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Main Themes in A Streetcar Named Desire

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Main Themes in A Streetcar Named Desire

Fantasy/Illusion: Blanche dwells in illusion; fantasy is her primary

means of self-defense. Her deceits do not carry any trace of malice;

rather, they come from her weakness and inability to confront the

truth head-on. She tells things not as they are, but as they ought to

be. For her, fantasy has a liberating magic that protects her from the

tragedies she has had to endure. Unfortunately, this defense is frail

and will be shattered by Stanley. In the end, Stanley and Stella will

also resort to a kind of illusion: Stella will force herself to

believe that Blanche's accusations against Stanley are false.

The Old South and the New South: Stella and Blanche come from a world

that is rapidly dying. Belle Reve, their family's ancestral

plantation, has been lost. The two sisters, symbolically, are the last

living members of their family. Stella will mingle her blood with a

man of blue-collar stock, and Blanche will enter the world of madness.

Stanley represents the new order of the South: chivalry is dead,

replaced by a "rat race," to which Stanley makes several proud

illusions.

Cruelty: The only unforgivable crime, according to Blanche, is

deliberate cruelty. This sin is Stanley's specialty. His final assault

against Blanche is a merciless attack against an already-beaten foe.

On the other hand, though Blanche is dishonest, she never lies out of

malice. Her cruelty is unintentional; often, she lies in a vain effort

to plays. Throughout Streetcar, we see the full range of cruelty, from

Blanche's well-intentioned deceits to Stella self-deceiving treachery

to Stanley's deliberate and unchecked malice. In Williams' plays,

there are many ways to hurt someone. And some are worse than others.

The Primitive and the Primal: Blanche often speaks of Stanley as

ape-like and primitive. Stanley represents a very unrefined manhood, a

romantic idea of man untouched by civilization and its effeminizing

influences. His appeal is clear: Stella cannot resist him, and even

Blanche, though repulsed, is on some level drawn to him. Stanley's

unrefined nature also includes a terrifying amorality. The service of

his desire is central to who he is; he has no qualms about driving his

sister-in-law to madness, or raping her.

Desire: Closely related to the theme above, desire is the central

theme of the play. Blanche seeks to deny it, although we learn later

in the play that desire is one of her driving motivations; her desires

have caused her to be driven out of town.
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