A Streetcar Named Desire

Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire
(London: Penguin, 2014)
First performed: 1947

He breaks into sobs. Then he goes to the phone and dials, still shuddering with sobs.

STANLEY: Eunice? I want my baby. [He waits a moment; then he hangs up and dials again.] Eunice! I’ll keep on ringin’ until I talk with my baby!

An indistinguishable shrill voice is heard. He hurls the phone to the floor. Dissonant brass and piano sounds as the rooms dim out to darkness and the outer walls appear in the night light. The ‘blue piano’ plays for a brief interval.
Finally, Stanley stumbles half dressed out to the porch and down the wooden steps to the pavement before the building. There he throws back his head like a baying hound and bellows his wife’s name: ‘Stella! Stella, sweetheart! Stella!

STANLEY: Stellahhhhh!

Tennessee Williams was a pioneer of ‘plastic theatre’—the use of props to symbolise deeper meaning. One of the most iconic uses of plastic theatre in A Streetcar Named Desire is Williams’ use of Blanche’s ‘rhinestones’ to convey a preoccupation with superficial appearances; however, the telephone functions in a similar manner, representing the characters’ failure to communicate.

Early in the play, the audience witness a scene of abuse between Stanley and his wife and Blanche’s sister, Stella. After hitting her, he tries to telephone the upstairs flat, where Stella is hiding. Unable to get through, Stanley ‘hurls the phone to the floor’ and resorts to screaming up at the flat until she comes down. This illustrates a divide between the civilised, polite and private conversation (symbolised by the telephone, which Stanley violently rejects) and the primal, and very public, act of ‘hollering’.

by Rose Brennan