Last week, we took a look at the two prominent societies that take stage in A Streetcar Named Desire and analysed the different themes they brought to light. However, when working with the concept of The Individual And Society, we also need to understand the individuals of the play and their interactions. In fact, as coined by a teacher of mine, this entire concept can be compressed into one bite-sized label: Relationships.
The study of Blanche.
“Her appearance is incongruent to this setting”
Definitely being the protagonist of our play, Blanche would need to be analysed in greater detail. In this case, however, we shall just look at the ways in which she suffers from conflicts. The most obvious of such is her confrontations with Stanley and her obvious displacement from New Orleans. But those aren’t the only relationships that are put under duress. We also see her failed romance with Mitch and the betrayal she faces from her own sister. With so many relationships being destroyed or are itself destructive to her, it is no wonder we see Blanche as the individual who struggles to fit into a society that is completely different from her.
“I don’t know know if I did the right thing.”
Many can’t agree on Stella’s moral standing in the play. Indeed her silence arguably makes her an accomplice to Stanley’s crime. Yet, the way in which Williams ends the play, with Stella standing on the porch of her house with a baby in her hand, also highlights Stella’s conflicting duties, and desires. While many might display disgust at how she turns her back on her own flesh and blood, we need to be reminded that she too has another family to look out for. These clashing duties then presents Stella as an individual struggling between the expectations that Blanche has of her, and the loyalty she has towards Stanley which is also key to her survival in New Orleans.
“Since when do you give me orders?”
Probably the only character in the play to emerge victorious, Stanley doesn’t go without his fair share of conflicts and confrontations. Portrayed as the Alpha male of the family, the audience is introduced to the power he holds upon his first appearance on the stage itself. His famous move, “meat” puts him at the top of the hierarchy. Yet something needs to be said about Blanche’s entry into his world and competing for Stella’s attentions. Although he is by no means marginalised or discriminated, Staley too is shown to face the threat of changing dynamics in his own household.
The odd Mitch out.
“Hold this bone-headed crybaby.”
Regarded mistakenly as a minor character, many might dismiss Mitch as a viable candidate to be defined as our individual in the play. Yet that is certainly not true. Within the first few scenes of the play, we can see that our society, New Orleans is very much a patriarchal world that values physical dominance and assertion. Yet, Mitch displays none of this (further analysis of his rape will be done later) In fact, he is called out by Blanche as being not like the others, and his association with her, an apparent outsider thus makes him an individual attempting to reach out of his society. However, we know by the ending of the play that he eventually conforms in order to survive himself.
With a better understanding of the various conflicts that each character faces with the environment and their peers, we are now able to look closer into what these conflicts drive and what Williams portrays is the result of individualism and values that do not confront society’s norms.