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Reality and Illusion in Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire Essay

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A Streetcar Named Desire, first published in 1947, is considered a landmark play for the 20th century American drama, bringing author Tennessee Williams a Pulitzer Prize. One of its most important themes deals with the contrast between reality and illusion. The aim of this essay is to examine how this contrast is reflected in the way the main character constructs her identity.
As Ruby Cohn calls it in his essay “The Garrulous Grotesque of Tennessee Williams”, A Streetcar Named Desire is “a poignant portrait of a Southern gentlewoman who is extinct in the modern world” (46). The protagonist of the play is Blanche duBois, a fading Southern belle, who comes to New Orleans to live with her sister Stella and her husband Stanley Kowalski. This provides the setting for a clash of two cultures: Blanche on one hand, symbolizing the dying Southern gentility, and Stanley on the other, representing the rising pragmatic middle-class.
Blanche is a character who has been conditioned by the society in which she was brought up, her background influencing her personality. Unhappy with her life, she is unable or unwilling to change it for the better. She prefers to retreat from reality into illusions and fantasies, building multiple façades of her identity, which she presents to the characters she interacts with. She was brought up to imitate the ideal Southern womanhood – the beautiful, sometimes shy, sometimes flirtatious yet always chaste lady. But the harsh reality of the 20th century urban America is in contradiction with this ideal, and Blanche is disillusioned, forced to make her own way in a world which does not understand her and which she does not understand. Her promiscuity and alcoholism are means of escaping these hardships, as she ...


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...he is in fact wearing a mask during the entire play. While trying to hide the lonely, disillusioned and desperate for attention woman she really is, she is slowly but surely heading towards a break-down.

Bibliography

Venezki-Griffin, Alice. Living Theatre. A Study Guide to Great Plays.
Heilman, Robert Bechtold. “Tennessee Williams’ Approach to Tragedy”. Tennessee Williams. A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Stephen S. Stanton. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice – Hall, Inc., 1977. 17-35
Blackwell, Louise. “Tennessee Williams and the Predicament of Women”. Tennessee Williams. A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Stephen S. Stanton. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice – Hall, Inc., 1977. 100-106
Ganz, Arthur. “A Desperate Morality”. Tennessee Williams. A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Stephen S. Stanton. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice – Hall, Inc., 1977. 123-137


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