Williams explores the theme of violence throughout ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’; this could possibly be influenced by Williams’ childhood, of which he was a victim of his brutal father. All through the play violence is depicted as a destructive force that leads to the downfall of Blanche’s sanity. Williams’ portrays this idea through the characters of Blanche, Stanley and Stella.
In 1940’s America violence was often seen as a masculine attribute, which Williams illustrates through the character of Stanley. Often Stanley expresses his masculinity through loud noises. These include his “bellowing” and “booming” voice along with his tendency to smash objects such as “light-bulbs” and the “small white radio”. The violent nature in which Stanley “tosses the instrument out of the window”, displays how violence can lead to destruction. The word “toss” suggests carelessness proving to the reader that Stanley takes pride of his violence and the masculinity produced by it. This act of violence contributes to the brutal reality that Blanche is so keen so escape from. Its Blanche’s methods of escapism that lead to the descent of her sanity, therefore violence can be a destructive force that leads to the downfall of Blanche’s sanity.
As well as masculinity, violence is also associated with alcohol in A Streetcar Named Desire. One of the most poignant moments in the play is when Stanley rapes Stella. Before this incident he is said to have had “a few drinks on the way” and then he later proceeds to “[pick] up her inert figure and [carry] her to the bed”. The word “inert” evokes sympathy in the reader as it holds connotations of being helpless and powerless, thus depicting her as a victim. This alcohol-induced, sexual violence is the ultimate factor that sends Blanche into complete insanity. The tie between alcohol and physical aggression essentially destroys Blanche’s sanity and sends her into a deep madness.
Lastly, Williams makes links between violence and marriage, especially that of Stanley and Stella. Their relationship is built upon many components, one of which is violence. This comes to light in scene 3 when “Stanley charges towards Stella” which is followed by “the sound of a blow”. However, Stella claims that this incident “wasn’t anything serious”. This statement indicates that violent behaviour isn’t abnormal in their marriage and therefore the tension between the two lays the foundation of their relationship. As the southern belle Blanche likes to think she is, such aggression is incongruent with her persona and her “softness” can’t tolerate it. After this event, Blanche tries to make Stella leave Stanley but Stella can’t help but embrace “him with both arms.” Stanley then “grins through the curtains at Blanche” as if to mark his territory over Stella. The fight for Stella badly affects Blanche, as her relationship with her sister is the one stable thing in her life. Blanche loses Stella to her husband despite his violence, which Blanche finds incomprehensible. The relationship between violence and marriage effectively destroys the relationship between Blanche and her sister.
The brutality of such an environment further leads Blanche to her madness; therefore violence acts a destructive force that results in the downfall of Blanche’s sanity.
In conclusion, violence is a prevalent theme in A Streetcar Named Desire and holds ties with masculinity, alcohol and marriage. Williams has used this theme to show how all episodes of violence are destructive forces that help drive Blanche to her eventual insanity.