A Streetcar Named Desire, written by Tennessee Williams in 1947, has been called the best play ever written by an American. The geological setting of the play, New Orleans, creates a remarkably blended mood of decadence, nostalgia, and sensuality. The plot of the play comes about through the conflict between a man and his sister-in-law who comes to live at his house with he and his wife. Stanley Kowalski immediately captures the attention of the audience through Williams’ excellent portrayal of the intensely strong willed character.
The portrayal of Stanley Kowalski plays a major role in the success of the play. Williams forms Stanley into an extremely masculine character who will always have his way or no way at all and makes his opinions very clear to those around him. This profound masculinity places Stanley in direct opposition to Blanche DuBois. “The high-minded yet oddly fragile Blanche takes an immediate dislike to the loutish, working-class Stanley, while Stanley immediately recognizes Blanche for what she has become: a woman who finds consolation in indiscriminate sex and alcohol.” (Authors ; Artists, 165).This clashing forms the conflict which eventually roots itself deeply into the plot of the play. Stanley represents the symbol of the New South. Stanley’s aggressiveness leads to his ease in taking total control over a situation. This characteristic also allows Stanley to completely secure the respect of all the men who associate with him, however, his aggression also shines a light upon a very destructive side of his character. In many ways, Stanley’s brutality leads to the major conflict between Blanche and himself. “And look at yourself! Take a look at that worn out Mardi Gras outfit, rented for fifty cents from some rag picker! And with that crazy crown on! What queen do you think you are?” (Williams, 127). Stanley becomes very blunt in his contempt and aggression towards Blanche. Another view into the excessive aggression of Stanley appears in the third scene. In this scene, Williams provides a look at a very negative side of Stanley. Stanley physically assaults his wife, Stella, after she returns to the house during his poker game. “How anyone could find Stella Kowalski’s comatose endurance of Stanley healthy or whole-hearted is, indeed, a subject for wonder.” (Drama Criticism, 401). Stanley also shows his vigorous side through his appearance as the ruler of the household. “He views Blanche’s presence as a threat to his position of power and control in his home.” (Encyclopedia of Literary Characters, 1859). Blanche appears as a character who may possibly jeopardize his position of authority in the household. Williams casts this image of excessive aggressiveness and cruelty upon Stanley not only to form the primary conflict which fully entangles itself in the plot of the play but also to force the reader to look at Stanley’s character from different perspectives. In one sense, the audience sees Stanley as a character who commands respect and watches out for himself and his wife, while, in another light, he appears as an overbearing brute. “His cruel intolerance of Blanche can be seen as a justifiable response to her lies, hypocrisy, and mockery, but his nasty streak of violence against his wife appalls even his friends.” (Masterplots, 6316). These opposing views of the character add to his essence in the play. The absolute epitome of Stanley’s aggression culminates in his rape of Blanche. The utter brutality of Stanley comes forth in this scene as he takes out his aggression with an assault on Blanche. Again, some readers feel that his vicious attack on Blanche comes about as warranted due to the preceding acts of Blanche. “for Williams, Blanche is, nonetheless, guilty of abusing and using ‘sensitive men’ so that her ‘punishment’-her rape-fits her crime.” (Drama Criticism, 399). Nonetheless, this final exhibition of hostility by Stanley leads to the emotional downfall of Blanche. “Not the least among the terrors that Blanche perceives looms the inevitability that Stanley Kowalski will be the instrument of her final catastrophe. Blanche is right. Stanley does become her executioner. He applies the coup de grace to her psyche.” (Contemporary Literary Criticism, 505). The climax of this scene leads to the total fall to insanity of Blanche. “until the very last scene Blanche does not lose touch with reality. She is indeed in a constant state of self-awareness, of recognition of who she is and what she is and what her world is like and what her immediate situation treacherously holds out to her.” (Contemporary Literary Criticism, 505).Williams wonderfully introduces stage directions into the play which also assist in the reader’s view into Stanley’s negative side. The author uses these stage directions to further show Stanley’s out and out contempt for Blanche. Stanley’s virility climaxes in that he “forces Blanche to acknowledge the truth about herself, but he also destroys her completely in the process, apparently without regret.” (Encyclopedia of Literary Characters, 1859).
Another side of Stanley, which comes about in total opposition to his aggressive side, appears in his love for Stella. Stanley honestly loves his wife and will do anything for their benefit. The reader gets the impression that much of Stanley’s hostility comes about only through his attempt to protect Stella and their privacy. Stanley immediately distrusts Blanche as she cannot adequately account for the loss of Belle Reve, representing a major financial setback for him and Stella. This situation causes Stanley to get involved. “It looks like you have been swindled, baby, and when you’re swindled under the Napoleonic code I’m swindled too. And I don’t like to be swindled.” (Williams, 35). This event shows Stanley’s love and desire to protect his wife. Another example of Stanley’s true love for Stella comes about in a remarkably sensuous scene after he hits his wife and she leaves to go spend the night with Eunice. Stanley quickly recognizes his mistake and wants to correct it. “I want my baby down here. Stella, Stella!” (Williams, 59). Stanley also appears to fight Blanche for the purpose of saving his life with the woman he loves. “When Blanche threatens Stanley’s marriage by cajoling her sister to abandon her husband, Stanley brandishes Blanche’s weaknesses for all to see in an effort to preserve his home and family.” (Authors & Artists, 165-66). These characteristics show the loving and caring side of Stanley as well as offering a contrasting view to his dark, brutal side.
Tennessee Williams creates a brilliant play in A Streetcar Named Desire, featuring an amazing and complex character in Stanley Kowalski. The reader must constantly reevaluate the character of Stanley Kowalski as he presents many questions to the reader throughout the play. During the play, as the conflict develops between Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski, the audience must constantly consider which character portrays the villain and which portrays the victim. “Ultimately, however, Stanley prevails. He has gotten rid of Blanche, who has lost everything, and as we see in the closing lines of the play, he is able to soothe Stella’s grief, and their life goes on.” (Masterplots, 6316).