The Characters of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar
Named Desire Streetcar Named DesireThe Characters of A Streetcar Named Desire
Tennessee Williams was one of the greatest American dramatists of the 20th century. Most of his plays take us to the southern states and show a confused society. In his works he exposes the degeneration of human feelings and relationships. His heroes suffer from broken families and they do not find their place in the society. They tend to be lonely and afraid of much that surrounds them. Among the major themes of his plays are racism, sexism, homophobia and realistic settings filled with loneliness and pain.1 Tennessee Williams characters showed us extremes of human brutality and sexual behavior.2 One of his most popular dramas was written in 1947, and it is called A Streetcar Named Desire.
The drama is basically about a married couple -Stella and Stanley Kowalski- who are visited by Stella’s older sister, Blanche. The drama shows the caustic feelings of these people putting Blance DuBois in the center. The drama tells the story of the pathetic mental and emotional demise of a determined, yet fragile, repressed and delicate Southern lady born to a once-wealthy family of Mississippi planters.3 No doubt that the character of Blanche is the most complex one in the drama. She is truly a tragic heroine.
First she is introduced as a symbol of innocence and chastity.4 She is aristocratic and intelligent, and sensitive and fragile at the same time, also beautiful and this delicate beauty has a moth-like appearance. But these positive characteristics are overshadowed by the fact that Blanche arrives to Elysian Fields, which is a poor section of New Orleans, on two streetcars, Desire and Cemeteries. These misterious expressions, which can be considered to be the main symbols of the play, suggest that something is is not clear around Blanhe or that something wrong will happen towards the end. Elysian Fields symbolizes paradise beyond death from ancient lore,3 Desire expresses Blanche’s desire to be loved and Cemeteries represents her fear of death.4
Blanche represents a deep-seated attachment to the past.5 Her life is a lesson how tragic events events in the past can ruin a person’s future. Her husband’s death affects her the most.
Blanche was only a young girl without any experience when she got married. She married Allan Grey, who was only sixteen. Their marriage started well, but later the young wife found out that Allan was homosexual.
“I didn’t know anything except I loved him unendurably but without being able to help him or help myself. Then I found out. In the worst of all possible ways. By coming, suddenly into a room that I thought was empty ,which wasn’t empty, but had two people in it , the boy I had married and an older man who had been his friend for years…”
Allan comitted suicide and Blanche blaims herself.
“It was because on the dancefloor – unable to stop myself – I suddenly said: I saw! I know!
You disgust me.”
Her husband’s death wasn’t the only tragic in her life. Blanche watched her parents and her relatives die-off. She was forced to sell Belle Reve, the only place where she was happy, because she had to pay the funeral expenses. Then she lived in a second-rate hotel, where she made meaningless relationships with strangers. Actually, she was a prostitute. She was even dismissed from a school, where she was an English teacher, because of an incident with a seventeen years old student who reminded her of her late husband.5 She had to leave the old family mansion because it was mortgaged, she had to leave the hotel because of the strangers visiting her every night, and she lost her job because the love affair with the young boy. Blanche became homeless, lonely and desperate, and she was out of money. All these things weakened her, turned her into an alcoholic, and lowered her mental stability bit-by-bit.6
Despite the effects that reached her in the past, when she arrives to Stella’s little, and unconfortable flat, she tries to still seem to be well-mannered, educated, and attractive. She meets different kinds of people in the house. Of course she meets her sister, who enjoys her common marriage and whom Blanche finds out that she is pregnant. Stella’s husband is a common working man who is simple, straight forward and honest. Stanley tolerates nothing but the truth. He is also cruel, vulgar, and animalistic, as Blance once says. He is the opposing force to Blanche’s struggles and world of illusions.7 During the Poker Night, Blanche meets Stanley’s colleague, Mitch,(the shorter form of Harold Mitchell) who is an unmarried man living with his mother. He is sensitive and soft-hearted.7 Mitch seems to be Blanche’s perfect companion whom she is looking and also waiting for.
Mitch embodies the fulfillment in love for Miss DuBois, as he calls her in the beginning. Blanche plays her role perfectly. Mitch believes her pure and innocent; he wants to marry her. Gradually, Blanche becomes dependent on him. When Stella asks her about her feelings towards Mitch, she says “I want to rest, breathe quietly again! Yes. I want Mitch, if it happens I can leave here and not be anyone’s problem 8 But Stanley being a realist and seeing through Blanche’s illusions, he defeats her opportunity to escape through Mitch.1 He even rapes her. When Stanley went on to rape her, he completely diminished her mental stability. It was not the actual rape that represents the causes for her following madness, but the fact that she was raped by a man who represented everything unacceptable to her.8
Blanche’s tragedy is a tragedy of an individual caught between two worlds, the world of the past and the world of the present. She is unwilling to get rid of the past and unable to come to terms with the present. She cannot forget the the death of Allan, therefore she seeks substitute men (especially young boys) for her dead husband.6 She is inable to face reality in her circumstances and in herself 9 because she still lives in the past. She thinks that she is still young and attractive, although she hates bright light because it would reveal her.
Blance is an intelligent and sensitive woman who values literature and creativity of human imagination,9 but emotionally repressed, addicted to alcohol, succumbing to illusions, lies about her past, sexual aberrations, and madness. Her need to be special and loved originates from her loneliness and her failure with her relationships.
A Streetcar Named Desire is a psychological drama portraying neurotic people who are victims of their own passions, frustrations and loneliness. In the play Williams sympathizes depth characterization, he develops strong and interesting characters like Blanche and Stanley, and he uses symbols which strenghten their features.
With this drama Tenessee Williams has created such an impressive and salutary story with which he revolutionized the American theatre,10 and wrote his name into the book of history of literature
Tennessee Williams and A Streetcar Named Desire
Classic Notes: Tennessee Williams
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Summary of A Streetcar Named Desire
Blanche DuBois and A Streetcar Named Desire
A Streetcar Named Desire: Characters and Setting
Blanche’s Breakdown in Streetcar
The Character of Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire
Tom Sullivan’s Essay File: Tennessee Williams (1911-1983)