Joe Strong's Reviews > A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
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Dec 21, 10

Read in January, 2009

If someone wanted to know about Tennessee Williams, this is the book to read. Set in the Deep South, the trysting place for all of Williams’ most successful works, the book is a triumph, Williams at his best. The exploration of the mind through the characters is something of a masterpiece; to find a novel that can do this is rare, to find a play; impossible. But that’s just him. With strong personal connotations, Williams’ sister having been taken to a mental institution and he himself living as an illegal homosexual, the exploration of a woman’s life, both past and present, is mesmerising.
But it is important to remember that A Streetcar Named Desire is a play, to be performed (though written in such a way that it could be read). And as a performance, it has become enshrined as one of the most successful and challenging plays in the world, with only the top actresses (Vivien Leigh, Glenn Close, Cate Blanchett and Rachel Weiss, to name a few) having pulled off the enigma that is Blanche. Her mental condition fragile, entering in a state of disarray, fabricating a life for herself, she ends up trapped in her cobweb of lies, so deep she even fools herself. The emotional journey of Blanche for me out shadows that of Medea and Hedda Gabler; her story is one that is rich with light and shade, moments of sadness, of comedy and dripping in tragedy.
However, A Streetcar isn’t just Blanche. The play also delves into the lives of her sister, Stella, and husband, Stanley, exploring the transitional nature of America and the relationships between sex, class and race. A crucial read for the study of 20th Century America, no doubt, but one that allows us to enter the lives of New Orleans citizens in such depth that it feels real. By no way is this play the be all and end all of American life, indeed, for a New York perspective, read Miller, perhaps. Yet, very few play writes, and none that I could immediately name, have come quite as close as Williams has to entering the great crevasses of the brain, the mind. To describe it is impossible, to read it fantastically simple.
To study or to read, this is by far one of the greatest plays ever.
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