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A Streetcar Named Desire

by Tennessee Williams

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Tennessee Williams' classic drama studies the emotional disintegration of a Southern woman whose last chance for happiness is destroyed by her vindictive brother-in-law.

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"A Streetcar Named Desire" is a captivating play by Tennessee Williams, exploring themes of desire, identity, illusion, and the clash between old Southern values and the emerging modern world. It’s a masterful weave that portrays the complexities of human relationships and the struggle for power and dominance. One of the most intriguing aspects of the play is the character of Blanche DuBois. Her descent into madness and her desperate attempts to cling to her illusions make her a tragic figure, evoking both sympathy and disdain from the audience. Contrast this with Stanley, who embodies raw masculinity and represents the changing social landscape of post-war America. His aggression and dominance over Blanche symbolize the decline of the old Southern aristocracy and the rise of a new, more ruthless order. Moreover, it continues to resonate with audiences today. Its exploration of universal themes and complex characters makes it one of the greatest plays of the 20th century. ( )
  Andrew.Lafleche | Feb 15, 2024 |
I studied German for four years in high school, and then approximately two years at college level since 2003. I've spent a total of about two months in Berlin over the past two years, and can get by with some basic conversational skills in German. Also, I started listening to Deutsche Welle Radio this year, as often as I can, sometimes for hours on end. That being said, as a German speaker, I'm still far from fluent. But my comprehension of the written language is improving steadily. Hence the basic themes of "Endstation Sehnsucht" ("A Streetcar Named Desire") were clear to me; having seen the film, and the play onstage, aided in my understanding as well. Reading this play, now as a middle-aged adult, I see the characters of Blanche du Bois and Stanley Kowalski existing as a kind of romantic, yet viscerally pornographic, romance in the imagination of Tennessee Williams; in that scenario, Blanche is Williams, and Stanley is William's rough trade fantasy, IE in the mode of Fassbinder's "Querelle"; Williams always identified with his more fragile characters (IE Laura in "The Glass Menagerie" ). Neither Blanche or Stanley are truly evil; both characters struggle to maintain peace between their moral and immoral/amoral sides. And so, these two personae who may seem like opposites on the surface, end up complementing each other. In testing each other's wills, to see who is the strongest, there can only be one winner, and thus Blanche falls. Stanley becomes the stronger due to his more direct expression of his truth, and his ability to stay grounded in reality. I had forgotten how good this play was, and I found myself caught up in its momentum, reading it like a page-turner. I enjoyed re-appreciating this masterwork. ( )
  stephencbird | Sep 19, 2023 |
Reading this play helped me experience characters full of strong emotions, and who were not afraid, or not wise enough to act on them. ( )
  mykl-s | Aug 7, 2023 |
(Stanley takes his shirt off)
  fleshed | Jul 16, 2023 |
Stepping off a streetcar run by the Desire line in New Orleans, the flighty Southern belle Blanche DuBois steps into the lives of her sister Stella and her primally masculine, roughneck husband Stanley, who live in a small, two-room apartment in an unpromising district of the city. What follows is a series of entertaining sparks from Tennessee Williams' carefully-crafted tinderbox.

There might not be any deeper theme to Williams' play, beyond the idea that people "needn't [be] cruel to someone alone" (pg. 81) – an irony brought home by the play's famous line, delivered by Blanche, that she has "always depended on the kindness of strangers" (pg. 107). Said by Blanche at a moment in the play when she has been treated cruelly – and needlessly so – it throws into tragically harsh light the idea that, with such a worldview, Blanche was always destined to be crushed by cold reality. Her old-fashioned idea of how people should interact (even if she doesn't follow it herself) comes up against the brute reality-check of Stanley Kowalski. And it's not that Stanley is particularly villainous. Blanche was always eventually going to cross paths with someone who would provide this reality-check.

There are things to discuss then, but less in theme and more in how the characters interact. I didn't find Blanche as sympathetic as many others appear to, and I thought the real victim of the story was Stella, caught between her overpowering and high-maintenance sister Blanche on one hand and her abusive husband Stanley on the other. I would have liked the play to focus more on the compromises Stella makes than the traps that Blanche wilfully falls into. The question of why women like Stella stay with men like Stanley is an interesting one, but one that the play does not take the opportunity to address – and one which hasn't, as far as I am aware, really been addressed in commentary on the play. Stanley has become rooted in popular culture as a smouldering and desirable bad boy, epitomised in his famous portrayal by Marlon Brando, and while this might be great for the play's popularity it distracts from the real implications of Stanley. Mostly, the orthodox ruling on the play has been that Stanley is a predatory male, a brute and a villain, and that Blanche and Stella are innocent birds caught in his trap – while simultaneously granting us licence to swoon over him when shirtless (a hypocrisy also found in modern depictions of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice). Such an orthodoxy denies the two women characters the agency they display on every page – it is a Blanche-like fiction obscuring the cold realism the man provides.

This, however, is a fault in how we have absorbed the play into our popular culture, not with Williams' play itself. Williams himself provides us with the nuance in how his characters interact, and it is up to us to choose how to interpret that. If a deeper theme isn't penetrated, Williams nevertheless provides greater scope and grandeur by staging his scenes evocatively, and in how naturally his dialogue comes across. My ultimate impression of A Streetcar Named Desire was as something of a high-class soap opera; too well-made to be dismissed as frivolous, and with a few trappings that make it appear grand, but not deep enough to provide a lasting fascination either. ( )
  MikeFutcher | Jul 9, 2023 |
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» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Williams, Tennesseeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bertinetti, PaoloEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lustig, AlvinCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miller, ArthurIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wolf, Helmutsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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And so it was I entered the broken world
To trace the visionary company of love, its voice
An instant in the wind (I know not whither hurled)
But not for long to hold each desperate choice.
"The Broken Tower" by Hart Crane
First words
The exterior of a two-storey corner building on a street in New Orleans which is named Elysian Fields and runs between the L&N tracks and the river.
Stanley [bottle in hand]: Have a shot?
Blanche: No, I – I rarely touch it.
Stanley: Some people rarely touch it, but it touches them often.

Stanley: I never met a woman that didn't know if she was good-looking or not without being told, and some of them that give themselves credit for more than they've got.

Blanche: Whoever you are – I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

Blanche: Deliberate cruelty is not forgivable. It is the only unforgivable thing in my opinion and it is the one thing of which I have never, never been guilty.

Blanche: They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at – Elysian Fields!
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This work refers to separate editions of the play. Please do not combine with omnibus editions which contain other plays also, nor with any other version that does not contain the full original text (e.g. abridged or simplified texts, movie adaptations, the opera, student guides or notes, etc.).
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Tennessee Williams' classic drama studies the emotional disintegration of a Southern woman whose last chance for happiness is destroyed by her vindictive brother-in-law.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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