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A Streetcar Named Desire

by Tennessee Williams

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A Streetcar Named Desire

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The play begins with Blanche DuBois visiting her sister Stella and her brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski at their home in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Blanche says that she is there on vacation, but in fact she has lost the family mansion, Belle Reve, and her teaching position because of her sexual indiscretions, the last one with a 17-year-old boy.

Blanche is clearly an emotionally disturbed individual. When she was very young, she married a homosexual. When she found out, she accused him, and he shot himself. Afterwards she earned a reputation for sleeping with men indiscriminately, all the while pretending to be a Southern belle.

From the moment Blanche arrives, Stanley suspects that Blanche’s manners are a facade and is angered by Blanche’s constant insults of his vulgar ways. Stella, however, tries to satisfy both her sister’s and Stanley’s desires.

The climax comes when Stella goes to the hospital in labor. Stanley confronts Blanche with her concealed past, and Blanche replies, “I don’t tell truth, I tell what ought to be truth.” Stanley then puts on the pajamas he wore on his wedding night and rapes Blanche.

In the final scene, Blanche is clearly insane; a psychiatrist and a nurse are on their way to take her to an asylum. Blanche told Stella about the rape, but Stella refused to believe her. “I couldn’t believe her story and go on living with Stanley,” Stella says. Clearly she chose to believe a lie in order to stay happy--the same choice that her sister had made.


Falk, Signi. Tennessee Williams. 2d ed. Boston: Twayne, 1978. An introduction to both the fiction and drama. Places Williams in the Southern tradition and examines his early exploratory work. Provides a good general overview with a focus on recurring character types. Includes a chronology of publication and production of works and a useful critical bibliography.

Hayman, Ronald. Tennessee Williams: Everyone Else Is an Audience. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993. Biographical study that examines how Williams used events from his life and characters he knew, including himself, as source material for his drama.

Miller, Jordan Y., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971. Excellent collection of twenty essays and reviews divided into two sections that treat the play as commercial theater and as dramatic literature. Provides views from a variety of critics and includes a notebook of the director of the original production.

Thompson, Judith J. Tennessee Williams’ Plays: Memory, Myth, and Symbol. New York: Peter Lang, 1987. Examines eight plays in considerable detail, including A Streetcar Named Desire, in terms of recurring archetypal characters and patterns of action. Interesting analysis of tragic, romantic, and comic images.

Weales, Gerald. American Drama Since World War II. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1962. Places Williams’ work in the context of his time and questions the world and the values that Williams depicts as those of his characters, which often represent marginalized “fugitive types.”

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Critical Evaluation


Critical Overview