Should I Stay, or Should I Go?

        Tennessee Williams’ 1947 play, A Streetcar Named Desire, explores numerous psychological and emotional themes such as humanity, love, sanity and morality; but one of the playwright’s most admirable qualities is that he was not afraid to confront controversy. This play is not an exception because it forces an audience to question the validity of a marriage as they watch an abusive husband mistreat his wife and violate her sister. Eliza Kazan’s 1951 film version of the story follows the original play closely; but, because of strict Hollywood censorship, he changed the ending and, consequently, the feel of the story.

        Williams chose to let the wife, Stella, remain with her overbearing and violent husband, Stanley. In the stage version, the curtains close as the wife weeps just after she has committed her sister, Blanche, to an asylum. She chooses to ignore her sister’s rape accusations against her husband; and, as Stella cries, Stanley appears at her side in a sickening display of manipulative comfort. This ending seems wrong and unsettling to the audience member, but that is precisely the point. It displays the level of power Stanley held over Stella.

        In contrast, Kazan’s film ended with Stella (Kim Hunter) grabbing her baby and rushing to a friend in the upstairs apartment, apparently leaving her husband (Marlon Brando). Censors in the 1950s insisted on this ending to counteract the rape scene; but, because of the change, the psychological effect of the film is not as strong as that of the play. By rushing upstairs, Stella asserts an independence that says she is not entirely under the alluring spell of Stanley; but, if she had been (as she is in the play), her condition would fit better with the themes of manipulation and mental deterioration prevalent in the story.

        Personally, I believe a woman in Stella’s situation should take her child and leave; but, regarding plot in A Streetcar Named Desire, I wish she would have stayed under Stanley’s tyrannical rule.

Casey Northcutt

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