How can we realate A Streetcar Named Desire to modern society?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that Williams' drama has much in it that relates to the modern setting.  In many of the topics raised in the drama, Williams was ahead of his time for they are issues that we see in society today and still struggle to understand.  In some cases, progress has been made.  Yet, in others, we find ourselves similar to the characters in the poker game, staring in horror at what we see and lacking the collective will to do anything about it.

The issue of mental health is something with which the context of the drama struggles and something with which we struggle today.  Blanche is in need of severe mental care.  She has endured so much and it has had such a profound and destabilizing effect on her.  She exhibits so much of what we would now easily call as "mental health issues."  Yet, she is misunderstood in the drama.  She does not receive much in way of social compassion and understanding.  When she says that she "has always depended on the kindness of strangers," the audience realizes how long the road of suffering and hopeful recovery will be for her.  No one does anything and she is left to fend for herself.  Blanche internalizes this and simply "goes away."  In the modern setting, we still struggle to fully comprehend the issue of mental health.  In the last year, mental health has become a significant concern.  The shootings in Colorado, Newtown, and most recently in Santa Monica as well as other situations have the thread of mental health concerns running through them.  As a society, we have not fully begun to understand how mental health concerns should be handled.  Blanche peacefully and quietly exits, stage right.  Yet, the modern understanding of neglecting mental health concerns has take a decidedly violent turn, causing reflection and understanding that Williams was ahead of his time in suggesting that mental health concerns need to be addressed.

Spousal violence is another element of the drama that has resonance to the modern setting.  Stanley is a brute.  He beats his wife and rapes his sister in law.  In the play's context, this is a "private" issue.  When Stella talks about taking that ride on the "streetcar named desire," it is almost a code for women accepting the abuse that their men place upon them.  The modern setting has seen this change a bit.  In many parts of the world, violence against spouses and women, in general, are not seen as "boys being boys" or "private."  Rather, they are prosecuted under the law.  However, there are still an alarming number of places in which such violence is socially accepted and sanctioned.  There are places in the world, communities around the globe, and homes in modern society where men beat women, and are encouraged to do so.  This is something that Williams brings attention to and seeks to present a vision of what is in the hopes of what can be.

Finally, the issue of the fallen teacher is something that Williams illuminates and was ahead of his time in doing so.  Blanche conducts herself inappropriately with a student.  The issue is hushed in the social context of the drama, but it adds to her own self- destructive narrative.  In the modern setting, the fallen teacher has become something of a cliché and Williams illuminates something kept in dark corners to front and center.  Once again, in doing so, public light is brought to an issue previously kept in the shadows.

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A Streetcar Named Desire

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