Williams’ presentation of the themes of death and desire within the context of this tragedy.

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  • Created by: Fiorella
  • Created on: 13-11-12 18:02

“A Streetcar Named Desire” was written by Tennessee Williams in 1947 and has retained popularity as a domestic tragedy due to following the conventions, such as the themes of death and desire.  Within this play there is a strong connection between death and desire rather being separate, evident from the beginning when the protagonist Blanche is told to ‘take a streetcar named desire, and then transfer one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at – Elysian fields!’. The focus this essay is to examine the presentations of death and desire within the context of this tragedy.

Aristotle believed the rightful setting for a tragedy could only be within upper class society with a main heroic character with a tragic flaw – hamartia, often manifested as hubris, a definition of which could be excessive pride that results in the character railing against God. Furthermore, Aristotle’s judgments on the tragic events that take place within a middle class society should not to be taken as seriously as a tragedy that takes place in a higher status society. He considered that comedy was best suited to portraying middle class society. In contrast, domestic tragedies rupture Aristotle’s perspective, as it is the lower or middle classes that are often the protagonists within a domestic setting.  Blanche’s situation in which she finds herself living with her sister and husband in the rundown French Quarter of New Orleans is a good example of this, and of a tragic figure displaced from their chosen image of whom they are and where they are in the world as defined by Arthur Miller.  

Throughout the play, death and desire are both interlinked suggesting desire leads to death, and it is Blanche’s sexual history that brings about her demise. This is suggested in scene one when Blanche explains how ‘ they told me to take a streetcar named desire, and then transfer one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at – Elysian fields!’. Blanche taking the streetcar named desire may depict a desire to make a fresh new start to her life and leave her past behind, whilst also representing the course of her life so far. However, as she transfers to another streetcar called ‘cemeteries’ this foreshadows that her desire to have a fresh start and to conceal reality will lead to her metaphorical death towards the end of the play. In Scene Nine, a Mexican woman appears selling “flowers for the dead,” which causes in Blanche’s great horror as she understands the woman to be announcing her own fate. "Flowers" could also symbolise romance given by lovers, but in this case it is for the dead, implying that desire and death are linked with the same response from others being given. The interlinking between desire and death is also apparent with other characters referred to in the play who find death following a sexual encounter. Blanche talks of how her ancestors as a result of their “epic fornications” die early leaving…

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Yusrah Tooreea

Thank you!

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