“They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at Elysian Fields!”
Notice, Blanche was given these directions by “they”. This symbolises that she doesn’t want to accept responsibility for her own actions and steadily listens to others for directions or advice on how to live her life. A streetcar is similar to a tram as it runs in one direction only stopping to allow passengers to board. Unlike a car or a bus, it has a set destination and can not divert. When Blanche talks of her riding a streetcar named Desire, she has symbolically lived a life of sexual desire, picking up habits on the way for example her strong desire for alcohol. Blanche then transfers to a streetcar named Cemeteries which signify she is on the way to her death. She is then told to ride six blocks and get off at Elysian Fields. In the bible, the number six is often deemed as an unfortunate, evil number. This could also serve as a reflect for Blanche’s fate and actions. In Greek mythology Elysian fields is a beautiful resting place for the heroic. Not only is it ironic that Williams has chosen to name a run-down street in New Orleans this but mentally this is where Blanche’s journey ends when she is taken into an asylum for the mentally ill. Blanche’s life is a trail of loss and expulsion. She looses Belle Reve - the family home then, she becomes excluded from hometown - Laurel due to her promiscuous reputation. Hoping for a better life in New Orleans, Blanche makes a bigger loss there by loosing her sister to Stanley and finally becomes excluded on a larger social scale when she is taken into an asylum.
Williams use of Freudian male sex symbols not only illustrate the male supremacy in a Streetcar Named Desire but also illustrate his own sexual tensions. Williams was a homosexual and homosexuality was illegal during the greater part of his life. Bowling balls and pins as well as the Belle Reve plantation described as the “great big place with white columns” by Eunice, hint at phallic figures. Stanley’s enjoyment of bowling evidently sums up his character; manly, macho and masculine.
As Blanche and Stella finally meet, they spasmodically embrace one another. Tension develops between the sisters as Blanche constantly criticises Stella and Stanley’s home.
“I thought you’d never come back to this horrible place!”, “What are you doing in a place like this?”, “Why, that you had to live in these conditions”.
“Only, Poe! Mr Edgar Allan Poe - Could do it justice!”. This comment has a double connotation: it not only highlights Blanche’s knowledge as an English teacher suggesting her cultured, educated background but it also points toward how poorly and simple Stella and Stanley are living. Mr Edgar Allan Poe was a writer during the 19th century who attempted to make a living from his literary works alone consequently he struggled financially during the course of his life.
Blanche’s ignorance and arrogance intensifies the tension as we await her and Stanley’s encounter. Stanley - a working class Polish with a coarse, manly nature only creates conflict with Blanche - a young, dainty, ditsy aristocrat.
Although not lengthy, the audience learns a lot about Blanche’s and Stella’s relationship during scene one. Blanche is the typical “bossy big sister” and although Stella is an adult, Blanche still patronises her. Interestingly, during scene one Blanche refers to Stella as “a precious lamb” and “a cherub”. This is overtly symbolic in the way that Blanche still sees her younger sister: pure and innocent. Blanche’s choice of language used to describe her sister also contrasts with her own past and current lifestyle.
Blanche controls the conversation between her and Stella during scene one therefore, we do not learn a great deal about Stella’s character other than she is submissive toward Blanche (she turns the light off for Blanche and stands at her command). The audience soon learns that Blanche craves constant appraisal and compliments from people in regards to her looks this is a pathos as Blanche fears becoming old and loosing her looks. This may also be another reason why she dislikes and tries to avoids being seen in direct light.
Blanche’s derogatory comments and neurotic state build upon the current tension and make her and Stella’s conversation very uncomfortable. Blanche’s reference to Stanley as a “Polack” builds on the racial boundaries she established earlier on in the play.
When Blanche tells Stella she has brought clothes to see all her “lovely” friends in, Stella tells Blanche that they’re not “her” friends but, Stanley’s friends. This suggests Stanley controls Stella’s social activity and Stella is fully aware and accepts this confinement.
Lonely and longing for acceptance Blanche has “got to be with somebody”. She’s brought nice clothes to obviously impress Stella’s friends and is worried about whether Stanley will like her. These feelings and Blanche’s inability to deal with them contribute to Blanche’s depressing, sad fate.
Before Blanche tells Stella about the loss of Belle Reve - which explains her neurotic behaviour toward her sister - she cleverly uses emotive language to protect herself from her sisters anticipated reproach. Blanche’s histrionic personality outbursts are quickly interrupted by Stella as she mocking asks what Blanche had “fought and bled” for.
Blanche begins to attack Stella in regards to the loss of Belle Reve although Stella hasn’t yet reproached her . The metaphor: “I took the blows in my face and body” illustrate that Blanche not only suffered a lot of hardship at Belle Reve but it is also an echo of the memories that remain following her husbands death. Clearly, Blanche is distressed with Stella for not being there to witness the deaths and disdainfully proclaims Stella only came for the “pretty funerals”. Blanche’s speech about the loss of Belle Reve fluctuates with practicality. She talks of the deceases “last words” and then the financial aspects of death and finally, casually makes a joke about the “Grim Reaper putting tents on their doorstep”. Blanche’s seek for sympathy by telling Stella of her “pitiful salary” contrasts with the outward insult she then throws at Stella: “Where were you? In bed with your - Polack! Blanche’s constant fluctuation in speech and thought shadow the instability of her own life and actions. Also, the insult she throws at Stella insinuates the sexual jealousy she has toward her younger sister.
The audience learns from Blanche and Stella’s confrontation that these two sisters are opposite in emotional make-up: Blanche being very melodramatic and Stella being very down-to-earth and grounded. Unlike Blanche, Stella expresses her emotions openly when talking about her husband: “I can hardly stand it when he’s away for a night”. Blanche shies away from showing any direct emotion in regards to the deaths at Belle Reve when she is speaking to Stella. Excluding sentimental emotion when referring of death could have been a technique learned from a young age following her husbands death alternatively, it could simply indicates her self-centredness and absorption of her own self. Despite Blanche and Stella’s differences they have one thing in common which is there sexual desires towards men which develop further into the play.
Throughout Blanche’s blaming speech, Stella submissively listens but when Blanche attacks Stanley and Stella’s sexual relations she quickly fires back at Blanche with: “You be still! That’s enough!” Although simple, this admonishment illustrates the deep affection Stella has for the passion her and Stanley share. Stella soon begins to cry which clearly exhibits her vulnerability and sensitivity. Blanche’s tactless comment emphasises how self-absorbed she really is by the portrayal of how unaware she is of her own sister’s feelings.
As Stanley is on his way home, tension. Stanley’s hoarse nature paralleled with his contentment with coarse jokes and beers contrast with Blanche’s noble nature. The audience eagerly awaits to learn what their encounter will entail.
Before Stanley and Blanche meet, Williams allows readers to build a visual image of Stanley. He is described as the “gaudy seed -bearer” which accentuates his masculinity. Stanley likes control and takes pride in everything he owns which explains the friction between him and Blanche. Stanley can not control and manipulate Blanche as he does Stella which as she doesn’t belong to him. Paired with his animalistic nature this could explain why Stanley rapes Blanche later on in the play.
Blanche and Stanley’s encounter can also be viewed as a clash between their two distinctive worlds. Whilst Stanley is open about his like for alcohol, Blanche clearly tries to conceal hers by telling Stanley she “rarely touches it.” Nonetheless, Stanley is aware that Blanche has had a “shot” of the alcohol. Blanche’s lies and dislike of reality contrasts with Stanley’s directness and confidence.
Stanley’s removal of his t-shirt focuses on his masculinity and Blanche’s realisation that she is without make-up focuses on her femininity. These accentuations of identity contrast and creates a further tension between Blanche and Stanley.
Although Blanche believes Stanley to be a working class civilian and not of the same class as her, he quickly and openly summaries Blanche as the “unrefined type.” Unintentionally, Stanley gets an insight into Blanche’s sad past which he soon uses to manipulate her. When Blanche is asked about her husband’s death she says: “The boy - the boy died”. The repetition in her sentence illustrate the difficulty in openly speaking of her husband’s death. Stanley and Blanche’s encounter can be seen as a clash between two classes and personalities: Stanley’s animalistic, hoarse, working-class nature startles and clashes with Blanche’s gentle, sensitive, gracious nature. Stanley’s brutal questions and answers almost destroy Blanche as she finally comments: “ I’m afraid I’m - going to be sick!” The encounter of the world of Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski in scene one is just a prelude to the intensified conflicts and tensions they later deal with.
Consequently, I believe there are various aspects of tension in the opening scene of A Streetcar Named Desire. Cleverly, Williams initially introduces these tensions as they contribute to the main themes of the play. The sexual tensions, social class division and clashes of personality are all factors in how people are treated during the course of the play. The sexual tensions and passions between Stella and Stanley soon cloud Stella’s judgement of what Stanley is really like. The social class divisions Blanche creates also builds an arrogant and ignorant air about her to the extent that Stanley intends to mentally ruin Blanche. The imbalance of each character’s personalities and traits finally lead to their fate. Stella’s disbelief of Blanche due to her passionate love for Stanley leads to the loss of her sister to a mental hospital. Blanche’s previous immoral reputation mixed with her own insecurities finally have placed into a mental asylum and therefore expelled from society . Lastly, Stanley a working-class Polish immigrant has nothing to loose from the start of the play and throughout the course of the play Stanley’s indeed looses nothing. Instead, he gains self-confidence and self-reassurance and a child through expressing his male dominancy, sexually, with both Stella and Blanche.