The Desire of America

         What is the driving force behind most Americans today? The answer is simple: money. In addition, many people are driven by sex, lust, power and the way they are viewed by the world around them. In the 1951 Elia Kazan film A Streetcar Named Desire, based on the 1947 play by Tennessee Williams, I believe many of these are sources of motivation for all of the characters. If viewers were to step back and take a closer look at how each of the characters ended up in the position they were in at the end of the film, they would see these driving forces. Blanche, Stella and Stanley have the same motivations as people in society today and that is what makes this film the most relevant for today.

        The character who seems to set the whole film in motion through her desire is Blanche (Vivien Leogh). Blanche comes to the home of her sister Stella (Kim Hunter) and Stanley (Marlon Brando) to stay because she has run into financial difficulties. It is observed by the arrival of her rather large and filled suitcase that Blanche takes pride in material possessions. She turns up her noise to the living conditions of her sister and husband and is appalled by their apartment. As the story progresses, it is learned that Blanche had lost her job and the family home before her arrival. In order to sustain herself, she has lived in a hotel and had sex with men for money. She was removed from her position as teacher because it was discovered that she had been sleeping with one of her students. It is quite obvious that this woman was willing to do anything for money. It can also be assumed that she enjoyed the sexual portion of her endeavors. She is so ashamed of her behavior that she lies to her sister about why she has come and refuses to ever own up to her past until she is confronted with it. Blanche wants the world around her to see her as a beautiful, young, admirable woman, instead of the older, shameful one she has become. She creates a fantasy world for herself where the shame of her past actions is hidden away as if they never existed. As time goes on, this fantasy becomes a reality and facing her past drives her to insanity. Blanche demonstrates the modern Americans' desire to be viewed in positively by the people around them. Men and women alike are so concerned with their image that they sacrifice their morals to maintain a positive one. Blanche does not want to be seen as the poor, old woman. She wants her sister and brother-in-law to admire her and desire to be like her.

         Unlike Blanche, Stella does not seem to care what the world around her thinks. Although she wants to make a good home for her husband and care for her sister upon her arrival, she does not seem ashamed of they way in which she is living. She is content with her marriage and her home. However, her driving force is her sexual desire. Stella's marriage is an abusive one, yet she remains in it because of the sexual pleasure she gets from Stanley. Stanley is a drunk, who spends far too much time drinking and gambling with friends to show the slightest bit of interest in Stella. That is the case until he realizes she is not around. In a drunken rage one evening, he began beating Stella. Stella's initial instinct is to get away from him. As soon as Stanley realizes what he has done, he cries desperately for Stella to return. Of course, like the average woman in her position, she comes back to him. What is interesting is that her sexual desire overrides her integrity. Stella represents the classic case of a battered wife. The majority of women in abusive relationships remain in them despite having the power to get away. Most do not stick around from the sexual pleasure they get from their spouse as Stella does, but most have other driving forces for staying. Again, the most prominent one is money. Most women do not believe that they can support themselves on their own. They also tend to place the blame for the incident upon themselves. No matter how you look at it, women who stay in abusive relationships do so for reasons they believe are more powerful than the abuse.

         The final driven character is Stanley. It should be obvious at this point that Stanley's primary motivation is power. The moment Blanche arrives, Stanley is suspicious of her intentions and is immediately defensive. He sees Blanche as a threat to him because he believes she has the potential to persuade Stella to leave him. He therefore, tries to get control of the situation by looking into Blanche's past to find her secrets and discredit her. It is clear that Stanley has severe control of Blanche. The fact that she allows him to treat her that way shows how submissive he has made her. He gambles, drinks and even attacks her, yet she always comes back to him. She does not have the willpower to leave him. His desire for power comes to a climax with the rape of Blanche. Studies have shown that men rape, not because of sexual desire, but as a need to be in control. It is never indicated that Stanley is sexual attracted to Blanche. It seems that his primary motivation for the rape is to demonstrate his final level of control over the biggest threat in his life. In today's society, both men and women alike are competitive in nature and desire to have some level of power over their lives. While Stanley's case is excessive, some modern American's are excessive as well. While competition is sometimes encouraged, acquiring power through the means in which Stanley does is unacceptable.

         A Streetcar Named Desire hit lightly on many of the problems facing modern American society today. Alcohol, sex, and money can become addictions that are hard to overcome. Abusive relationships image-driven men and women and the desire to be on top are driving forces that many American's face. Although this film is fifty-five years old, the issues that it to do anything more.

Michelle Farney

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