A Streetcar Named Desire

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A Streetcar Named Desire Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Tennessee Williams
Born in Columbus, MS, Williams moved to St. Louis, MO as a child. Williams’s literary career began early: at age sixteen, Williams won five dollars for an essay entitled “Can a Good Wife be a Good Sport?” Williams attended the University of Missouri, where he frequently entered writing contests as a source of extra income. But after Williams failed military training during junior year, his father pulled him out of college and put him to work in a factory. At age twenty-four, Williams suffered a nervous breakdown, left his job, and returned to college, studying at Washington University in St. Louis but finally graduating from the University of Iowa in 1938. Williams lived in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1939, writing for the Works Progress Administration. He later traveled to Hollywood to work as a screenwriter.
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Historical Context of A Streetcar Named Desire
During and immediately after World War II, most of the mainstream American art was patriotic and optimistic, rallying the country around the idea of a robust, victorious nation. Many critics see Brando’s dangerous yet seductive portrayal of Stanley as leading the way for the youth movement and the rock-and-roll culture of the 1950s and 1960s.
Other Books Related to A Streetcar Named Desire
Williams’s 1945 play The Glass Menagerie also revolves around tense familial relationships, memories, and dreams. Blanche du Bois shares many similarities with both Amanda Wingfield, an aging Southern belle who clings to memories of her past as an ingénue, and Laura Wingfield, the fragile, somewhat unstable sister. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman also portrays a family through generations and explores the interaction between dreams and reality.
Key Facts about A Streetcar Named Desire
  • Full Title: A Streetcar Named Desire
  • When Written: 1946-7
  • Where Written: New York, Los Angeles, and New Orleans
  • When Published: Broadway premiere December 3, 1947
  • Literary Period: Dramatic naturalism
  • Genre: Psychological drama
  • Setting: New Orleans, LA
  • Climax: Stanley’s rape of Blanche at the end of Scene Ten
  • Antagonist: Stanley Kowalski
Extra Credit for A Streetcar Named Desire

That Rattle-trap Streetcar Named Desire. The Desire streetcar line operated in New Orleans from 1920 to 1948, going through the French Quarter to its final stop on Desire Street.

Streetcar on the silver screen. The original 1947 Broadway production of Streetcar shot Marlon Brando, who played Stanley Kowalski, to stardom. Brando’s legendary performance cemented the actor’s status as a sex symbol of the stage and screen. Elia Kazan, who directed both the original Broadway production and the 1951 film adaptation, used the Stanislavski method-acting system, which focuses on realism and natural characters instead of melodrama. The Stanislavski system asks actors to use their memories to help give the characters real emotions. Brando based his depiction of Stanley on the boxer Rocky Graziano, going to his gym to study his movements and mannerisms. Largely due to Brando’s Stanley and Vivian Leigh’s iconic Blanche, Kazan’s film has become a cultural touchstone, particularly Brando’s famous bellowing of “STELL-LAHHHHH!”

Oh, Streetcar! In an episode of The Simpsons, the characters stage a musical version of A Streetcar Named Desire called Oh, Streetcar! Mild-mannered Ned Flanders as Stanley gives the famous “STELLA” yell, singing, “Can’t you hear me yell-a? You’re putting me through hell-a!”