To begin with, the characters appearing in Scene 1 are
dismissed with only brief description (if any) of their appearance. When
Blanche appears, however, she is described in detail, not only her clothes but
also the impression she gives of delicacy and vulnerability. As we read on, her
appearance becomes ever clearer and so does her character. Her appearance —
slim figure, a face of delicate fading beauty is described in the stage
directions, and the readers also gather further information about her from the
other characters’ comments. (Indeed she demands flattering comments from her
sister, from the reluctant
We are given the full details of her past later by
Blanche may hide her alcoholism behind her euphemisms but she does recognise some of her weaknesses (‘I’ve got to be good and keep my hands off children’ - Scene 5). The weakness that she never does admit, and may not be aware of, is the reckless streak in her, which makes her risk her chance of security in the episode with the young man in Scene 5 and, repeatedly, when entertaining Mitch in Scene 6. Blanche’s oscillation between her fantasy world and a crushing awareness of the real world that lies just outside the boundaries of her imagination waiting to tear her apart results in a continued uncertainty about Blanche’s character and this, ultimately, contributes to making her a believable human being.
A similar method of characterization was used by Tennessee Williams when building up the character of Stanley Kowalski. The stage directions introducing him in Scene 1 give his physical description, stressing his animal sexuality, his machismo. He is meant to be seen as the cock of the walk, ‘the gaudy seed-bearer’ in the playwright’s striking phrase. His basic contempt for women may be gathered from the way he addresses the sisters during the poker game in Scene 3 (‘You hens cut out that conversation in there!’). He abuses his friends as well, but they respond with loyalty and even affection.
He is quite as class-conscious as Blanche herself. Having married a gentlewoman, he is acutely aware and resentful of the differences in outlook and manner between himself and his wife. It is therefore inevitable that there should be hostility between him and Blanche, who is trying to make Stella revert to the past of Belle Reve.
It is equally inevitable, given
Such questions in the readers’ minds refer of course only to
the action of the play, but they have a bearing on
There is a degree of ambiguity about Stella’s character. The stage directions in Scene 1 offer little information beyond ‘a gentle young woman ... of a background obviously quite different from her husband’s’. The readers learn about her from the other characters’ comments, especially Blanche’s, when she remarks on her sister’s quiet, reserved manner. Gradually the readers may grow aware of a dry irony in Stella’s brief remarks which implies an independence of mind and a certain hardness.
What strikes us most about Stella is her passionate love for
her husband. Strong sexuality is something the sisters share. Blanche is led by
it into promiscuity which will eventually take her into the mental hospital.
For Stella it is channeled into an overpowering passion for her husband which
will make Blanche’s committal unavoidable. Stella’s surrender to
When it comes to Stella and Stanley we might be permitted to wonder if the comic characters of Eunice and Steve were not introduced to foreshadow the Kowalskis’ later years - Stella slovenly, fat and blowzy after too many pregnancies, and Stanley, no longer the ‘gaudy seed-bearer’, but a fat, wheezing patron of the local prostitutes.
In the interplay of characters in A Streetcar Named Desire
Mitch too has a part. Shy, clumsy, slow-thinking, he is a foil to the shrewd,
The depiction of Mitch’s character depends entirely on the
dialogue, on other people’s comments on him, and on his own self-deprecating
remarks about himself. His role is to offer Blanche the promise of a safe
haven, to spur
Throughout the play the emphasis is on the characters’ natures which make them act in the way they do. The inevitability of fate that is at the heart of drama is created by the characters being what they are, by acting as they do because their natures compel them. The author’s skill lies in taking the human qualities necessary for the enactment of the tragedy, and building from them, through speech and action, believable human beings.