July 22, 2014
Anatomy of a Scene: ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’

A Streetcar Named Desire is a climatic family tale that channels crisis into greater meaning. Released in 1951 A Streetcar Named Desire is “a play that embodies the social events and changes that occurred at the time” (Group 3: A Streetcar Named Desire Par.1). This play involves three main characters Stella, Stanley, and Blanche. Throughout the play, couple Stanley and Stella Kowalski battle with Stella’s sister Blanche and her incessant deceitfulness. Blanche arrives at the Kowalski residence with claims that the recent loss of her and Stella’s family-home prompted her leave of absence from her role as a school teacher and member of the Laurel, Mississippi community. Skeptical at first sight, Stanley inquires about these claims and reveals Blanche’s past corruption and current lies. It is found that Blanche departed from her hometown to stay with the Kowalski’s due to her public exile. Blanche’s previous activities with prostitution and pedophilia are shown to be the true precursors that led to her denunciation and exile from her life as she knew it. This brutal reality is revealed through a series of neglect and violence during A Streetcar Named Desire. Upon realization, the Kowalski’s make the reluctant decision to dismiss Blanche from their home and register her into a psychiatric hospital. The rollercoaster of emotions and conflict throughout this play provides for an entertaining and classic piece of work. However, what makes A Streetcar Named Desire a cornerstone in American literature is not simply its sensationalism but its implications about society and the different roles people occupy within it.

The film adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire provides an unrivaled landscape for the viewer’s interpretation of character and plot dynamics. In the text the reader is vaguely introduced to concepts such as sexuality, gender roles, and feminism. The film provides a unique approach by highlighting these untouched subjects in a subtle way. Rather than explicitly identifying to the viewer scenes of gender inequality and abuse, Tennessee Williams uses an array of film techniques to convey these themes. A Streetcar Named Desire is a remarkable piece of work in that its film adaptation remains true to the content of the text but rather emphasizes certain key elements to enhance the audience’s experience.

Written and filmed during the early 1950’s, A Streetcar Named Desire contains elements of that era’s society and culture. The text of A Streetcar Named Desire however fails to highlight the role the current time period has on the dynamic of each character. The 1950’s is characterized as a time where the orthodox ideals of American life were reaffirmed. “Men expected to be the breadwinners; women, even when they worked, assumed their proper place was at home” (The Culture of the 1950s Par.1). Through visual cues the film adaptation successfully displays the details of this time period that have direct effects on the character makeup and relationship dynamic. The film shows woman submissiveness through Stella’s stay at home role while Stanley, the “breadwinner” works as a factory parts salesman. This common home environment is shown in the film for the viewer to understand the roots of the inequality and hostility in the Kowalski relationship. The societal norms of male dominance during this time are the causes of Stanley’s disrespect and domineering rule over his wife and household. Rather than simply stating the dynamics of the Kowalski relationship, the adaptation provides cultural context to answer why this interaction exists.

The domineering male role in relationships common during this time is livid throughout this adaptation. The vulnerable presence of the woman during this era is also highlighted throughout various interactions between Stanley and Stella Kowalski. This social condition is effectively presented through dialogue and body language. During the text, in reaction to Stella and her sister Blanche’s condescending remarks Stanley breaks several pieces of tableware proclaiming “”Every man is a King!” — And I am the king around here, so don’t you forget it” (Williams 107). The film differs by providing a seamless display of this hostile relationship through Stanley’s physical presence and destructive actions. Minute instances of Stanley’s aggression are shown in conversations with his wife Stella as he points in her face and slams his jacket during heated discussions. These visual aggressions are indicative of Stella and Blanche’s inferiority to Stanley and the power he holds to dictate their emotions. However, the dialogue and body language are not the only means Tennessee Williams uses to convey theme and characterization.

A Streetcar Named Desire also includes an unorthodox use of props that convey character dynamics neglected in the text. In the film, Stanley and Stella’s heated argument in one room and Blanche’s joyous shower in another is separated by a symbolic door. This door represents the polarizing divide between both entities of domestic violence and excessive optimism. The separate environments created by this door provide a stronger visualization of Stella and Stanley’s hostile relationship and Blanche’s carefree personality. This prop usage symbolizes the barrier between this family emotionally redefining the viewer’s understanding of each character and their differences. This subtle separation serves as an innovative approach to separate the personalities of each character. Having a comprehensive and separate understanding of Stanley, Stella, and Blanche services the audience’s curiosity prior to. Questions such as, “Why are Stella and Stanley seemingly in love but also violent?” is later answered with the mental process of “Oh, it’s because Stella’s personality is very sensitive and fragile, while the societal customs of that time period cultivated Stanley’s dominance.” This is the exact thought process Tennessee Williams aims to create for his viewers and does so effectively with the use of film techniques such as the prop.

A Streetcar Named Desire is a compelling play that transcended American film during the late 1900s. Through conventional film techniques such as dialogue, body language, and props Tennessee Williams pushed the digestive system of the average audience member. Reimaging the usage of these common film elements allowed for a thought provoking experience compared to text. The usage of these techniques as subtle indicators for theme and characterization accomplished more for the audience’s experience than the text. Williams puts the power of interpretation in the viewer’s hands by refraining from explicit details but prompting thought and reason to extract this information. This film prompts the viewer to conceptualize issues that play a significant role in our society and simultaneously plague communities. Asking oneself how they feel about gender inequality, masculinity, or family are thoughts and conversations Williams creates for the viewer as they leave the theater or turn off their television. With his keen usage of the screen and film techniques Tennessee Williams successfully sparks a relevant social discourse that will last forever.

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