A Streetcar Named Desire

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Themes and Colors
Sexual Desire Theme Icon
Fantasy and Delusion Theme Icon
Interior and Exterior Appearance Theme Icon
Masculinity and Physicality Theme Icon
Femininity and Dependence Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Streetcar Named Desire, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Masculinity and Physicality Theme Icon

Masculinity, particularly in Stanley, is linked to the idea of a brute, aggressive, animal force as well as carnal lust. His brute strength is emphasized frequently throughout, and he asserts dominance aggressively through loud actions and violence. Even his clothing is forceful: he dresses in bright, lurid colors. Stanley’s masculinity is deeply connected to the “sub-human.” Williams describes him as a “richly feathered bird among hens” and a “gaudy seed-bearer.”

Much emphasis is placed on Stanley’s physical body: he is frequently seen stripping his shirt off; cross at Blanche for not letting him spend time in the bathroom (where the audience cannot see him, but can imagine his naked form). Stanley asserts his masculinity physically as well as psychologically. Physically, he bellows in a sort of animal mating call at Stella. He also forces himself upon Blanche. Psychologically, he investigates Blanche’s sordid past and brings it into the limelight, airing Blanche’s dirty laundry (both literally and metaphorically) to affirm his position as not only the alpha male but also the head of the household. Yet although Stanley is aggressively animal in his male nature, his masculinity also asserts itself in his response to the feminine. He has tender responses to Stella’s pregnancy; his tone shifts suddenly both when he breaks the news to Blanche and when Stella tells him that she is in labor. He also breaks down when Stella leaves him after he hits her.

Stanley is a prime specimen of manhood, but he is not a gentleman. Stanley represents the powerfully attractive but powerfully frightening threat of masculinity, whereas Mitch represents masculinity as a trait of comfort and refuge. If Stanley is the alpha male, Mitch is a beta male: still a masculine force, but not asserting the same kind of physical dominance over the space. But Mitch still finds his power through physical assertion. Mitch brags about his body to Blanche and insists on his precise measurements (six foot one, two hundred seven pounds). Even though Mitch isn’t as violently male as Stanley, he is just as imposing a physical specimen. Blanche sees Mitch as male enough to radiate a carnal attractiveness, but not physically or psychologically dangerous in the way that Stanley is.

Masculinity and Physicality ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Masculinity and Physicality appears in each scene of A Streetcar Named Desire. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Masculinity and Physicality Quotes in A Streetcar Named Desire

Below you will find the important quotes in A Streetcar Named Desire related to the theme of Masculinity and Physicality.
Scene 1 Quotes

Sit there and stare at me, thinking I let the place go? I let the place go? Where were you! In bed with your–Polack!

Related Characters: Blanche DuBois (speaker), Stanley Kowalski, Stella Kowalski
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

Blanche lashes out against Stella for choosing to leave the family estate of Belle Reve for a lower-class lifestyle. From Blanche’s perspective, Stella appears to have rejected the family’s aristocratic background in favor of a marriage to a man that she sexually desires.

But Stella is not embarrassed to be married to Stanley. Rather, Blanche is projecting her own feelings of shame onto Stella. Blanche cannot face her own guilt over letting Belle Reve collapse into both social and financial ruin. Instead, she makes herself feel morally superior by blaming Stella rather than herself. The word “Polack” demonstrates Blanche’s desperation to cling to social hierarchy: she uses racial slurs to cast down Stanley and to make herself feel as though she is of a higher class.

Blanche is also jealous of Stella’s freedom. Blanche has become an outcast in her hometown, Laurel, Mississippi, because of her scandalous behavior. She envies Stella’s relationship with her husband, and she envies Stella’s ability to live a happy and fulfilled life rather than being burdened with the ghosts of the past. Blanche cannot bear to face her own wrongdoings, and so she instead attempts to make Stella feel guilty for leaving, casting herself as the martyr rather than admitting her mistakes.

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Since earliest manhood the center of [Stanley’s] life has been pleasure with women, the giving and taking of it, not with weak indulgence, dependently, but with the power and pride of a richly feathered male bird among hens.

Related Characters: Stanley Kowalski
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

When Stanley enters the kitchen, Stanley and Blanche are in the same physical space for the first time in the play, and the stage directions commemorate this occasion by describing not only Stanley’s literal presence but also his symbolic appearance. Stanley’s power, especially his sexual power, is described as animal behavior, emphasizing his raw physicality and brute force. Animal metaphors are frequently used in the play to signify lust, and this symbolic dimension highlights the tense, sexually charged current between Stanley and Blanche.

Throughout the play, Blanche attempts to draw a contrast between herself and Stanley by emphasizing her delicate, aristocratic nature and highlighting his bestiality. But the animalistic description of Stanley ultimately draws Stanley and Blanche together. When Blanche comes to New Orleans, she is also described as an animal, since the stage directions depict her as looking like a fluttering moth. As much as Blanche sees Stanley as a beast, she also recognizes that he is a magnet for women, and that she is hardly immune. Indeed, even though she pretends to be disgusted by Stanley, Blanche has been looking at pictures of Stanley before he enters. The animal metaphors draw Stanley and Blanche together on a symbolic level long before they have any physical interaction.

Scene 2 Quotes

I never met a woman that didn’t know if she was good-looking or not without being told, and some of them give themselves credit for more than they’ve got.

Related Characters: Stanley Kowalski (speaker)
Related Symbols: Bathing
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

Blanche attempts to flirt with Stanley by fishing for compliments about her looks, but Stanley cuts straight through her coy banter. Blanche has just come out of the bath, and she wants to believe that she has washed herself clean and made herself fresh and young again. Blanche derives her power over men through being coy and indirect: she flutters her eyelashes and acts innocent in an attempt to draw men toward her. Stanley, however, asserts his own sexual power by refusing to play Blanche’s game. Blanche always wants to cloak herself in innuendos, masks, shadows, and other disguises instead of facing reality. Stanley operates in the physical present. He declares that he isn’t charmed or distracted by glamorous trappings. Stanley’s declaration that some women give themselves credit for more than they have is also a jab at Blanche herself.

Not only does Stanley assert his dominance by cutting through Blanche’s flirtatiousness, and thus undermining her source of power, but he also makes Blanche nervous about her own beauty. Blanche’s aging is her Achilles’ heel: she believes that as she grows older, she is losing her sexual attractiveness to men, so she grows more and more frantic to maintain this power through distraction and flirtation. Stanley shifts the power dynamic to put himself at the center, rather than Blanche. 


Now let’s cut the re-bop!

Related Characters: Stanley Kowalski (speaker)
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

Although Stanley lets Blanche talk coquettishly and indirectly with him for a little while, eventually he gets irritated with her coyness and demands that they speak plainly. At first, Blanche becomes even more flirtatious, since she thinks that this is Stanley’s way of taking their flirting to the next level, and she sends Stella out of the house so that she can focus her attentions on Stanley without being inhibited or chaperoned by her sister. However, as the conversation proceeds, Blanche realizes that Stanley’s anger isn’t just foreplay: he’s actually suspicious that Blanche is hiding money from Stella and, therefore, from him. Stanley wants to take control over everything that he thinks rightfully belongs to him, and that includes both Blanche’s property and Blanche herself. “Re-bop” is a word borrowed from jazz culture, not from Blanche’s aristocratic background, and the term makes Stanley, rather than Blanche, in control of the terms of the conversation. Rather than engaging with her vocabulary, Stanley shouts with his own slang, forcing the conversation into his idiom.

Oh, I guess he’s just not the type that goes for jasmine perfume, but maybe he’s what we need to mix with our blood now that we’ve lost Belle Reve.

Related Characters: Blanche DuBois (speaker), Stanley Kowalski
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

When Stella returns home, Blanche tells her that she and Stanley have discussed the matter of Belle Reve and their family’s finances, and that they’ve settled things out. To Stella, Blanche describes her conversation with Stanley lightly, assuring her that everything is fine. In this depiction of events, Blanche suggests that even though she and Stella come from a higher class than Stanley, sometimes people like Stanley can help balance them out and ground them in real life.

When Blanche shows Stanley the mortgage papers to prove that Belle Reve, the ancestral home, has indeed been lost, and that the cause of the loss was bad investment by several generations of ancestors, Stanley becomes sheepish and says that he is so concerned because Stella is going to have a baby. Upon learning that Stella is pregnant, Blanche switches from painting Stanley as a brute who is unworthy of Stella’s love to portraying Stanley as a raw, untamed man who will benefit from Stella and Blanche’s generosity in opening their family to him. 

Red-hot!

Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

When Blanche and Stella are sitting on the steps together, and Blanche explains her version of the discussion between Stanley and herself, a tamale vendor yells “Red-hot!” in the background. Blanche tells Stella that she and Stanley had a nice, lighthearted conversation, and that she had even flirted with Stanley – all in the name of good fun, of course. Though Blanche jokes about her flirtation, her description of the events in hindsight is quite different than what actually occurred between herself and Stanley. She paints the scene as to appear genteel and aristocratic, rather than tinged with violence and lust.

The cry “Red-hot!” in the background is, on one level, innocent, since the shout comes from a vendor who is trying to hawk tamales to customers. However, the phrase also symbolically suggests the accelerating sexual tension between Stanley and Blanche. Although Blanche might try to pretend to Stella that she is still the delicate, untouched ingénue, Blanche herself has animal desire lurking just below the surface, and things are not as calm and cool as she might want them to appear to be.

Scene 3 Quotes

STELL-LAHHHHH!

Related Characters: Stanley Kowalski (speaker), Stella Kowalski
Related Symbols: Alcohol and Drunkenness
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

Stanley, in a drunken rage, has just hit Stella, and so she has gone to the upstairs neighbor’s apartment for a safe haven. When Stanley realizes that Stella is gone, he becomes extremely mournful. All his rage melts away, and he longs for Stella to return. The only way he knows how to assert his mastery is through physicality. Rather than try to apologize with reason and with a conversation, he instead yearns for Stella to return so that he can make up to her with his actions. The stage direction calls for Stanley to shout “with heaven-splitting violence,” and in the original version of A Streetcar Named Desire, the actor Marlon Brando, who played Stanley, made this line famous for doing just that.

Stanley’s shout comes as a distinct contrast to Blanche’s repetition of Stella’s name. Blanche emphasizes the fantasy and beauty that Stella’s name evokes, referring to Stella as “Stella for star.” However, Stanley turns Stella’s name into a primal yell. Stanley’s roar drowns the meaning of Stella’s name, and the shout becomes a mating cry. Indeed, Stella finds herself drawn back to Stanley magnetically. And When Stella returns to Stanley, he does not apologize verbally to her. Instead, he caresses her tenderly, showing his feelings physically rather than telling them. 

Scene 4 Quotes

There are things that happen between a man and a woman in the dark–that sort of make everything else seem–unimportant.

Related Characters: Stella Kowalski (speaker), Stanley Kowalski
Related Symbols: Shadows
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

After Stanley hits Stella, Blanche insists that Stanley is too dangerous, especially because Stella is pregnant, and that Stella must leave Stanley. However, even though Stella recognizes that Stanley’s aggression is wrong, she is also thrilled and aroused by his bestial nature. Stanley’s power does sometimes come out in a violent way, but other times, his passion emerges through tenderness and through sexual energy. Blanche claims that she wants to shield Stella from the world, but Stella is much more experienced and pragmatic than Blanche is. Blanche wants to cast herself in the role of savior by swooping in to save Stella, but Stella asserts her own power by declaring that she doesn’t need saving.

Stella’s demureness and roundabout way of discussing sexual relations (couching it in the language of shadows and euphemism) around Blanche is ironic in the context of what is later revealed about Blanche’s history. Although Blanche pretends to be very prim and proper, she was expelled from Laurel, Mississippi for her promiscuity. Blanche may pretend to be innocent and naïve about carnal desire, but she is no stranger to sexuality. 

What you are talking about is brutal desire–just–Desire!–the name of that rattle-trap street-car that bangs through the Quarter.

Related Characters: Blanche DuBois (speaker), Stella Kowalski
Related Symbols: The Streetcar
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

The streetcar named Desire that provides this play with its title is both the name of a streetcar in New Orleans and a metaphor for the powerful and often dangerous emotion that propels the characters in the play. Even though each character might choose to step onto the streetcar, he or she does not necessarily know where the streetcar will go, or how long the ride will be, or whether or not he or she will be able to get off. Desire is the engine that powers New Orleans in Williams' play. As the streetcar rumbles through the streets, everyone is reminded of its constant, inescapable presence, and of the fact that this force is what governs everyone in the city.

Blanche is scornful about desire because she fears it. Desire, to Blanche, signifies a raw, animal energy that she cannot pretend to ignore. Blanche also knows that desire is the passion that drove her to New Orleans in the first place. Allegorically, succumbing to illicit desire drives Blanche out of her hometown, and then Desire literally drives Blanche to Stella and Stanley’s apartment.

Don’t–don’t hang back with the brutes!

Related Characters: Blanche DuBois (speaker), Stanley Kowalski, Stella Kowalski
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:

Blanche tells Stella that Stanley is an uncivilized animal, and that when Stella associates herself with him, she is turning her back on the world of culture and art that they came from. Yet Blanche’s tirade against Stanley is ultimately not so much a warning for Stella, but a demonstration of Blanche’s own anxiety and her resulting defense mechanisms. Blanche fears Stanley’s power because she can’t control it, and she looks down on Stanley because he comes from a lower class than Blanche and Stella. Blanche is also anxious about her own sexual attraction to Stanley. Her admonition to Stella and her rage against Stanley serve as Blanche’s warning to herself.

Blanche’s characterization of Stanley as a brute also carries prejudiced overtones. Throughout the play, Blanche refers to Stanley in a derogatory way as a “Polack,” equating his ethnic heritage with associations of low culture and ape-like qualities. She puts down Stanley to try to lift herself and her own background up by comparison.

Scene 6 Quotes

Sometimes–there’s God–so quickly!

Related Characters: Blanche DuBois (speaker)
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

Despite acting as though she is laying the whole truth bare to Mitch, Blanche is still pretending to be innocent when she flirts with him. Blanche divulges the story of her failed marriage, but she tells the story in such a way that she is the one who deserves pity and help. Even though she acts like she is opening up to tell Mitch her darkest, most sordid secrets, she disguises her confessions in a cloak of romance that makes her appear in a favorable light.

In the context of the scene, it is unclear whether or not Blanche’s exclamation is addressed to Mitch or to herself. If it’s addressed to Mitch, she is still playing the sweet, innocent victim, and the exclamation comes as a sign of her desire to ensnare him through her guiles. If the exclamation is addressed to herself, it could signal a crack in her façade, showing a moment of genuine relief that someone is there to pay attention to her and to give her comfort and acceptance. 

Scene 9 Quotes

I told you already I don’t want none of his liquor and I mean it. You ought to lay off his liquor. He says you’ve been lapping it up all summer like a wild-cat!

Related Characters: Harold Mitchell (Mitch) (speaker), Blanche DuBois, Stanley Kowalski
Related Symbols: Alcohol and Drunkenness
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the play, metaphors of beasts and animality are used throughout the play to refer to physical lust and raw sexuality. Blanche calls Stanley a “brute” and a “beast.” The stage directions refer to Stanley as a rooster preening among female hens. Here, Mitch’s use of the term “wildcat” for Blanche foreshadows Stanley’s outcry later in the play, when Stanley calls Blanche a “tiger” just before raping her. Calling Blanche a “wildcat” also symbolically pulls Blanche from the realm of magic into the physical world.

Mitch also proudly differentiates himself from Stanley in this exclamation. Stanley is the alpha male throughout the entire play. However, in this outburst, Mitch declares himself to be self-sufficient, and therefore, by implication, a sexual partner worthy of Blanche’s attention on his own terms. Blanche treats Mitch as a sympathetic and gentle character, but in this outburst, Mitch tries to reclaim some of the sexual energy that Stanley exudes.

Scene 10 Quotes

Tiger–tiger! Drop the bottle-top! Drop it! We’ve had this date with each other from the beginning!

Related Characters: Stanley Kowalski (speaker), Blanche DuBois
Related Symbols: Alcohol and Drunkenness
Page Number: 162
Explanation and Analysis:

Stanley aggressively attacks Blanche, insisting that their carnal lusts have both led them to sleep with each other. Stanley calls Blanche a “tiger,” emphasizing the raw, animal power of desire present in both people. Stanley demonstrates his violent passion for Blanche in this scene, yet Blanche is not wholly guilt-free, as she also desires him, and has been physically attracted to him since the beginning of the play (her "willingness," however, depends on the production of this scene). Although Blanche likes to pretend throughout the play that she is a delicate, coy, innocent maiden who has never had more than a gentle flirtation with a man, Stanley has discovered Blanche’s more sordid sexual history, and he is not afraid to present her with the truth. Blanche wants to create illusions and live in a world of her own fantasy, but Stanley is only interested in the present moment and in reality.

Stanley’s admonition to her to drop the bottle has several layers of significance. Blanche is holding a broken bottle at Stanley in threat, so he wants her to let go of the weapon and surrender to her carnal passion. Stanley also wants Blanche to let go of the security blanket of alcohol. Rather than drowning her feelings in liquor, and drowning the present in her memories of the past, Stanley insists that she occupy the harsh, merciless present.

Scene 11 Quotes

You left nothing here but spilt talcum and old empty perfume bottles–unless it’s the paper lantern you want to take with you. You want the lantern?

Related Characters: Stanley Kowalski (speaker), Blanche DuBois
Related Symbols: Paper Lantern and Paper Moon
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:

Blanche attempts to stall her trip to the asylum, which signifies her forced acceptance of reality, by desperately pretending that she has left items behind. Stanley yells at her roughly, asking if she wants the paper lantern that she has placed over the bare bulb. Stanley’s question is literal, on the surface: Blanche bought the paper lantern, so the object does belong to her. But the line is less important for its literal than its symbolic meaning. On one level, the lantern shows how far Blanche has fallen: she's gone from a wealthy, cultured upbringing to owning nothing but a piece of paper. Furthermore, throughout the play the paper lantern has signified Blanche’s mania for hiding reality in illusion and cloaking the harsh truth with fanciful stories. By thrusting the paper lantern at her, Stanley rips off Blanche’s final delusions and fantasy life.

The talcum bottles and paper lantern also symbolize the false effects of the theater itself. A stage set is created through illusions and magic, and it provides an escape from the real world. When Blanche exits, the play ends: she is the glue that holds the illusion of the play itself together.