Tennessee Williams’ powerful play conjures up the heat and passion of the Deep South.
In Tennessee Williams’ most powerful and well-known play, Blanche DuBois is a fading, though still attractive, Southern belle whose poise is an illusion she presents to shield others (but most of all herself) from reality. She visits her sister Stella Kowalski in New Orleans (one of the streetcars that she takes to get there is named ‘Desire’) and the steamy, urban ambiance of Stella’s home is a shock to Blanche’s nerves. Stella, who fears the reaction of her husband Stanley – a force of nature, primal, rough-hewn, brutish, and sensual – welcomes Blanche with some trepidation.
The arrival of Blanche upsets her sister and brother-in-law’s relationship and she begins to hold court in the Kowalski apartment, infuriating Stanley and leading to conflict between him and Stella, who is pregnant. Blanche and Stanley are on a collision course, and Stanley’s friend and Blanche’s would-be suitor, Harold ‘Mitch’ Mitchell, gets trampled in their path. As Blanche’s veneer of self-possession begins to slip drastically she withdraws into a world in which fantasies and illusions blend seamlessly with reality.
Stanley discovers Blanche’s past and confronts her in ways that are predictably cruel and violent. In the closing moments of the play, as her grip on reality fades, Blanche utters her signature line to the kindly doctor who leads her away: ‘Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.’
The character of Blanche is thought to be based on Williams’ sister, Rose, who struggled with mental health issues and became incapacitated after a lobotomy.