A Streetcar Named Desire
From the beginning, the three main characters of Streetcar are in a state of tension.
Williams establishes that the apartment is small and confining, the weather is hot and
oppressive, and the characters have good reason to come into conflict.
The South, old and new, is an important theme of the play. Blanche and her sister come
from a dying world. The life and pretensions of their world are becoming a thing of memory:
to drive home the point, the family mansion is called "Belle Reve," or Beautiful Dream. The
old life may have been something beautiful, but it is gone forever. Yet Blanche clings to
pretensions of aristocracy. She is now as poor as Stanley and Stella, but she cannot help but
look down on the humble Kowalski apartment. Stanley tells her that she'll probably see him as
"the unrefined type." The differences between them, however, are more complex and volatile
than a matter of refinement.
Desire is central to the play. Blanche is unable to come to terms with the force of her own
desire. She is clearly repelled and fascinated by Stanley at the same time. And though she
stayed behind and took care of the family while Stella ran off to find a new life, Blanche is
both angry and jealous of Stella's choice: she seems a bit fixated on the idea of Stella sleeping
with her "Polack." Stella has chosen a life built around her powerful sexual relationship with
Stanley. Blanche is both repulsed by and jealous of the choice. .
The play is haunted by mortality. Desire and death and loneliness are played off against each
other again and again. The setting is one of decay; the dying Old South and the dying DuBois
family make for a macabre and unsettling background. Blanche's first monologue is a rather
graphic description of tending to the terminally ill. There is also the specter of Blanche's
husband, who died when they were both very young; indeed, Blanch still refers to him as a
Another symbol is the meat: Stanley enters carrying a package of bloody meat, like a hunter
coming home from a day of work. Stanley is a superb specimen of primitive, unthinking,
brutal man. The meat-tossing episode is seen as humorous by Eunice and the Negro Woman,
who infer a sexual innuendo from the incident. Apparently, it is obvious to the neighbors that
the sexual bond between Stanley and Stella is intense.
In their attitudes toward money, we see the tremendous difference in class between them.
Stanley is convinced that he is being swindled, but after a moment it becomes clear that
Blanche is capable of no such thing. She cares nothing for money; her class only understands
how to spend it, and that is part of why Belle Reve was lost. When Stanley demands if it was
lost on a mortgage, Blanche can only respond uncertainly, "That must have been what
happened." She is completely ignorant on business matters. Stanley is no expert, but his basic