Study Guide

A Streetcar Named Desire Society and Class

By Tennessee Williams

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Society and Class

Her appearance is incongruous to the setting. She is daintily dressed in a white suit with a fluffy bodice, necklace and earrings of pearl, white gloves and hat, looking as if she were arriving at a summer tea or cocktail party in the garden district. (1.14)

This is a fitting initial description of Blanche, since she does indeed spend all of the play feeling "out of place." What’s interesting is that, rather than adapt to her surroundings (which, amusingly, she claims while talking to Stanley that she is very capable of doing), Blanche tries to alter her surroundings to suit her persona.

A great big place with white columns. (1.63)

Stanley later references these same white columns. Belle Reve is very much a part of Stella’s background, and no one has forgotten that.

…I let the place go? Where were you! In bed with your – Polack! (1.185)

Blanche comes to rely heavily on this derogatory term. She uses her outdated idea of "class" in order to establish her superiority over Stanley.

Please don’t get up.
Nobody’s going to get up, so don’t be worried. (3.3.38-9)

Here, again, we see Blanche’s ideal of the Southern gentleman contrasting with the reality of the men here in New Orleans.

That one seems – superior to the others.
Yes, he is.
I thought he had a sort of sensitive look. (3.57-9)

Blanche is actually attracted to more sensitive qualities, whereas Stella is all about Stanley’s aggressive masculinity.

It’s a French name.
You’re French?
We are French by extraction. Our first American ancestors were French Huguenots. (3.136-8)

Blanche seems to think her ethnic origins make her better than others. It’s a point of pride for her.

Stop it. Let go of that broom. I won’t have you cleaning up for him!
Then who’s going to do it? Are you?
I? I!
No, I didn’t think so. (4.44-7)

Blanche somehow manages to maintain her superior air while staying as a penniless guest in her sister’s already cramped apartment. This just speaks to the power of denial…

That’s how I’ll clear the table! [He seizes her arm.] Don’t ever talk that way to me! "Pig – Polack – disgusting – vulgar – greasy!" – them kind of words have been on your tongue and your sister’s too much around here! What do you think you two are? A pair of queens? Remember what Huey Long said – "Every Man is a King!" And I am the King around here, so don’t forget it! (8.14)

Many critics have pointed out that Stanley represents the new America – land of opportunity and equality – as opposed to Blanche’s more archaic ideals. Again, this complicates our understanding of his character and any blanket categorization of him as a mere villain.

You showed me the snapshot of the place with the columns and how you loved it. (8.55)

Stella’s attraction to Stanley is about more than just his intense masculinity – Stella was in part running away from her home and background by marrying him. It is as much about escape as anything else.

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