To what extent is Stanley the villain of A Streetcar Named Desire?

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Grace Turner                                                                                     Friday 25th November

‘To what extent is Stanley the villain of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire?’

Within literature a villain is traditionally malicious in character and inflicts pain both emotionally and physically; someone who becomes an obstacle the protagonist must struggle to overcome and who takes pleasure in bringing about their demise. ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ is the famous story of Blanche du Bois and Stanley Kowalski’s passionate power struggle;  written by Tennessee Williams in 1947, the Play is set in New Orleans, Louisiana in the late 1940s.

To judge what extent Stanley is a villain it is necessary to first assess which criteria of a typical villain he fits. Throughout the play Stanley proves that he inflicts emotional pain on Blanche, and by not letting her forget her past and by destroying any possibility of love in her life Stanley becomes an obstacle she must attempt to overcome. It is Stanley who brings about the protagonists demise. However, although it appears that Stanley is vindictive and only bringing Blanche down for his own personal gain, one could argue that he is doing it for his relationship with Stella as Stanley would like things to return to the way they were before Blanche arrived. Stanley talks about how he wants their relationship to simply go back to normal: “Stell, it's gonna be all right after she [Blanche] goes…”

Stanley first shows signs of villainy in scene three, through his need to be dominant which foreshadows the conflict between him and Blanche which, later, leads to the rape. At the start of the scene, he tries to assert his authority by telling Stella and Blanche to “cut out that conversation in there!” Throughout the scene, when he feels that he is losing control and authority, he loses his temper; one trait of a traditional villain, in the form of striking Stella after she yells at him – “Drunk – drunk – animal thing, you!” It is clear to the audience that Stanley would have liked to hit Blanche instead. The fact Williams stages the scene so that the ‘strike’ was off stage shows that this violence would have been just as shocking at the time the play was written as it would be to a modern-day audience. This scene establishes Stanley as a villain and an obstacle to Blanche’s progress early on.

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It is possible, however, to argue that Stanley is not a traditional villain; in the opening scene, it is Stanley who is the civil character, not Blanche. He seems friendly and even welcoming; “Well, take it easy.”  The audience feels sympathy for Stanley who has just had his wife’s sister arrive, clearly out of the blue, as he says; “didn’t know you [Blanche] were coming in to town.” We can relate to Stanley more than to Blanche in this scene, because Blanche is invading his home and although this comment is reserved, it is undeniably civil. The fact Blanche ...

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