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A Street Car Named Desire Tennessee Williams A Study of Blanche DuBois Background Info on the Author • Born Thomas Lanier Williams in 1911 in Mississippi • A near fatal childhood illness, coupled with a protective mother, kept him from the company of other children. • His weak physical condition, combined with the influence of his delicate mother, earned him the ridicule of both other children and his highly masculine father, who nicknamed Williams, “Miss Nancy”. A Master in the Making • Williams turned to writing as an escape from the cruel world around him. • In 1938 after receiving a degree from the University of Iowa, Williams moved to New Orleans, where he had his first homosexual experience. (His first and last affair with a woman had been at Iowa). • This was the beginning of a life of sexual promiscuity, which also defines many of his characters (including Blanche). • Williams changed his name to Tennessee. • By 1940, Williams’s sexual and social identity had been established. • Williams—highly successful at this point in his life—floods his work with sex, violence, and personal destruction. • His greatest characters are outcasts— usually because their sexual desires put them at odds with conventional society. • “Desire” is a central word in Williams’s work, but not necessarily meaning lust; it is the struggle to attain, through sex, some psychological and spiritual state that is always unattainable. • Blanche will say, “Death […] the opposite is desire.” • Williams became increasingly dependent on prescription drugs and alcohol, especially after the death of his long time partner, Frank Merlo. • Williams died in 1963 in a NYC hotel room after choking on the top of a plastic pill bottle. Important Characters in Streetcar • • • • Blanche DuBois Stella- Blanche’s younger sister Stanley- Stella husband, a Polish immigrant Mitch- friend of Stanley’s and love interest of Blanche Blanche comes to visit • Play begins with Blanche coming to visit Stella (though the audience is unsure why). • Although Blanche feels Stella has married “beneath” her (they were raised in a wealthy family) and constantly criticizes Stanley, Blanche longs for the love and intimacy that define Stella and Stanley’s relationship. Taking the “Streetcars” • Blanche’s first words of the play are symbolic of her journey in life: “They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six block and then get of at—Elysian Fields.” • The first part, “take a streetcar named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries” refers to the events in her life prior to the play. • The second part, “Ride six blocks and then get off at—Elysian Fields” deals with the play itself. • The audience learns that prior to the play, Blanche was married to Allan Grey. • “When I was 16, I made the discovery—love…It was like you suddenly turned a blinding light on something that had always been half in the shadow.” • This loving desire is the same that Stella and Stanley have for each other. • However, her discovery of her young husband’s homosexuality [“ I saw! I know! You disgust me…”] causes his suicide, turning Blanche’s loving desire into hate and self-loathing. A Life of Desire Transferring to “Cemeteries” • This disgust and self-hate result in her destructive lust for young men. • The audience learns that she been fired from her former teaching position because of relations with a 17 year-old student. • This lust ultimately leads to her downfall; Blanche has transferred to the streetcar named “Cemeteries”. • At this point in Blanche’s life, the play begins. • Death (symbolized by the streetcar “Cemeteries”) can bring either heaven or hell. • Blanche can either “ride six blocks and then get off at—Elysian Fields”, or she can continue, broken spirited, to her final “death”—a life without desire. Blanche’s Possible Salvation (Elysian Fields) • Blanche confesses to Mitch, with complete honesty, the story of how she destroyed her young husband. (Her honesty is significant because prior to this point, her relationship with Mitch is based solely on lies.) • In response to Blanche’s outpouring of emotion, Mitch says, “You need somebody. And I need somebody, too. Could it be—you and me, Blanche?” • Through her sobs, Blanche replies, “Sometimes— there’s God—so quickly!” • This concluded the sixth scene (the sixth block on Blanche’s ride to death), and Blanche is on the threshold of finding “Elysian Fields”, “God”, and her salvation. • However, Mitch soon learns of Blanche’s promiscuity after Allan’s death (about which she has lied to him), and he confronts her. She finally admits: “Yes, I had many intimacies with strangers. After the death of Allan—intimacies with strangers was all I seemed able to fill my empty heart with…” Flowers for the Dead • Outside the house a Mexican woman is heard faintly, “Flores. Flores. Flores par los muertos…” • Blanche hears the woman, goes to the door, opens it, and stares at the woman. • When the woman asks Blanche “Flores para los muertos?” Blanche seems to understand the signficance; she slams the door, screaming, “No, no! Not now! Not now!” The Opposite of Desire • It is now that Blanche states, “Death […] the opposite is desire.” • Blanche has missed her opportunity for love and intimacy with Mitch—all that is left for her is death. • Blanche’s final, tragic collapse comes in the second to last scene when Stanley rapes Blanche. Her spirit breaks, and she “sinks to her knees. He picks up her inert figure and carries her to the bed.” She accepts her fate. • Blanche becomes semi-delusional; she starts to believe that an old flame is coming to get her. • The play ends as Blanche is lead away by a Doctor (sent for by Stella and Stanley) who takes her to a mental institution (implied). Works Cited • Berkman, Leonard. “The Tragic Downfall of Blanche DuBois.” Modern Drama Volume 10 1967: 249-257. Literature Resource Center. Gale Group Databases. George Walton Academy Libraries, Monroe, GA. 9 December 2004. <http://galegroup.com>. • Mood, John J. “The Structure of A Streetcar Named Desire.” Ball State University Forum Volume 14 1973: 910. Literature Resource Center. Gale Group Databases. George Walton Academy Libraries, Monroe, GA. 9 December 2004. <http://galegroup.com>.
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