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How is the idea of naturalism depicted in A Streetcar Named Desire?

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kewtydawl | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 22, 2010 at 6:30 AM via web

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How is the idea of naturalism depicted in A Streetcar Named Desire?

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Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted July 9, 2010 at 11:46 PM (Answer #1)

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Naturalism is depicted in many ways in the play. It begins with the description of Stella's house, located atop a dirty walk-up home, dogs barking, Jazz music in the distance, people yelling. Then you can feel it in Stanley's description as a dirty, oily man who is mostly like a gorilla, yelling about, hitting his wife, and being overall nasty towards Blanche. In the relationship between Stanley and Stella you see how sex makes a powerful binder and how even as she is pregnant and continues to get hit by him, it is the sex what keeps Stella forgiving her husband and ultimately betraying her sister.

But perhaps the most naturalist scene is Stanley's openly disclosing Blanche while she was drunk and weak, and then raping her. This is a significant depiction of the idea of naturalism because it brings human nature at its lowest point, and heightens its basic id, that is, the capability of evil and pain to others.  

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 22, 2010 at 2:51 PM (Answer #2)

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American Naturalism, which differs somewhat from European Naturalism, is heavily influenced by the idea of determinism--the theory that heredity and environment determine behavior.  Naturalism is connected to the doctrine of biological, economic, and social determism.  Naturalist writers strive to depict life accurately--much like realists--through an explanation of the causal factors that have shaped a character's life as well as a deterministic approach to the character's actions as determined by environmental forces.

Major themes of the Naturalists are man against society; violence; the consequences of sex and sex as a commodity; the waste of individual potential because of the conditioning forces of life; and man's struggle with his basic, animalistic instincts. 

In Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire, many of these thematic concerns are present.  Both Blanche and Stanley struggle with their basic instincts.  But, because Blanche is a woman, she has a tarnished reputation and she was dismissed from her position as a teacher because of her association with a student. Stanley projects the violence that is in man's nature, as well.  The conflict between Stanley and Blanche has been viewed also by critics as symbolically the Old South's decline under Industrialization.  This conflict is predetermined as Blanche is a product of the aristocratic, more genteel way of life while Stanley is a product of the new social order.  When, for example, he utters his passionate outburst that he is not a "Polack," but an American citizen, Stanley declares himself part of the new society of multi-cultural America.  His desire for power as such is exerted in his animalistic behavior and his violence towards his wife and Blanche alike.  The tragic figure of Blanche is a result, too, of her social determinism.  Certain causal factors, such as the discovery of her young husband's homosexuality, have determined Blanche's lowered self-esteem and her self-deception.

Brutal at times in its depiction of life, A Streetcar Name Desire stands as a stellar example of literary Naturalism.



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ms-mcgregor | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted November 15, 2008 at 12:41 PM (Answer #1)

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Naturalism contains the idea that man is often controlled by forces he cannot control. "A Streetcar Named Desire" takes place during the depression and Blanche, like many people during this time, has lost her home. She goes to live with the only relative she has left, her sister, Stella. Blanche sees the way that Stanley treats Stella, but Stella refuses to leave Stanley and so Blanche is stuck with him, too. Blanche obviously has no marketable skills and so she is forced to live in a very uncomfortable situation for everyone.

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