A Streetcar Named Desire

About A Streetcar Named Desire

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During the incredibly successful run of The Glass Menagerie, theater workmen taught Williams how to play poker. Williams was already beginning to work on a new story, about two Southern belles in a small apartment with a rough crowd of blue-collar men. A poker game played by the men was to be central to the action of the play; eventually, this story evolved into A Streetcar Named Desire.

Streetcar hit theaters in 1946. The play cemented William's reputation as one of the greatest American playwrights, winning him a New York's Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize. Among the play's greatest achievements is the depiction of the psychology of working class characters. In the plays of the period, depictions of working-class life tended to be didactic, with a focus on social commentary or a kind of documentary drama. Williams' play sought to depict working-class characters as psychologically-evolved entities; to some extent, Williams tries to portray these blue-collar characters on their own terms, without romanticizing them.

Tennessee Williams did not express strong admiration for any early American playwrights; his greatest dramatic influence was the brilliant Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. Chekhov, with his elegant juxtaposition of the humorous and the tragic, his lonely characters, and his dark sensibilities, was a powerful inspiration for Tennessee Williams' work. At the same time, Williams' plays are undeniably American in setting and character. Another important influence was the novelist D.H. Lawrence, who offered Williams a depiction of sexuality as a potent force of life; Lawrence is alluded to in The Glass Menagerie as one of the writers favored by Tom. The American poet Hart Crane was another important influence on Williams; in Crane's tragic life and death, open homosexuality, and determination to create poetry that did not mimic European sensibilities, Williams found endless inspiration. Williams also belongs to the tradition of great Southern writers who have invigorated literary language with the lyricism of Southern English.

Like Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams wanted to challenge some of the conventions of naturalistic theatre. Summer and Smoke (1948), Camino Real (1953), and The Glass Menagerie (1944), among others, provided some of the early testing ground for Williams' innovations. The Glass Menagerie uses music, screen projections, and lighting effects to create the haunting and dream-like atmosphere appropriate for a "memory play." Like Eugene O'Neill's Emperor Jones and Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, Williams' plays explores ways of using the stage to depict the interior life and memories of a character.

In Streetcar, stage effects are used to represent Blanche's decent into madness. The maddening polka music, jungle sound effects, and strange shadows help to represent the world as Blanche experiences it. These effects are a departure from the conventions of naturalistic drama, although in this respect Streetcar is not as innovative as The Glass Menagerie. Nevertheless, A Streetcar Named Desire uses these effects to create a highly subjective portrait of the play's central action. On stage, these effects powerfully evoke the terror and isolation of madness.