Friday, June 28, 2013

Book Review: Streetcar Named Desire

On my trip home, I finished Tennesee Williams' " A Street Car Named Desire".
Written in the late 1940's, the play is a tribute to the complexities of relationships , both intimate and with extended families. Along those lines, it focuses on abusive relationships and male dominance. On the surface, these are not unique topics to cover, but what had me thinking was Williams' intention in writing the play. 

One scene in particular includes a confrontation between the main character, Blanche Dubois, and her brute brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalsky. After confessing to selling her father's property, Blanche is made to turn over the deeds and records to the house. Her brother in law apparently did not buy her story and threw a rampage until Blanche turned over the documents. Her sister, Stanley's wife, sat timidly by as her husband harrassed Blanche. Before this time, no one had questioned Blanche's sincerity or her decisions, until the brother in law demanded evidence. And Blanche relented, as she watched Stanley forcefully go through her belongings although it was their first meeting. 

Their relationship was to suffer after this scene. Blanche was fed up with Stanley's bravado and bullying. She sat by as he physically abused her sister in two scenes. Unlike her sister though, Blanche was not silent. She tried unsuccessfully to expose Stanley's abuse,  but the sister was in denial. The play ends with Stanley finally raping Blanche and getting away with it. Even though she came forward, Blanche's revelation was met with skepticism. Stanley got away with the abuse and the rape. 

Several thoughts ran through my mind when I finally put the book down. The first was whether Williams was trying to expose violence against women or if he was just focusing on what was deemed normal behavior at the time. A few book critics have suggested the play may have been a tribute to his mentally ill sister. What I appreciated about the play though was its focus on financial abuse. Aside from that one scene where Stanley was rummaging through Blanche's belongings looking for documents, there were several mentions of him using money or verbal abuse to manipulate women's spending habits. 

Whatever his motive, I personally walked away appreciating the exposure. Whether it was received with the alarm it should have is not clear. Yes, his play has been a huge success but I don't ever remember it being used to discuss domestic violence in high school or in any setting where the topic is addressed. Maybe an introduction to that issue is warranted. 

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