Play Review: A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

Wow. Just wow. This play destroyed my heart from page one, increasingly so until it was a bleeding, traumatized mess on the last page.

5/5 stars

cover a Streetcar Named Desire

Amazon Description

It is a very short list of 20th-century American plays that continue to have the same power and impact as when they first appeared―57 years after its Broadway premiere, Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire is one of those plays. The story famously recounts how the faded and promiscuous Blanche DuBois is pushed over the edge by her sexy and brutal brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski.Streetcar launched the careers of Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden, and solidified the position of Tennessee Williams as one of the most important young playwrights of his generation, as well as that of Elia Kazan as the greatest American stage director of the ’40s and ’50s.

My Review

This book doesn’t get five stars because I like the ending, or because the story is positive. It gets five stars for how completely it destroyed my emotions. Everything about this book is powerful and vivid, and that what makes it like nothing I’ve ever read (for school) before.

Normally, I don’t care for trigger alerts, but this book needs, like, twelve of them. I had no idea what the plot would be like, so every time a new emotionally charged issue appeared in the plot, it freaked me out. This book pulls no punches, so if you’re planning on reading it (which you should be), just know you’re in for a blunt examination of domestic violence, rape, gay shaming (the book isn’t homophobic, just certain characters), suicide, mental illness, and abusive relationships.

The characters of ASND are complicated and imperfect to say the least, but all of them felt real. I was fascinated by Blanche’s manipulative personality, and I empathized with her need to escape the trauma in her past and get back to the magical life she’d had as a innocent Southern belle. The discussion of female sexuality that develops as we learn more about Blanche’s past is complex, with no right answers.

Stanley was downright terrifying for much of this book. His bursts of violence were vividly written, his control over Stella was as obvious as it was fucked up. He’s a womanizer through and through, but no part of his character is overplayed or unrealistic. That’s the awful part–his character is 100% believable, even half a century after the play was written.

Stella was one of my least favorite characters, but I understood her. She lets herself stay with Stanley and his abuse, but in a way, she had no where else to go. I was frustrated at her for most of the book, but she was an important character for the plot’s message about domestic violence. Getting out of abusive relationships isn’t easy, and though I wanted to grab Stella and shake her, I also understood the difficult psychological situation she was in, especially caught up with someone as expertly manipulative as Stanley.

ASND’s plot is simple, heavily reliant on flashback-esque reveals as the reader slowly learns more and more about each character’s past and inner selves. Every scene added a new layer of depth (and creepiness) to the story. The backbone of the play comes from the bluntness with which Tennessee Williams displays social issues; as a reader, you are forced to look at traumatic and horrifying issues through the eyes of characters you hate and empathize with all at once. I’m glad that I read this book with my class over a couple of weeks, because if I had read it on my own, I probably would have burned through it quickly, and I’m not sure my emotions could have survived that.

If you haven’t read ASND, you should. Even though this play was written in 1947, the issues that the plot discusses still plague our society today. Though ASND doesn’t propose exact solutions–and does not have the happy ending most of us long for–it provides an incredibly important look at the victims and perpetrators of these crimes. The emotional power of ASND will continue to move readers toward action, and hopefully a new generations of readers and viewers will feel compelled to finally take a stand and solve these issues that continue to haunt modern society.

6 thoughts on “Play Review: A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

  1. I read this a couple years ago for an Intro to Lit class and it is certainly an interesting play to say the least. My main thing with this play was that it was hard to find a likable character in this play but you’re right, they are all totally believable. Every character has flaws, good points, bad points, the whole nine yards. The ending sucked for me because I was like, “hey! Believe her! Don’t let him get away with this!” But yeah, ASND has a lot of depictions of issues that are as important then as they are now.
    On a side note, my prof had told us that in New Orleans I think? they have a contest where guys re-enact that scene where Stanley’s screaming, “STELLA!” I thought that was pretty cool.

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