The Streetcar Named ”Desire” (41303)

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The Streetcar Named ”Desire”

Tennessee Williams was born Thomas Lanier Williams in Columbus, Mississippi, in 1911. Much of his childhood was spent in St. Louis. The nickname Tennessee' seems to have been pinned on him in college, in reference to is father's birthplace or his own deep Southern accent, or maybe both.Descended from an old and prominent Tennessee family, Williams's fatherworked at a shoe company and was often away from home. Williams lived with mother, his sister Rose (who would suffer from mental illness and later undergo a lobotomy), and his maternal grandparents.

At sixteen, Williams won $5 in a national competition for his essay, "Can a Wife be a Good Sport?," published in Smart Set. The next year he published his first story in Weird Tales. Soon after, he entered the University of Missouri, where he wrote his first play. He withdrew from the university before receiving his degree, and went to work at his father's shoe company.

After entering and dropping out of Washington University, Williams graduated from the University of Iowa in 1938. He continued to work on drama, receiving a Rockefeller grant and studying play writing at The New School in Manhattan. During the early years of World War Two, Williams worked in Hollywood as a scriptwriter.

In 1944, The Glass Menagerie opened in New York, won the prestigious New York Critics' Circle Award, and catapulted Williams into the upper echelon of American playwrights. Two years later, A Streetcar Named Desire cemented his reputation, garnering another Critics' Circle and adding a Pulitzer Prize. He would win another Critics' Circle and Pulitzer for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955.

Tennessee Williams mined his own life for much of the pathos in his drama. His most memorable characters (many of them complex females, such as Blanche DuBois) contain recognizable elements of their author or people close to him. Alcoholism, depression, thwarted desire, loneliness in search of purpose, and insanity were all part of Williams's world. Certainly his experience as a known homosexual in an era and culture unfriendly to homosexuality informed his work. His setting was the South, yet his themes were universal and compellingly enough rendered to win him an international audience and worldwide acclaim. In later life, as most critics agree, the quality of his work diminished. He sufiered a long period of depression after the death of his longtime partner in 1963. Yet his writing career was long and prolific: twenty-five full-length plays, five screenplays, over seventy one act plays, hundreds of short stories, two novels, poetry, and a memoir. Five of his plays were made into movies.

Williams died of choking in an alcohol-related incident in 1983.


Blanche { Stella's older sister, until recently a high school English teacher in Laurel, Mississippi. She arrives in New Orleans a loquacious, witty, arrogant, fragile, and ultimately crumbling figure. Blanche once was married to and passionately in love with a tortured young man. He killed himself after she discovered his homosexuality, and she has sufiered from guilt and regret ever since. Blanche watched parents and relatives{all the old guard{die off, and then had to endure foreclosure on the family estate. Cracking under the strain, or perhaps yielding to urges so long suppressed that they now cannot be contained, Blanche engages in a series of sexual escapades that trigger an expulsion from her community. In New Orleans she puts on the airs of a woman who has never known indignity, but Stanley sees through her. Her past catches up with her and destroys her relationship with Mitch. Stanley, as she fears he might, destroys what's left of her. At the end of the play she is led away to an insane asylum.

Stella Kowalski { Blanche's younger sister, with the same timeworn aristocratic heritage, but who has jumped the sinking ship and linked her life with lower-class vitality. Her union with Stanley is animal and spiritual, violent but renewing. She cannot really explain it to Blanche. While she loves her older sister, and pities her, she cannot bring herself to believe Blanche's accusation against Stanley. Though it is agony, she has her sister committed.

Stanley Kowalski { Stanley is the epitome of vital force. He is a man in the ush of life, a lover of women, a worker, a fighter, new blood{a chief male of the ock, with his tail feathers fanned and brilliant. He is loyal to his friends, passionate to his wife, and heartlessly cruel to Blanche.

Mitch { An army buddy, coworker, and poker buddy of Stanley. He is the sensitive member of that crowd, perhaps because he lives with his slowly-dying mother. Mitch and Blanche are both people in need of companionship and support. Though Mitch is of Stanley's world, and Blanche is off in her own world, the two believe they have found an acceptable companion in the other. Mitch woos Blanche over the course of the summer until Stanley reveals secrets about Blanche's past.

Eunice { Stella's friend and landlady. Lives above the Kowalskis with Steve.

Steve { Poker buddy of Stanley. Lives upstairs with Eunice.

Pablo { Poker buddy of Stanley.

A Negro Woman { Two brief appearances. She is sitting on the steps talking to Eunice when Blanche arrives. Later, in the 'real-world-struggle-for-existence' sequence, she ri es through a prostitute's abandoned handbag.

A Doctor { Comes to the door at the play's finale to whisk Blanche off to an asylum. After losing a struggle with the nurse, Blanche willingly goes with the kindly-seeming doctor.

A Nurse { Comes with the doctor to collect Blanche and bring her to an institution. A matronly, unfeminine figure with a talent for subduing hysterical patients.

A Young Collector { A young man (seventeen, perhaps), who comes to the door to collect for the newspaper. Blanche lusts after him but constrains herself to irtation and a passionate farewell kiss. The boy leaves bewildered.

A Mexican woman { A vendor of Mexican funeral decorations who frightens Blanche by issuing the plaintive call: Flores para los muertos. The Mexican woman later reprises this role in the underrated comedy Quick Change (1990), starring Bill Murray and Geena Davis.


Stanley and Stella Kowalski live on a street called Elysian Fields in a run-down but charming section of New Orleans. They are newly married and desperately in love. One day Stella's older sister, Blanche DuBois, arrives to stay with them, setting up the drama's central con ict: an emotional tug-of-war between the raw, brute sensuality of Stanley and the fragile, crumbling gentility of Blanche. Truth be told, it is not an even match, for Blanche is already sliding down a slippery slope. Blanche and Stella are the last in a line of landed Southern gentry. Stella has renounced the worn dictates of class propriety to follow her heart and marry an uncultured blue-collar worker of Polish extraction. Meanwhile, Blanche has played nursemaid to the old guard on its deathbed and watched the family estate slip through her fingers into foreclosure. Her professed values are those of an older South, of charm and wit and chivalry, gaiety and light, appearance and code.

Blanche claims she has been given a leave of absence from her high school teaching job to recover from a nervous breakdown. She settles in with the Kowalskis but things do not go smoothly. Her disapproval of Stanley and the station in life her sister Stella has chosen is obvious, though she strives to be polite. Her feelings against Stanley are galvanized when she witnesses him strike Stella in a fit of drunken rage. Stanley's feelings for her are similarly hardened when he overhears her describe him as animal-like, neolithic, and brutish. Blanche's imposition, her airs, and her distortions of reality infuriate Stanley. He begins to chip away at her thin veneer of armor.

Of Stella's and Stanley's friends, one seems to stand above the rest in sensitivity and grace. This is Mitch, who works at the same factory as Stanley, and lives with his sick mother. He has no refinement, but his native gentleness and sincerity inspire Blanche to return his afiection. The two seem to need each other They see a great deal of one another as the summer wears on, but Blanche places strict limits on their intimacy. She has old-fashioned ideals and morals, she tells him. Meanwhile, Stella's first pregnancy progresses and Stanley continues his subtle campaign of intimidation against Blanche.

Blanche's past catches up with her. When she was younger, she fell in love with and married a man whom she later caught in bed with another man. When she confronted him, he killed himself for shame. This knocked the foundations out from under her, and the subsequent poverty and emotional hardships were too much for her. She sought solace or oblivion in the intimacy of strangers; apparently many intimacies with many strangers, and a disastrous afiair with a seventeen- year-old student at her high school.

Blanche departed Mississippi in disgrace and arrived in New Orleans with nowhere else to go. Stanley discovers this sordid account. He tells Mitch and efiectively ends the budding relationship. For Blanche's birthday, Stanley presents her with a one-way bus ticket back to Mississippi. And then, while Stella is in labor at the hospital, Stanley rapes Blanche.

Stella cannot believe the story Blanche tells her about the man she loves. And Blanche's grasp on reality is otherwise shattered. So, with supreme remorse, Stella has Blanche committed. In the final scene of the play, Stella sobs in agony and the rest look on indifierently as a doctor and a nurse lead Blanche away.

Scene 1 Summary

The scene is the exterior of a corner building on a street called Elysian Fields, in a poor section of New Orleans with "rafish charm." The building has two ats: upstairs live Steve and Eunice, downstairs Stanley and Stella. Voices and the bluesy notes of an old piano emanate from an unseen bar around the corner. It is early May, evening.

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