21 January 2011

A Streetcar Named Desire

Blanche DuBois has problems, to put it mildly. She has lost her beloved Mississippi plantation Belle Reve and is now forced to live in squalor in New Orleans' French Quarter with her younger sister Stella and Stella's brutal, animalistic husband Stanley Kowalski. The fragile Blanche, who has a tenuous grasp on reality as is, is determined to make her surroundings as refined as possible, though she soon learns that doing so while sharing living quarters with the uncouth Stanley is nearly impossible. Things soon degenerate as Blanche and Stanley become locked in a battle of wills against each other, with Stella trapped in the middle. Then, Stanley learns perhaps why his flighty, neurotic sister-in-law lost Belle Reve and is prepared to stop at nothing to gain the upper hand over her. And when I say stop nothing, I do mean nothing . . .

A Streetcar Named Desire is one of my favorite plays. Some of you may recall that back in 2009, I debated for a long time over whether or not to review this play or playwright Tennessee Williams' other masterpiece The Glass Menagerie. I ultimately decided on The Glass Menagerie, but I reread Streetcar for my American Lit 2 class last semester and SweetTart-Girl asked me if I'd do a review, seeing as she'll be studying it this semester in one of her classes. *Zella waves magic wand and grants wish because she fancies herself as a book genie* :D

This play is a masterpiece of dramatic tension, as Blanche and Stanley face off constantly over every petty scenario known to man. I think the tension rings true just because it is so realistic. Even if your family does get along well, who hasn't had a family argument turn nuclear over something inanely stupid? Despite Williams' effective use of tension, this play is still primarily a character-centric work, not plot-driven. All of the characters, except for maybe Blanche's potential love interest Mitch, are grotesque and troubled. It's hard to find one character to unequivocally root for, which is why I think some readers dislike the play. Even though Blanche is the main character and is quite pathetic, she's far from a traditional heroine. I like complex characters, so for me, the fact that there is no clear-cut good guy (though Williams clearly intends for us to sympathize with Blanche, even if we don't understand or agree with her) is a plus.

I am a hug fan of reading plays, but plays were still written with the intention of being performed. Soooo . . . your Streetcar experience will not be complete unless you watch the 1951 film version with Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. You must watch this one! Brando originated the part of Stanley on stage. It's what made him contender! I am making you an offer you can't refuse! Who me? An obsessive Brando fan? Erm . . . maybe. (Bonus points if you recognized the two Brando quotes in this paragraph.) But the original film version is easily the best, if not just because all of the actors are so good. I will warn you that even though the film version stays remarkably close to the play, the ending was changed to appease movie censors, who demanded that the bleak tragedy had to have some redeeming value.
If you're looking for complex characters and an intense story line, definitely read A Streetcar Named Desire. This play is one of the most famous written in the past sixty years . . . and for good reason, in my opinion. Not to mention that reading it is the perfect excuse to indulge in a Brando marathon afterwards. ^^
Next Time: Art Spiegelman's Maus.
This Week in Literary History: 27 January 1302 Political enemies exile Dante Alighiere from Florence. Though this may have seemed like a bad thing for Dante at the time, his banishment ended up being a good thing for literary history, for he wrote his masterpiece The Divine Comedy during this period.
Announcements: I dole out some blogging awards on my second blog, so stop by. You may have an award waiting for you. :)


  1. This makes me so happy!! :)

    I think that I will like this play. I like character-driven stories better than plot (I think, we'll see if I still feel this way later, after I've read more literary books).

    I'm trying to make myself more interested in stories without a happy ending. I used to only read happy endings because I only read to escape, but now that I read to read literarture (I don't know to say that better, sorry), I want to open my horizons more. I really hope that makes sense.

    I'm not sure if I will be writing on this or not. The way my teacher explained it, we will be writing 2 essays over either Othello or HP 7 and The Merchant of Venice or Brave New World. We have to choose one Shakespeare, so I chose Othello and Brave New World. She didn't mention Streetcar.

    Thanks for reviewing it for me! :D I'm glad I now know what it is actually about. :)

    (PS, my 18th bday is Wed. Just saying).

  2. You're most welcome! :)

    Yes, that makes sense. I am a morbid soul, so I have always sort of enjoyed sad endings, but I am still a sucker for a good happy one. (Just not the ending of White Fang. That one was so sappy that half of my 20th Cent. Am. Lit class came into class last week fuming, myself included. :D)

    *breaks into song* Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, HAAAAAAAAPPPPPY BIIIIRTHDAAAAAAY TOOOOO YOOOOOUUUUU! Happy birthday to you! :) *hands over cake and an abundance of good books* :D

  3. Wow. I had originally typed a very long response but it has magically disappeared. NOT COOL!

    So anyways, thanks for the good books and cake! I really need it, looks like I will be out of school for the whole week, due to snowmaggedeon.

    Did you like Othello? Or at least realize it's literary merit? Because I need someone capable of intellectual conversation about it, not someoone who screams "I hate Othello!" everytime it's name comes up. Ugh, my peers annoy me.

    I may be able to play the part of Stella when we read the play in class. I really hope I will be able to, but there are a lot of theatre kids in my class, so I may not be able to.

    What are your feelings on the upcoming Hunger Games movie? I think Hailey Steinfield from True Grit should play Katniss, even if she is a little young. I think that makes her better.

  4. You must be getting the same blizzard we're getting. I'm hoping for no classes because of, well, homework that must be finished before those classes meet again. :D

    At the risk of sounding like an ubernerd, Othello is one of my favorite plays. It was the first Shakespearean play I ever read--be still my beating nerd heart--so I have always had a soft spot for it. It's been awhile since I read it--for some reason, my professors always assign Hamlet, which I also adore--but feel free to chat about it. :)

    That would be fun to play Stella in class! I hope you get to!

    I have mixed feelings about the movie. I can be grumpy about film adaptations. I think it depends on who is cast in it and who the director is. I just hope they don't screw it up. :(

  5. I really hope they do not screw up the movie version. I mean seriously, it was made with the intent to become a motion picture so it shouldn't be too hard to pull off. But I still can't wait to see it. I just love it so much. Even if it's more than a year away, I am still so excited! :D

    I think half of the U.S. is getting the same snow storm. I've officially been out three days this week. What's better, is that I have been out of school more this semester than in. Except I am wanting to go back, so that I am not so behind. Bleh. I have a feeling AP Chemistry is about to get very, very hard.

    I have officially decided that my favorite character from Othello is Emilia. I just feel so much sympathy for her. She wanted nothing more than for Iago to love her, and yet he hated her. Plus I love how she finally stood up in the end. I'm thinking of writing my essay over her, like who she was truly loyal to or someting (that is, if I decide to write on Othello and Brave New World, not HP 7 and Merchant of Venice. What's your opinion on that?). I think that Desdemona was a virgin during her marriage. Sure, there are times when she seemed flirty but I think that was just her personality. Besides, like the wonderful Emilia said, it is the man who teaches the woman to cheat, and Othello clearly loved her. But I really think that she was a virgin becuase it would totally make the play wrong if she wasn't. There wouldn't be a catharsis or theme, because Othello would've been in the right to kill her (at least in that time). I can't wait to hear your thoughts!

    Sorry this was so long! :) But yay for snow days! :D