First performed in 1949, A Streetcar Named Desire sprang from Tennessee Williams' personal beliefs, reflecting his society as he saw it. In the 1920's the American dream of democracy, material prosperity and equality for all had fast disappeared with the Great Depression. This economic crisis began with the 1929 Wall Street Crash, and brought unemployment and great poverty to many. The depression passed, but the idea of such a state of perfection was proved to be unrealistic and unattainable.
The characters represent the jaded American dream, and the kind of lives, standards and tensions within which the immigrant population found themselves living. Whilst not explicitly about race, Williams has developed a setting, culture and characters affected by racial prejudice. Williams believed that people are doomed to suffer from despair and mistrust. He said that 'we are all savages at heart' (Williams, T. (1959), Foreword to A Streetcar Named Desire, Penguin), and he certainly presents this notion through his characters, whose sexual instincts plays large part in their flawed identities and their personal downfalls.
Sexuality plays a key role throughout: Williams' homosexuality perhaps influenced his interpretation of these characters. The tensions of the play centre on a hidden homosexual relationship of the past and its long lasting effects. Within the timescale of the play we see the negativity of certain gender and cultural attitudes, and Williams' concern with gender and sexual identity within society.
These stereotypes, while perhaps seeming over-zealous, are historical and current. Williams was concerned to use strong imagery to investigate human weakness, and Streetcar is certainly laden with obviously stated imagery.
Stella and Stanley Kowalski share the house of Eunice and Steve in New Orleans: they live in the three rooms downstairs: a kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. The name of the street is Elysian Fields, suggesting a form of paradise - in Greek mythology; Elysium or Elysian fields were the fields at the ends of the earth where the gods sent heroes, suggesting a place or state of ideal happiness. The irony of this is seen in the poverty and entrapment of the residents in this otherwise warm and cosmopolitan neighbourhood . The existence in a fallen world rather than paradise itself is seen through the precariously maintained relationships of the main characters over approximately 5 months.
Stella and Stanley's preferred way of living, with Stanley as the dominant force in their highly sexed, dependent relationship, is disturbed when Stella's older sister Blanche, comes to stay. Stella has not warned her ex-army husband of this intrusion and he is not impressed by Blanche's arrival and extended stay. Blanche clearly has different standards and sees herself as above Stanley, later referring to his mixed Polish-American blood in a derogatory manner, calling him a Polack. Yet she soon relishes in flirting with her sister's husband.
Stanley's lifestyle is one of drinking and gambling. He has a violent temper and a forceful character. This is seen most obviously during the Poker Night of Scene three when there is a battle of wills between Blanche and Stanley and also Stella and Stanley, as the masculine world takes over the house.
Stanley hits Stella, is restrained by his friends, and Blanche is disturbed. She wants to rescue Stella from this environment but Stella willingly returns to Stanley's calls. The gentle Stella is as different from the neighbourhood as her sister, but has moulded herself to fit in. She is pregnant (a fact which she keeps from her sister but which Stanley enjoys telling Blanche, to unsettle her, in Scene two). The baby will cement their relationship.
Blanche Dubois is set apart by her whiter-than-white appearance (association: purity) and her criticisms of the standard of living to which she has come. Her arrival is surrounded in some mystery: Belle Reve ('Beautiful Dream'), the family plantation, has been sold, but there is no evidence of money from the sale. Stanley feels that he is entitled to some of the assets, and is infuriated by what he sees as Blanche?s lies and deceit. Blanche claims to have spent the money on funeral costs as the members of the Dubois family died off and she was left to arrange their funerals,