Tennessee's Twisted Sisters

         Stella Kowalski and Blanche DuBois are sisters in Tennessee Williams' 1947 masterpiece play A Streetcar Named Desire, but that is where there similarities end. In both the play and its 1951 adaptation, directed by Elia Kazan, the sisters talk, act, and desire differently from each other. Yet the endings in each version are not the same, and thus reveal conflicting insights into the characters.

         Blanche (Vivien Leigh) considers herself very refined and feels that dress and manner are top priorities. She wears exotic gold dresses and is always acting as if she is not properly dressed or made up to be in the company of men. Of course, later we find that this is all an act; she is not the lady she makes herself out to be; but nonetheless this is how she presents herself. Stella (Kim Hunter) is quite different in her manner than Blanche. She dresses plainly and enjoys living in the humble abode she shares with Stanley (Marlon Brando). She is also almost impossible to offend; she enjoys watching Stanley and his friends' rowdy behavior; and, when Stanley smacks her on the thigh in front of them, she simply says, "That's not fun."

         A theme of the play is desire, and this quality obviously differs greatly between the sisters. Blanche is very needy, and she constantly asks for Stella to wait on her. She also wants this from a man, someone who will treat her like a queen and basically take care of her in every possible way. Stella is the opposite of her sister in this; she is a caretaker. She does not seem to mind the orders Stella gives her, and she likes the motherly role she takes when Stanley comes back to her begging for forgiveness. It seems she needs to be in this position; she is trapped like many battered wives or alcoholic enablers. It is in this confinement of Stella which the play and the film diverge. In the play, after Blanche has been taken to the mental hospital, Stella goes back to Stanley and they both embrace. Thus there is a double tragedy: that of Blanche and Stella. In the film, however, Stella decides to leave Stanley at the end and take her daughter with her.

         I am not sure which ending does the story more justice, but it is interesting that censors forced Kazan to change Williams' endings to punish Stanley for raping Blanche. Perhaps the ending was designed to lighten the tragic effect that beset the conclusion, giving moviegoers at least one optimistic point to leave the theater with. Optimism, however, is not Tennessee Williams' forte.

Brooks Dawkins

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