A Streetcar Named Desire Context

  • Created by: LilyIM
  • Created on: 15-03-17 21:08

Historical context: (Early versions)

Williams began work on Streetcar in 1945.

Title revisions made

'The Moth'

'Blanche's Chair in the Moon'

'The Poker Night' (summer 1945)

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Historical context: (How the play changed)

Initially, the central family was Italian.

Williams later changed the brother in law to an Irishman and the two sisters Southern Belles.

The Final version was set in 1947, two years after the second world war.

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Historical context: (Publishing history)

Published in New York by New directions in 1947.

Reissued 1951 New American library, New York

Published acting edition 1953, Dramatists' play Service, New York. 

Published in Britain in 1949, John Lehmann.

Reissued in 1956, by Secker and Warburg.

Published in 2009, as Penguin modern classic. 

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Historical context: (Stage History)

The play was first performed in the USA in 1947 in Bosten, and New York later that year.

It was under the direction of Elia Kazan

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Historical context: (The Second World War)

Streetcar was staged two years after the Second World War, in 1947.

Harley any reference, apart from one in scene 11 by Stanley about Salerno landings. 

Suggest the play exists in its own world and time.

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Historical context: (American civil war 1861-5)

Causes of the American civil war

- Slavery evil in North, but a necessity in the South (for tobacco and cotton industries) were wealth was founded.

-Abraham Lincoln elected president 1860, didn't want union to break up, promised the South slavery would remain legal in the states it already existed. 

-Anti-slavery sentiment grew in the North, wanted it abolished. 

-Another issue was demand of American manufacturing industry, based largely in the North, for tax on imported goods. Southerners saw this as infringement of their rights, threatened to leave the union. 

-Also unrest among slaves. 

-Ended confederate surrender in 1865 April. South in ruins. Linchon hoped to 'bind up the South's wounds' but was assassinated a few days later. South was treated harshly, slavery was abolished a few years later, and it suffered economic decline.

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Historical context: (Homosexuality and the law)

-Homosexuality was illegal but tolerated in some areas e.g. New Orleans

-Willaims according to critics e.g. Christopher Isherwood, hated being gay. 

-Williams himself said 'I am not about to limit myself to writing about gay people

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Setting context: (New Orleans)

-Set in an apartment in the French Quarter (AKA Vieux Carre) of the city of New Orleans, state Louisiana

-Lies between Mississippi river and L&N railway track (poor area).

-Area is described as carefree etc.

-Area has seen better says, for example, the house which used to be occupied by one family is now two flats. 

-Elysian Fields (the street) is from Greek mythology, an area of the underworld reserved for dead heroes.

-The area was very ethnically diverse. There's an unnamed black women Eunice speaks to, Stanley with his Polish background, Pablo, who's first language is Spanish and the Mexican street vendors. This diversity was unusual for the time. 

-Play mostly set in the apartment. 

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Literary Context: (The effects of the civil war)

-Because of Civil Southern literature thrived on nostalgia for the past. Regional patriotism. 

-Romantic appeal of a lost way of life is similar to the appeal of the defeated royalists, Cavaliers of the seventeenth-century England and the Jacobite cause in Scotland.  

-Romanticism of the South continued into the 20th century, boosted by Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel gone with the wind, and the successful 1939 film.

-Souths economic decay was symbolized by the fading beauty of the planters mansions. 

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Literary Context: (Southern Gothic)

-Contrast between romance of a dying culture/economy based on deep injustice cruelty. That's  a main element of Southern Gothic genre. 

-Blanche and Stanley represent two culture, the decaying south and new American. 

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Literary Context: (European influences)

-When Tennesse studied at Missouri and immersed himself in plays of Anton Chekhov, August Strindberg and Henrik Ibsen. (European playwrights he research for models of the form.)

-August Strindberg Miss Julie (1888) influenced A Streetcar Named Desire in its equation of class antagonism with sexual tension.

-Parallels between the plantation of Belle Reve and the household of Madame Ranevskaya in Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard  1904. Both and doomed and their extravagant existence is based on the labor of others but they both have a romantic appeal. 

-Southern and European culture. Blanche's Southern culture but french name. 

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Contemporary contexts: (Marxist approaches)

- The socio-economic conditions and class struggles of 1940's America. (Analysis) 

- Antagonism between Blanche (representing the old declining South) and Stanley, the newly assertive working class. 

- Clash between culture. Stanley is the survivor, 'gaudy seed-bearer', actual seed embodied in his new son. 

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Contemporary contexts: (New Historicism)

- It is influenced on the contexts of which it was written.

-Stanley is a member of the working class, proudly patriotic and the 'King' in his own home.

-New Historicism also looks at how out social values influence our readings of the play. E.g Now days modern audiences would not cheer when Stanley carries Blanche off and rapes her, contrary to what some audiences did when the play came out. 

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Contemporary contexts: (Feminist readings)

-A feminist approach would discuss how the play reflects or challenges male-dominated social values. 

-Blanche is the only well-educated women but it portrayed as hysteric and mentally disturbed. 

-Also discuss double standards, e.g. how when Blanche is initially described physically by Stanley is described with the focus of his masculine energy.

-Stella's submission to Stanley interesting feminist reading. 

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Contemporary contexts: (Psychoanalytic critism)

-Psychoanalytic criticism looks at characters as an expression of Williams psyche/psychology of the characters.

-Highlights play's preoccupation with sexual desire and fear of death.

-Play may embodies Williams homosexuality and guilt. Embodies the psychic drives of Eros (sex and love) and Thanatos (death) symbolized by the streetcars 'Desire' and 'cemeteries'. 

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Contemporary contexts: (Structuralism)

-A structuralist interpretation would focus on the play's structure and how it relates to other plays

-You'd consider the eleven short scene structure, and the narrative arc. 

-Narrative arc:

* Initiating incident happens before the play opens e.g. Blanche being fired

* Rising action consisting of successes and failures crisis (Birthday party) a climax (the ****) 

* Falling action of the final scene. 

-The play can either be seen as a tragedy such Ibsen's Hedda Gabler or a melodrama, like Frederick Hazleton's Sweeny Todd, the Barber of Fleet Street (1865). 

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Personal Context: (Williams life)

- Tennessee Williams was born in 1911 in Columbus, Mississippi. (Tennessee is not his real name, it was given by a student ignorant of Southern states names) his actual name is Thomas. 

- The mentally disturbed Blanche was based on his sister Rose. She was committed to a mental asylum when Williams was 16 and forced to undergo a lobotomy. 

- His mother was a Southern Belle who enjoyed the privileges of having highly respectable parents in Mississipi. 

-At 18 Williams father forced him to work at a shoe factory where he met a 'Stanley Kowalski'.

-Blanche's alcoholism was a reflection of Willaims own drinking problems later in life. 

-1938 Williams moved to New Orleans. 

-Williams father was a loud, boisterous, alcoholic who often was cruel to the sensitive Willaims. He used to call Willaims 'Miss Nancy' which meant 'sissy'. 

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