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A Streetcar Named Desire Sparknotes

A Streetcar Named Desire Sparknotes

A Streetcar Named Desire Sparknotes

However, beginning in Scene One, Williams suggests that Blanche’s sexual history is in fact a cause of her downfall. When she first arrives at the Kowalskis’, Blanche says she rode a streetcar named Desire, then transferred to a streetcar named Cemeteries, which brought her to a street named Elysian Fields. This journey, the precursor to the play, allegorically represents the trajectory of Blanche’s life. The Elysian Fields are the land of the dead in Greek mythology. Blanche’s lifelong pursuit of her sexual desires has led to her eviction from Belle Reve, her ostracism from Laurel, and, at the end of the play, her expulsion from society at large.
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A Streetcar Named Desire Sparknotes

At the end of its premiere on Broadway, the audience of A Streetcar Named Desire sat quiet – apparently they were a little shocked. But after the shock wore off, they went wild, applauding for thirty minutes straight. What could be so controversial, so shocking, and worth applauding for thirty minutes straight? In order to understand the phenomena of A Streetcar Named Desire, we need to take a look at the cultural scene at the time.
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A Streetcar Named Desire Sparknotes

Looking at a breakdown of the play, A Streetcar Named Desire takes place in a run-down section of New Orleans, where jazz and booze flow constantly, where different cultures intermingle, and where street fights are common. It starts off on a streetcar named – you guessed it – ‘Desire,’ where Blanche DuBois, the main character, steps off into this steamy and volatile setting.
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A Streetcar Named Desire Sparknotes

Now that we know the basic plot, we can view the play for its portrayal of social realism, which means that it realistically shows relationships going on in society at the time. Specifically, A Streetcar Named Desire is a commentary on the social changes taking place during the first half of the 20th century due to industrialization and immigration. When Streetcar came out, there was a definite clash between different classes and cultures. Immigrants were often viewed as second-class citizens, and there was a ton of prejudice and judgment about whether immigrants were really ‘American.’
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A Streetcar Named Desire Sparknotes

Yep, there’s enough drama in Streetcar for ten plays, because Williams crafts complex and contradictory characters who will definitely remind you of people that you know. In this way, the play is a study of the mysteries of human… well, desire. Unlike a streetcar, which follows a predictable track, desire tends to go all over, willy-nilly, running into dead ends, then branching out into several avenues at once. Williams gets that, and he portrays the experiences of his characters accordingly.
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A Streetcar Named Desire Sparknotes

In A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche literally blocks out the ‘harsh light of reality,’ using a paper lantern to cover up the bright bulb in the Kowalski apartment. Her comment on the light is informative when she says ‘I don’t want realism, I want magic! Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be truth. And if that is sinful, then let me be damned for it! – Don’t turn the light on!’ In this line, she confesses her inability to confront reality, and it is painful to watch her become more and more mentally unstable as she struggles to escape from the reality of her current situation by living in a fantasy. We all have desire, which for Blanche is taken to an extreme. Desire is ultimately her demise, and in Blanche, Tennessee Williams gives us a sad, yet realistic portrayal of the frailty of the human psyche.
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A Streetcar Named Desire Sparknotes

The initial Broadway cast is almost as famous as the play for one big reason: Marlon Brando. Streetcar propelled this young star to big-time fame after the Broadway production (and cast) was converted to a blockbuster movie in 1951. Brando took the role of aggressive, macho Stanley Kowalski to the very edge (critic Arthur Miller called him “a sexual terrorist, a tiger on the loose”). His performance was so memorable that many theaters to this day refuse to produce Streetcar on the grounds that any actor trying to portray Stanley Kowalski would inevitably be written off as a lesser version of Brando.
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A Streetcar Named Desire Sparknotes

Streetcar on the silver screen. The original 1947 Broadway production of Streetcar shot Marlon Brando, who played Stanley Kowalski, to stardom. Brando’s legendary performance cemented the actor’s status as a sex symbol of the stage and screen. Elia Kazan, who directed both the original Broadway production and the 1951 film adaptation, used the Stanislavski method-acting system, which focuses on realism and natural characters instead of melodrama. The Stanislavski system asks actors to use their memories to help give the characters real emotions. Brando based his depiction of Stanley on the boxer Rocky Graziano, going to his gym to study his movements and mannerisms. Largely due to Brando’s Stanley and Vivian Leigh’s iconic Blanche, Kazan’s film has become a cultural touchstone, particularly Brando’s famous bellowing of “STELL-LAHHHHH!”
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Although Williams’s protagonist in A Streetcar Named Desire is the romantic Blanche DuBois, the play is a work of social realism. Blanche explains to Mitch that she fibs because she refuses to accept the hand fate has dealt her. Lying to herself and to others allows her to make life appear as it should be rather than as it is. Stanley, a practical man firmly grounded in the physical world, disdains Blanche’s fabrications and does everything he can to unravel them. The antagonistic relationship between Blanche and Stanley is a struggle between appearances and reality. It propels the play’s plot and creates an overarching tension. Ultimately, Blanche’s attempts to remake her own and Stella’s existences—to rejuvenate her life and to save Stella from a life with Stanley—fail.
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Though reality triumphs over fantasy in A Streetcar Named Desire, Williams suggests that fantasy is an important and useful tool. At the end of the play, Blanche’s retreat into her own private fantasies enables her to partially shield herself from reality’s harsh blows. Blanche’s insanity emerges as she retreats fully into herself, leaving the objective world behind in order to avoid accepting reality. In order to escape fully, however, Blanche must come to perceive the exterior world as that which she imagines in her head. Thus, objective reality is not an antidote to Blanche’s fantasy world; rather, Blanche adapts the exterior world to fit her delusions. In both the physical and the psychological realms, the boundary between fantasy and reality is permeable. Blanche’s final, deluded happiness suggests that, to some extent, fantasy is a vital force at play in every individual’s experience, despite reality’s inevitable triumph.
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In this lesson, we will examine A Streetcar Named Desire. We’ll look at when it came out, identify the main characters and basic elements of the plot, and examine how it is an example of both social and psychological realism.
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While The Glass Menagerie was definitely a little controversial at the time for its portrayal of a dysfunctional family life, A Streetcar Named Desire completely broke down the door of convention with its portrayal of sexuality, violence, and a slow, rather tragic demise into insanity. Elements like these weren’t talked about in public, and they certainly weren’t shown on public stages, so people were taken aback at first. In the end, Williams’ portrayals were so real that audiences fell in love with this play. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for best drama and to later become an American film classic.
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A Streetcar Named Desire presents a sharp critique of the way the institutions and attitudes of postwar America placed restrictions on women’s lives. Williams uses Blanche’s and Stella’s dependence on men to expose and critique the treatment of women during the transition from the old to the new South. Both Blanche and Stella see male companions as their only means to achieve happiness, and they depend on men for both their sustenance and their self-image. Blanche recognizes that Stella could be happier without her physically abusive husband, Stanley. Yet, the alternative Blanche proposes—contacting Shep Huntleigh for financial support—still involves complete dependence on men. When Stella chooses to remain with Stanley, she chooses to rely on, love, and believe in a man instead of her sister. Williams does not necessarily criticize Stella—he makes it quite clear that Stanley represents a much more secure future than Blanche does.
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To sum up: for its disturbing yet realistic portrayals, A Streetcar Named Desire is known as one of the best dramas in American contemporary literature. Openly exploring the controversial themes of sexuality, violence, and mental instability, it broke traditional conventions of the time and opened the door for writers to explore the darker side of humanity.
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Hardly. There’s pretty much never enough said about A Streetcar Named Desire—which is why it stays pertinent even though it’s about issues (Southern belles, mid-century chastity, strict gender norms) that seem super-dusty in the 21st century.

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