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‘This play explores the clash between two cultures not two individuals’ Consider this perspective in A Streetcar named Desire.
In A Streetcar Named Desire, Williams does indeed explore two cultures rather than two individuals to a great extent. Throughout the play, the audience witnesses the clash between ‘Old South’ culture which is embodied by our protagonist Blanche who comes from a plantation owning, aristocratic family and the ‘New South’ culture which is embodied by our working-class immigrant antagonist, Stanley. The struggle for these two characters to co-exist is manipulated by Williams to fulfil his intention to explore the cultural evolution in post-war America and to examine whether these same cultures with opposing convictions and ideologies can harmoniously survive, or if one will ultimately prevail. Irrespective of this, a few audience members may argue that indeed the play explores the clash between two individuals and their demeanour and actions that have been caused not due to a cultural clash, but desire.
Initially, Williams’ excellent usage of plastic theatre, in this case, costumes and their colours, is the first way he explores the clash between two cultures. While Blanche appears ‘daintily dressed in a white suit… white gloves and hat, looking as if she were arriving at a summer cocktail party’, Stanley is depicted as ‘roughly dressed in blue denim work clothes’ Blanche and Stanley act as one another’s antithesis from the onset of the play: the juxtaposition between the two’s attire denotes the two’s conflict in terms of their social backgrounds. The vivacity of colours ‘blue’ and ‘red’ symbolise the vibrant and flourishing ‘New South’ whilst Blanche’s white the dull and fading nature of the ‘Old South’, as well as connoting purity - or rather, the lack of it as the audience will later find out. America post-war adopted a more diverse population and particularly New Orleans where the play was set was a multicultural city with liberals morals which contested with those of conservative, or ‘Old South’ ideals. (idyllic time of plantations, culture, and etiquette/propriety etc.) This actively alerts the audience and raises the tension as they can sense the conflict already being constructed between these two characters. Also, It is ought to be noted the stage direction ‘lurid nocturnal brilliance’ in the Poker Night. The adjective ‘lurid’ suggests something is unpleasant - and so, in this context, the light in the kitchen is unpleasantly bright and creates a harsh and unnatural effect. Williams perhaps subtly hints at his own beliefs that the more meritocratic America was a curse rather than a blessing. This interpretation has strengthened the idea that the ominous, ‘raw’ colours foreshadow the crude act of violence which Stanley will later perform. It is as if primitive beasts like Stanley are overruling what was once a more sophisticated and refined America.
Throughout the play, Williams explores the massive cultural distinction between Blanche and Stanley and how that distinction taints their relationship. For instance, Blanche’s bigotry and xenophobia towards Stanley can be seen through her continual zoomorphism in scene 4 when she calls him a ‘pig’, ‘Polack’, ‘ape’, ‘Survivor of the stone age’ and a list of other insults to emphasise Stanley’s ‘bestial’ nature. This articulates Williams examination of the widely held belief among plantation owners and their descendants that the end of the South agrarian culture led to a decline of American civilisation where people lacked refinement and were seen as lesser beings on an evolutionary scale. Although some may argue that Blanche is indeed being truthful when she calls him an ‘ape’ as characteristic traits of apes include intelligence, deceit and lasciviousness, all of which are rather familiar sounding to Stanley’s, he still challenges her, albeit not instantly; he simply ‘grins’ at Blanche ‘through the curtains’. This menacing response written within the stage directions may evoke worry and apprehension by the audience for Blanche but for some it may also invoke pity for Stanley as Blanche is living in his house, eating his food and driving a wedge between him and his wife, justifying his desire to get rid of her. It is in scene 8 where Stanley finally loses his patience with Blanche’s ill-informed bigotry as he declares via the imperative command “I am not a Polack… so don’t ever call me a Polack”. Stanley does indeed represent the ‘New South’. While those like him have thrived in this ‘New South’, those like Blanche have simply become relics; the Southern landed aristocracy from which she assumes her sense of superiority no longer has a viable presence in the American society, generating conflict. Lastly, stand this approving reference to Huey Long, a corrupt American politician who reduced unemployment and improved the social services shows his working-class allegiance.
The aforementioned paradigm alongside many other scenes evoking conflict between Blanche and Stanley means that it shouldn’t come as a surprise to the audience when in scene 10 Stanley declares “We had this date from the beginning”, insinuating that the rape was fated all along. The euphemistic metaphor ‘date’ suggests a loving and consensual affair which is ironic as Stanley’s ultimate act of cruelty symbolises the final destruction of Blanche, hence the Old South’s genteel and fantasy. Alternatively, some may believe that the rape was the result of Stanley’s desire of maintaining power and dominance over Blanche in his house as well as desire to put Blanche in her place.
Stella also plays a massive role in Williams’ exploration of the clash between cultures. For instance, in scene 3 after Stanley abused Stella and their later reconciliation ‘with low, animal moans’, Blanche comments: “There’s so much- so much confusion in the world”. A so-called ‘Southern Belle’, a relic of the past, is unable to comprehend the world of the ‘New South’ and the values that Stanley and Stella hold; she is a representation of the ‘Old South’ which was being replaced by an increasingly industrialising, emerging ‘New South’ whose values almost juxtaposed those of the ‘Old South’, thus creating conflict between the two cultures. In the early 1940s, American society expected men to adhere to specific characteristics that define masculinity such as aggression, stoicism and toughness which wouldn't shock a modern audience however it would shock a Southern Belle like Blanche because she's used to a more gentlemanlike treatment from men who would try to woo her and court her in the ‘Old South’, Alternatively, it is arguable that this phenomenon was not due to the values of the ‘New South’ but because of the raw desire that dominates Stanley and Stella’s relationship. This interpretation is strengthened even in the final scene; Stella is crying due to her sister’s departure but it is written within the stage directions that Stanley ‘finds the opening of her blouse’ where again we see the pair reconcile on a non-verbal level, underscoring the physical desire and nature of their relationship. Stella and Stanley’s relationship is that of extreme libido to the point where Stella decided to trade her sister for sexual gratification in scene 11, sending to a mental hospital, her betrayal forever being the reason of the two sister’s conflict. Whereas this argument may be valid, others may also believe that she didn’t have any choice. She chooses to follow Blanche’s example and forces herself to live in an illusion rather than in reality so that she can continue to live with Stanley, who will provide a life and financial security and stability for her as well as her newborn child, as contextually she wouldn't have the facilities to do it herself.
Therefore, it seems that while some audiences may prefer to interpret Williams' exploration of the clash between the two individuals a result of desire between individuals, the argument that the play focuses on the cultural clash prevails as most events of the play have subtly or not been influenced by the clash between ‘Old South’ and ‘New South’
I have handwritten this and edited it a bit but essentially this is the gist