“A Streetcar Named Desire” Analysis Free Sample

Elia Kazan’s film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize winning play A Streetcar Named Desire, won rave reviews from film critics and big audiences at the time of its 1951 theatrical release. Its box office success translated into twelve Oscar nominations and four Oscars at the 1952 Academy Awards. (1) The film has travelled well over the decades, and in 2007 the movie was ranked 47th on the American Film Institute’s 2007 100 Years…100 Movies–10th Anniversary list of America’s most important films. (2) A June 20, 1951 film review by a critic named Mr. Kahn in the Hollywood publication Variety calls Elia Kazan’s work “excellently produced and imparting a keen insight into a drama whose scope was, of necessity, limited by its stage setting.” Kahn goes on to say that “Streetcar is decidedly adult drama because of its theme – it tells the story of the slow moral collapse of a southern schoolteacher.” (3) Sixty four years later, contributing writer Jeff Saporito, in a critical essay in FilmPrism, also praises the film, but goes on to tackle the questions “How did the “Streetcar” differ from the original stage version….and What tactics were used to bypass censors”. Saporito says “despite Kazan’s penchant for pushing the limits of acceptability on film, the version of A Streetcar Named Desire he filmed isn’t the same as the one audiences saw live on the stage. While directors like Kazan helped pave the way for the eventual destruction of the censorship mandates active in 1951, Streetcar was still under the thumb of censorship that mirrored the whims of conservative American society, and forced changes to some of the narrative’s key plot points.” (4) What is most striking about the arc of criticism across more than half a century from Kahn in 1951 to Saporito (and others) in 2015, is not appreciation for the film itself (everybody loves it), but the modern critics’ focus on censorship, which shows a failure by today’s critic to give audiences generations ago credit for their ability to understand powerful themes of sexuality and violence in Streetcar, although the presentation of these themes was far more subdued than we would expect in a film produced today,

In the 1951 Variety review by Kahn, he is keenly aware of the themes of sexuality, sexual violence, homosexuality and even nymphomania that are central to the story of Blanche DuBois, her sister Stella, and Stella’s husband Stanley Kowalski. Kahn says that the story, which revolves around the psychological collapse of Blanche, a schoolteacher whose “loose” behavior has driven her from her job and hometown, is a film “that might find some criticism only from the more cautious because of the projection of the nymphomania theme”. He goes on to say that “while Streetcar deals with a sex problem that is dangerous story-telling for films, Streetcar has not for a moment sacrificed good taste for the sake of realism.” Other reviewers made the same points. In an October 25, 1951 Atlanta Constitution newspaper review, their critic, Paul Jones, says that the film is definitely among the best of the year, although its story was pretty “sordid and unattractive”. He goes on to say that “Mass appeal has been attained through Hollywood’s efforts to play down the sordid aspects of the film in favor of the basic theme of the degeneration of a woman, under emotional stress.” (5) Critics and audiences “got it” even if the film itself softened, as opposed to boldly highlighted, the sexual and violent underpinnings of the story. The power of the story and acting made the sexual and personal tensions perfectly clear, even if Kazan wasn’t able to shine as bright a spotlight as he perhaps wanted to do.

Saporito’s 2015 exploration of censorship on Streetcar echoes the thinking and mirrors the focus of other modern reviewers, who target what was “taken out” of the original film in order to win the necessary approval from the Motion Picture Association to attract a mass audience. Because the Broadway play wasn’t subject to the same pressures as the movie, and because several minutes of the film (later rediscovered), ended up on the cutting room floor due to arm-twisting by the MPA Board, it’s easy to see how far Kazan was pushed to “cut” in order to get the blessing (and money from the studio) to make his film. That industry board, which was an attempt to self-censor to avoid heavier government censorship, was set up back in 1930, and had real clout. One of the bedrock principles underlying this Code was that:

  • No picture shall be produced which will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin;
  • Correct standards of life shall be presented on the screen, subject only to necessary dramatic contrasts; and
  • Law, natural or human, should not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation.
  • More specifically, insofar as sex is concerned,
  • Seduction or rape (a) …should never be more than suggested….and “Sex Perversion” [understood to include homosexuality, sex with minors, nymphomania, etc] or any reference to it is forbidden. (6)

For example, in the play, it is obvious that Blanche’s husband is a homosexual and it’s that repressed sexuality that triggers his suicide. In Scene 6 of the play, Blanche tells us that all doubt about her husband’s sexuality disappeared “In the worst of all possible ways. By coming suddenly into a room that I thought was empty – which wasn’t empty, but had two people in it, the boy I had married and an older man who had been his friend for years…..” (7) In the movie that explicit revelation disappears. Instead, when Blanche tells Mitch, who she wants to want her, about her late husband, she just says that “I was unlucky. Deluded. There was something about the boy. A nervousness, a tenderness……an uncertainty….at night I pretended to sleep. I heard him crying….crying. Crying the way a lost child cries.” (8) It wasn’t explicit like the play, but it certainly was obvious what she way saying. Also, Stanley’s raping Blanche at the end of the play is something far less stark in the movie. Yet the sexual attraction and hostility that is the essence of that twisted relationship leaves no doubt what happened. Likewise, at the end of the story, after Blanche is committed to a psychiatric hospital and Stella has a fight with her husband, in the movie, she claims she has had enough and is leaving him with their baby, providing a suitable punishment for Stanley’s moral failings. Not a happy ending, but “justice” Yet after earlier fights, Stella always returned to Stanley and their dysfunctional relationship continued. Is such a break from years of abuse and a run for freedom really credible? I don’t think so. In the play, the battered Stella, who “sobs with inhuman abandon….something luxurious in her complete surrender….” remains in the apartment, and life goes on.

Roger Ebert, like Saporito, point outs what isn’t in the original film, what was cut to please the censor. “The 1951 cuts took out dialogue that suggested Blanche DuBois was promiscuous… a nymphomaniac attracted to young boys. It also cut much of the intensity from Stanley’s final assault of Blanche.” (9) Ebert says that another scene (now restored) was excluded where Stella tells her sister “Stanley always smashed things. Why on our wedding night, as soon as we came in here, he snatched off one of my slippers and rushed about the place smashing the light bulbs…” Blanche is shocked, but Stella tellingly adds, “I was sort of thrilled by it.”

In his film criticism Saporito says that “By sanitizing controversial material for film audiences….the Production Code did viewers a grave disservice; in the case of A Streetcar Named Desire, the adult nature of the original story was watered down into something decidedly blander and less powerful”. I’m not so sure. I think that while some of the more overt references to Blanche’s non-stop affairs (and attraction to boys), the homosexuality of her husband, and Stanley’s rape of Blanche were removed to quiet the censors, the language and the backstory are so clear, the acting so powerful, that the audience totally gets it, and doesn’t need more explicit instruction. Modern reviewers focus on censorship because it is so alien to us, on what is not made explicit, but discount the sophistication of an audience that can “read between the lines”.

“A Streetcar Named Desire” Play Analysis


This extended essay intends to explore the extent to which Tennessee Williams uses the protagonist to portray escapism as her coping mechanism that ultimately leads to her self-destruction.

The Significance of the Topic

Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire (Streetcar), one of the most famous American plays of the 20th century that depicts humans’ simple ways of coping with reality which is still greatly relevant and similar to modern societies of today. For example, in the 21st century, it is still commonplace for people to turn to their delusions. They do so as they can evade the tragic realities of the now but reprieve is only temporary and the truth will become twice as harsh, prompting them into psychosis. In a small country like Singapore with a population of less than 6 million, 1 in 50 people will experience psychosis in their lifetime. Incidentally, the protagonist without realising started to get lost in her own fantasy and is disillusioned from reality as compared to her own rendition of it. Thus, I decided to conduct a more in-depth study of this play and find out how the author uses the protagonist in the play to bring out an inherent part in human nature that is still applicable till this day.

The Concept of Escapism and Its Role in the Play

Escapism in the simplest sense is the tendency to avoid routine and the responsibilities of reality often by engaging the mind in vicarious activities varying from imagination, such as fantasy or even denial. Such a concept has been prevalent in literature since the late Victorian Era where the characters transitioned from romanticised literature to more of an escapist fiction. They thus have a tendency to live in an imaginary world as seen in books like Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

Reality is a double-edged sword and in this play, the protagonist suffers the consequences of evading it. Reality for the her is overwhelmingly bleak, the death of a loved one, aging, and loss, all of which are best left unwritten and can often push to victims to falsify their reality as a coping mechanism. The theme of escapism is not uncommon in American plays like A Streetcar Named Desire where characters fall short of their own expectations and dreams and are thus rendered hopeless, seeking constant solace in their fantasy world where they can play the role they want to be.

The highly autobiographical nature of Williams’ plays are characteristic to his writing as characters and plots are drawn from various instances of his private life. Perhaps running counter to Oscar Wilde’s claim, art does imitate art. Williams does not deny the autobiographical mirroring of his work claiming that the problems of his own private life were more than enough for him. Similar to the protagonist, Williams is also guilty of escapism, “I discovered writing as an escape from a world of reality”. He also felt that he needed a connection with the character, a characteristic to identify with, or else the character would just be two-dimensional. Thus, through the characters in his plays, William integrates his own problems while reaching out to his audience. He endows his characters with flesh and blood coupled with poignant anecdotes of his life, pulling the heartstrings of his audience. In plays like Streetcar, Orpheus Descending and Cat on A Hot Tin Roof, the pursuit of happiness is a visceral part of human desire. Longing to be happy. However, in the plays, happiness is unattainable and the character’s quest loses direction, often finding a solution in self-destruction. Happiness and self-destruction may seem to lie on opposite ends of the spectrum but in Williams’ plays, they have a cause and effect relationship. Williams who is a fellow escapist perhaps due to his sister’s sickness causes him to abuse alcohol and substances a means of coping with the stress, similar to the characters in his plays, ultimately leading them to self-destruction. Psychosis for Blanche and for him would be falling out of the limelight in the world of playwright.

In the above mentioned plays, the characters are multifaceted but yet they all share the same primitive urges- to be happy. These characters achieve their goal temporarily but in the end they still have to face their failures. They are unable to come to terms with reality and find a solution in self-ruination. This is especially evident in the protagonist of Streetcar as the protagonist blurs the boundary of reality and illusion to take refuge from her haunting and dark past. Thus, this intriguing concept urged me to investigate how escapism is used to retain an illusion to keep one going but ultimately ends in self-destruction, especially in A Streetcar Named Desire.

In this essay, I will be applying the psychoanalytical literary theory to assess Blanche as a character in the play. This analysis will be done in a chronological order where in her approaches towards escapism are shaped by nuances in her life. Followed by a turning point in her life before she continues own the road and descends into psychosis.

“A Streetcar Named Desire” By Tennessee Williams Analysis

Tennessee Williams was born in 1911 in Columbus Mississippi but moved to St. Louis to begin writing. Growing up he had a strange relationship with his parents, they were not exactly the best parents and their marriage too was not exactly great they had many downfalls due to his father being very violent, aggressive and an alcoholic and his mother being very protective. He based many of his experiences in his famous book “A streetcar named desire”. He also spoke of very taboo subjects that were avoided by other authors because those topics were not accepted by society, such as the many topics that take part in the book. A streetcar named desire helps readers understand the social and political tensions that were taken place during the ending of the second world war, such as the old fashioned values where traditional gender roles became popular once again and the nation trying to figure out their sense of identity due to economic progress.

A Streetcar Named Desire’ by Tennessee Williams is a play taking place in the 1940’s in New Orleans. The story revolves around the life of Blanche Dubois and her journey. The book demonstrates how being masculine and feminine can have a big impact on how gender roles are portrayed in society. Gender roles in the play match up pretty well with what was going on in the world at that time. Even though women’s opinion and sense of being did not matter that time period Blanche is able to challenge Stanley and constantly makes comments which takes away the power that men. Being a woman during that time period was hard because both Blanche and Stella depended on men and were a representation of stereotypes in their era and conveyed the dominant ideas about genders. Throughout this play, many characters challenge the roles they are expected to comply with in regard to their gender. In the play “A Streetcar Named desire” Tennessee Williams is able to showcase a narrative within the role in which women had to conform or be forced into societies new way of thinking and he uses the play as a social commentary on the consequences of women who chose to against the societal norms.

Tish, Dace, lays out a run-through of the play A Streetcar Named Desire by author Tennessee Williams, showcasing the known characteristics of the play’s protagonist and antagonist. He describes Blanche’s character as thorough as he mentions how she can disguise herself and her hopelessness. He does the same with Stanley’s as he explains his apparent motives against Blanche as well as blanches masculinity. Dace is also able to provide us with an insight of how women were treated during the 1940s also briefing us on rape during that time period and how it was seen and how women were silenced for telling their truths and an insight of how they are treated today. Dace is also able to use Williams quotes and experiences to validate his point. Furthermore, Dace’s was not able to dive into Stella’s character but was able to dissect the provided evidence on the characters, plot and relations of the world.

I do agree with Dace’s critique because Stella and Balance were able to showcase two sides of femininity in the play but still found themselves depending on men they see their relationship with the men in their lives as the only way of fulfilling happiness. Blanched showcases an innocent version of femininity to make men believe that she dedicate because that is the only way men are attracted to her. She tries to help Stella into leaving Stanley due to his abusive side, but her solution also resides to her depending on a man. Blanche’s past marriage is what caused to be so emotionally dependent on a man which lead men into taking advantage of her fragile side, but we can also see Blanche’s masculine side when she uses the same strengths as Stanley to sexually exploit men to make her feel better about herself. Stella on the other hand is not scared to showcase her true self she decides to continue living under the dependence of Stanley because she needs to be loved and even though Stanley continuously abuses her to get his ways, she does not want to leave her relationship.

Blanche is always trying to hide in the shadows due to reason that she does not want to show men that she is aging, she is always trying to hide her age line on her face because she is trying to hide from society itself “… turn that over-light off! turn that off! I won’t be looked at in this merciless glare” (Tennessee 1).Blanche could not accept that she is aging she needs compliments to reassure her and her insecurities are the main reason as to why her desires is what is controlling her life.

In conclusion both stacey and blanche had ways to act upon their desires in a positive way but instead they let their desires control their lives and they end up losing themselves in the process and everything they love.Tennessee Williams is able to showcase a narrative within the role in which women had to conform or be forced into societies new way of thinking and he uses the play as a social commentary on the consequences of women who chose to go against the societal norms.

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