Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

From "Tarantula Arms"
to "Della Robbia Blue":
The Tennessee Williams
Tragicomic Transit Authority
John M. Roderick

Had William Shakespeare written A Streetcar Named Desire it would no doubt head his list of "problem plays." It exhibits a curious resistance to traditional interpretation and utterly defies any insistence upon didactic statement. Reflecting a basic duality or ambiguity which renders comfortable critical statements obsolete, Streetcar is often labeled Tennessee Williams 's flawed masterpiece. An appraisal of the play in the tragicomic terms Williams has set before us, therefore, is long overdue. Williams has not written a flawed tragedy in which our final judgments of hero and heroine are clouded. Rather, through intricate structural control, he has approached brilliant tragicomedy. To commit ourselves solidly to a tragic interpretation would be to do Williams a serious disservice and to deny him that element central to the creative arts—control.

With the tragic implications of so many events in Streetcar, one is tempted simply to label the play a tragedy, if an imperfect one. What rises again and again, however, to contradict such a position is a comic spirit that continuously puts the audience off balance. Rather than viewing these comic elements as imperfections in a purely tragic mode, then, or the tragic events as weak melodramatic elements in a comic mode, our appraisal should encompass both modes and allow Williams his tragicomic stance with all of its irreconcilabilities. As Aristotle implies by mimesis,

____________________
From Tennessee Williams: A Tribute, edited by Jac Tharpe. © 1977 by the University Press of Mississippi.

-93-

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