Film, Play, And Characters Of A Streetcar Named Desire
Within both the play by Tennessee Williams and the 1951 film titled A Streetcar Named Desire, the relationships of the characters are very similar, yet their personality traits are occasionally more prevalent in one medium than the other. Since the work is essentially centered on three people, Blanche, Stanley, and Stella, it is not very difficult to generate certain feelings for or against certain characters. For example, it might be easier to establish a certain hatred for the likes of Blanche and Stanley, while there might be a sort of sympathy for Stella. Nonetheless, the personality types differ between both the play and the film, causing some parts of the story to be left out entirely, or catered to what medium the story is being told in.
Blanche DuBois is portrayed as a sensitive and refined character, first appearing in scene one dressed in white, which is a sign of being pure and innocent. Blanche is presented as an upper-class, educated, and culturally intelligent woman who seeks her life to be blissfully ignorant to reality. She often strays from honesty, telling her own desirable truths and eventually constructing a fantasy life to cope with the trials thrown at her by reality. Blanche is, in general, a character who does not belong in this world. She is the most tragic character within this entire work, with many of her actions being psychological responses to the utter tragedy she has experienced throughout her life. Juan Du and Lu Zhang from the University of China go so far as to say that “when Blanche exits, the audience is drawn deeply into her life, there being no distance of whatsoever in between,” (Du and Zhang). She longs for familiarity, which is why she seeks solace in her sister, knowing that being with family means having a sense of belonging.
Stanley Kowalski lives in a basic, fundamental world that allows no subtleties and no refinements. He can understand no relationship between a man and a woman except a sexual one, where he sees the man’s role as giving and taking pleasure from this relationship. Stanley is a quite an easy character to grow a dislike for very quickly, he as presented as a common, rough, and extremely vulgar man, especially towards his wife Stella. His bluntness allows for no deviation from the truth being completely straightforward. Stanley is described as being brutal and almost animal-like, with Blanche commenting on his “ape-like” behavior. This can be seen through his utter determination to destroy that which does not belong to him, which could range from a physical object to even a relationship.
Stella Kowalski, Stanley’s wife, acts as a bridge between the characters of Stanley and Blanche. They both are guilty of constantly trying to involve Stella in their arguments, and try to win her over to have her on their side during this war. She becomes caught up in the battlefield of these two, who are using her strictly to accomplish their own goals and to gain a one-up against the other. Blanche and Stanley are from two completely different worlds, with Stella being the intermediary connecting them. However, throughout the play, the audience can see that in their relationship, Stanley is the more dominating figure. Stella essentially does whatever he says, takes the brunt of his abuse, and still continues to stay with him and love him, which displays how toxic their relationship truly is.
A big theme that adds to the tension within this work is the distortion of reality, which the audience can gather from how each of these characters actually acts. This big theme is what really drives Stanley completely up the wall. Because with Stanley, what you see is what you get, he prides being with Stella because she is actually fairly plain. Blanche comes into the picture, being delusional with things such as her age, the past she has, and the clothes and makeup that she puts on. Blanche “finds herself lost in a state of perpetual panic about her fading looks,” (Gencheva), and puts up all sorts of false realities into her mind. She makes herself believe that they are completely plausible and believable. She is a shell of her former self, and is now putting on a false front of the person she has made out in her mind of who she wants herself to actually be. Stanley catches on that her persona is all a front. He eventually wants a chance to get back at Blanche for coming into his house and uprooting the familiarity he had with just himself and Stella. This soon builds into the sexual tension between Blanche and Stanley, and even though nothing would come of it, she continues to flirt with her sister’s husband and this specific tension eventually builds up to the final act when Stanley rapes Blanche.
A rape scene within a work can obviously be portrayed differently on screen than it is within a play script. This brings up the significant difference between the screen version and the play, with the film fading out of one scene and fading back into another, with Stanley walking out of the bedroom pulling his shirt back on over his head. Albeit, the film codes in the 1950s allowed for suggestions within movies of what could have happened, leaving the audience to essentially draw their own conclusions without being outright told what happened within the film. Blanche came into the Kowalski home, staying indefinitely, and in his eyes, basically destroyed what Stanley knew by coming in and wreaking havoc on his home. To get his revenge on her, so to say, he attempts to destroy her sexually. He has no other high ground towards her, so this seems like his only way to get even for her coming into his life. Stanley knew that Blanche was putting up a front, but had no other way to attack her than to use his force and hostility, just like he does with his own wife.
The director of the 1951 film, Elia Kazan, describes the progression of the scenes within the movie as, “a step in Blanche’s progression from arrival to expulsion,” (Senejani and Mojgan). This is also seen within the streetcars Blanche takes in order to arrive to Elysian Fields, where Stanley and Stella reside. She took a streetcar named Desire, hence the title of the work, then transferred to one called Cemeteries, then she rode six blocks before getting off at her destination, Elysian Fields. In Greek mythology, Elysian Fields is where the heroes who were bestowed immortality by gods were sent. Blanche has had a desire essentially her entire life, and now that she has nothing, her past life is dead. She keeps this newfound delusional desire to be somebody that she is not, therefore bringing her to the cemetery of who she was and who she now is. The final destination, Elysian Fields, can be used to symbolize her eventual transfer to the mental institution at the end of the work. Blanche states that she has always depended on the kindness of strangers before she agrees to get in the cab, and it is almost childlike and is as if she is in a state of euphoria and contentment.
Both the 1951 film version and the play of A Streetcar Named Desire show both the emotional depth, and perhaps lack of depth, that the characters within this work actually have. The overall contribution they have is unlike any other, with each character not functioning correctly without another. By the end of the final act, Blanche is stripped bare, while the audience not knowing where Stanley and Stella’s relationship will ultimately end up, or if it will hold up through the never-ending toxicity. The personality types of these characters differ greatly between both the play and the film, causing some parts of the story to be left out entirely, or catered to what medium the story is being told in. This work leaves an endless depth to how the characters can be portrayed, and through each script, play, or film, the story is told in a different way almost each time, with no performance being like the other.
- Du, Juan and Lu Zhang. ‘semanticscholar.org.’ n.d. “Poetic Realism” in A Streetcar Named Desire. Document. April 2019.
- Gencheva, Andrea. ‘esnbu.org.’ 20 August 2016. Truth and Illusion in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. Document. 2019.
- Senejani, Akram Amiri and Eyvazi Mojgan. ‘Blanche Dubois’s tragedy of incomprehension in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’.’ 4 November 2011. academicjournals.org. Document. April 2019.
- Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. Mays, Kelly J. The Norton Introduction to Literature. 2016. 1773.