On the Friday following Thanksgiving, I was searching out an escape. I’d had enough family time for the rest of my existence. I soon barricaded myself into my room, very literally speaking. If I’m being honest, I should’ve been cleaning with the state of my floor. Being nearly 6 pm, my intent was not to consume the whole play, but once I started I just couldn’t stop. I have always been partial to Tennessee Williams’ work, but A Streetcar Named Desire is in a category of its own.
Williams is really into the whole idea of truth vs illusion, which is an integral part of this play and The Glass Menagerie
Blanche DuBois throws herself into her sister, Stella’s, life when she shows up at her doorstep one evening. The circumstances surrounding Blanche’s sudden appearance aren’t clear at first, but later come into light. Blanche meets Stan, her sisters husband, and their first encounter can be described as anything but normal. Stan comes home from bowling, greets Blanche, and proceeds to take his shirt off. While it is hot, this is not exactly the best etiquette when you first meet someone. Imagine, “Hi, how are you?” and you respond “alright, just a little warm” and proceed to take off your clothes. It’s clear that Stan’s has a lot of male prowess and isn’t afraid to show it to women like Blanche.
Their relationship is strange and it just gets stranger. Later on in Blanche’s stay and after returning from a show, Stella and Blanche are getting ready for bed. Stan and three of his friends are in the other room, they are separated by a curtain. A “yellow streak of light” pierces through the curtain and Blanche who “stands in her pink silk brassiere and white skirt in the light” is seen by Stanley. This scene is hard to dissect. Blanche is lonely. Her husband has died. Just before this happens, she meets Mitch and takes a liking to him. She’s obviously looking to be desired — pun very much intended. Is this act intentional? Does she secretly desire the affection of Stan? It’s clear that he saw her. Is this some kind of parallel between their first scene together, when Stanley takes off his shirt? The interaction can be seen below at 2:03, however you wont regret watching the whole video because Marlon Brando’s version of Stanley is spot on (also not to mention the fact that he’s not hard to look at..)
These interactions between Blanche and Stanley define the play. Stanley is a man’s man. There’s an implicit power in everything he does. He’s always exerting this power. Here’s a few descriptions of him given by Williams:
He is of medium height, about five feet eight or nine, strongly, compactly built. Animal joy in his being is implicit in all his movements and attitudes. Since earliest manhood the center of his life has been pleasure with women, the giving and taking of it, not with weak indulgence, dependency, but with the power and pride of a richly feathered male bird among hens…He sizes women up with a glance, with sexual classifications, crude images flashing into his mind and determining the way he smiles at them (29).
You must be asking yourself how Stella married such a man, because I am. Another important side-note is the fact that when Stan and Blanche first meet, he grins at her. Now the meaning of that smile reveals itself. Here’s another description, this time of Stan and his friends:
…they are men at the peak of their manhood, as coarse and direct and powerful as the primary colors (45).
Both of these quotes, while describing Stan, coincidentally introduce two symbols, both hens and primary colors, that run throughout A Streetcar Named Desire. The use of primary colors is not just in contexts regarding the masculinity of Stan but he, himself, uses the terminology “having them colored lights going” when he’s describing having sex with Stella. I think that the significance of this symbol lies in the fact that it represents both the power that Stanley yields, but also the power of love. Another way that colors are at play within the text is that Blanche is described as being lightly colored with “white” clothes while Stan’s vivacity is expressed through his wardrobe with a “vivid green bowling shirt” and bright red silk pajamas.
The use of animals, like the birds mentioned above, is common in the play. In the first scene, Stanley come back from bowling and tosses a package of meat to Stella. This shows us that he’s a hunter, a provider. At first Blanche and Stella are classified as “hens”, classic prey for an animal like Stan. However in scene ten, Blanche is no longer a “hen” but a “tiger”, which is in reference to the reader discovering that she’s cunning and always goes for what she wants.
By the end of A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche’s “Belle Reve” becomes just that: a beautiful dream. At this point she’s lost Mitch and has been raped by her brother in law, Stan. The big question left, for me at least, is the idea of desire. Blanche seems to desire everything and everyone that has any interest in her, yet their desire is always unfounded. Maybe she’s projecting, with her first husband being gay his desire for her was seemingly unfounded. A Streetcar Named Desire was an interesting read for me. I secretly found myself rooting for Blanche and Mitch. Just for the record, while Blanche is a complainer she is not even close to as bad as Esther from The Bell Jar.