Broken Spirits

     Tennessee Williams' 1947 play A Streetcar Named Desire is the type of story that a psychologist could have a total hey-day with. The 1951 film version of the play, directed by Elia Kazan, explores the deep, dark recesses of the human mind and spirit. The film also deals (in an indirect way) with the difficult subject of anger and its expression through the act of rape. Marlon Brando provides a captivating performance as Stanley Kowalski, a loud, sometimes violent blue-collar worker with very old-fashioned ideals about women. Vivien Leigh gives a stunning interpretation of Blanche DuBois, a fragile, well-bred southern belle with a dark past. Together, the two present the audience with an enormous amount of entertainment and bewilderment.

     Blanche has had to deal with a great deal of pain throughout her life. She had been left alone to watch her family members suffer and die. She has even been forced to bear their financial burdens all on her own. As soon as she had found the light of true love, she had it taken away from her in the most painful way imaginable. From the point of her husband's death on, Blanche lives in a state of darkness (probably depression). This is the product of the combination of disappointment, guilt, and shame she feels over her husband's death. Desperate for money and love, she turned to activities that were against all of her southern values and beliefs. She was drawn into the arms of many men and even young boys. She fishes for compliments and flirts with men in order to help herself feel more attractive and worthy of love. She is not attempting to seduce these men into going to bed with her. When Stanley rapes Blanche, something snaps inside of her; and her spirit is broken. It is this cruel act that leads her to madness.

     Stanley Kowalski is also struggling inside. He is fighting to earn a decent living for his wife, Stella (Kim Hunter), who had grown up accustomed to the privileges of upper-class society. Stanley may fear that his lower-class status makes him less of a man in the eyes of his wife. To compensate for his feelings of inferiority, he constantly tries to prove to Stella that he wears the pants in their relationship. At times, his persistence can lead to violence. Rape is an act of violence, rather than an act of passion. For Stanley, I think it may also have been an act of revenge. His marriage has been going along fine until Blanche came into their lives. He resented Blanche for filling Stella's head with ideas about him being a common, ignorant fool. He watches her sit around in her silk dresses and furs, ordering his pregnant wife around. He knows her secrets and cannot stand her false pretensions. His anger bottles up inside of him until, finally, he bursts and commits an act that had been probably unthinkable to him before.

     Stanley and Blanche are not as different from one another as they appear on the outside. They both deal with the need to feel accepted in different ways. Stanley wants to feel accepted as a man by society and by his wife. Blanche feels inferior because of her fading beauty and the shame she feels about her past. Both Stanley and Blanche hold their problems in until they become crazy. Stanley takes out his anger in the form of rage, while Blanche is driven to madness. Both of them have broken spirits. A Streetcar Named Desire deals with many aspects of human nature.

Megan Douglas

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