Symbols In A Streetcar Named Desire Essays On Friendship

Blanche DuBois -  Stella’s older sister, who was a high school English teacher in Laurel, Mississippi, until she was forced to leave her post. Blanche is a loquacious and fragile woman around the age of thirty. After losing Belle Reve, the DuBois family home, Blanche arrives in New Orleans at the Kowalski apartment and eventually reveals that she is completely destitute. Though she has strong sexual urges and has had many lovers, she puts on the airs of a woman who has never known indignity. She avoids reality, preferring to live in her own imagination. As the play progresses, Blanche’s instability grows along with her misfortune. Stanley sees through Blanche and finds out the details of her past, destroying her relationship with his friend Mitch. Stanley also destroys what’s left of Blanche by raping her and then having her committed to an insane asylum.

Read an in-depth analysis of Blanche DuBois.

Stella Kowalski -  Blanche’s younger sister, about twenty-five years old and of a mild disposition that visibly sets her apart from her more vulgar neighbors. Stella possesses the same timeworn aristocratic heritage as Blanche, but she jumped the sinking ship in her late teens and left Mississippi for New Orleans. There, Stella married lower-class Stanley, with whom she shares a robust sexual relationship. Stella’s union with Stanley is both animal and spiritual, violent but renewing. After Blanche’s arrival, Stella is torn between her sister and her husband. Eventually, she stands by Stanley, perhaps in part because she gives birth to his child near the play’s end. While she loves and pities Blanche, she cannot bring herself to believe Blanche’s accusations that Stanley dislikes Blanche, and she eventually dismisses Blanche’s claim that Stanley raped her. Stella’s denial of reality at the play’s end shows that she has more in common with her sister than she thinks.
Stanley Kowalski -  The husband of Stella. Stanley is the epitome of vital force. He is loyal to his friends, passionate to his wife, and heartlessly cruel to Blanche. With his Polish ancestry, he represents the new, heterogeneous America. He sees himself as a social leveler, and wishes to destroy Blanche’s social pretensions. Around thirty years of age, Stanley, who fought in World War II, now works as an auto-parts salesman. Practicality is his forte, and he has no patience for Blanche’s distortions of the truth. He lacks ideals and imagination. By the play’s end, he is a disturbing degenerate: he beats his wife and rapes his sister-in-law. Horrifyingly, he shows no remorse. Yet, Blanche is an outcast from society, while Stanley is the proud family man.

Read an in-depth analysis of Stanley Kowalski.

Harold “Mitch” Mitchell -  Stanley’s army friend, coworker, and poker buddy, who courts Blanche until he finds out that she lied to him about her sordid past. Mitch, like Stanley, is around thirty years of age. Though he is clumsy, sweaty, and has unrefined interests like muscle building, Mitch is more sensitive and more gentlemanly than Stanley and his other friends, perhaps because he lives with his mother, who is slowly dying. Blanche and Mitch are an unlikely match: Mitch doesn’t fit the bill of the chivalric hero, the man Blanche dreams will come to rescue her. Nevertheless, they bond over their lost loves, and when the doctor takes Blanche away against her will, Mitch is the only person present besides Stella who despairs over the tragedy.

Read an in-depth analysis of Harold “Mitch” Mitchell.

Eunice -  Stella’s friend, upstairs neighbor, and landlady. Eunice and her husband, Steve, represent the low-class, carnal life that Stella has chosen for herself. Like Stella, Eunice accepts her husband’s affections despite his physical abuse of her. At the end of the play, when Stella hesitates to stay with Stanley at Blanche’s expense, Eunice forbids Stella to question her decision and tells her she has no choice but to disbelieve Blanche.

Allan Grey -  The young man with poetic aspirations whom Blanche fell in love with and married as a teenager. One afternoon, she discovered Allan in bed with an older male friend. That evening at a ball, after she announced her disgust at his homosexuality, he ran outside and shot himself in the head. Allan’s death, which marked the end of Blanche’s sexual innocence, has haunted her ever since. Long dead by the time of the play’s action, Allan never appears onstage.

A Young Collector  - A teenager who comes to the Kowalskis’ door to collect for the newspaper when Blanche is home alone. The boy leaves bewildered after Blanche hits on him and gives him a passionate farewell kiss. He embodies Blanche’s obsession with youth and presumably reminds her of her teenage love, the young poet Allan Grey, whom she married and lost to suicide. Blanche’s flirtation with the newspaper collector also displays her unhealthy sexual preoccupation with teenage boys, which we learn of later in the play.

Shep Huntleigh -  A former suitor of Blanche’s whom she met again a year before her arrival in New Orleans while vacationing in Miami. Despite the fact that Shep is married, Blanche hopes he will provide the financial support for her and Stella to escape from Stanley. As Blanche’s mental stability deteriorates, her fantasy that Shep is coming to sweep her away becomes more and more real to her. Shep never appears onstage.

Steve -  Stanley’s poker buddy who lives upstairs with his wife, Eunice. Like Stanley, Steve is a brutish, hot-blooded, physically fit male and an abusive husband.

Pablo -  Stanley’s poker buddy. Like Stanley and Steve, Steve is physically fit and brutish. Pablo is Hispanic, and his friendship with Steve, Stanley, and Mitch emphasizes the culturally diverse nature of their neighborhood.

A Negro Woman -  In Scene One, the Negro woman is sitting on the steps talking to Eunice when Blanche arrives, and she finds Stanley’s openly sexual gestures toward Stella hilarious. Later, in Scene Ten, we see her scurrying across the stage in the night as she rifles through a prostitute’s lost handbag.

A Doctor -  At the play’s finale, the doctor arrives to whisk Blanche off to an asylum. He and the nurse initially seem to be heartless institutional caretakers, but, in the end, the doctor appears more kindly as he takes off his jacket and leads Blanche away. This image of the doctor ironically conforms to Blanche’s notions of the chivalric Southern gentleman who will offer her salvation.

A Mexican Woman -  A vendor of Mexican funeral decorations who frightens Blanche by issuing the plaintive call “Flores para los muertos,” which means “Flowers for the dead.”

A Nurse -  Also called the “Matron,” she accompanies the doctor to collect Blanche and bring her to an institution. She possesses a severe, unfeminine manner and has a talent for subduing hysterical patients.

Shaw -  A supply man who is Stanley’s coworker and his source for stories of Blanche’s disreputable past in Laurel, Mississippi. Shaw travels regularly through Laurel.

Prostitute -  Moments before Stanley rapes Blanche, the back wall of the Kowalskis’ apartment becomes transparent, and Blanche sees a prostitute in the street being pursued by a male drunkard. The prostitute’s situation evokes Blanche’s own predicament. After the prostitute and the drunkard pass, the Negro woman scurries by with the prostitute’s lost handbag in hand.

Stanley Kowalski

Character Analysis

Not going to lie—it's kind of hard to hate Stanley Kowalski when you envision him as uber-hunky Marlon Brando. That's like hating a character played by Marilyn Monroe—the sizzle factor is just too high. But try to forget everything you've seen and remember that although Stanley K. is magnetic, he's also a raging sleazebag.

Unlike Blanche, whose past we learn about to some extent, we really don't have much back-story on Stanley, so we're left to learn about him from his actions during the present instead of finding out how he's grown and changed over time. Quickly we gain a picture of him as aggressive, dominant, and very sexual.

He's a man of habit and structure, and his desires in life are quite simple: 1) he enjoys maintaining stereotypical gender roles in his home, with himself as the respected head of the household; 2) he likes spending time with his male friends; and 3) his sexual relationship with his wife is very important to him. For Stanley, Blanche's arrival overturns all three aspects of his structured life: she acts as a disruptive force in every way.

Stanley and Gender Roles

Let's start with the gender roles in the Kowalski household. Stanley sees himself as the provider and head of the household He sees Stella's role as a homemaker, who stays at home, cooks his meals, and generally takes care of him. As such, he also expects Stella to respect him.

We only get one window into the Kowalskis' relationship before Blanche shows up, so we have to assume that their first interaction in Scene One is a good example of their relationship. From Scene One, Stella and Stanley seem pretty happy with each other, and also content in their gender roles. You can see this when Stanley comes on stage, bellows, and hurls a pack of meat up to his wife (who is standing on the landing of their apartment). He's providing the day's dinner, and she laughs and his gruff antics, happy to make their meal and watch him go bowling with his friends.

Problems arise when Blanche shows up with her elitist notions and criticism of Stanley. Now instead of feeling like the "king" of the house, he worries that Stella's attitude toward him has changed. Stella starts ordering him around in Scene Eight and telling him to clean up the table after dinner and stop eating so messily. According to the structure of their usual relationship, Stella is trespassing into his territory—he's the dominant one; she shouldn't be ordering him around.

Not to mention, he feels that his wife is looking down on him. He states it quite clearly:

"Pig—Polak—disgusting—vulgar—greasy!—them kind of words have been on your [Stella's] tongue and your sister's too much around here! What do you two think you are? A pair of queens?" (8.14)

And when Stanley feels like he's being mistreated, he becomes aggressive, throwing things and breaking dishes.

This is obviously not a flexible guy who can handle having his routine changed, but you can still sort of get where he's coming from. Blanche doesn't respect him as the head of the house, and she's trying to turn his wife against him. She acts like a tyrant queen instead of a thankful guest with nowhere else to stay. She's a bit of a house guest from hell. She considers his home a dump, she criticizes him personally and calls him an ape, insinuates that he is completely uncultured, is racist and classist against him, acts like he doesn't love his wife, drinks a ton of his alcohol and lies about it, hogs the bathroom, and tries to get his wife to leave him repeatedly.

Stanley and His Friends

Another structured, routine aspect of Stanley's life is the time he spends with his male friends. He's used to having poker nights and going bowling with his buddies. But when Blanche shows up, she interferes with this aspect of his life as well. She tries to get his friends' attention while they're playing poker, and flirts with Mitch. She turns on her music when Stanley just wants to focus on his hand of cards. All of this drives him nuts until he tosses the radio out the window and hits his wife.

Stanley and His Romantic Relationship With Stella

Stanley sees his sexual relationship with his wife to be one of the most important aspects of their marriage. Although Stella and Stanley fight, their physical relationship is the way that they make up and forgive each other. Stella herself realizes that their sex life helps them smooth out their marriage; she says to Blanche:

"[...] there are things that happen between a man and a woman in the dark—that sort of make everything else seem—unimportant." (4.103)

So essentially, Stanley's way of showing his wife that he loves her tends to happen through knockin' boots.

Not surprisingly, since they have a two-room apartment (we're talking a kitchen and a bedroom), when Blanche shows up, Stanley and Stella's sex life suffers, and their mechanism for maintaining the peace in their relationship is disrupted. After fighting with Stella about Blanche, Stanley talks about how he wants their relationship to simply go back to normal:

STANLEY:
Stell, it's gonna be all right after she [Blanche] goes and after you've had the baby. It's gonna be all right again between you and me the way it was. You remember that way that it was? Them nights we had together? God, honey, it's gonna be sweet when we can make noise in the night the way that we used to and get the colored lights going with nobody's sister behind the curtains to hear us!
(8.55)

Basically, Stanley sees his marriage as suffering because with the sister-in-law in town, he can't relate to his wife the way he normally does.

Stanley and Sex

We know that sex is important to Stanley in his marriage, but even outside of his marriage, he basically relates to seemingly all women on a sexual level. Williams gives us some good descriptions of Stanley in his stage directions. For example:

Since earliest manhood the center of [Stanley's] life has been pleasure with women [...] He sizes women up at a glance, with sexual classifications, crude images flashing into his mind and determining the way he smiles at them. (1.205)

Stanley's strong sexuality is a parallel to Blanche's. Both have a hard time relating to the opposite sex in anything but a sexual way, even when it's inappropriate to do so. From the moment Blanche steps into his house, Stanley and Blanche have some serious sexual tension going on—he's taking off his shirt, she's flirting with him. It's all just bad news.

It's especially bad news when we realize that Stanley uses his sexuality and aggression to assert his dominance in his household, and Blanche seeks comfort when she's feeling bad through sexual interactions (think of her “depend[ing] on the kindness of [male] strangers” (11.123). As a result, we get an explosive situation in which Stanley ends up raping Blanche.

Stanley's Soft Side

Yes, indeed. Stanley has a softer side. The complete turn-around he pulls in Scene Three from a raging, abusive drunk to a tender, loving husband certainly leaves our heads spinning. “My baby doll’s left me!” he cries, and “breaks into sobs” (3.189). When he and Stella reunite at the bottom of the stairs, it’s a touching and incredibly tender moment. As Stella tells Blanche the next day:

“He was as good as a lamb when I came back, and he’s really very, very ashamed of himself.” (4.16)

This duality makes Stanley a tough nut to crack. We can't stand him for hitting his wife, then we feel bad for him when Blanche treats him like an ape, and then we hate him when he rapes Blanche.

What’s so interesting is the opposite way these characteristics are interpreted by the two sisters. Blanche makes her opinion pretty clear in a long passage in Scene Four which we distill here for you:

BLANCHE
He acts like an animal, has an animal’s habits! […] There’s even something — sub-human — something not quite to the stage of humanity yet! Yes, something — ape-like about him […] Bearing the raw meat home from the kill in the jungle! […] Maybe he’ll strike you or maybe grunt and kiss you! (4.118)

Wow, Blanche isn't shy about telling us what she thinks. Stella, on the other hand, finds him to be, well, kind of hot. Or, as she says of his violent foreplay, "I was—sort of—thrilled by it” (4.22).

Stanley the American

Adding to this already messy situation is the social commentary Williams makes through his antagonist. Many critics have pointed out that Stanley is part of a new America, one comprised of immigrants of all races with equal opportunity for all. Blanche, however, is clinging to a dying social system of “aristocrats” and “working class” that is no longer applicable in the 1940s.

Modern readers especially tend to side with the more liberal idea that merit—and not ancestry—makes us who we are. Blanche loses points for being prejudiced, and Stanley garners some favor for being the classic “pulled up by his bootstraps” hard-working American.

Stanley Kowalski's Timeline
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