his true colors early in the story and was easy to foreshadow how his character was going to be in the future scenes. His true personality arose during Scene Three during the poker night when he beat Stella, and when also when raped Blanche in Scene Ten. The audience learns about his about abusive tendencies and how Stella always forgives him and is “…sort of–thrilled by it.” (Williams.3). This just shows the foolish, dependent, weak-minded side of Stella, and now Blanche is the mature character who is trying to get Stella to leave her marriage for her safety. Even after Blanche has changed in a way by realizing what is best for her sister, Stella still didn’t want to believe Stanley would do such a thing to her. Stella’s denial of reality in the end proves she is more alike her sister than she thinks or wants to be.
The rape leaves a broken Blanche, a submissive Stella, and allows Stanley to regain his identity as a brute who will do what it takes to show the world he is on top. All of these important scenes add a significant amount of importance to the story to give it depth and meaning, and the use of the specific details helped accomplish that. The true colors of the characters is an essential aspect to the plot as it unfolds, because it foreshadows on what will happen next, creating a literary masterpiece.
Secondly, “A Streetcar Named Desire” is more than an entertainment of problems between the characters; it includes numerous social conflict undertones which overall gives the story relevance, depth, and meaning with the help of the authors intended elements. The overall purpose was to affect the emotions of the audience and to raise awareness over the topics of mental health, male dominance, feminism, and much more. The topic of fear threatens the characters the most- the fear of being alone and the fear of not being in control. This entire story, it was Stanley’s main goal to get rid of Blanche. He believes the problem would be resolved by showing his male dominance and attempting to take control and show his authority over blanche, but she ends up just being a broken character after that event.
Although it is not specifically told, the audience can infer that Stanley has some sort of mental illness. The one that fits him the best is Narcissistic Personality Disorder, also known as NPD. He fits the definition perfectly; “have an inflated sense of their own importance, lack of empathy of others, and deep down have are fragile and vulnerable to criticism” (Narcissistic Personality Disorder). This is specifically shown in scene 8, “… and I’m the King around here, and don’t you forget it.” (Stanley), where he is wanting everyone to know he is above everyone. Another mental illness portrayed is Histrionic Personality Disorder, HPD, which calls for “excessive attention seeking and causes inappropriate seductive behavior” (Histrionic Personality Disorder Symptoms, Causes, Treatments). Blanche fits that perfectly, more specifically in Scene 2, “And admire her dress and tell her she’s looking wonderful. That’s important with Blanche. Her little weakness!”, which shows her constant need of approval.
Male dominance is also another important social issue presented in this play. Stanley’s constant need to be ahead of Blanche and show is superiority is best proven in Scene 10, where he rapes her. He raped Blanche to almost have the “last laugh”, as he emotionally ruined her and now knows he has control over her to show Blanche that he is superior and will always win, since women were seen as the weaker gender during this time period. The examples of the various social issues presented in the play were added to provide the audience insight of what was happening during this era and how it affected all of the characters, as well as how the plot was going to unfold.
Moreover, this nature of their world is all helped with the language and music that comes along in the play. The dialogue and stage directions are the main source of diction in this play. Scene one of the play immediately opens with a long paragraph describing the setting, but also describes the sounds, smells and social context as well as the look of the place. The author did not write this play in a rhyming verse or prose, but wanted it to be more free as it is a play with different personalities and scenes of characters to make it more realistic with daily speech and life. The use of music and sound help symbolise certain themes that help build on the characters and create different types of atmospheres. “The Blue Piano” is the best used source of music that sets the tone on different incidents that happen. In the opening scene, a tiny “Blue Piano” sounds in a bar around the corner from Stanley and Stella’s apartment.
This music is important to the play and was added by the author because it arises at different points in the play, all seemingly unique, but have Blanche in common, and more specifically, her rising of various emotions. The music is especially loud when she argues, often with Stanley. It serves to highlight her extreme emotions when Blanche is presented with a situation that either concerns conflict, desire, or both. The “Blue Piano” plays as Blanche arrives at Elysian Fields, and is dominant when she recounts the deaths at Belle Reve (Scene 1), while she kisses the young man from the newspaper (Scene 5) and when the Doctor leads her away to the asylum (Scene 11). Another important element of music is the Varsouviana Polka background songs that are targeted around Blanche’s actions. When Blanche tells Mitch about her husband, “[Polka music sounds, in a minor key faint with distance.] “We danced the Varsouviana!” (Scene 6), as well as when Stanley gave Blanche a bus ticket for her birthday in scene 8, when she is approached by the Mexican woman in scene 9, and when she was about to be taken by the doctor, “The ‘Varsouviana’ is filtered into a weird distortion, accompanied by the cries and noises of the jungle” (scene 11). Overall, the musical component of the play was crucial to dynamic events occurring.
This is especially shown during Blanche’s interactions with others, like her arguments with Mitch and Stanley, to her own personal flashbacks to her husband’s death. Music is arguably the most important symbol in the play because it foreshadows the mental decline of Blanche and highlights the events that are responsible for her overall downfall. Since Blanche’s downfall as a character is one of the main climaxes of the play, particularly Stanley raping her and the time following, the music helps indicate and the events that happened to her are a huge part to the story as a whole and mostly contribute to the theme and purpose of the play.
Lastly, all of these elements added up to create an emotion filled story that addresses social issues during his time period through the flaws of the character’s personalities and their actions. The author creates an intriguing play that shows the flaws that each character conveys as the story unfolds, provides us with an insight into a variety of social issues, and effectively uses writing elements to move the audience. The audience begins to catch on how each character is different then one another and how weak, dependent, and foolish women were portrayed as they relied on men for just about everything, which is the overall theme of the play. The fact that Stella refused to believe her own sister of the rape makes the audience wonder what was going on in the play writer’s mind. Some critics have said he targeted the women, more specifically Blanche, because of (insert quote) and the gender inequality that was present during their time period.
The diction used in the play of numerous literary devices and stage directions helped guide the play to give it a more indepth experience for the audience. The music ultimately set the mood in the play because it was played when something significant was happening, especially in Blanche’s life or her encounters. The men, such as Stanley, were constantly trying to prove their superiority and dominance over women like Blanche during the time period of the late 1940’s. The play writer raised awareness to numerous social conflicts that emphasized the repressiveness of women, listened and spoke for those victimized and forgotten by society, and show that everyone is secretly always hiding something. Through the use of elements including plot analysation, characterization, thought, diction, music, and elements in the setting, this play is so keen in detail of literary aspects over the issues presented and it follows it’s reputation that makes it one of the best plays ever written.
In conclusion, “A Streetcar Named Desire” is known as the greatest play to have ever been written because of obvious reasons. The true thought that is put into every detail in every scene and character proves why this play is more than an entertainment, but a masterpiece in addressing many topics in a more subtle way. After analyzing every detail in this play, the reader was opened up in a meaningful way and can recognize that the literary elements put into this play was the reason for its overall success.