There are 27 critical essays on A Streetcar Named Desire.
Critical Essays on A Streetcar Named Desire
Critical Essay by Kathleen Margaret Lant
5,870 words, approx. 20 pages
In the following essay, Lant discusses the significance of rape and elements of tragedy in A Street Car Named Desire. According to Lant, Blanche is unable to attain the status of a tragic figure because she is objectified and dehumanized as a victim of rape.
Critical Essay by Anne Fleche
5,804 words, approx. 19 pages
In the following essay, Fleche examines the portrayal of madness in A Streetcar Named Desire through analysis of allegory, spatial metaphor, and tension between realism and expressionistic presentation in the play.
Critical Essay by Mark Royden Winchell
5,378 words, approx. 18 pages
In the following essay, Winchell considers the enduring popular and critical success of A Streetcar Named Desire in light of the play's complex male-female dynamic that defies classification as either misogynistic melodrama or tragedy.
Critical Essay by Leonard Quirino
3,109 words, approx. 10 pages
So much has been written about A Streetcar Named Desire in terms of its theatrical presentation as interpreted by a specific director and set of actors and so much concern has been lavished on the social attitudes and psychological constitution of its characters that the author's primary intention as revealed in his use of mythic symbolism and archetypal imagery to create a dialectic between soul and body to depict universally significant problems such as the conflict and mutual attraction between de...
Critical Essay by R. H. Gardner
1,959 words, approx. 7 pages
The emotional quality of all Mr. Williams' serious work is essentially the same, and in theme, subject matter, and philosophy A Streetcar Named Desire is the classic Williams play. (p. 112) Early in the proceedings Mr. Williams provides a clue to his intentions in his choice of names. He has a wonderful feeling for words and, like any poet, puts them to symbolic use. Belle Reve (beautiful dream), Elysian Fields (paradise), desire, cemetery, Blanche DuBois (white wood)—all combine to produce a ...
Critical Essay by Leonard Berkman
1,682 words, approx. 6 pages
Though the extent to which A Streetcar Named Desire exemplifies traditional tragedy may command increasing attention as this paper progresses, a demonstration of that idea is not the central aim at hand. It is, rather, one fragment of the question of tragic stature that most concerns us here: the terms according to which "victory" may be considered within the heroine's grasp, the course of her struggle toward victory, and the pivotal moment in which the struggle turns to defeat. (p. 249...
Critical Essay by John Gassner
1,385 words, approx. 5 pages
Among the new plays of the 1947–48 season A Streetcar Named Desire was not only the best but the most indicative of the flexibility of realism. Strongly rooted in the reality of character and environment, and replete with stinging naturalistic detail, this tragedy of a fallen member of the Southern landed aristocracy, nevertheless, abounds in poetic overtones. These are justified, in part, by Blanche's refinement of language. She is well bred and she has had sufficient education to have taught...
Critical Essay by Normand Berlin
1,253 words, approx. 4 pages
Each new production of A Streetcar Named Desire seems to offer the excitement of witnessing a new interpretation. A great play has within it the potentiality for differing interpretations; indeed, this may be the test of greatness. The different interpretations of Streetcar by directors invariably stem from different attitudes toward the two main characters, Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski. Some directors tip the audience toward Blanche, others toward Stanley—and this tipping controls the nature ...
Critical Essay by John Mason Brown
1,125 words, approx. 4 pages
[The article from which this excerpt is taken was originally published in The Saturday Review of Literature, December 27, 1947.] A Streetcar Named Desire is bound to raise [a mirage of familiarity] in the minds of those who saw The Glass Menagerie. Tennessee Williams' new play is new. No one can question that. In story, setting, incident, and some of the details of its characterizations, it is a work quite different from its predecessor. It is better, deeper, richer than was that earlier drama…...
Critical Essay by Harold Clurman
1,070 words, approx. 4 pages
[The essay from which this excerpt is taken was originally published in 1948.] Some of the reviewers [of A Streetcar Named Desire] thought Blanche Du Bois a "boozy prostitute," and others believed her a nymphomaniac. Such designations are not only inaccurate but reveal a total failure to understand the author's intention and the theme of the play. Tennessee Williams is a poet of frustration, and what his play says is that aspiration, sensitivity, departure from the norm are battered, br...
Critical Essay by Martin Gottfried
1,033 words, approx. 3 pages
[A Streetcar Named Desired followed The Glass Menagerie] in its concern with the quality of human love, but I do not mean to suggest that it had a literary content as such. There are intellectual points represented in the play, and a conscious interplay of ideas—the pitting of Kowalski's animal life force against Blanche's fragile poetry is the central one. But the play, in true left-wing style, represents the introduction of a new kind of meaning and a new way of stating it into the Am...
Critical Essay by Robert B. Heilman
837 words, approx. 3 pages
Since Tennessee Williams has had a persistent interest in the idea of tragedy, there is good reason for looking at his serious plays in the light of a theory of tragedy. In this essay the term tragedy is used for a drama that is centrally concerned with a split personality, not a pathological split, such as Williams sometimes dramatizes, but a representative division between the different imperatives and impulses that human beings feel. A tragic character is strong enough so that an impulse that drives him ...
Critical Essay by Joseph Wood Krutch
818 words, approx. 3 pages
Tennessee Williams grew up in the South. Like so many other Southern writers, the existence of a decayed aristocracy was one of the inescapable facts of the society with which he was most familiar. That representatives of such a decayed aristocracy should appear in his plays may mean no more than that they were part of his experience. Nevertheless it seems to be obvious that his persistent concern with them does have a greater significance. These helpless survivors from the past, feeble and pathetic clinger...
Critical Essay by George Jean Nathan
762 words, approx. 3 pages
[A Streetcar Named Desire], which might well have been titled The Glans Menagerie, has been criticized in some quarters as an unpleasant [play]. The criticism is pointed. But the fact that a play is unpleasant, needless to say, is not necessarily a reflection on its quality…. There is a considerable difference between the unpleasant and the disgusting, which is the designation Mr. Williams' critics probably have in mind, and his play is not disgusting…. Williams has managed to keep his ...
Critical Essay by Winifred L. Dusenbury
732 words, approx. 2 pages
In Blanche DuBois, the leading character of A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams is accused of having created a sexual pervert, who is insane by the end of the play, and whose portrayal is so particular as to have little relevance to life, or meaning to the American theatre. Williams, however, makes the point that it is the isolation resulting from social and hereditary factors which makes Blanche abnormal. Doubtless the accusation that Williams is strongly influenced by D. H. Lawrence is also true,...
Critical Essay by W. David Sievers
709 words, approx. 2 pages
[Originally a dissertation presented at the University of Southern California in 1951, the essay from which the following excerpt is taken was first published in 1955 in Sievers's book Freud on Broadway: A History of Psychoanalysis and the American Drama.] In A Streetcar Named Desire, Williams has depicted profoundly the origins and growth of schizophrenia. He has shown Blanche struggling to master her conflicting drives of sex and superego, to live up to an inner image of a belle of the old South wh...
Critical Essay by C. N. Stavrou
698 words, approx. 2 pages
Are [Gustave Flaubert's novel] Madame Bovary (1857) and A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) pleas against "man's inhumanity to man," or dry admonitions against the folly of "Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn"? Critiques of Flaubert's novel … and Williams's drama … cautiously ...
Critical Essay by Joseph Wood Krutch
694 words, approx. 2 pages
[The article from which this excerpt was drawn was originally published in The Nation, December 20, 1947.] Two years ago when Tennessee Williams was being hailed as the best new playwright to appear in a decade I was among those who were inclined to wait and see, but "A Streetcar Named Desire" … is amply sufficient to confound us doubters. In mood and manner it is, to be sure, strikingly like "The Glass Menagerie." Indeed, the theme and even the story might be said to be t...
Critical Essay by Rosamond Gilder
664 words, approx. 2 pages
Surely playwriting is the most difficult of the arts and its successful achievement is among the world's miracles. It does not matter how hard the tidy mind of man applies itself to the formulation of rules for the making of a 'good play', the kernel of truth eludes definition. What makes both Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra and Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire good theatre? Is it because they both convey a heightened sense of reality—a poet's ...
Critical Essay by Harold Clurman
580 words, approx. 2 pages
A Streetcar Named Desire is still a beautiful play, the most fully achieved of Tennessee Williams' writings…. Its beauties are of several kinds. It is admirably constructed, its language is fluent, euphonious, delicate and sinewy. It possesses oblique humor and a romantic glow which occasionally verges on a sentimentality I do not find in the least objectionable. It is imbued with a theatrical atmosphere, a kind of magic spell which makes certain plays endure beyond our interest in their ideas...
Critical Essay by Wolcott Gibbs
487 words, approx. 2 pages
Mr. Williams has written a strong, wholly believable play that, starting in a low key, mounts slowly and inexorably to its shocking climax. I think [A Streetcar Named Desire] is an imperfect play,… but it is certainly the most impressive one that has turned up this season, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was a sounder and more mature work than "The Glass Menagerie," the author's previous compliment to Southern womanhood. (p. 50) The reservations I have may easily be capt...
Critical Essay by Karel Reisz
382 words, approx. 1 pages
Kazan's film of [A Streetcar Named Desire] gives one of the first opportunities to see what can be done with [harsh, class-conscious realism] in the cinema…. Behind [the protagonists's] personal drama there develops the conflict of values which Tennessee Williams has explored elsewhere: the clash between the young and the old; the sordidly real and the magically bogus; between the precarious dignity of Stanley's primitive sensual nature and Blanche's equally vulnerable ref...
Critical Essay by Richard Watts, Jr.
378 words, approx. 1 pages
[The essay from which this excerpt is taken originally appeared in The New York Post, December 4, 1947.] [A Streetcar Named Desire] is a feverish, squalid, tumultuous, painful, steadily arresting and oddly touching study of feminine decay along the lower Mississippi…. Mr. Williams is an oncoming playwright of power, imagination and almost desperately morbid turn of mind and emotion. In his latest work to reach Broadway, the dramatist is telling the story of a doomed Southern girl who seems startlingl...
Critical Essay by Louis Kronenberger
368 words, approx. 1 pages
A Streetcar Named Desire is by all odds the most creative new play of the season—the one that reveals the most talent, the one that attempts the most truth. It carries us into the only part of the theater that really counts—not the most obviously successful part, but the part where, though people frequently blunder they seldom compromise; where imagination is seated higher than photography; and where the playwright seems to have a certain genuine interest in pleasing himself…. That is t...
Critical Essay by Eric Bentley
366 words, approx. 1 pages
[The essay "Boredom in New York" was originally published in 1948; "Better than Europe" was originally published in 1949.] [In the dialogue of A Streetcar Named Desire there is] a liveliness that the American theater has heard from only two or three native playwrights. It is a dialogue caught from actual life and then submitted to only the gentlest treatment at the playwright's hands. In such a dialogue—as Odets showed us ten years ago—some approach to Americ...
Critical Essay by Kappo Phelan
360 words, approx. 1 pages
As was surely obvious in his earlier "Glass Menagerie," [Williams] again proves his dramatic imagination [in "A Streetcar Named Desire"]. I think it is safe to say that every telling gesture and effect was securely wrought into the script before ever rehearsals started. You must envision a scene whose transparent wall allows both the heat-laden street as well as this burning room to come into focus. And the sounds are important: from upstairs, outside, all over. As the protagonis...
Critical Essay by Howard Barnes
310 words, approx. 1 pages
Tennessee Williams has written a savagely arresting tragedy in "A Streetcar Named Desire." His dramatization of a woman's crack-up … is a work of rare discernment and craftsmanship. Although it is almost explosively theatrical at times, it is crowded with the understanding, tenderness and humor of an artist achieving maturity…. Instead of leaning heavily on symbolism, as the title might have led one to expect, Williams has to do with very human beings in completely recogni...
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