Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
Stanley Kowalski, the 'foreign' husband of Blanche's sister Stella, is of Polish origin. He is the perfect stereotype of a blue-collar worker and member of the lower class of society. By nature, he is coarse, vulgar, rude, foul-mouthed, and violent. He prides himself on his virility and exudes sexual energy. Very much a man's man, Stanley passes his time in bowling, poker, sex, and drinking. His life's principles are to possess and control everything around him, including his car, his liquor, his apartment, and especially the women in his life. He is supremely overconfident and can never stand to lose, whether it is an argument, a game, or his superiority. With Blanche, he asserts his superiority by overcoming her physically, since he is no match for her in other ways.
As a husband, Stanley is totally chauvinistic. He has molded Stella to his satisfaction, and she is like a puppet on a string for him. When she wishes to go out for dinner and a movie with her sister, his immediate concern is whether she has prepared something for him to eat. He makes it clear that he is the lord and master around the house and in the marriage and that he will tolerate no arguments. There can be only one law operating, and that is, his word. When his word is questioned, he turns vulgar and violent, as evidenced in the times he hits Stella.
Stanley is very vengeful by nature. He immediately sees his sister- in-law as a threat to his marriage. When Stella begins to assert herself in her sister's presence, Stanley blames Blanche for the change in his wife. He eavesdrops on a conversation between the sisters and hears Blanche call him 'bestial', 'sub-human', and 'brute'. He cannot stand it that he does not control his sister-in-law, and he cannot pardon Blanche for staying under his roof and instigating his wife to leave him. He vows revenge and plots her downfall. He conducts private inquiries about Blanche's past, and when he learns that she has led a sordid, immoral life, he knows he can be victorious. He buys her a one-way bus ticket back to Laurel and gives it to her as a birthday present. He reveals everything to Mitch, his closest friend, and feels he has done him a grand favor by preventing him from marrying a tramp. In reality, he has destroyed Blanche's hope for the future.
Stella, meaning 'star', is the wife of Stanley and the sister of Blanche. A passive character throughout the play, she is more played upon than played against. A symbol of compromise and adjustment, she is the pawn between the two major characters, Stanley and Blanche. She comes from the same refined and educated background as Blanche, but has forsaken it for life with her lusty, domineering husband. She seems to justify the compromise by constantly saying that she loves Stanley. In the play, however, she seems motivated by fear of her husband's violence. She accepts his behavior as a characteristic part of their poor, working class lifestyle. When Blanche arrives, she is horrified by Stanley's uncouth behavior and tells Stella she ought to leave him.
In trying to maintain peace between Stanley and Blanche, Stella is caught in a tough situation, for she loves both of them. She stands up fiercely for her husband, when Blanche tries to instigate her to leave the "brute". She keeps repeating, "I'm not in anything, I want to get out of" and repeatedly says she loves Stanley and nothing else matters. Yet when Stanley is cruel to Blanche, Stella fights for her sister too. She tells Stanley that "people like you abused her and forced her to change." She criticizes him for buying Blanche a one- way bus ticket and for telling Mitch about her past. Stella is torn between Stanley and Blanche and defends both.
With the arrival of Blanche, there is a subtle, yet clear change in Stella. Blanche arouses Stella's former self, and she begins to questions Stanley's behavior. At the beginning of the play, Stella mildly tells her husband, "Don't holler at me like that." As the play progresses, she challenges her husband more openly and says, "This is my house and I'll talk as much as I want to!" When Stanley is about to strike Stella after the poker game in the third scene, she even threatens him, "You lay your hands on me and I'll ....". Stanley cannot believe this back talk and knows it comes as a result of Blanche. To win his wife back and to reestablish his superiority at home, Stanley must force Blanche's departure, which he successfully accomplishes by play's end. Blanche is gone, and Stella is all his once again.
In the end, Stella had to choose between her husband and her sister. It is pitiful to see that when, for once, Blanche speaks the truth about Stanley's brutal assault of her, Stella refuses to believe her sister. As Stella tells Eunice later, "I couldn't believe her story and go on living with Stanley". To save her marriage, Stella conveniently sacrifices Blanche by sending her to the state institution.