Rediscovered Classics: 'A Streetcar Named Desire' by Tennessee Williams

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“Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” ~ Blanche Dubois

My favourite quote from one of my favourite characters in modern theatre. It encapsulates the very essence of being alone in a fast-paced world. And God, haven’t we all known how that feels at least once in our lives?

For those of you who have not had the opportunity to read this script or watch its production on the stage, Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire follows the story of a former Southern Belle, Blanche Dubois. This former slave-owner attempts to claw her way out of a past dominated by lonely misjudgement and heartache by constructing a multifaceted facade of prosperity and fortune to fool a suitor in America’s New industrial South.

As I didn’t watch a production of Streetcar until after I’d read the published text, it was up to my imagination to join the dots of Tennessee Williams’ meticulously described characters. Which brings me onto the first element that makes Streetcar so rare for a text of its period: the level of interaction between the script and the reader. From physical description, to the nuances of the character’s every move, to the atmosphere a certain presence creates in a particular moment: each page is saturated with the aura of its characters. While this is purposefully crafted for the benefit of the director, modern-day readers can indulge in a script whose stage directions turn its storyline into a meaty, prose-like plot.

There’s more that sets this play apart from others of its kind. Its self-conscious theatricality, its attention to the politics of 1940s America, among other things. But the jewel in the crown of Tennessee Williams’s chef-d’oeuvre is by far its tragic heroine: Blanche Dubois.

When it came to analysing the script’s characters in A-Level English, I was convinced that a twenty-first century class of educated boys would share my disdain for the gang-like offensive against Blanche by her male peers. This was not the case. To my surprise, they could not see the misogyny (a label, like racism and prejudice, that must not be used lightly) to which Blanche is subjected. They could not see the hypocrisy of men who cheat on and beat their wives pointing the finger at a woman with a promiscuous past. And Stanley’s raping of Blanche did little more than make them squirm in their seats, as they insisted, on some level, that the perpetrator evokes a sense of awe from the reader thanks to his alpha-male prowess.

Of course, you may read Streetcar and find you agree with my former classmates. You would be very much entitled to do so. Alternatively, you may join my view: that the castigation of Blanche for wanting to start a fresh, to give herself another chance in life as so many of us have and will continue to do in our society filled with pitfalls, is nothing more than an expression of the institutionalised disrespect for women in Blanche’s society.

In an era of #MeToo, Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire raises questions about today’s world that frankly need answering. Who decides that a woman is too liberal with her body? The grid girl saga, 2018. Why are we inclined to glorify male sexual predators? Muggy Mike, 2017. And when will we begin to educate our boys that respect is the most attractive trait a spouse can ask for? To be decided.

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