A Streetcar Named DesireA Streetcar Named Desire is a play by Tennessee Williams describing a culture clash between Blanche Dubois -- a pretentious, fading relic of the Old South -- and Stanley Kowalski -- a rising member of the industrial, inner-city immigrant class. In the first stage versions, Marlon Brando starred as Stanley, Jessica Tandy as Blanche, Kim Hunter as Stella, and Karl Malden as Mitch. Brando portrayed Stanley with an overt sexuality that made Brando, Stanley, and Tennessee Williams cultural touchstones. The play opened on Broadway on December 3, 1947.
Brando's magnetic performance tricked audiences into rooting for Stanley in the opening scenes of the play, effectively implicating them in Stanley's eventual brutality towards Blanche.
Blanche Dubois is a fading southern belle whose pretension to virtue and culture only thinly masks her nymphomania and alcoholism. After her ancestral southern plantation is "lost" (due to the "epic fornications" of her ancestors), Blanche arrives at her sister's house, in the French Quarter of New Orleans, where the multicutural setting is a shock to her nerves.
Stella, the sister, is just as addicted to sex as Blanche, and is willing to put up with Stanley's crudity and lack of culture because he is great in bed. (Of course, she doesn't put it in quite those simple terms -- but this was racy stuff in the 1940s.)
Blanche and Stanley, together with Arthur Miller's Willy Loman, are among the most recognizable characters in American drama.
The reference to the streetcar or tram called Desire is ironic, as well as an accurate piece of New Orleans geography. Blanche has to travel on it to reach Stella's home. It means that she has already indulged in desire before she arrives. Her sorrow is that the pleasure brought from desire is only short, just like the tram journey. It does not give her security. Yet, she cannot return on the streetcar named desire, because she has only a one-way ticket.
In 1951, Elia Kazan directed a movie based on the play; Vivien Leigh replaced Tandy but the other three main characters remained the same. In 1999 the film, widely regarded a classic, was deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
The movie won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Karl Malden), Best Actress in a Leading Role, (Vivien Leigh), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Kim Hunter) and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White. It was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Marlon Brando), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Costume Design, Black-and-White, Best Director, Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, Best Picture, Best Sound, Recording and Best Writing, Screenplay.
Streetcar came shortly after Williams's first big success, The Glass Menagerie (1945). While Williams kept writing plays and fiction into the 1980s, none of his later works lived up to the critical reputation of his first hits.