How is the idea of "Being American" performed through the contrasting characters of Stanley Kowalski and Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams? A focus on the transition of dominant interpretation of Being American through the course of the play


Pulitzer Prize winning play A Streetcar Named Desire by renowned American playwright Tennessee Williams was one of the few works that ended up on the Library of Congress' list of Books that Shaped America. Set in New Orleans, Lousiana in 1947, the play is characterized by it's melodramatic look at a clash of cultures between the two main characters--Blanche DuBois, a fading Southern belle whose genteel pretensions thinly mask alcoholism and delusions of grandeur, and Stanley Kowalski, a representative of the industrial, urban working class. I wish to analyze the transition in strength of the various interpretations of Being American that are at loggerheads with each other in this play.

I wish to argue that through this play, Williams has illustrated the transition of the idea of "American" from that of gentile, fair-skinned individuals living a well-mannered, harmonious life to cut-throat, hard-working, rugged persons who have the libertarian ethos of one getting what one works for. Besides this, he has also foreshadowed the conflicts that would arise in immigrant heavy post World War United States of America

Three main characters of this play, with the highest contrast in background being between Blanche and Stanley


As the United States kept on developing and changing, so did the lifestyles of the American people. World War II began in 1939 and ended in 1945 which deeply affected the country’s economy. Social classes were now divided and struggling for power, the lower classes now seen as American heroes who worked hard and had traditional American values. The war changed American culture including men who after a post war victory which resulted in “a masculine bravado that is seen in the men’s abrupt and aggressive actions

This is the very point I wish to make. In Tennessee Williams’ drama A Streetcar Named Desire the American Dream is perceived differently by different characters. Williams portrays the American Dream as being nothing more than a myth for one character, but a reality to strive for in another character. He uses two characters to contrast these realities - Stanley Kowalski and Blanche DuBois

One of the main characters in Streetcar is Blanche DuBois. Blanche comes from a wealthy family in the South. Blanche goes to visit her sister Stella and her brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski in New Orleans and is shocked to see the way they live.

Blanche not only lives in a fantasy world herself, she constantly drags others into her illusions as well. From her looks to the way she acts, Blanche is always living in a fantasy world and she admits this to Mitch: “I don’t want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell truth, I tell what ought to be the truth.” Blanche is still yearning for the life she had, she belongs to what is called in literature the ‘Old South’: aristocracy, manners, refinement and beauty

Living in what seems like a different world than Blanche is her brother-in-law Stanley. Stanley is rooted in reality and sees things the way they are, perhaps too grimly. He is aggressive, rough, and possessive. He believes in hard work and traditional gender roles. His perception of the American Dream comes from what he can do within society and how he reacts to the world and other people. Stanley desires wealth, a passionate relationship with his wife, and to be the head of his household.

Stanley does not do well with sharing power or having his household disrupted as it does when Blanche comes to visit, which shows what kind of household he desires to live in. Stanley does not hope for anything fantastical and doesn’t strive for anything he feels is out of his reach. He knows he has to work hard and what he must do to get what he wants. One example of this is how he managed to rape Blanche and then throw her out of the house with no one opposing to it or standing up to her, including her own sister.