Essay, Research Paper: Streetcar Named Desire

Literature: Shakespeare

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Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire is considered by many critics to
be what is called a flawed masterpiece. This is because William’s work
utilizes and wonderfully blends both tragic and comic elements that serve to
shroud the true nature of the hero and heroine thereby not allowing the reader
to judge them on solid actuality. Hence, Williams has been compared to writers
such as Shakespeare who in literature have created a sense of ambiguity and
uncertainty in finding a sole “view or aspect ” in their works. Because of
the highly tragic elements encountered in Streetcar, many immediately label it
tragedy. Nevertheless, the immense comical circumstances encountered in the play
contradict the sole role of tragedy and leaves the reader pondering the true
nature of the work, that being whether it is a tragedy with accidental comic
incidences or a comedy with weak melodramatic occurrences. It has been said that
the “double mask of tragicomedy reveals the polarity of the human
condition.” The contrariety of forces in the work serves to enforce a sense of
both reality and drama that are present in everyday human life. The comic
elements in the play serve as a form of determined self-preservation just as the
tragic elements add to the notion of self-destruction. This is the true nature
of a tragicomedy. By juxtaposing two irreconcilable positions, ambiguity is
produced in the judgement of the main characters, most notably Stanley Kowalski
and Blanche Dubois. Ambivalence in the play is largely caused by the
relationship between Stanley and Blanche. They concurrently produce both
appalling and appealing tendencies. Both characters display elements of the
profane and sacred yet on two distinct levels. This is what creates the double
entendre. In the social sense, Blanche can be considered the heroine of the
play. In a desperate last attempt to preserve her aristocratic values, she must
combat everything that Stanley Kowalski is. While she represents everything that
is sacred within cultural boundaries, that of which being the love of language,
music, art, etc…Stanley is the brute opposite. He is highly animalistic and
primitive in his ways and serves as the sole destroyer of everything Blanche
embodies. “The first time I laid eyes on him I thought to myself, that man is
my executioner! That man will destroy me…” This goes to show that since
there can be no coexistence between classes, Blanche, the romantic delicate
southern belle, will meet her doom at the hands of the crude and savage Stanley.
However, on a psychological level, Stanley emerges as the Hero. The sexually
healthy and “sacred” marriage he shares with his wife is in staunch contrast
to the perverted and debauched sexual exploits of Blanche. In the role as the
psychological “profaner,” Blanche is just as much to blame for her rape as
Stanley is. Blanche is a profane and perverted intruder into his sacred yet
crude domain. Thus, he reacts violently when he feels that his household is
being threatened. Stanley seeks above all, to retain order and symmetry within
his created existence. Stanley and Blanche on their respective “levels,”
serve as the classic heroes struggling for self-preservation. One must deal with
both the social and psychological elements simultaneously in order to fully see
the ambiguous duality of these two characters. The comic aspect of the
tragicomedy is displayed through irreconcilability. Through the character Mitch,
Williams successfully juxtaposes the comic with tragic elements, which are
central to the tragicomic genre. While Blanche’s world is increasingly closing
in on her becoming more tragic in implications, hence her wanting a husband,
Mitch is almost completely blind to her overtures and sexual advances. For
example, while Blanche is virtually dying inside and looking for someone to
confide in and share herself with, Mitch totally misses this and instead thinks
that Blanche wants to have a conversation concerning weight. This instance of
comedy is positioned between two highly dramatic and potentially tragic
confidences in which Blanche shares with Mitch. Namely, her belief that Stanley
will ultimately destroy her and the sense of guilt for destroying Allan Grey.
The conflict between Stanley and Blanche throughout the novel is permeated with
humorous incidents counterpointing the dramatic action. Another example of this
would be when Stanley initially feels slighted and put down by Blanche’s
infringement into he and Stella’s abode, than after finding out that she has
let the Belle Reve estate get away goes into justifying his claim to it
according to the “Napoleonic code.” In most drama, comedy serves as a relief
from too much tragedy. In the Elizabethan era, mostly transfigured through
Shakespeare, there were points in a play where jesters, fools, etc…would make
appearances during the play or between intermission, simply to make the audience
laugh so they would not be too emotionally drained. However, Williams’ comic
reversals are too methodical and copious to be only forms of relief. Instead the
comic elements always seem to gear towards self-conservation while the tragic
elements gear towards self-annihilation. As mentioned earlier, when such
irreconcilable difficulties are put together, uncertainty is the heart of the
tragicomic mode. Ambivalence serves as the keynote for Williams’ judgements on
both Blanche and Stanley. For all of the flaws apparent in these two characters,
it seems as if Williams is romanticizing them for various reasons despite their
sordid acts. For example, it is clear that he has empathy for Blanche’s
fragile vulnerability and the destruction of her “class” at the hands of
savage Neanderthal-like Stanley. Thus from the very beginning of the play,
Blanche has her destiny forged. She is to get on a “Streetcar named desire,
pass through the cemeteries, and end up in the Elysian fields.” Initially,
this is a literal journey but it later develops into a spiritual journey.
Blanche wants to reconcile for her past perverted deeds. She also feels guilty
for the deaths that she has either “caused” or witnessed. Her strong
idealism and sense of illusion fuels her desire. She realizes that in some way,
she must pass through the “cemeteries,” which represents death. This is the
only way that she can arrive at the Elysian fields, which symbolizes a sort of
heaven or peaceful state. Where Williams’ sympathies are quite clear, he
avoids making any moral statement. Instead, he allows Blanche to be damned for
the sin of being idealistic. Blanche is allowed into the Elysian fields because
she has come from the Tarantula arms, representative of debauched living, to
wearing the Della Robbia Blue of the Madonna, which symbolizes her epiphany and
rebirth as a new soul now reconciled for her past deeds. Concerning Stanley,
Williams does not condemn him for his harsh yet necessary actions against
Blanche. Instead, Stanley has won a sort of victory in that he has maintained
his domain. He is now the sole “cock of the roost” and can no longer be
threatened. However, in the end Stella is left debating with herself the
rightness of her actions thus creating yet another sense of incongruity. One can
see that A Streetcar Named Desire though it’s magnificent ambivalence truly
embodies the tragicomedy. Through Tennessee William’s vision, he permits
something that everyone craves and desires, reality.
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