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

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Naturalism, an outgrowth of literary realism, is a literary movement that replicates  everyday reality, as opposed to such movements as Romanticism or Surrealism, in which symbolic, idealistic, or even supernatural treatment is given to literary subjects.  Naturalistic works exposed the dark harshness of life, including poverty, racism, sex, violence, prejudice, disease, corruption, prostitution, and filth.  Certainly, Tennesse Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire portrays life in a naturalistic manner. 

Despite her pretenses of gentility, Blanche DuBois admitedly has ridden that streetcar named Desire in life.  In Scene Nine, she admits to the Mexican woman selling flowers that she anwered the calls of the drunken soldiers from the training camp who staggered into her lawn at Belle Reve.  While with her sister, Blanche disguises her penchant for sexual interludes, but the earthy and animalistic Stanley sees through her guise.  Finally, in the end Blanche's psychoses are exposed, and Stanley, in his naturalistic desire for survival as the dominant male, cooerces Stella into agreeing to have Blanche committed to an asylum.

Certainly, if there were ever a quintessentially naturalistic character, Stanley Kowalski is he.  He constantly speaks of being king of his castle; he reminds Stella that he brought her down from the "big columns" of her plantation home and she "loved it."  When Blanche flirts with him, he tells her ''If I didn't know that you was my wife's sister I'd get ideas about you."   However, Stanley mainly enjoys the dominance and power he holds over Blanche because he actually depises her.  Animalistic, vulgar, and violent, the strong Stanley is no match for the mentally weak Blanche or Stella the physically weaker of the married couple. 

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that one of the strongest aspects of naturalism present is the basic depiction of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.  Stanley, Stella, Blanche, and Mitch are all regular people.  There is nothing extraordinary about them.  However, Williams places them in the fundamental collision between modernity and tradition.  Stanley is a regular, working class protagonist who is meant to represent the modern setting of pragmatism and materialism.  Blanche is a Southern woman, typical of the context, but one shoulders the burden of the past with her embodiment of Belle Reve values and the tradition of the "old South."  She is ordinary, which might belie what she actually feels about herself as being something uniquely different.  Stella is poised between both of them, a regular person in an emotional dynamic that is anything but regular.  These characters act in an ordinary manner, representing themselves and their own senses of self.  Yet, it is through depicting them in common conditions that Williams is able to bring out their humanity, or lack of it, and forge connections with the audience.

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A Streetcar Named Desire

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