The play A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams tells the story of Blanche, a former schoolteacher from Mississippi who moves to New Orleans to live with her sister Stella, as well as Stella’s husband, Stanley. The relationship between Stella and Stanley is unstable enough, and when Blanche moves in their relationship faces more conflict than ever before.
During the time the play was set, New Orleans, Louisiana was transforming from the “Old” South to the “New” South. This can be seen in the play because the characters themselves represent this shift and the clash of the aristocrats and the industrialists. Taking a closer look at the characters, it is fairly simple to determine who is the “Old” South and who is the “New” South. Blanche represents the Old South (plantation economies, coal mines, agriculture), as well as the dying out Old South, we can infer this because her character is fragile, breakable, delusional, and desperate. This leads to Stanley and how he represents the New South (working class, industrialization, the unitization of the working class). The New South is primarily dominated by men and his character is extremely masculine, brute, self-absorbed, and violent.
Throughout the play, Stanley and Blanche are constantly butting heads. Blanche desperately wants to “save” Stella from her husband. Blanche can understand that Stanley sees Stella as a possession rather than a human being. In the beginning, Stella is sympathetic toward Blanche and wants to help her, however she never does anything to help Blanche – or herself – because it would involve rebelling against Stanley.
Speak of the devil, Stanley wants to steal Stella away from Blanche, and he does everything he can to exploit Blanche’s past in order to use it against her, thus making her look like the bad guy. Stanley’s evidence against Blanche draws attention to the fact that she sold her family’s estate and used the money to purchase fine clothing. This idea is initially formed when Stanley is going through Blanche’s suitcase: “Open your eyes to this stuff! You think she got them out of a teacher’s pay?... Look at these feathers and furs” (Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire).
The entire play consists of extreme contrasts between Blanche and Stanley. One that stood out to me was Williams’ use of color. Stanley is introduced “as course and direct as the primary colors” (Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire). An example of this is his green and scarlet bowling shirt. As for Blanche… could it be any more obvious? Her name means white. She constantly chooses muted, muffled colors, and typically selects pastels or whites. She despises loud colors and avoids them. Further describing the hatred and contrast between the two characters.
Something the characters share is the desire for love. However, they have two completely different definitions of the word. As previously mentioned, Stanley is brute, meaning he is like an animal opposed to a human being. Therefore, Stanley needs love to fill his animalistic desires. His focus is on the physical aspects and actions of love, rather than the emotional and intellectual aspects. Blanche’s idea of love is on a higher level than Stanley’s. In order to understand her idea of love, you have to look at her sensitivity. She desires someone who can protect her, someone who she can communicate with. She wants devotion. Desire is a spiritual need for her, whereas it is a passionate sexual act for Stanley. Through Blanche’s interaction with Stella about Mitch, Stella asks her, "Blanche, do you want him?" She answers, "I want to rest. I want to breathe quietly again." (Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire) we can determine that she seeks security and wants to be protected by the harsh realities of the her world (Old South) coming to an end.