Monday, October 25, 2010

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams (1948)

Summary:  Blanche Dubois arrives in New Orleans to visit her sister Stella.  It is immediately clear that Blanche is unaccustomed to city life and uncomfortable around blue-collar workers like Stanley (Stella's husband).  Pregnant Stella attempts to keep the peace while her husband and sister antagonize each other.  Eventually, fueled by frustration, Stanley does some sleuthing and discovers that Blanche left Mississippi because she had acquired quite a reputation and had no other place to go.  Late in the play, Stanley and Blanche have implied (non-consensual?) sex.  Subsequently, Blanche is taken to a mental institution.

Thoughts:  I feel a great deal of pressure to come up with some "thoughts" about one of the most famous (and read) plays on the list.  Though this was not my first read of this play, I continue to be impressed by Williams' craftsmanship.

While the main characters in this play (arguably Blanche and Stanley) do unlikeable things, they are not unlikeable people.  Flawed?  Yes.   Unlikeable?  Certainly not.  Because they are two very different people, Williams uses two dynamic techniques to reveal their individual humanity to audiences.  Blanche is most vulnerable when delivering a monologue to Mitch (a potential admirer) about her deceased husband (a gay man who committed suicide in front of her after she told him that he disgusted her).  In contrast, Stanley's vulnerability is glaringly on display after a fight with Stella.  Following the violent outburst, he returns to his wife in a pitiful, remorseful and childlike state.  While Stella is able to see the humanity in both her sister and husband, neither Stanley nor Blanche develop sympathy for each other.  Instead, the spirit of antagonism builds to an unsavory climax.

William's Introduction is conspicuously not about the likely controversial story to follow; but is about his own process as an artist and how the success of The Glass Menagerie almost caused him to stagnate.  His final words encourage readers to live....while they still have time to do it.

Original Cast List, Signet edition

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