Streetcar Language/Context



  • A lot based on his own life - alcoholism, depression, thwarted desire, loneliness, and insanity all something he experienced. His experience as a known homosexual in an era unfriendly to homosexuality also influenced work. Stanley Kowalski, likely modeled on Williams’s own father and other males who tormented Williams during his childhood.
  • Realism era after Depression and World War II. The characters in 'A Streetcar Named Desire' are trying to rebuild their lives in postwar America: Stanley and Mitch served in the military, Blanche had affairs with young soldiers based near her home.
  • Critique of the way the institutions and attitudes of postwar America placed restrictions on women’s lives.
  • The struggle between men and women within downtown American society. Tennessee Williams foregrounds this gender struggle, using different techniques to represent the truth of society's attitudes towards masculinity and femininity.
  • Setting: New Orleans – the French quarter. Very multicultural (this is seen throughout the play) and cosmopolitan. Home of Jazz, oddly tolerant city, despite being in the middle of the deep south. The city is one of the powerful contrasts: old French architecture and the new jazz; Old World refinement mixed with the grit of poverty and modern life; decay and corruption alongside the regenerative powers of desire and procreation.
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Language & Structure

  • Stanley and Blanche, individual representatives two backgrounds - colour to represent this Stanley needs vividness to prove his physical manhood -  "as coarse and direct and powerful as the primary colors." Blanche shuns loud shades and selects pastels or white. The directness of bright colors repulses her; she prefers muted, muffled tones.
  • Stage effects are used to represent Blanche's descent into madness. The maddening polka music, jungle sound effects, and strange shadows show Blanche's experiences.
  • Blanche avoids light - see the reality of fading beauty, the reality of her past, haunted by ghosts of lost and what she has done when forced to stand under light, say that 'magic rather than reality, represents life, shows here struggle to grasp reality, bright light represents youthful sexual innocence, poor light represents sexual maturity and disillusionment - Allan Grey relationship 'bright vivid light' since 'bright light missing'.
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Language & Structure

  • Blanche bathes herself. Her sexual experiences have made her a hysterical woman, but these baths, as she says, calm her nerves- represent her efforts to cleanse herself of her odious history. Can't erase the past, her bathing is never done. Stanley shows after beating Stella - soothe his violent temper - does it again, water represents transparency and instability of their actions.
  • Two conflicting moods point towards conflict ahead. First atmosphere – bustling, lively and romantic, there is music in the area and the buildings have ‘raffish’ charm = light tone, and also a sense of exoticism “bananas and coffee”, involves the senses. New Orleans is portrayed as a cosmopolitan city, does not suffer from racial discrimination (the play opens on two neighbours, one white, one black). “Voices of people on the street overlapping” the city is thriving. Conflict -the feeling of decay. The houses are ‘weathered grey’ with ‘rickety stairs’. The sky is a ‘tender blue’ – is the bustling atmosphere a fragile façade? The use of the word ‘decay’ implies that there is rot beneath the surface (particularly true in the case of Blanche, who is deteriorating mentally). The ‘faded white stars’ and the fact that it is ‘first dark’ give a sense of foreboding.
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Struggle for Identity

  • The antagonistic relationship between Blanche and Stanley is a struggle between appearances and reality or fantasy vs reality.
  • Blanch represents fantasy - When Mitch rejects Blanche due to gossip, turns to another man — the millionaire Shep Huntleigh — who might rescue her - dependence on men, she has no realistic conception of how to rescue herself - link to context.
  • Blanche moving from upper-class society (Belle Reve) to lower class society (living with Stanley and Stella) - This links to Socio-historical factors– People from the country moving to the city. The idea of the New South and industrialization. This is shown further through Blanch and Stanley’s exchange of the Belle Reve papers when they end up in ‘Stanley’s big capable hands’. This shows that the upper class has demised so greatly that ever the grand upper-class houses are now being controlled by the lower classes. Reflects decaying south.
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Struggle for Identity

  • Blanche’s struggle to find a man - The one person she was involved with fails to be a compatible husband (Homosexuality), Fate- supposed to be alone. Could not even make it work with Mitch -Going from place to place – ‘run from one leaky roof to another’ looking for a man, unsuccessful relationships.
  • Gender – a woman’s role in 1947 America. Contrast Blanche with Stella – how they adapt, how they behave in the home. How Williams presents masculinity and its impact on Blanche and Stella.
  • Class – conflict between Stanley and Blanche, Mitch’s relationship with Blanche.
  • Cultural, social and historical - the loss of Belle Reve and the old southern way of life, Stanley’s Huey Long Philosophy and the changing world. The clash of culture.
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  • Arriving at Kowalski's, Blanche says 'she rode a streetcar named Desire', then transferred to a streetcar named 'Cemeteries', which brought her to a street named Elysian Fields.' allegorically represents Blanche’s life. The Elysian Fields are the land of the dead in Greek mythology. Blanche’s lifelong pursuit of her sexual desires has led to her eviction from Belle Reve, her ostracism from Laurel, and, at the end of the play, her expulsion from society at large.
  • ''Meat!” Stanley is instantly presented as a brutish, monosyllabic ‘caveman’ this shows his strong stereotypical character precedes himself.
  • “I’ve never had a real look at you, Blanche.” Blanche’s deceitful nature shows her need for mystery and romance, it also suggests that she is ashamed of her true self from past sexual relationships.
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