In this essay I shall deal with the
protagonists and their relationships in A
Streetcar Named Desire, a drama written by Tennessee Williams, in order to
better understand the complexity of gender roles in this period and transition
from traditional to modern way of living.
Thomas Lanier Williams, later known
as Tennessee Williams, was born in Columbus, Mississippi in 1911. His family
was quite unhappy and his parents often fought, mainly because of his father’s
drinking and gambling. After his father obtained a job in St. Louis, the whole
family moved there. He and his sisters were often teased at school because of
their southern accents. It can be very clearly seen in the drama A Streetcar Named Desire that all of
these experiences from his real life were poured into his literary work.1
Although he first began writing dramas
in university, he was not initially successful. After he earned a bachelor
degree from the State University of Iowa, he actively began writing and
publishing literary works. Some of his successful works were: The Glass Menagerie, You Touched Me!, The Roman Spring of Mrs.
Stone, The Rose Tattoo and A
Streetcar Named Desire. Not all of his work was equally acclaimed, but he
did get recognition for A Streetcar Named
Desire in the form of Pulitzer Prize and a film adaptation of the play,
directed by Elia Kazan.2 He
passed away in New York City in 1983.
Blanche is a woman in her early
thirties, a former schoolteacher, who came to stay with her sister and her
husband for the summer. She and her sister Stella both come from a wealthy
southern background, and neither is accustomed to live in such a mundane,
shabby little apartment that Stella and her husband Stanley live in. she makes
a big show out of explaining her sister how she had to leave her teaching
position because of her nerves, and displaying her fancy manners and expensive
wardrobe as soon as she comes. She creates an aura of mystery and manners
around her and acts as if such life was below her.
Soon enough, her façade begins to
crumble and little pieces of her past and her true identity begin to appear. It
soon becomes evident that, even though she claims she rarely drinks, she is an
alcoholic, she managed to lose the family estate, supposedly because she had to
pay for all the funerals when her and Stella’s family members dying one by one
and she lived in a hotel known to foster people of poor morals called Flamingo.
Scene by scene, her act begins to crumble and we learn more and more about her
We find out that she had been
married at a very tender age of sixteen. She claims she had loved her husband,
called Allan Grey, very dearly and still keeps his letters to her. It is later
revealed that her husband actually committed suicide after she had confronted
him at a party about his homosexuality. One day, she caught him and his lover
(whom she thought was just an old friend) and could never forget it or
understand it. Being sixteen, in love, and having lived a very sheltered life
up to that point, she did not know how to deal with the situation. She felt
betrayed, heartbroken and confused. After her husband’s death, she became lost.
She started dating, just for the sake of never being alone, but never truly
caring for any of the men she was seeing. It can be seen from her wardrobe and jewellery,
that she benefited financially from those encounters. Stanley found out and
told Mitch and Stella that she actually did not leave her job because of her
nerves, but because of having been caught having an affair with a 17-years-old
student. She was fired immediately. In fact, she became so notorious in Laurel
that she was literally asked to leave the town.
This is where we actually realise
that Blanche is not only completely broke and dependant of Stella, but also,
has no place to go to. Her only way out of this situation is to marry Mitch. This
she attempts to do by not seduce him in a way she seduced her former lovers, to
be with them a couple of weeks and leave them. She actually tries to form a
deeper relationship with him and spends weeks courting (and being courted) him
and playing a grand old-fashioned lady with high morals and upbringing. She also
tries to deceive him into thinking she is younger than her actual age. She does
this by never seeing him in the daytime, wearing lots of make-up and nice
clothes and covering up lamps with paper lanterns to shield her true appearance
from the direct light that would expose her true age.
It can really be seen how she was
holding onto a thread when Mitch finally leaves her and she realizes that her
last hope had vanished and there is truly nothing left for her to do to get out
of her situation. After Stanley rapes her, she has a mental breakdown and ends
up in an asylum. During the period between the rape and the doctors arriving to
take her away, she lives in a fairy-tale world she had created for herself in
which she believes that a wealthy former flame of hers will come and take her
The true extent of the trauma caused
by her husband’s death can be observed in the part of drama where Stella goes
into labour and she speaks to Mitch and later Stanley. She hears the music that
played in the background when he died and it all end with a bang.
She is Blanche’s younger sister and
Stanley’s wife. In the drama she is presented as meek, fragile, kind and
caring. She is deeply concerned for her sister and believes her stories
blindly. Despite her pregnancy, she constantly runs errands for Blanche and
acts like her maid. She is clearly embarrassed when Blanche points out how poor
her and Stanley’s apartment looks. She is not as concerned with her upbringing
and pedigree as Blanche is. She lives a simple life.
She loves Stanley with all of her
heart, despite him occasionally mistreating her. When he hits her and she and
Blanche run away and hide at her neighbour’s apartment, Stella quickly returns.
When Blanche asks her how she can live with this animal of a person, she
responds with an explanation that he actually has really good prospects and
that the future looks very bright for him.
Despite her being very caring and
gentle, a very primal instinct of her is shown when she sleeps with Stanley,
despite him hitting her earlier that day. It is also evident in their later
conversation when he reminds her of how much fun they had before Blanche came
and how they had to keep their voices down because she can hear everything from
their bedroom. It is implied that she ran away and married him because of the
primal instinct of lust. This attitude of hers can be seen in her saying: “But
there are things that happen between a man and a woman in the dark – that sort
of make everything else seem – unimportant.”3
I believe this could be seen from
the evolutionary point of view and the survival of the fittest. Stella’s and
Blanche’s kind are nearly in extinction. This can be seen from their entire
family dying in a very short period. Blanche does not know how to cope with the
new world, and she is represented as being completely lost in the world.
However, Stella followed her instincts and chose the strongest, fittest male
she could find. Stanley, despite being a brute, is the man of the new world and
he can make his way around. He is her way out and the way of survival.
Despite him being violent, she does
not believe her sister when she accuses him of rape. She claims that if she
believed her, she could never stay with him, and she could not cope with that
idea. So she decided to live in denial and put her sister in an asylum.
He is Stella’s husband. He works as
a salesman and is the only one of his friends that has any prospects of
advancing in life. His ancestors are Polish and he is a representation of a new
kind of people, the advanced specie that is taking over America and pushing out
the old specie of Americans that Stella and Blanche belong to. He believes
himself to be a true American: “1 am not a Polack. People from Poland are
Poles, not Polacks. But what I am is a one hundred percent American born and raised
in the greatest country on earth and proud as hell of it, so don’t ever call me
He is brutal and honest and without
any manners. He could not care less for what people (especially Blanche) think
of him as long as he gets his way in life. He does his best to discredit
Blanche, and sees right through her little charade. His true colours are seen
when he beats his pregnant wife and rapes her sister, all the while believing
he was somehow entitled to do that and not wrong in any way.
Harold “Mitch” Mitchell
Mitch is Stanley’s friend and co-worker.
He begins to court Blanche and sees her as a saviour as much as she sees him as
one. He lives with a dying mother, who raised him well, and he has better
manners then the rest of his company, but she is concerned who will take care
of him and spend time with him after she dies. So he tries to find himself a
wife. Despite himself and Blanche being very different, they manage to bond
over their sad love stories and the fact that they are both alone in the world.
It seems apparent that they will marry, until the moment Stanley tells Mitch
about Blanche’s past and he not only breaks up with her, but also tries to
forcefully take advantage of her. However, when she is taken away by the
doctors, he is the only one of the men to show any emotion towards the poor
It is very difficult to describe all
the complex relationships between the characters in this play. Some were
already touched upon in the description of the characters, but some require
To begin with, Stella and Blanche
have a loving, sisterly relationship and they both care for each other. It is
evident that Blanche somewhat takes advantage of her sister, but despite all
that, she still wants what is best for her. This is seen from her asking for
Stella’s explanation how she could return to Stanley after he hit her and
explaining what a brutal man he really seems. Stella, on the other hand is
having a hard time believing that her sister might be a prostitute and that her whole story of why she came to
visit them is made up.
The relationship of Stella and
Stanley is mostly already explained. They are mad for each other, but their
relationship seems based on sex and primal instincts. They are expecting a
child together, and Stanley seems to be very happy about it because he has
proven himself to be a fertile alpha-male. She depends on him both financially
and emotionally. Without him, she would most likely be just as lost in this
world as her sister is.
Stanley and Blanche have a very
strained and odd relationship. Although they initially flirt, most likely because
she no longer knows how to address men, other than flirting with them, it soon
becomes evident that they cannot stand each other. She constantly implies that
he is hardly more than an animal, and he cannot stand her pretending to be a
great lady and mocking him. She tries to show her sister what kind of a man he
really is, but Blanche is too in love to realize this. He, on the other hand,
goes above and beyond to discredit her and manages to find out her dirty
secrets and tells everything to both Stella and Mitch, destroying Blanche’s
opportunity to make something of her life after all.
Blanche’s and Mitch’s relationship
is based on need. They both desperately need salvation and they only have each
other to do that. He needs her because he does not want to be left alone in the
world when his mother passes away, and she needs him because she no longer has
any place to go to. They cannot truly understand each other, because of their
different upbringing and background and this is seen after their first date
during which they barely spoke because they simply did not know what to talk
about. When he breaks up with her, she is left devastated without any prospects
of a normal future left, while he still might find somebody to his liking to
spend his life with.
In this drama, Williams has
masterfully managed to represent the difficulty of women and their role during
this period. Not many of them had any opportunity in life, other than get
married and bare children. They were still expected to view men as their
saviours, despite their flaws and had no way of fending for themselves without
being ostracised by the society. Men, on the other hand were allowed to get
away with just about anything and could so whatever they wanted in terms of
carrier and life choices.
The appearance of a “new sort” of an
American is represented in the form of Stanley Kowalski, a descendant of
immigrants, and they are seen as the future of America. As we can see today,
the USA does seem to prospect and progress because of being a melting pot of
many different traditions and nations and their adapting to this new way of
life and furthering the entire country, which the “old Americans” could never
do because they can no longer adapt, unless they merge with the immigrants.
“Tennessee Williams Biography.” Encyclopedia of World Biography,
“Tennessee Williams Biography.” Encyclopedia of World Biography,