A Streetcar Named Desire as Tragic Comedy
Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire is considered by many critics to be a “flawed” masterpiece. This is because William’s work utilizes and wonderfully blends both tragic and comic elements that serve to shroud the true nature of the hero and heroine, thereby not allowing the reader to judge them on solid actuality. Hence, Williams has been compared to writers such as Shakespeare who, in literature, have created a sense of ambiguity and uncertainty in finding a sole “view or aspect ” in their works. Because of the highly tragic elements encountered in Streetcar, many immediately label it a tragedy. Nevertheless, the immense comical circumstances encountered in the play contradict the sole role of tragedy and leave the reader pondering the true nature of the work, the question being whether it is a tragedy with accidental comic incidences or a comedy with weak melodramatic occurrences.
It has been said that the “double mask of tragicomedy reveals the polarity of the human condition”(Adler 47). The contrariety of forces in the work serves to enforce a sense of both reality and drama that are present in everyday human life. The comic elements in the play serve as a form of determined self-preservation just as the tragic elements add to the notion of self-destruction. This is the true nature of a tragicomedy. By juxtaposing two irreconcilable positions, ambiguity is produced in the judgment of the main characters, most notably Stanley Kowalski and Blanche Dubois (Riddell 83).
Ambivalence in the play is largely caused by the relationship between Stanley and Blanche. They concurrently produce both appalling and appealing tendencies. Both characters display elements of the profane and sacred yet on two distinct levels. This is what creates the double entendre. In the social sense, Blanche can be considered the heroine of the play. In a desperate last attempt to preserve her aristocratic values, she must combat everything that Stanley Kowalski is. While she represents everything that is sacred within cultural boundaries, that of which being the love of language, music, art, etc…Stanley is the brute opposite. He is highly animalistic and primitive in his ways and serves as the sole destroyer of everything Blanche embodies. “The first time I laid eyes on him I thought to myself, that man is my executioner! That man will destroy me…”(Williams 351). This goes to show that, since there can be no coexistence between classes, Blanche, the romantic delicate southern belle, will meet her doom at the hands of the crude and savage Stanley.
However, on a psychological level, Stanley emerges as the hero. The sexually healthy and “sacred” marriage he shares with his wife is in staunch contrast to the perverted and debauched sexual exploits of Blanche. In the role as the psychological “profaner,” Blanche is just as much to blame for her rape as Stanley is. Blanche is a profane and perverted...