A Streetcar Named Desire American Dream

In Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, how does the play reflect upon the reality of the American dream?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tennessee Williams’ drama A Streetcar Named Desire portrays three unstable characters whose reality is not the American dream. Blanche, Stella, and Stanley approach life hoping for different outcomes in their lives. What is the American dream?  In looking at the principles of America, the primary dream for everyone is to have a well-lived life. This might include a family, money, success, love, independence, and happiness.  If these are the constructs of the American dream, Blanche Du Bois nor the Kowalskis may never find the American dream. 

The Kowalskis do in some way love each other and want to be together.  With their newborn baby, they may be lucky enough to find a small version of the American dream.  Stella settles into a life very different from her upbringing with Blanche.  From her comments to Blanche, Stella gives up trying to find a place in the life of the plantation.  Blanche dominates that world.

Stella finds a man who is in direct opposition to her previous life.  There is little that is cultured or refined about Stanley.  He is loud, chauvinistic, rude, selfish and crude.  Yet, he does seem to care for Stella if only sexually.  If this kind of life is enough for Stella, then kudos for her dream world. When the problem of her sister is solved, Stella is able to continue on passively surviving in Stanley’s world.

When Stanley Kowalski meets Blanche DuBois, two diverse worlds confront each other.  The Polish steel worker and the aristocratic former Southern belle will never understand one another.  These two distinctive characters represent reality versus pretension and pretending. Blanche never understands the finances of her plantation, so it is lost to bankruptcy.  When Stanley learns that his part of the plantation is gone, he centers on the fact that he has lost money. 

Blanche will never find the American dream. She does not understand the harsh reality of life.  Her dream is the life of the plantation when the women were courted and treated like princesses.  She wants to attend the dances and dinners that were in her past life.

A cultivated woman, a woman of intelligence and breeding can enrich a man’s life – immeasurably! I have those things to offer…Physical beauty is passing. A transitory possession. But beauty of the mind and richness of the spirit and tenderness of the heart – and I have all of those things…But I have been foolish - casting my pearls before swine! 

When she lost her home and money, Blanche resorts to using her body to survive.  In reality, Blanche finally admits to Stella that what she wants is security and someone who would devote himself to protect her. 

Finding no one to help her hide from reality, Blanche is given over to the kindness of strangers.  Her world self-destructs when Stanley rapes and brutalizes Blanche.  She is not able to find the sensitive, delicate world of which she dreams.

rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A Streetcar Named Desire does not present a favorable view of the American dream for any of the characters. One walks away from the play feeling as if the American dream is only for men. Even then, it still is not very reachable. Stanley Kowalski's two historical allusions encapsulate his view of the American dream, which, since Stanley "triumphs" in the end, becomes the predominant slant of the play.

First, Stanley refers to the Napoleonic code, "according to which what belongs to the wife belongs to the husband and vice versa." Stanley invokes this legalese in order to assert his right to half of Belle Reve, the plantation that Stella abandoned for her life with him. Granted, Stella would benefit from joint property laws as well considering Stanley's property consists of a rented one-bedroom flat in a shabby neighborhood. Stanley's main hope for achieving the American dream seems to be to acquire it through marriage. 

Secondly, Stanley invokes Huey Long, former Louisiana governor, who said, "Every man is a king." This statement works itself nicely into Stanley's way of thinking because he is granted superiority over his wife and sister-in-law without having to do a thing—simply because of his DNA. Again, the American dream—if it means getting what you want in life—revolves around predation: take from others to advance yourself. 

At the end of the play, Stanley asserts his Napoleonic and kingly privileges over Stella's sister by raping her, then denies her accusation and casts her out like a leper. Stella submits to her ruler; she sees no other choice since she has a newborn and no means of financial support other than Stanley. Does Stanley get what he wants? Evidently, but his is a sorry kingdom. 

Whether the play intends to comment on the American dream in general is debatable, but for these characters, especially the women, it seems unattainable. 

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A Streetcar Named Desire

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