The play, A Streetcar Named Desire
by Tennessee Williams is a study in contract between two of the main characters, Blanche Dubois and her brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski. Blanche is an aging southern belle, she is slightly melodramatic and has built this allusion about her self, in which she is still a wealthy, lovely socialite. In reality, Blanche is a closet alcoholic who has little money or real dignity left. She paints a picture of herself as a frail, tragic figure and requires her pregnant sister, Stella to dote on her. Stella’s husband is a no-nonsense, Polish blue-collar worker. Stanley sees through Blanche’s charade, has no respect for her and does not trust her. Blanche believes Stanley is crass and beneath both her and her sister.
As the play progresses, Blanche and Stanley engage in more confrontations. Stanley suspects there is more to Blanche’s story of how she lost the family’s ancestral home and is determined to find the truth. The contrast between the two characters becomes more apparent through the symbolism of light and color. Blanche prefers candlelight and pastel colors, while Stanley is seen is garish colors and bathed in harsh light. In one scene, Blanche purchases a paper lantern with which to cover a bare bulb. This is symbolic of her desire to temper Stanley and have the softer gentler world she needs.
As Stanley learns of Blanche’s less than honorable reputation, he becomes increasingly angered at her act of innocence one moment and flirting the next. The climax of the play comes when Stanley rapes Blanche while Stella is in the hospital after having the baby. This drives Blanche, who may have already been mentally unbalanced, over the edge especially when Stella refuses to believe her accusations.
While the play is a contrast of the two characters, the underlying theme is a struggle between the fantasy Blanche wishes to believe in and the reality Stanley lives in. There is also a struggle over control of Stella. Blanche wants Stella to move into the castle in the sky she has built. She believes Stella has a duty to her family’s status to live a life better than the one she has chosen. Stanley wants Stella to remain devoted to him and be a dutiful wife. I believe Blanche’s breakdown is not really a result of the rape but of her final realization that Stella has chosen Stanley over her.