Study Guide

A Streetcar Named Desire Men and Masculinity

By Tennessee Williams

Men and Masculinity

Stanley carries his bowling jacket and a red-stained package from a butcher’s. (Scene One, Stage Directions)

Look at how Williams uses props to emphasize Stanley’s "primitive" masculinity.

BLANCHE
Well, I never cared for wishy-washy people. That was why, when you walked in here last night, I said to myself — "My sister has a married man!"— Of course that was all that I could tell about you. (2.114)

Blanche may be deluded, but she’s not dumb. She understands that Stanley prides himself on his masculinity, so this is the angle she works when trying to get into his good graces.

STANLEY
[booming] Now let’s cut the re-bop!
BLANCHE
[pressing hands to her ears]
Ouuuuu! (2.115-6)

Stanley’s masculinity is often expressed through loud noises, whether it be "bellowing" or "booming" or smashing things around. This takes a toll on the delicate Blanche.

STANLEY
You see, under the Napoleonic code – a man has to take an interest in his wife’s affairs – especially now that she’s going to have a baby.
[Blanche opens her eyes. The "blue piano" sounds louder.]
BLANCHE
Stella? Stella going to have a baby? I didn’t know she was going to have a baby! (2.151-2)

Stanley says this deliberately in order to hurt Blanche. He’s just been a bit humiliated since Blanche proved her story about Belle Reve with the financial papers, so this is his way of asserting his dominance once more.

Stanley, Steve, Mitch, and Pablo wear colored shirts, solid blues, a purple, a red-and-white-check, a light green, and they are men at the peak of their physical manhood, as coarse and direct and powerful as the primary colors. There are vivid slices of watermelon on the table, whiskey bottles and glasses. (Scene Three, Stage Directions)

Williams uses physical props – or, in this case, clothing – to make his point about Stanley’s masculinity. These vivid, virile colors contrast with Blanche’s white, moth-like clothing. (And, of course, her name itself, which means "white.")

MITCH
I’m out again. I oughta go home pretty soon.
STANLEY
Shut up.
MITCH
I gotta sick mother. She don’t go to sleep until I come in at night. (3.15-7)

Mitch deviates from the classic masculinity which Stanley so fiercely embodies. Blanche finds this attractive in Mitch, which means her ideal man is a Southern gentleman, not a man like Stanley.

STELLA
It’s a drive that he has. (3.76)

Stella’s admiration of Stanley’s vitality and virility is evident from the start. Is she correct, though, in thinking that this "drive" will get him places?

STELLA
Drunk – drunk – animal thing, you!
[…]
[Stanley charges after Stella.]
STELLA
You lay your hands on me and I’ll –
[She backs out of sight. He advances and disappears. There is the sound of a blow. Stella cries out.] (3.165-8)

Violence is the unfortunate accompaniment to the assertive virility that Stella finds so attractive. Because the two are so closely tied together, Stella can’t distinguish between them, and finds even his aggressive streak to be attractive.

STELLA
He was as good as a lamb when I came back and he’s really very, very ashamed of himself. (4.16)

Stanley’s dual nature makes it difficult for us to condemn him as readers (or as the audience).

BLANCHE
On the contrary, I saw him at his best! What such a man has to offer is animal force and he gave a wonderful exhibition of that! But the only way to live with such a man is to – go to bed with him! And that’s your job – not mine! (4.90)

Think about this passage in the context of the eventual rape in Scene Ten…

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