Motif Tracking: A Streetcar Named Desire – Violence





Violence is a motif which is prevalent throughout the text, and although it may not always be manifested in clearly violent actions such as the rape, it is often displayed through more subtle verbal aggression, or spiteful acts. Violence and aggression are usually associated with Stanley, however on occasion the other men in the play do display flashes of behaviour which could be considered aggressive or violent. Violence is most commonly associated with the theme of conflict, whether between Men and Women, Upper and Lower classes, or simply Stanley and Blanche. However, the motif of violence is not confined to the conveyance of this theme, and is occasionally used in other themes including Sex and Desire, and the contrast between Blanche’s pleasant dreams and the harsh, ugly reality.



Quotations and Analysis:












[He heaves the package at her...

Stanley’s entrance, although not violent, does involve a relatively aggressive act of ‘heaving’ a bag of meat towards his wife. As soon as he enters the play, Stanley behaves in an aggressive and ‘rough’ manner. The act of him bringing home the (non-specific) ‘meat’ reflects a primitive ‘hunter/gatherer’ instinct, and identifies Stanley as the rough, dominant male of the play.




A Master Sergeant in the Engineers’ Corps.

Stella is referring to the uniform Stanley is wearing in the picture that she shows Blanche of him. This association with the military has obvious connotations of war and violence.



Stage directions

[STANLEY throws the screen door of the kitchen open and comes in... Animal joy in his being is implicit in all of his movements and attitudes...]

In fact, throughout the play most stage directions associated with Stanley are somewhat violent. Important here is the way in which Stanley does not simply open the door but throws it open. All of his movements seem to exude aggression and power.




How about my supper, huh? I’m not going to no Galatoires’ for supper!

The aggressive nature of Stanley’s speech is shown through the use of the rhetorical question about his supper. His simple statement about what he will and will not do asserts his authority, and the exclamatory nature of this sentence (and in fact, most of his speech) suggests a shouting aggression in his manner.



Stage directions

[He stalks into the bedroom...]

Stanley does not merely walk, he stalks there, and the aggressive nature in which he does this reflects his generally aggressive nature.



Stage directions

[He pulls open the wardrobe trunk standing in the middle of the room and jerks out an armful of dresses]

Again, the violent nature in which he roots through Blanche’s belongings shows not only his utter disregard for her privacy but reflects a simple violence in Stanley. He appears to be unable to do anything delicately, and this base, primitive aggression reinforces his position as the dominant male in the text.





[He hurls the furs to the daybed. Then he jerks open a small drawer in the trunk and pulls up a fistful of costume jewellery]


Stage directions

[She sprays herself with her atomizer; then playfully sprays him with it. He seizes the atomizer and slams it down on the dresser...]

Stanley violently stops Blanche’s attempts to flirt with him with a display of brute force, which contrasts with her playful nature in this instance.






[STANLEY gives a loud whack of his hand on her thigh]

[sharply] That’s not fun, Stanley.

[The men laugh...]

This is the first instance of real physical violence in the play. The fact that Stanley not only abuses his wife, but in front of his friends demonises him in the eyes of the audience. The men laugh, suggesting that this kind of behaviour is normal and acceptable in their society. Stella’s acceptance of this reflects not only this idea, but also her submissive nature.



Stage directions

[STANLEY stalks fiercely through the portieres into the bedroom. He crosses to the small white radio and snatches it off the table. With a shouted oath, he tosses the instrument out of the window.]

After his initial demand for the radio to be switched off is ignored, rather than simply turning it off, Stanley crosses to it and throws it out of the window, clearly damaging it. Stanley’s disregard for even his own possessions reflects the overwhelming nature of violence and his uncontrollable anger.









You lay your hands on me and I’ll –

[She backs out of sight. He advances and disappears. There is the sound of a blow. STELLA cries out...]

In the heat of the moment, Stanley retaliates at his wife. This reflects the conflict between men and women in the play, and the idea of wife-beating is something that we have almost come to expect from Stanley. However, not only is he violent towards his wife, but his desire to have her back is even more violent. When he cries her name the stage directions give an insight into the power of his desire which foreshadows the turbulent (and inevitably violent) nature of their relationship.



[with heaven-splitting violence] STELLL-AHHHHH!







Ho-ho! There’s nothing to be scared of. They’re crazy about each other


...But don’t take it serious.

Mitch’s dismissal of the events reflects the idea that violence is an everyday part of the society in Elysian fields. This also provides more evidence to support the idea that their relationship is so turbulent that violence is inevitable.




There’s something downright – bestial – about him!

Blanche describes Stanley as ape-like, commenting on his lack of refinement. She expresses a clear distaste for his lack of chivalry and his violent nature, reflecting the class conflict here.




[crossing to the door] Eunice seems to be having some trouble with Steve

The domestic incident between Steve and Eunice is evidence for the general relationships between men and women in Elysian fields. Stella’s nonchalance supports the idea that this is not unusual.




Just give me a slap whenever I step out of bounds

Despite the fact that this is clearly meant to be interpreted as a joke, it provides an insight into the nature of their relationship as well as the relationships of the other characters in the play. This statement insinuates that violent undertones are evident in all relationships, despite the fact that physical violence is not present her. Interestingly however, this statement indicates an inversion of the power structure which is prevalent within the other relationships due to the fact that Blanche, the woman, holds the power.




[mimicking] ‘Washing out some things’?


[mimicking] ‘Soaking in a hot tub’?

Stanley’s mocking of Blanche in a spiteful and (although not overtly violent) snide manner suggests his contempt for her.





[he hurls a plate to the floor]

That’s how I’ll clear the table! [He seizes her arm.] Don’t ever talk that way to me! ‘Pig – Polack – disgusting – vulgar – greasy!’ – them kind of words have been on your tongue and your sister’s too much around here!


 Remember what Huey Long said – ‘Every Man is a King!’ And I am the king around here, so don’t forget it! [He hurls a cup and saucer to the floor.] My place is cleared!


We see how Stanley uses physical violence to invoke fear in the women and also to assert himself over them. Throughout the play, this motif is often used in order to convey the continuing conflict between men and women, with the men often employing their physical prowess to overpower or strike fear into the women. Here, Stanley is responding to Stella’s attempt to order him to clear the table with an act of violence which results in her crying weakly.



You remember the way that it was? Them nights we had together? God, honey, it’s gonna be sweet when we can make noise in the night the way that we used to and get the coloured lights going...

Stanley reminisces about his and Stella’s sex life when Blanche was not there. The passionate intensity of the sex reflects the motif of violence, because it appears that Stanley fails to be tender even as a lover – the way he has sex is intense and violent, however Stella clearly enjoys this intensity as implied when Stanley later says “how you loved it, having them coloured lights going!”.




Sister Blanche, I’ve got a little birthday remembrance for you.


Ticket! Back to Laurel! On the Greyhound! Tuesday!

Although this action does not involve any physical violence it is clearly spiteful on Stanley’s part. He knowingly excites Blanche as the prospect of receiving a gift from him, and then when he gives her it, it is the most unwelcome gift he could have given, thus dashing her feelings of elation in a spiteful manner. This act reflects the conflict between Blanche & Stanley.





What do you want?

[fumbling to embrace her] What I been missing all summer.

Mitch’s intention to rape her followed by Stanley’s successful rape of Blanche is the climactic point of this motif. Such a violent and deplorable crime is the epitome of violence in the play and serves to reflect the objectification of women in the society, whilst simultaneously asserting the men’s power over them.







[softly] Come to think of it – maybe you wouldn’t be bad to – interfere with...


We’ve had this date with each other from the beginning!

[He picks up her inert figure and carries her to the bed]



Key Moment:

I feel that the rape at the end of scene 10 is clearly the key moment for the motif of violence. I think this moment ties together all of the themes that are reflected by the theme of violence, and rape not only incorporates physical but also psychological violence, further accentuating the importance of this moment.


Violence is often seen as a result of conflict in the play, and this moment clearly results from all of the conflicts explored throughout the text. Primarily, the conflict between Blanche and Stanley reaches a climax here, when the two are alone. Stanley’s hate for her and Blanche’s dislike for him have reached bursting point and the violent conflict here results in Stanley not only displaying his supremacy over her physically but also sexually. Not only this, but on a wider level, the rape links to the conflict between men and women which is so prevalent in the play. Rape is the ultimate symbol of male dominance over women and as such, Williams uses this event to highlight the differences between the sexes, and the fact that it is later covered up by most of the characters suggests that this is something that a man can get away with in a society such as Elysian Fields. On a wider scale, the rape (and Stanley’s ‘victory’ over Blanche) symbolises the differences between the declining Upper class and the rising Lower class. Stanley, portraying the Lower class hordes physically and emotionally beats Blanche here, and this is representative of the way that the Lower class appears to be winning the struggle for dominance in society at the time Williams is writing.


Overall, I feel that the motif of violence is something which is present throughout the play, mainly in Stanley’s manner, and although most obviously conveyed through the three major events of physical violence (Stanley beating Stella, Stanley smashing his plate and Stanley raping Blanche), violence is not restricted to these moments and is also manifested in emotional and psychological violence (mostly on Stanley’s part). Williams uses the motif in order to accentuate his main theme of conflict; between men and women; Stanley and Blanche; and the different classes in his society.