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The Attitude Towards New And Old In The Play A Streetcar Named Desire

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In the play ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, written by ‘Tennesee Williams’, the erratic protagonist ‘Blanche’ embodies the cultivated ideals of the ‘old world’, juxtaposing the character of ‘Stanley’ whom represents the industrialised ‘new world’ which fundamentally comprises of patriarchal motivations and post-war values. Throughout the play, Blanche is invariably threatened and exploited by Stanley, consequently jeopardizing her aristocratic semblance as an ‘Southern Belle’. Williams successfully illustrates the contrasting attitudes towards the ‘new’ and ‘old’ world through the progressive demise of Blanche’s facade as a result of Stanley’s manipulation of her character.

Firstly, Williams presents the antiquated morality of the ‘old world’ to be an elaborate pretence which Blanche maintains throughout ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’ In Scene Two, ‘Stella’ informs her husband Stanley ‘Stan- we’ve lost Belle Reve’ and the palatial childhood dwelling of the sisters Blanche and Stella symbolises to the audience an indication of their aristocratic heritage, and therefore when Blanche forewarns Stella that they have ‘lost’ their plantation, it alludes to the corresponding eradication of the ‘old world’ which Blanche and Stella were previously associated with. Furthermore, ‘Belle Reve’ is a French pseudo, translating to ‘beautiful dream’ which encapsulates the notion that the distinguished ‘old world’ is simply Blanche’s idealistic evasion and ceases to exist in the mid twentieth century industrialized reality. Moreover, the use of ‘Plastic Theatre’ throughout Scene Two depicts to the audience the increasing fabrication of Blanche’s aristocratic reputation that embodies the ‘old world’. At the opening of the scene, the stage directions read ‘...leaving the door open on the perpetual ‘blue piano’ around the corner’. The motif of the ‘blue piano’ arises throughout the play, and signifies the intensifying of Blanche’s conflicting emotions due to her romanticised fantasy of the ‘old world’ which Stanley progressively deconstructs. As the music is described to be ‘around the corner’ this successfully foreshadows to the audience that Blanche’s illusions are temporary and that the diverse and modern ‘new world’ is inevitable to American society. Plastic Theatre is furthermore implemented throughout the play in order to exemplify Blanche’s deceptions , and in the penultimate scene of the play where Blanche is climatically raped by Stanley, William’s stage directions describe the walls of the New Orleans flat to ‘have become transparent’, accordingly reflecting the harsh actuality of the heterogeneous ‘new world’ invading Blanche's fantasy of the preservation of the refined ‘old world’ where she is temporarily conserved from reality. Lastly, Williams applies the ‘Unity of Place’ into ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ in order to accentuate the illusionary world in which Blanche dwells in, and the subsequent vulnerability of her mentality. As the majority of the play is set in Stella and Stanley’s New Orleans flat, an element of claustrophobia is implemented into the tense atmosphere, and thus reflects the burdens that Blanche endured from other characters, namely Stanley, in an attempt to disintegrate her archaic illusions of the ‘old world’. In conclusion, Williams presents the ‘old world’ to be an illusion constructed by Blanche in Scene Two, and utilises Plastic Theatre and the Unity of Time in order to reinforce this to the audience throughout the play.

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Additionally, Williams reflects attitudes towards the surreptitious negative implications that the prosperous ‘new world’ has on characters in the play and consequently 1940s American society. The ‘new world’ in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, where hostility and both sexual and physical violence established the masculine sphere, is represented through the primitive character of ‘Stanley’, and Williams explores the patriarchal domination that the ‘new world’ elicits Stanley to assert over the female characters in the play, explicitly Stella and Blanche, and the negative repercussions of his actions. In Scene Two, when Stella and Stanley are disputing the loss of ‘Belle Reve’, Stanley tells Stella ‘... and when you’re swindled under the Napoleonic Code I’m swindled too.’ Stanley’s references to the ‘Napoleonic Code’ enables him to add a legal dimension to the justification of his misogynistic beliefs of entitlement towards Stella’s inheritance of ‘Belle Reve’, as Stanley evidently concludes that Stella’s subservience is expected in financial affairs. Through Stanley’s mentioning of the ‘Napoleonic Code’ his persistent ignorance is reflected to the audience, as he is immediately dismissive that due to ‘Belle Reve’ being located in Mississippi, the plantation consequently would not be exposed to New Orleans jurisdiction, thus demonstrating that Stanley manipulates all situations to exert his superiority over Stella, in order to establish the male-centric society that was instituted in 1940s America. Furthermore, the stage directions in Scene Two of the play evidence the patriarchal ‘new world.’ Williams directs that ‘[Stella] jumps up and kisses [ Stanley] which he accepts with lordly composure’ and the authoritative connotations of ‘lordly’ highlight to the audience the disparity of power within Stella and Stanley’s relationship as Stella’s expected submissiveness to her husband is acknowledged. However a strong sense of irony is instilled by Williams describing Stanley’s composure as ‘lordly’, as his relationship with Stella is the only element in his life which Stanley has the capability to control, and otherwise is gratified with the monotonous routine of sex and poker games, thus contrasting the typical connotations of ‘lordly’. Stanley’s patriarchally driven aggressiveness is furthermore apparent throughout the rest of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ and is demonstrated through his brutal rape of Blanche in the penultimate scene. William’s stage directions read ‘[Stanley] picks up her inert figure and carries her to bed’ and Stanley’s ultimate superiority over Blanche through the implied sexual assault signifies his patriarchal triumphance, as he is ultimately able to exhibit complete control over Blanche, whom throughout the play has violated the stereotypical gender roles that women in the ‘new world’ were expected to adhere to. Stanley’s rape of Blanche thus evokes empathy for for character and evades Stanley’s pragmatic qualities that were manifested by Stanley in earlier scenes of the play, and consequently the implied utopian perception of the ‘new world’ is eradicated from ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, thus reflecting pessimistic attitudes towards the world and values that Stanley constitutes. In conclusion, Williams presents negative aspects towards the ‘new world’ through the corrupt ideals and principles of Stanley.

In conclusion, Williams successfully demonstrates apposing attitudes towards the ‘new world’ and the ‘old world’, through the characters of Blanche and Stanley. William’s depicts the illusionary aspect of the ‘Old South’ through the gradual deterioration of Blanche’s mentality, thus alluding to the profitable ‘new world’ heavily influencing American society in the 1940s. However, Williams alludes to the potential dangers of the ‘new world’ through Stanley’s patriarchal aggressiveness in both physical and sexual aspects towards both Blanche and Stella, thus implying to the audience that perspectives towards neither the ‘new world’ or the ‘old world’ are comprehensively favourable.

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The Attitude Towards New And Old In The Play A Streetcar Named Desire. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 6, 2023, from
“The Attitude Towards New And Old In The Play A Streetcar Named Desire.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
The Attitude Towards New And Old In The Play A Streetcar Named Desire. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 6 Dec. 2023].
The Attitude Towards New And Old In The Play A Streetcar Named Desire [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 17 [cited 2023 Dec 6]. Available from:
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