Stanley Kowalski Essay Contest

Tennessee Williams was born Thomas Lanier Williams III in Columbus, Mississippi, in 1911. His friends began calling him Tennessee in college, in honor of his Southern accent and his father’s home state. Williams’s father, C.C. Williams, was a traveling salesman and a heavy drinker. Williams’s mother, Edwina, was a Mississippi clergyman’s daughter prone to hysterical attacks. Until Williams was seven, he, his parents, his older sister, Rose, and his younger brother, Dakin, lived with Edwina’s parents in Mississippi.

In 1918, the Williams family moved to St. Louis, marking the start of the family’s deterioration. C.C.’s drinking increased, the family moved sixteen times in ten years, and the young Williams, always shy and fragile, was ostracized and taunted at school. During these years, he and Rose became extremely close. Edwina and Williams’s maternal grandparents also offered the emotional support he required throughout his childhood. Williams loathed his father but grew to appreciate him somewhat after deciding in therapy as an adult that his father had given him his tough survival instinct.

After being bedridden for two years as a child due to severe illness, Williams grew into a withdrawn, effeminate adolescent whose chief solace was writing. At sixteen, Williams won a prize in a national competition that asked for essays answering the question “Can a good wife be a good sport?” His answer was published in Smart Set magazine. The following year, he published a horror story in a magazine called Weird Tales, and the year after that he entered the University of Missouri to study journalism. While in college, he wrote his first plays, which were influenced by members of the southern literary renaissance such as Robert Penn Warren, William Faulkner, Allen Tate, and Thomas Wolfe. Before Williams could receive his degree, however, his father forced him to withdraw from school. Outraged because Williams had failed a required ROTC program course, C.C. Williams made his son go to work at the same shoe company where he himself worked.

After three years at the shoe factory, Williams had a minor nervous breakdown. He then returned to college, this time at Washington University in St. Louis. While he was studying there, a St. Louis theater group produced two of his plays, The Fugitive Kind and Candles to the Sun. Further personal problems led Williams to drop out of Washington University and enroll in the University of Iowa. While he was in Iowa, Rose, who had begun suffering from mental illness later in life, underwent a prefrontal lobotomy (an intensive brain surgery). The event greatly upset Williams, and it left his sister institutionalized for the rest of her life. Despite this trauma, Williams finally managed to graduate in 1938.

In the years following his graduation, Williams lived a bohemian life, working menial jobs and wandering from city to city. He continued to work on drama, however, receiving a Rockefeller grant and studying playwriting at the New School in New York. His literary influences were evolving to include the playwright Anton Chekhov and Williams’s lifelong hero, the poet Hart Crane. He officially changed his name to Tennessee Williams upon the publication of his short story “The Field of Blue Children” in 1939. During the early years of World War II, Williams worked in Hollywood as a scriptwriter and also prepared material for what would become The Glass Menagerie.

In 1944, The Glass Menagerie opened in New York and won the prestigious New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, catapulting Williams into the upper echelon of American playwrights. A Streetcar Named Desire premiered three years later at the Barrymore Theater in New York City. The play, set in contemporary times, describes the decline and fall of a fading Southern belle named Blanche DuBois. A Streetcar Named Desire cemented Williams’s reputation, garnering another Drama Critics’ Circle Award and also a Pulitzer Prize. Williams went on to win another Drama Critics’ Circle Award and Pulitzer for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955.

Much of the pathos found in Williams’s drama was mined from the playwright’s own life. Alcoholism, depression, thwarted desire, loneliness, and insanity were all part of Williams’s world. His experience as a known homosexual in an era unfriendly to homosexuality also informed his work. Williams’s most memorable characters, many of them female, contain recognizable elements of their author, Edwina, and Rose. His vulgar, irresponsible male characters, such as Stanley Kowalski, were likely modeled on Williams’s own father and other males who tormented Williams during his childhood.

Williams’s early plays also connected with the new American taste for realism that emerged following the Depression and World War II. The characters in A Streetcar Named Desire are trying to rebuild their lives in postwar America: Stanley and Mitch served in the military, while Blanche had affairs with young soldiers based near her home.

Williams set his plays in the South, but the compelling manner in which he rendered his themes made them universal, winning him an international audience and worldwide acclaim. However, most critics agree that the quality of Williams’s work diminished as he grew older. He suffered a long period of depression following the death of his longtime partner, Frank Merlo, in 1963. His popularity during these years also declined due to changed interests in the theater world. During the radical 1960s and 1970s, nostalgia no longer drew crowds, and Williams’s explorations of sexual mores came across as tired and old-fashioned.

Williams died in 1983 when he choked on a medicine-bottle cap in an alcohol-related incident at the Elysée Hotel in New York City. He was one month short of his seventy-second birthday. In his long career he wrote twenty-five full-length plays (five made into movies), five screenplays, over seventy one-act plays, hundreds of short stories, two novels, poetry, and a memoir. The mark he left on the tradition of realism in American drama is indelible.

A Note on the Epigraph

The epigraph to A Streecar Named Desire is taken from a Hart Crane poem titled “The Broken Tower.” Crane was one of Williams’s icons. Williams’s use of this quotation is apt, as Crane himself often employed epigraphs from his own icons, including Melville, Whitman, Dickinson, and Blake. Williams felt a personal affinity with Crane, who, like himself, had a bitter relationship with his parents and suffered from bouts of violent alcoholism. Most important, Williams identified with Crane as a homosexual writer trying to find a means of self-expression in a heterosexual world. Unlike Williams, Crane succumbed to his demons, drowning himself in 1932 at the age of thirty-three.

Williams was influenced by Crane’s imagery and by his unusual attention to metaphor. The epigraph’s description of love as only an “instant” and as a force that precipitates “each desperate choice” brings to mind Williams’s character Blanche DuBois. Crane’s speaker’s line, “I know not whither [love’s voice is] hurled,” also suggests Blanche. With increasing desperation, Blanche “hurls” her continually denied love out into the world, only to have that love revisit her in the form of suffering.

Linda L. Domagalski, nee Kowalski, age 56, beloved wife of Thomas P. Domagalski; loving mother of Carrie; dearest daughter of Helene and the late Stanley Kowalski; fond sister of Marion Kowalski; daughter-in-law of Evelyn and the late Raymond Domagalski; respected sister-in-law and aunt. Funeral Monday 9:45 a.m. from Casey-Laskowski & Sons Funeral Home, 4540-50 W. Diversey Ave., to St. Ferdinand Church. Mass 10:30 a.m. Interment St. Adalbert Cemetery. Visitation Sunday 4 to 9 p.m. 773-777-6300 .
By Michael Phillips, Tribune theater critic | May 3, 2005
At the former Studio 54 space, Roundabout Theatre Company is producing a play that now and then bears a passing resemblance to "A Streetcar Named Desire." This one should have been called "A Streetcar Named Ambivalence." Directed by Edward Hall, who did "Rose Rage" in Chicago and New York and, in London, staged the funniest "Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" I've ever seen, the production stars Natasha Richardson. From the neck down her Blanche DuBois looks like the most gymtoned...
By Steve Johnson. Tribune Television Critic | October 28, 1995
"A Streetcar Named Desire": Serendipity, or fine planning? Either way, cable's AMC airs (8 p.m., 1:30 a.m.) Elia Kazan's celebrated 1951 version of Tennessee Williams' classic drama the night before CBS airs a new version (7 p.m. Sunday, WBBM-Ch. 2). It's a rare opportunity to, with minimal effort, compare acting styles and directorial technique and to wallow in the gothic splendor of Williams' story and language, somewhat abridged in the Kazan version. Watch both, and...
Linda L. Domagalski, nee Kowalski, age 56, beloved wife of Thomas P. Domagalski; loving mother of Carrie; dearest daughter of Helene and the late Stanley Kowalski; fond sister of Marion Kowalski; daughter-in-law of Evelyn and the late Raymond Domagalski; respected sister-in-law and aunt. Funeral Monday 9:45 a.m. from Casey-Laskowski & Sons Funeral Home, 4540-50 W. Diversey Ave., to St. Ferdinand Church. Mass 10:30 a.m. Interment St. Adalbert Cemetery. Visitation Sunday 4 to 9 p.m. 773-777-6300 .
By Michael Wilmington, Tribune movie critic | November 12, 1993
Steamy, lyrical, heartfelt and shatteringly sad, Elia Kazan's superb 1951 movie of Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire"-now released in a "director's cut" that restores last-minute cuts forced on Warner Brothers by industry censors-is a landmark in American theater and film. It still can tear at your heart. When Vivien Leigh's Blanche DuBois, lovely and poignant as a torn violet, walks hesitantly through the movie's New Orleans' French Quarter, bewildered by...
By Lawrence Bommer, Special to the Tribune | October 1, 2004
Marlon Brando may be gone but that doesn't mean Stanley should stop screaming at Stella. The domestic disturbance returns Friday when Raven Theatre reignites "A Streetcar Named Desire," Tennessee Williams' celebrated 1949 play that depicts one woman's elaborate self-destruction and the unsought help she receives from one unkindly stranger. Stanley Kowalski (Mike Vieau)--brutal, direct, and impervious to illusion--and his prey, sister-in-law Blanche DuBois (Liz Fletcher), a cracked...
By Richard Christiansen, Tribune Chief Critic | May 8, 1995
"A Streetcar Named Desire's" Blanche DuBois is a great role for an actress, and though a black Blanche, by its very nature, might seem impossible, it is a role that any actress, regardless of color, would want to play. Jackie Taylor, leading lady and guiding force of the Black Ensemble Theatre, is currently portraying Blanche in a production that, with a little editing and a few embellishments, makes the story work on a basic, primal level. To heighten the action, director...
By Michael Wilmington, Tribune movie critic | September 29, 2003
Elia Kazan, whose achievements as a director of both film and theater made him one of the most famous and influential artists of his era -- but whose testimony against fellow ex-Communists before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952 made him an object of scorn to many in leftist American artistic and political circles -- died of unknown causes Sunday in New York at 94. Kazan directed great movies such as "On the Waterfront," "East...
By John Petrakis | July 20, 2001
The Chicago Outdoor Film Festival, which takes place Tuesdays at sunset in Grant Park, can be a cinematic bonding experience, especially when that evening's offering is top notch. That is certainly the case with this week's choice, 1951's "A Streetcar Named Desire" ((star)(star)(star)(star)), director Elia Kazan's film adaptation of the Pulitzer-Prize winning play by Tennessee Williams that made an immediate star of Marlon Brando (Stanley Kowalski) and bracketed the career of the great and...
Stanley M. Kowalski Kole, M.D., D.D.S., age 87, of Bonita Springs, Florida, passed away on Monday, Oct. 28, 2002 in Naples, FL. Dr. Kole was a dentist in the Chicago area until his retirement to Bonita Springs six years ago. He was a graduate of the Chicago Dental School and the Chicago Medical School and a member of the Illinois Dental Society and Chicago Medical Society; beloved husband of Florence H. Kole for 62 years; loving father of Margaret Klasa...
By Cheryl Lavin | September 13, 1987
Marlon Brando in a torn T-shirt yelling "Stellaaaaa" in "A Streetcar Named Desire." Marlon Brando playing with his grandson in "The Godfather." These are just two of the many unforgettable film images of the man who is usually considered the country's greatest actor. In "Brando" (New American Library), writer Charles Higham looks at the man behind those images. Q-Marlon Brando played Stanley Kowalski so well in "Streetcar." Was he like Kowalski? A-In some ways. Brando was certainly very passionate,...
By John Petrakis | July 20, 2001
The Chicago Outdoor Film Festival, which takes place Tuesdays at sunset in Grant Park, can be a cinematic bonding experience, especially when that evening's offering is top notch. That is certainly the case with this week's choice, 1951's "A Streetcar Named Desire" ((star)(star)(star)(star)), director Elia Kazan's film adaptation of the Pulitzer-Prize winning play by Tennessee Williams that made an immediate star of Marlon Brando (Stanley Kowalski) and bracketed the career of the great and...
By Richard Christiansen, Chief critic | April 13, 1992
In the 45 years since its first Broadway opening, "A Streetcar Named Desire" has become one of the few truly mythic works of theater in the United States. Along with a handful of other productions, including Eugene O`Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night" and Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman," Tennessee Williams` landmark play has come to symbolize American drama at its deepest and most eloquent level of poetic realism; and as such, it has acquired a legendary status in our theater history.
By Richard Christiansen, Tribune Chief Critic | May 6, 1997
That old but still powerful "A Streetcar Named Desire" really rumbles along in Steppenwolf Theatre's 50th anniversary revival of Tennessee Williams' drama. Director Terry Kinney opens his production with a high-volume roar of the cranking and groaning of the symbolic streetcar, followed by an ear-splitting burst of loud New Orleans jazz, and then a bit of stillness as Blanche DuBois, all in white, wanders unwittingly into the street called Elysian Fields. Throughout the next 3 1/2 hours,...
By Steve Johnson, Tribune Television Critic | October 27, 1995
In Tennessee Williams' classic American drama "A Streetcar Named Desire," the heroine, rice-paper magnolia Blanche DuBois, frets about being "played out. " It is also a perfect phrase to describe the viewer's approach to a new production of "Streetcar." Etched in memory by others, or bypassed by a more plain-spoken style of writing, one fears it too will start to look faded, a Southern belle upon which time has taken an unmistakable toll. But CBS' new film of the play, simply by trusting in its power and...
By Steve Johnson. Tribune Television Critic | October 28, 1995
"A Streetcar Named Desire": Serendipity, or fine planning? Either way, cable's AMC airs (8 p.m., 1:30 a.m.) Elia Kazan's celebrated 1951 version of Tennessee Williams' classic drama the night before CBS airs a new version (7 p.m. Sunday, WBBM-Ch. 2). It's a rare opportunity to, with minimal effort, compare acting styles and directorial technique and to wallow in the gothic splendor of Williams' story and language, somewhat abridged in the Kazan version. Watch both, and...
By Michael Phillips, Tribune theater critic | May 3, 2005
At the former Studio 54 space, Roundabout Theatre Company is producing a play that now and then bears a passing resemblance to "A Streetcar Named Desire." This one should have been called "A Streetcar Named Ambivalence." Directed by Edward Hall, who did "Rose Rage" in Chicago and New York and, in London, staged the funniest "Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" I've ever seen, the production stars Natasha Richardson. From the neck down her Blanche DuBois looks like the most gymtoned...
By Steve Johnson, Tribune Television Critic | October 27, 1995
In Tennessee Williams' classic American drama "A Streetcar Named Desire," the heroine, rice-paper magnolia Blanche DuBois, frets about being "played out. " It is also a perfect phrase to describe the viewer's approach to a new production of "Streetcar." Etched in memory by others, or bypassed by a more plain-spoken style of writing, one fears it too will start to look faded, a Southern belle upon which time has taken an unmistakable toll. But CBS' new film of the play, simply by trusting in its power and...
By Richard Christiansen, Tribune Chief Critic | May 6, 1997
That old but still powerful "A Streetcar Named Desire" really rumbles along in Steppenwolf Theatre's 50th anniversary revival of Tennessee Williams' drama. Director Terry Kinney opens his production with a high-volume roar of the cranking and groaning of the symbolic streetcar, followed by an ear-splitting burst of loud New Orleans jazz, and then a bit of stillness as Blanche DuBois, all in white, wanders unwittingly into the street called Elysian Fields. Throughout the next 3 1/2 hours,...
By Richard Christiansen, Tribune Chief Critic | May 8, 1995
"A Streetcar Named Desire's" Blanche DuBois is a great role for an actress, and though a black Blanche, by its very nature, might seem impossible, it is a role that any actress, regardless of color, would want to play. Jackie Taylor, leading lady and guiding force of the Black Ensemble Theatre, is currently portraying Blanche in a production that, with a little editing and a few embellishments, makes the story work on a basic, primal level. To heighten the action, director...

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