Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

Realism and Theatricalism
in A Streetcar Named Desire
Mary Ann Corrigan

On the morning after the premiere of A Streetcar Named Desire in 1947, Joseph Wood Krutch commented: "This may be the great American play." From the perspective of more than a quarter of a century later, A Streetcar Named Desire appears to be one of the great American plays. Its greatness lies in Tennessee Williams's matching of form to content. In order to gain sympathy for a character who is in the process of an emotional breakdown, Williams depicts the character from without and within; both the objectivity and the subjectivity of Blanche are present to the audience. In A Streetcar Named Desire, Williams synthesizes depth characterization, typical of drama that strives to be an illusion of reality, with symbolic theatrics, which imply an acceptance of the stage as artifice. In short, realism and theatricalism, often viewed as stage rivals, complement each other in this play. Throughout the 1940s Williams attempted to combine elements of theatricalist staging with verisimilitudinous plots and characters. His experiments either failed utterly, as in Battle of Angels in which neither literal nor symbolic action is convincing, or succeeded with modifications, for instance by the removal of the screen device in The Glass Menagerie. In A Streetcar Named Desire Williams is in control of his symbolic devices. They enable the audience not only to understand the emotional penumbra surrounding the events and characters, but also to view the world from the limited and distorted perspective of Blanche.The play's meaning is apparent only after Williams exposes through stage resources what transpires in the mind of Blanche.

____________________
From Modem Drama 19, no. 4 (December 1976). © 1976 by the University of Toronto, Graduate Centre for the Study of Drama.

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