Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

Truth and Dramatic Mode
in A Streetcar Named Desire
Alvin B. Kernan

Both Chekhov and Pirandello created plays written in a mixture of modes which bring the individual and his suffering into relief, but they do so only by ignoring any power which transcends man and forces him to certain decisions. Some qualification of this statement is required to adjust it to Chekhov, but by and large both the dramatists discussed show humanity in a purely human setting. Man can understand himself by understanding others. Tennessee Williams recognizes this as a possibility, but he cannot, as Pirandello and Chekhov do, simply deny the validity of the realistic perspective. His plays are unresolved battles between Pirandello's stage manager and the characters, and his heroes are usually, though not always, mixtures of Dorn and Trepleff.In each of his plays, Williams poises the human need for belief in human value and dignity against a brutal, naturalistic reality; similarly, symbolism is poised against realism. But where the earlier playwrights were able to concentrate on human values, Williams has been unable to do so because of his conviction that there is a "real" world outside and inside each of us which is actively hostile to any belief in the goodness of man and the validity of moral values. His realism gives expression to this aspect of the world, and A Streetcar Named Desire is his clearest treatment of the human dilemma which entails the dramatic dilemma. We are presented in Streetcar with two polar ways of looking at experience: the realistic view of Stanley Kowalski and the "non-realistic" view of his sister-in-law, Blanche DuBois. Williams brings the two views into conflict immediately.

____________________
From Modern Drama 1, no. 2 (September 1958). © 1958 by the University of Toronto, Graduate Centre for the Study of Drama.

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