Thursday, August 25, 2016
Why didn't anyone tell me that A Streetcar Named Desire includes a character whose husband killed himself once his wife admitted disgust with his sexual orientation?
I really love Williams. I read Glass Menagerie my senior year in high school, and saw a production of Spring Storm in college, but I'd never been all that interested in A Streetcar Named Desire. Stanley Kowalski just seemed like such a bundle of toxic masculinity that I wasn't all that interested in his narrative.
And that's what I thought it was - Stanley and Stella's story. But it's not, not by a mile.
Blanche, broken, lost, ageing, confused, regretful, Blanche, is the star of the story and that makes it a much more interesting play. Stanley and Stella are healthy people in an unhealthy relationship - they have a vitality and rawness about them that is compelling to read, but it doesn't hold a candle to the fascination I felt as I got to know Blanche and her fragile, failing grip on the world.
Also, in spite of the issue of the bury your gays trope that's discussed so much these days, it's important that Williams has a dead queer character in this story that is such a massive part of building the masculine mythos of the 50s. Without Streetcar we don't get Brando, without Brando we don't get the masculine ideals we're living with now. I can't say for sure what masculinity would have looked like in America in 2016 if we hadn't had Brando in 1957, but stinking, sweating, tee-shirt-tearing Stanley Kowalski is a huge part of what laid the foundations for modern masculinity. And that's why it's so fascinating by the fact that he has a canonical counterweight who is only experienced by the audience through Blanche's shattered memories. Blanche's lover was beautiful, he was refined, he was gentle, he was sweet, he was poetic, and he was gay. This isn't a homosexist exploration that divides the men from the sissies, this is Williams illustrating a kind of masculinity that was deplored and countering it with the gross, abrasive, abusive, violent masculinity of the world he lived in.
Which is important as fuck when you remember that it was written by a man who was queer bashed and attacked for his own presentation of masculinity, who was institutionalized like his shattered protagonist, and who was in many ways adrift in a world that didn't have a space for him.
All of which is lit-major speculation. If you want an actual appraisal of the play I think it's stunning and full of beautiful language that sings off the page and puts hooks in your heart. I think the characters are beautifully sculpted masterpieces who are a joy to watch. I think it's wonderful, that Tennessee Williams was a brilliant playwright, and that I want to read much more of his work.
Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. New Directions. New York: New York.