Ever since I first read Tennessee Williams in high school I’ve had great respect for him, which has grown even greater after learning about all of the personal hardships he endured. He had a troubled life, which might be why he was able to write such profoundly tragic stories. In high school I read A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie; I also watched The Rose Tattoo and saw school productions of Streetcar and Menagerie. Everything of Williams I’ve read and seen has left a lasting impression upon me.
His works seem similar to each other, dealing with recurring themes and scenarios. Blanche, the mother in Menagerie, and the main character in Tattoo (whose name I cannot recall because I watched the movie several years ago) seem like the same type of character. It has been speculated that they were based on the author’s family members, particularly his mother and sister who had mental problems. Williams also inserts himself and his alcoholic father into his stories. Perhaps he wrote as a way to sort out his trauma.
His work is on the realistic and tragic side, yet with a sense of humor and surrealism that keeps it from being overly cynical, modernistic, and depressing like Hemingway, Faulkner, and Eliot, who dwell upon the depravity of humanity and the meaninglessness of life. Williams has enough of a sense of humor to take the depressing edge off his work…and the humor, in my opinion, makes his stories more realistic, since funny events happen every day even in the midst of quarrels and drama. This also makes his plays more palatable and entertaining than the aforementioned authors.
Rereading Streetcar a few years after reading it the first time gave me an odd, almost surreal feeling. The text hasn’t changed, but I suppose I have, because I felt as if I read an entirely different play. The first time I thought Blanche was nuts and rather annoying, which is true to an extent, and I could not understand her behavior at all. She really irritated me, and it was very apparent to me that she provoked Stanley and caused problems for everyone with her overly dramatic antics. When Stanley raped her I didn’t understand why, though the scene disturbed me; I thought he was simply an abusive jerk and that was that.
This time I see all of that is still true, yet I understand the themes and characters at a deeper level than I could before. This time I felt sorry for Blanche and identified with her loneliness; I saw that she isn’t simply mentally ill and annoying, but troubled and driven by pain. She wants to escape reality and create a life that’s more ideal and fantastical than her drab surroundings and the hardships she dealt with.
Blanche is indeed flawed, but this time I perceived her as a victim; I understood that Stanley raped her as a symbolic act of power and dominance. He is an emotionally dense guy who disrespects women and can only relate to them in one way. Rape is the ultimate act of disrespect.
As for the other characters, I hardly remembered them, though I recall strongly disliking Stella the first time and thinking she was stupid. This time my opinion about her didn’t change; actually, I dislike her more now because the first time I thought she truly didn’t believe Blanche about the rape. This time I gave her a bit more credit and figured she isn’t completely dumb; she knows how her husband behaves, and believing that he is a rapist wouldn’t be too difficult considering his physical abuse and disrespect toward women.
In her heart, I believe Stella knew that Blanche told the truth, which makes what she did all the more deplorable. In fact, I dislike Stella almost as much…or maybe just as much…or maybe even slightly more than Stanley. And I wasn’t too impressed with Mitch’s hypocrisy either.
One aspect of Streetcar I appreciate is the realistic and interesting dialogue. The sentences are short, like how they usually are in real conversations, which gives the play a quick pace. Most of the dialogue is actually quite mundane, such as, “Honey, do me a favor. Run to the drugstore and get me a lemon Coke with plenty of chipped ice in it! Will you do that for me, sweetie?” This quote seems commonplace and theoretically boring; since Streetcar is composed of sentences like this, one might think the play ought to be boring, yet it’s not. On the contrary, the realistic dialogue makes the characters relatable and therefore interesting.
There is also an underlying sense that all of the characters are concealing their innermost thoughts and emotions. In real life, people are rarely direct about saying what troubles them. People tend to avoid tough conversations and prefer superficial banter.
Williams skillfully portrays that in Streetcar. The important conversations regarding Blanche’s past, Stella’s marital problems, and Stanley’s abuse intermittently occur between lots of talk about fluff, mostly from Blanche. The mundane conversations ironically drive the story forward and kept me interested as I tried to guess the characters’ true motives and waited for the next juicy bit of gradually revealed gossip. Williams certainly had a talent for dialogue, realism, and creating characters that readers and viewers can sympathize with.