A Villain Named Stanley
Beyond the timeless French influence, Cajun and Creole food, jazz music, and annual debauchery of Mardi Gras, New Orleans is also famous for its literary history. Tennessee Williams encapsulates the cosmopolitan atmosphere of this melting pot in his play, A Streetcar Named Desire. In the drama, seemingly aristocratic and emotionally fragile Southern belle, Blanche Dubois, clashes with the culture of the city. Blanche goes to New Orleans to visit her sister, Stella Kowalski, but in doing so, she upsets the structure of the Kowalski household and agitates Stella’s husband, Stanley Kowalski. Prior to her arrival, Stanley enjoyed his blue-collar lifestyle and the role as the chauvinistic head of his home. He works hard and plays hard, taking great pleasure in gambling, bowling, and drinking. Stanley and his sister in law, Blanche, grew up in totally different worlds, so when they first meet they size each other up fairly accurately. Stanley dislikes Blanche’s superior and refined demeanor, as it makes him feel threatened and belittled. In contrast, Blanche is perturbed by Stanley’s brutish and impulsive behavior. Their values, goals, and expectations entirely vary from one another’s, and Stella only serves as a greater source of tension as they both vie for her love and attention, with Stanley ultimately gaining Stella’s affection in a sexually charged yet brutal way. Even though Stanley has some redeeming qualities and sympathetic characteristics, Tennessee William’s unveils him to be the villain of the story, as his violent nature makes him resort to both physical and verbal abuse, which catalyzes the deterioration of Blanche’s sanity.
In the opening scenes of the play, Stanley appears to be an easygoing guy, but as the play unfolds he proves to be ruthless and compulsive. Stanley and Blanche’s personalities begin clashing from the moment they meet. Initially, Blanche flirts with him in an attempt to win him over, but he rebuffs her overtures. The first instance of his brutality occurs within moments of meeting her. Upon learning that she has lost the ancestral family estate, Belle Reeve, he senselessly presumes that both he and his wife have been cheated. Outraged, he rips through Blanche’s luggage, throwing all her fancy clothes and accessories on the floor. Stanley incorrectly assumes that she used finances from the estate to purchase her extravagant possessions, when in actuality they are worthless pieces she collected over the years. As he disrespectfully ransacks through her belongings, he discovers some letters from a deceased love of Blanche. He was thoroughly invading her privacy, and enough was enough. “The touch of your hands insults them! Now that you’ve touched them I’ll burn them! What in the hell are they? Poems a dead boy wrote, I hurt him the way that you would like to hurt me” (42). Blanche senses the violence smoldering within Stanley. Nevertheless, his anger is often sparked by these such witty and condescending comments. In the following scene, Stanley and his buddies are in the middle of a poker game. Aggravated that he is losing, he sweeps watermelon rinds off the card table and onto the floor, as Blanche and Stella sit in the adjacent room waiting for the poker game to wind down. To lighten the mood, Blanche turns on the radio. Stanley feels as though he is being provoked, so he storms in to turn it off. Blanche blatantly goes against his wishes by turning it on yet again, only to escalate Stanley’s anger. Infuriated, Stanley “stalks fiercely through the portieres into the bedroom. He crosses to the small white radio and snatches it off the table. With a shouted oath, he tosses the instrument out the window” (57). With this immature display of force, Stanley solidifies his power over Blanche. He later reveals the details of his investigation of Blanches past. He uncovers the sordid details of her life in Laurel and shares the information with Stella and Mitch, who had...
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