How is the idea of naturalism depicted in A Streetcar Named Desire?
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Naturalism was a literary period which was highlighted between 1880 and 1940. Naturalists tended to believe that nature was more powerful than anything else and that mankind could never overturn its power. Naturalists would use everyday life, common characters, and lots of personification related to nature. Naturalists "studied" characters through their relationships with both other characters and nature alike. Taking an "experimental" stand on life, Naturalists were objective in life and allowed the natural order of things to progress.
While not typically defined as a Naturalistic piece, some characteristics of Naturalism are apparent in Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire."
First, the play depicts lower-class characters in a lower-class setting. This is very typical of the Naturalistic texts.
Second, the play's action includes circumstances of life as it really was during the period: the men worked, the women stayed home, and violence was an accepted part of both the private and societal spheres.
Lastly, the ending of the play was made apparent through all which led up to it. Life for Blanche and Stella was what it was. No matter how hard either of them tried, their lives were on a path which they would not be able to deter from. Blanche's mental instability could lead to nothing but her being institutionalized and Stella's love for Stanley could lead to nothing but her staying with him.
Naturalism was first began by French writer Emile Zola. Zola forged the road for other authors who wished to pull away from the Romantic ideas of writing. Romantics viewed life through "rose-colored glasses" (meaning they forced the beauty of all things to the front). In essence, in their desire to elevate nature and the beauty of nature, Romantics tended to alter the realities of life.
Naturalists, on the other hand, desired to show life as it really was (as an extension of Realism). The authors tended to be metaphorical scientific observers, stating only what they observed in life without manipulating it.
In regards to Williams' play, A Streetcar Named Desire, the text can be seen as containing Naturalistic characteristics. Symbolism is very important in Naturalistic writings. The play offers many different examples of symbolism. For example, the symbolism of both the streetcars and the light bulb is essential to the play. Both have multiple meanings which blossom over the course of the play.
Naturalists also elevated the importance of nature. Unlike the Romantics who idealized nature, Naturalists believed that nature was the most powerful "being" (given its tendency to be personified) upon earth. In the play's case, the nature of both Stanley and Blanche are very important. Their nature is what leads to the explosive climax.
Naturalists also tended to portray realistic characters in realistic settings. Working class characters who lived normal lives with normal struggles tended to be the focus of the characterizations created for Naturalistic pieces. The fact that the play takes place in a rundown area of New Orleans and depicts normal working class characters (like Mitch and Stanley) proves the setting to be one typically found in Naturalistic writings.
The use of literary techniques that point to naturalism are evident in Tennessee William's A Streetcar Named Desire, particularly in the depiction of the characters and their emotional train-wrecks which lead to their ultimate destruction, or their ultimate fates.
The character of Stella, for example, suffers a major weakness that is her sexual dependence to an abusive husband, Stanley. Her ultimate fate was to betray her own sister, deny that Stanley raped her sister, Blanche, and institutionalizing her to a sanatorium. In the end, the only gain she gets is to remain married to Stanley and keep having his children...and receiving the occasional beating.
Blanche's own personal hell came as a result of bad choices in the administration o money, in her sexual escapades, in not recognizing that her husband was gay prior to marrying him, in the choice of words she used that prompted his suicide, in her choice of lying about her current situation, and in her choice of not changing as times changed around her. Ultimately, the dysunctional people around her ended up sending her to a sanatorium after Stanley raped her and her sister Stella pretended as if nothing had happened.
Stanley is literally a cruddy character who drinks, abuses women, is untidy, demanding, and chauvinistic. He holds nothing back and he openly hits his wife, verbally abuses her and prefers his gambling and drinking to anything else. His fate was not to change, and remain in the dinginess of his apartment, with a co-dependent wife, and following his usual ways.
That is how naturalism operates in literature: Bringing out the crudest and most internal turmoils and their consequences in the destinies of each character.
The theatrical style of Naturalism and the dramatic style of Realism had been long established before A Streetcar Named Desire appeared on the stage. Real characters living real lives (in New Orleans) acted out their dramas in the naturalistic style—in fact, the style of acting, called Method acting, was noted for its naturalistic elements. In addition, the stage set, a full-blown depiction of outside and inside a New Orleans apartment, as well as the details of the props and costumes (playing cards, the “solid gold dress, I believe”) were all in the naturalistic style (which began in the “teacup” school of the 19th and early 20th centuries). It was Blanche Dubois’ artificial, “romantic” way of looking at the world, contrasted with Stanley’s coarse “anti-Romantic”, naturalistic view of the world that gave the drama its vigor and energy.
As I understand it, the difference between naturalism and realism in fiction is that naturalism strives to be more interesting by being more dramatic while still maintaining its atmosphere of realism. Reality is not necessarily interesting. In fact, it is usually pretty boring and monotonous, as most of us can attest from our own lives. With naturalism, interesting things happen to the characters in a realistic setting and in a realistic way. A lot happens in "A Streetcar Named Desire," but it all seems to be happening to ordinary people who just happen to be going through one of the critical periods that occur in every life. This is something we have all experienced in our own lives, too. There were many days when nothing happened. There were emergency situations that came up--often completely unexpectedly--and then our lives went back into the normal mode of reality. Theodore Dreiser's great novels "Sister Carrie" and "An American Tragedy" are examples of naturalism. James T. Farrell's "Studs Lonigan" is a good example of realism. The contrast between realism and naturalism in fiction is interesting. Realism seems more authentic, but naturalism is more interesting because it is more dramatic and hence more exciting.
"A Streetcar Named Desire" seems realistic because of the setting, the dialogue, the crude behavior of some of the male characters, the long passage of time during which nothing much happens, and other such aspects of reality. It is naturalistic because there is a serious conflict involved leading to a tragic ending.
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