What a Dysfunctional Family!

         The characters in Tennessee Williams' 1947 play A Streetcar Named Desire, filmed by Elia Kazan in 1951, are the epitome of a dysfunctional family. Blanche (Vivien Leigh on screen), Stella (Kim Hunter in the film), and Stanley (Marlon Brando in the movie) are all very complex and disturbing characters.

         The first dysfunctional character is Blanche, the sister of Stella, who is living a life based on a lie. Blanche seems like your typical beautiful blonde southern belle, who is gentle and respectful on the outside but is deep down a very sad woman who is suffering from a great deal of pain. When Blanche arrives in New Orleans to live with her sister, she cannot believe the conditions her sister lives in. When Blanche meets her sister's handsome husband, Stanley, they instantly dislike each other. Blanche tells her sister that she had been fired from her teaching job because of bad nerves and is in need of a place to stay. Stella believes her sister and willingly lets her stay there. Blanche lies to her sister in order to cover up her secret life. Blanche has been terribly upset ever since her husband had committed suicide after he had revealed his homosexuality to her and she had chastised him for it. She had never fully recovered from this loss; and, because of this, she had gained a bad reputation in Mississippi by trying to fill her void by sleeping with lustful men and a seventeen-year-old student, which had caused her to be fired from her teaching job. During the course of the book and in the movie Blanche becomes increasingly mentally unstable and in the end is put into a mental institution.

         The second dysfunctional character is Stanley, the husband of Stella. Stanley is an angry controlling character who becomes easily irritated and abusive. Stanley even abuses his pregnant wife and in many scenes gets drunk and breaks things. Stanley is very dominating towards his wife; and he even acts this way with Blanche, demanding to know what had happened to her lost family home, Belle Reve, and in her past. Stanley also finds out about Blanche's promiscuous past and tells his wife and his friend Mitch, depicted by Karl Malden, who had planned to marry Blanche. Stanley only cares about himself and he does not worry if he hurts anyone in the process. Stanley also does the unthinkable and rapes Blanche, thus making her go completely crazy. In my opinion he is a destructive individual, and he also needed to go to the mental institution with Blanche.

         The third dysfunctional member of the family is Stella. She is the one character that I feel sorry for. She is a sweet individual who truly loves her sister and her husband. If I were her I would probably have been the one to go crazy because of putting up with both Stanley and Blanche. I think she is a very weak character who is way too submissive to her husband. It is unfortunate that she has had to endure physical and mental abuse, while on top of everything else being pregnant. In the film version Stella sends Blanche to the mental institution and leaves Stanley, but because of the baby I would guess that Stella would soon go back to him. In the play, after Blanche is sent off, she and Stanley remain together in their home with their child.

         These dysfunctional characters--Blanche, Stanley and Stella--who are similar to many people in today's society, are all very complicated and are depicted with admirable realism in this movie, which still has much to teach us about the problems of life and living. Both the play and the film effectively teach us that life is not always going to be perfect and that things may not always be what they seem.

Whitney Bradley

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