Disorder is a recurring theme in Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” and plays a pivotal part in the play becoming a tragedy. This disorder is displayed throughout the play through many devices such as characterisation, setting, music and stage direction.
An undercurrent of disorder is evident from the very first scene. This is when the plays main protagonist, Blanche DuBois, describes her journey; “Take a streetcar named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and get off at-Elysian Fields!” This journey is a metaphor for Blanche’s life and especially her downfall, and the link from desire to death, or at least a psychological death, as we find out later in the play. We understand that, like the streetcar, Blanche rides desire, and this is a metaphor for her sexual activity in the wake of the suicide of her husband, Alan, which leads to her eventual psychological death. This psychological death is symbolised by “Cemeteries”. Finally, Elysian Fields symbolises the end of Blanche’s life journey. Elysian Fields, in Greek mythology, is a resting place for the dead. This sort of metaphorical prolepsis so early in the play allows the audience an early insight into Blanche’s exit from reality and the possible disorder yet to come in the play.
Throughout the play we are shown the conflict between the play’s main antagonist, Stanley, and protagonist, Blanche. In this case, Blanche’s very arrival creates disorder as Stanley and Blanche are polar opposites in almost every aspect. Stanley represents the new American idealism of hard work and reward whereas Blanche represents the Old Money Southern ideals. As a fading Southern Belle she contrasts with Stanley’s blunt, colloquialistic language which displays a primeval instinct. The way in which he talks to Stella in the first scene displays his alpha male role: “Stella! Meat!”
In order for Blanche to fulfil her potential of being a tragic character and the play to become a tragedy, Williams has used Stanley to feed upon her tragic flaws in order to lead her to her downfall. He uses Stanley’s patriarchal nature in order to dominate Blanche’s weakness and, despite Blanche’s better education, the audience is shown through their early squabble over the Napoleonic Code that this is a conflict that Stanley will win through his dominance.
By scene 5 Blanche’s and Stanley’s conflict has become more evident as the scene has a threatening undertone. Williams notes that Blanche’s voice, when answering Stanley’s questions about her past, contains a “note of fear”. This shows that Blanche is scared of exposing the secrets of her past to Stanley, as she sees him as a character that could easily prey on her shortcomings and, as she is already losing her battle with Stanley, this could lead to her losing complete control in their conflict.
We see quite clearly that she is right by scene 11. This scene is a downbeat coda to the melodramatic scene of her rape. She has been sent completely mad after being raped by Stanley and is confined to herself. We are able to see this through her panicking and anxiety. She claims in scene 11 that the Kowalski household “is a trap”. Her hysterical vivacity shares links with her clash with Stanley and the events carrying disorder that have taken place during her stay. Notably, she also no longer conflicts with Stanley’s character in this scene as she has completely succumbed to his brutality. She has lost her battle and her tragic flaws have led to her eventual downfall of a living death.
A dramatic device which reoccurs throughout the play is Blanche’s...