One of the best-known plays of our time, Tennessee Williams’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” tells the story of fading Southern belle Blanche DuBois and her struggles during the South’s post-war changes. Although the play is widely remembered due to its 1951 film version and Marlon Brando’s famous bare-chested cry of “Stella!,” it is also a story of a changing South containing characters struggling with the loss of aristocracy to the new American immigrant, the fallout of chivalry to a new mindset of sex and desire, and a woman grasping desperately at the last bit of fantasy she can muster. Throughout “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Williams uses Blanche as a way to critique Southern “progress” by using her as a symbol for a dark, underlying existence.
When fading Southern belle Blanche Dubois first arrives at her sister Stella’s apartment, she is already internally dealing with the struggle between desire and gentility. The end of the play is foreshadowed early on as Blanche states, “They told me to take a street-car named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at Elysian Fields” (15). This statement serves as a metaphor for Blanche’s life as the mentions of desire, cemeteries, and the Elysian Fields (which symbolize the land of the dead in Greek mythology) describe how her sexual desire serves as the catalyst for her social death and expulsion. Blanche’s vanity and dependence on men also culminate as the play nears its end, as she is taken away from the fantasy she so desperately clings to and dragged into a new world of reality and a New South.
Blanche’s struggle with fantasy and reality serves as on...
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... in everyone’s lives. This statement holds true for progress as well; without fantasy and dreams there would be no progress. After all, progress is the product of someone’s fantasy- an idea that was thought up on a whim. Like Blanche though, progress often has an underlying existence that is very dark. Not all progress is good and Blanche symbolizes this. Williams’s comparisons between Blanche and progress serve to show how progress can be a force that precipitates each individual’s desperate choices; that is, their ability to throw ideas, love, etc. out into the world in the hopes of moving forward. By unveiling a theme that is still pertinent today, “A Streetcar Named Desire” makes its mark as a piece of classic literature, which will be read for generations to come.
Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. New York: Signet Printing, 1980.
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