full title · A Streetcar Named Desire
author · Tennessee Williams
type of work · Play
genre · Tragedy
language · English
time and place written · Late 1940s, New Orleans
date of first publication · 1947
publisher · New Directions
tone · Ironic and sympathetic realism
setting (time) · 1940s
setting (place) · New Orleans, Louisiana
protagonist · Blanche DuBois
major conflict · Blanche DuBois, an aging Southern debutante, arrives at her sister’s home in New Orleans hoping to start a new life after losing her ancestral mansion, her job, and her reputation in her hometown of Laurel, Mississippi. Blanche’s brother-in-law, a macho working-class guy named Stanley Kowalski, is so filled with class resentment that he seeks to destroy Blanche’s character in New Orleans as well. His cruelty, combined with Blanche’s fragile, insecure personality, leaves her mentally detached from reality by the play’s end.
rising action · Blanche immediately rouses the suspicion of Stanley, who (wrongly) suspects Blanche of swindling Stella out of her inheritance. Blanche grows to despise Stanley when she sees him drunkenly beat her pregnant sister. Stanley permanently despises Blanche after he overhears her trying to convince Stella to leave Stanley because he is common. Already suspicious of Blanche’s act of superiority, Stanley researches Blanche’s past. He discovers that in Laurel Blanche was known for her sexual promiscuity and for having an affair with a teenage student. He reports his findings to Blanche’s suitor, Mitch, dissuading Mitch from marrying Blanche.
climax · After Stanley treats Blanche cruelly during her birthday dinner, giving her a bus ticket back to Laurel as a present, Stella goes into labor. She and Stanley depart for the hospital, leaving Blanche alone in the house. Mitch arrives, drunk, and breaks off his relationship with Blanche. Blanche, alone in the apartment once more, drowns herself in alcohol and dreams of an impossible rescue. Stanley returns to the apartment from the hospital and rapes Blanche.
falling action · Weeks after the rape, Stella secretly prepares for Blanche’s departure to an insane asylum. She tells her neighbor Eunice that she simply couldn’t believe Blanche’s accusation that Stanley raped her. Unaware of reality, Blanche boasts that she is leaving to join a millionaire suitor. When the doctor arrives, Blanche leaves after a minor struggle, and only Stella and Mitch, who sits in the kitchen with Stanley’s poker players, seem to express real remorse for her.
themes · Fantasy’s inability to overcome reality; the relationship between sex and death; dependence on men
motifs · Light; bathing; drunkenness
symbols · Shadows and cries; the Varsouviana polka; “It’s Only a Paper Moon”; meat
foreshadowing · In Scene Ten, Williams takes a brief detour away from events in the Kowalski household to show a street scene involving a prostitute, her male admirer, and a Negro woman. The man follows the prostitute solicitously, there is a struggle offstage, and then the Negro woman runs away with the prostitute’s handbag. This scene foreshadows Stanley’s rape of Blanche, which occurs offstage at the scene’s end. Stanley’s raiding of Blanche’s trunk in Scene Two also foreshadows the rape.