Is the play “A Streetcar Named Desire” a tragedy for Blanche or Stella?
Aristotle stated “the structure of the best tragedy should…be… complex” representing” incidents arousing pity and fear “. It’s understood that the focus of tragedy is human suffering and a tragedy must be accessible to audiences, creating a shared catharsis. Although Aristotle refers to classical tragedies, a domestic tragedy like “A Streetcar Named Desire” ensures a greater understanding as it is realistic. Blanche, as the protagonist, endures more suffering than Stella, following Aristotle’s theory that a tragic hero should evoke pity and fear. This should reveal harmatia that they do not initially realise, which coupled with their sense of hubris leads to their downfall and peripetia. However, Blanche in the end falls into a dreamlike state meaning she doesn’t realise her flaw. Clearly, it’s Stella who experiences the fate of a tragic heroine because she realises her actions, experiencing anagnorisis, and although she is surrounded by people, she is, essentially, more alone than Blanche. “Streetcar” opened in 1947 causing a storm of controversy. George Jean Nathan, who condemned the play’s “unpleasant “nature- “The Glands Menagerie”- was unsure how to interpret Blanche, whose deteriorating mentality challenges whether her demise was truly tragic, questioning if Williams created the “objective correlative” needed for a tragedy. Characteristics of Williams’ mother, believing she was aristocratic, and his sister’s schizophrenia, are evident in Blanche’s behavioural breakdown, suggesting the play explored William’s emotions and family. One interpretation explores Blanche’s “psychological struggle to negotiate nostalgia with reality” leading her to depend on Stella, believing she could help her escape a condemned reputation. In the beginning, Blanche has already fallen through society due to the loss of Belle Reve, her husband’s suicide, her poorly disguised drinking problem and her indiscreet sexual behaviour making her a social vagabond; however this context only exacerbates Stella’s betrayal. “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers...Blanche walks on without turning” - This creates a sense of isolation as Blanche is rejected by everyone except strangers, illustrated through her lack of hesitation, calm tone and use of intensifiers like “always” exaggerate the irony that this reliance causes her decline. This indicates her detachment from an unsympathetic reality, where she is an outcast, to a life she wished to have people believe, illustrated by her “daintily dressed” appearance, suggesting her purity. However, Blanche’s inability to be “consistently sympathetic” lead critics to question her tragic qualities. Characters are consistently subjected to Blanche’s manipulation as she attempts to build her new persona. Whereas Blanche’s relationships are built upon lies, elaborating her desire to be the innocent Southern girl, Stella remains realistic. Although both ladies have fallen from the affluent childhood of Belle Reve, Stella adapts to New Orleans, presenting her as a stronger character than Blanche. Like Williams’ mother, Stella is subject to an abusive relationship, illustrated when Stanley strikes Stella – “Drunk – drunk –animal thing you!” evoking pity through the unjustified abuse, as Stella seems consistently innocent. Modern audiences, aware of female discrimination and Stella’s pregnancy, would be disgusted. Stella reflects Williams himself, caught between two contrasting archetypes of humanity, his parents, illuminated in Blanche and Stanley, who both deceive Stella. It is a display of Darwinism, predicting “the aristocratic Old South will fall victim to the rise of the proletariat” (Jacob H.Adler). This explains why Stella needed to choose Stanley, as he provided financial security, considering her pregnancy, especially significant as Stella gave birth to a boy, “When… they say, “You’ve got a son!”” reinforcing...
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