The Cards Indicate a Voyage on 'A Streetcar Named Desire'

Citation metadata

Author: Leonard Quirino
Editors: Jean C. Stine and Daniel G. Marowski
Date: 1984
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 3,104 words

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

So much has been written about A Streetcar Named Desire in terms of its theatrical presentation as interpreted by a specific director and set of actors and so much concern has been lavished on the social attitudes and psychological constitution of its characters that the author's primary intention as revealed in his use of mythic symbolism and archetypal imagery to create a dialectic between soul and body to depict universally significant problems such as the conflict and mutual attraction between desire and death has been generally obscured or denigrated as pretentious. My own intention in this essay is to consider the play neither as interpreted in any specific production nor as it may embody a study of satyriasis, nymphomania, or reconstruction in the South, but, rather, as it constitutes what an examination of its symbolism reveals to be Tennessee Williams' intention: a tragic parable dramatizing existence, the fact of incarnation, itself. Far from wishing to dissolve Williams' carefully constructed characters and theatrical effects into illustrations of archetypal figures or myths devoid of the author's particular “signature,” I shall try to suggest how Williams' special use of two very ordinary symbols—the cards of destiny and the voyage of experience—aesthetically patterns the mosaic of his literary and theatrical imagery in Streetcar, investing the play with an artistry and meaning that transcend the mere theatricality and sensationalism with which it has so often been credited and discredited.

“Catch!” ... says Stanley Kowalski throwing a bloodstained package of meat to his wife, Stella, at the opening of the first scene of A Streetcar Named Desire. Laughing breathlessly, she manages to catch it. “This game is seven-card stud,” reads the last line of the play. In between, much of the verbal and theatrical imagery that constitutes the drama is drawn from games, chance and luck. Williams had called the short play from which Streetcar evolved The Poker Night, and in the final version two of the most crucial scenes are presented within the framework of poker games played onstage. Indeed, the tactics and ceremonial of games in general, and poker in particular, may be seen as constituting the informing structural principle of the play as a whole. Pitting Stanley Kowalski, the powerful master of Elysian Fields against Blanche DuBois, the ineffectual ex-mistress of Belle Reve, Williams makes the former the inevitable winner of the game whose stakes are survival in the kind of world the play posits. For the first four of the eleven scenes of Streetcar, Blanche, by reason of her affectation of gentility and respectability, manages to bluff a good hand in her game with Stanley; thus, in the third scene Stanley is continually losing, principally to Mitch the potential ally of Blanche, in the poker game played onstage. However, generally suspicious of Blanche's behavior and her past, and made aware at the end of the fourth scene that she considers him an ape and a brute, Stanley pursues an investigation of the real identity of her cards. As, little by little, he...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100001571