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Tragic Comedy of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire as Tragic Comedy

Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire is considered by many critics to be a “flawed” masterpiece. This is because William’s work utilizes and wonderfully blends both tragic and comic elements that serve to shroud the true nature of the hero and heroine, thereby not allowing the reader to judge them on solid actuality. Hence, Williams has been compared to writers such as Shakespeare who, in literature, have created a sense of ambiguity and uncertainty in finding a sole “view or aspect ” in their works. Because of the highly tragic elements encountered in Streetcar, many immediately label it a tragedy. Nevertheless, the immense comical circumstances encountered in the play contradict the sole role of tragedy and leave the reader pondering the true nature of the work, the question being whether it is a tragedy with accidental comic incidences or a comedy with weak melodramatic occurrences.

It has been said that the “double mask of tragicomedy reveals the polarity of the human condition”(Adler 47). The contrariety of forces in the work serves to enforce a sense of both reality and drama that are present in everyday human life. The comic elements in the play serve as a form of determined self-preservation just as the tragic elements add to the notion of self-destruction. This is the true nature of a tragicomedy. By juxtaposing two irreconcilable positions, ambiguity is produced in the judgment of the main characters, most notably Stanley Kowalski and Blanche Dubois (Riddell 83).

Ambivalence in the play is largely caused by the relationship between Stanley and Blanche. They concurrently produce both appalling and appealing tendencies. Both characters display elements o…

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…ilable forces come face to face. The two opposing forces are destined to become locked in a death grip and society will be the loser.

Works Cited

Adler, Thomas P. A Streetcar Named Desire: The Moth and the Lantern. New York: Twayne, 1990.

Baym, Nina et al, eds. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York: WW Norton

Essay on Blanche DuBois as Butterfly in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire

The Portrayal of Blanche as Butterfly or Moth in A Streetcar Named Desire

In A Streetcar named Desire, Williams uses description and dialog to develop the play’s characters. In the beginning of the play, Williams describes Blanche as a “moth”. A moth and a butterfly seem to be very similar; however, they have very different outward appearances and habits. A butterfly is very “showy ” as it flits throughout life, whereas a moth tries hard not to bring attention to itself. Butterflies are open and very visible, but a moth is nocturnal and secretive. The American Heritage Dictionary defines a butterfly as “a person interested principally in frivolous pleasure”; a self-centered person intent on pleasure (line 2). Although Williams describes Blanch as a moth, his use of description and dialog bring out sexual undertones that portray Blanche to be a butterfly instead of a moth.

In Scene I of A Streetcar Named Desire, Williams writes–

Her appearance is incongruous in this 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…There is something about her uncertain manner, as well

as her clothes, that suggests a moth. (qtd. In Bloom 51)

Williams’s description leads others to perceive Blanche as an insecure, unassuming person, a typical Southern Belle– a moth. Although the color of Blanche’s clothing suggests simplicity, the style of her clothing contrasts with the surrounding environment. Blanche is wearing this attire as she arrives at her sister’s home. Her sister lives in a run- down three-room apartment. The apartment contains th…

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…erpretations of A Streetcar Named Desire: a Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Jordan Y. Miller. New

Jersey: Prentice, 1971.

Monarch Notes. “Works of Tennessee Williams.” Williams, Tennessee, 1 Jan. 1963

( mark/search).

Preston, Rohan. “Actors Rev Up a Gritty, High-Octane ‘Streetcar’” Minneapolis StarTribune. 3 March 1999, 04E.

“Streetcar’s Fiftieth Anniversary” All Things Considered. NPR. WWNO, New Orleans. 1 Dec. 1997.

The American Heritage Dictionary, CD-ROM. Microsoft Bookshelf 98. Microsoft Corp. 1987-97.

Williams, Dakin and Shephard Mead. Tennessee Williams: An Intimate Biography. New York: Arbor House, 1998.

Williams, Tennessee. “A Streetcar Named Desire” a New Directions Book, copyright 1947. Canada: Penguin, 1980.

Williams, Tennessee. Memoirs. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1975.

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