Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

The Tragic Downfall
of Blanche DuBois
Leonard Berkman

Though the extent to which A Streetcar Named Desire exemplifies traditional tragedy may command increasing attention as this paper progresses, a demonstration of that idea is not the central aim at hand. It is, rather, one fragment of the question of tragic stature that most concerns us here: the terms according to which "victory" may be considered within the heroine's grasp, the course of her struggle toward victory, and the pivotal moment in which the struggle turns to defeat.

Especially after the late 1940s it became commonplace for critics to talk of the ubiquitous "common man" of modern American drama, one who is already defeated at the outset of the play's action, who struggles at best passionately but always futilely, and who is always too low in mankind's moral (if not occupational) hierarchy to manage any semblance of downfall, let alone a downfall with tragic impact. Whereas Arthur Miller tried doggedly to develop a sense of tragedy within such dismal boundaries, insisting upon the commonness of his protagonists while insisting too that "victory" remained nevertheless possible for them, Tennessee Williams turned feverishly toward opposite aims. Enlisting the array of forces—temporal and eternal, comprehensible and beyond human ken- against which the heroic struggle must be waged, A Streetcar Named Desire is an inspired refutation of the linking of modern American drama with the common man.

Despite what humorous irony exists in any view of Blanche DuBois as typical of the average United States citizen (particularly when that view

____________________
From Modern Drama 10, no. 3 (December 1967). © 1967 by A. C. Edwards.

-33-

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