MAD and Tennessee Williams’ “A streetcar named desire” (1947)

I.- Summary of “The absent voice: American drama and the critic”- Modern American Drama 1945-2000, CWE Bigsby, Cambridge University Press.
  • Drama has been in a marginal position in history. Why is that?
  • Is it due to the different contexts in which the work is created and then exposed?
  • Theatre’s attraction lies in its power to transcend the written word.
  • Roland Barthes explains that in a literary work, the author answers the question “why the world?” then, he is used as a means to transmit an ulterior message. Then, literature is presented as a question and never as an answer.
  • Roland Barthes: Who speaks is not who writes, and who writes is not who is. In theatre, what is written is not what is spoken and what is spoken is not what it is. The language of theatre is a different language to that of literature.
  • “The word is made flesh”. Not only language, but also proxemics (the study of the symbolic and communicative role in a culture of spatial arrangements and variations in distance, as in how far apart individuals engaged in conversation stand depending on the degree of intimacy between them) is important in a play.
  • Proxemics is the key. They way things are said is what gives theatre a special value, especially its simultaneity.
  • Tennessee Williams used to be a poet… so why not manifest his message through poetry.
  • In the theatre the audience is freer than a the reader of a novel. The novel invites the reader to align his imagination with its author.
  • Time in theatre is always present. Theatre gives body to literature.
II.- Tennessee Williams’ biography
III.- Link to A streetcar named desire
IV.- Characters

Blanche Dubois

Not quite a heroine, Blanche is the complicated protagonist of the play. She is a faded Southern belle without a dime left to her name, after generations of mismanagement led to the loss of the family fortune. Blanche spent the end of her youth watching the older generation of her family die out before losing the DuBois seat at Belle Reve. This experience, along with the suicide of her young homosexual husband, deadened Blanche’s emotions and her sense of reality. Desire and death became intricately linked in her life as she led a loose and increasingly careless life, and indeed, after losing her position as a schoolteacher she is forced to depend on the kindness of her one living relation, her sister Stella. Blanche tries to continue being the Southern belle of her youth, but she is too old and has seen too much, and soon her grip on reality begins to slip. She has difficulty understanding the passion in her sister’s marriage and is coolly calculating in her relationship with Mitch – yet barely manages to suppress a latent nymphomania.

Stella Kowalski

Stella Kowalski, Blanche’s younger sister, is about twenty-five years old and pregnant with her first child. Stella has made a new life for herself in New Orleans and is madly in love with her husband Stanley – their idyllic relationship is steeped in physical passion. Stella is forthright and unapologetic about the nature of her relationship with her husband, and although she loves her sister, she is pragmatic and refuses to let anything come between her and Stanley.

Stanley Kowalski

Stanley Kowalski, Stella’s husband, is a man of solid, blue-collar stock – direct, passionate, and often violent. He has no patience for Blanche and the illusions she cherishes. Moreover, he is a controlling and domineering man, demanding subservience from his wife in the belief that his authority is threatened by Blanche’s arrival. Blanche, however, sees him as a primitive ape driven only by instinct. In the end, though, Stanley proves he can be as cold and calculating as she is.

Harold “Mitch” Mitchell

One of Stanley’s friends. Mitch is as tough and “unrefined” as Stanley. He is an imposing physical specimen, massively built and powerful, but he is also a deeply sensitive and compassionate man. His mother is dying, and this impending loss affects him profoundly. He is attracted to Blanche from the start, and Blanche hopes that he will ask her to marry him. Indeed, Mitch is a fundamentally decent man and seeks only to settle down. But when the truth about Blanche’s history comes to light, he feels swindled by her.

Eunice Hubbell

Eunice Hubbell is the owner of the apartment building, and Steve’s wife. She is generally helpful, offering Stella and Blanche shelter after Stanley beats Stella. Indeed, she has a personal understanding of the Kowalskis’ relationship because it mirrors her own. In the end, she advises Stella that in spite of Blanche’s tragedy, life must go on.

Steve Hubbell

Steve Hubbell is Eunice’s husband, and owner of the apartment building. As one of the poker players, Steve has the final line of the play. It comes as Blanche is carted off to the asylum and Steve coldly deals another hand.


V.- A streetcar named Marge

VI.- Movie clip – “You must be Stanley”
VI.- Questions
  • How are cultural differences portrayed in these scenes?
  • What do you think is the reason of Blanche’s visit?
  • How do you anticipate the rest of the play?