Through currents that are subtle yet nonetheless powerful, dominance is a controlling factor in relationships- both of the past and present. Dramatized to demonstrate the effects of dominance, the connection between passion and violence in Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire is based on this battle for power and control. Demonstrated through the relationships of Stella with Stanley and Blanche with Stanley, the struggle for authority forms the interplay between physical force and physical love.
The first encounter that the reader has of dominance is through the actions of Stanley during the first poker night. At one point in the game, Stanley slaps Stella’s thigh, which she says “makes [her] so mad when he does that in front of people” (50). The implication of the remark is that- in a private setting- Stella likes it when Stanley strikes her in a sexual way. However- in a public setting- it is not an action of sexual energy but of primal control. The slap serves as a way to reinforce Stanley’s dominance over Stella, and is a demonstration to his fellows of power and masculinity. Similarly, when Blanche fiddles with the radio as a way to test and probe Stanley’s animalistic ascendancy, he responds with a show of dominance in throwing the radio out the window.
Stanley’s need to display his authority may seem to have been heightened by alcohol, but rather the alcohol acts as a removal of what social inhibitions he may have possessed. Alcohol reveals true, basic desire. Through its instrumentation, one is stripped of over-civilization and becomes more inclined towards primal actions. Both Stanley and Stella in this scene have consumed alcohol, and their actions, based in dominance and desire, reflect this.
Stanley’s appearance of masculinity and authority, however, is disrupted by an overt challenge from Stella: “Drunk –drunk – animal thing, you!” (62). Stanley meets Stella’s challenge with conduct reminiscent of an alpha male. He charges at her, but once Stella retreats upstairs “he throws back his head like a baying hound and bellows his wife’s name” (66). As Stella responds to his calls and descends the outdoor staircase, they come together with “low, animal moans” (67). Stanley then adopts a submissive position in which he kneels before her and rests his head on a stomach that is curving with slight maternity. This action is a yielding to Stella’s authority and a recognition of her momentary dominance over him.
It has been shown that the violence and rough passion of Elysian Fields delights Stella, and a potential part of the allure for her is in the pleasure of being able to dominate and control Stanley- a man whose person is bestial and forceful. Stanley is commonly recognized as being the dominant personality in his relationship with Stella, yet when “he falls to his knees on the steps and presses his face to her belly,” (67) it is shown that Stanley’s attraction to Stella causes him to sacrifice some of his dominance to her control. This is demonstrated through Stella’s conversation with Blanche the following morning. After having spent the night with her husband, Stella asserts that “[Stanley] was good as a lamb when [she] came back” (72). This statement reinforces the dominance and sexual power that Stella takes pleasure in having over Stanley; in this instance, he is the lamb to her lion.
This situation and others similar to it bring light to the idea that hostility and violence are forms of foreplay to passionate physical love. The logic of the situation lies in how feelings of passion and arousal are heightened by experiencing the lows of pain and abuse. This dynamic is underscored by Steve and Eunice; like Stanley and Stella, their passion follows violence and aggression.
A more dramatic example of the role dominance plays in the exchange of violence and passion is that of Blanche’s rape by Stanley. In Scene 10, Blanche’s state of hysterics at Stanley’s advance causes her to break a bottle, so as to use the sharp edges of broken glass as a defense. Despite being a protective measure, Blanche’s weaponization of the bottle also serves as a threat to Stanley’s dominance. Stanley, who recognizes this threat to his masculine authority, declares his dominance over her through sex. It can be seen that Blanche becomes submissive to his power, and “sinks to her knees” (162). Blanche’s kneeling position- glaringly reminiscent of when Stanley fell to his knees in Stella’s arms- is a recognition of Stanley’s dominance and authority over her.
What is commonly perceived as Stanley’s ensuing rape of Blanche, in context of this play, is in fact a statement of carnal desire and brutal passion, despite being rooted in domination. It is probable that Blanche, behind romantic and old-fashioned ideals, lusts after the domination of a strong man to force himself upon her. When Stanley inquires incredulously if Blanche thought he would interfere with her, Blanche’s response of, “Come to think of it- maybe you wouldn’t be bad to- interfere with…” (161) precedes her backwards, deliberate movement into the bedroom. This, coupled with her kneeling submission to Stanley’s force, leads the reader to believe that despite this sexual relation being based in Stanley’s dominance, it is truly an act of desire. This exertion of power and authority follows the same pattern of violence and physical passion; aggression and threat- which for Stanley and Blanche begins in the first scene- acts as a drawn-out foreplay to the imminent culmination of desire in a sexual act.
In the relationships of Stella with Stanley and Blanche with Stanley, domination is the basis from which aggression and threat forms, which is followed by passion and physical love. Within Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire, it can be shown that this battle for dominance is the foundation for the interplay of violence and passion. Though in this text exaggerated in order to detail how dominance plays a role in relationships, power and control are ever-present- though somewhat subtle- factors all in associations and relationships.
Bell, Bethany. “Violence against Women: One-third of EU Women Affected – Survey – BBC News.” BBC News. Copyright © 2015 BBC, 5 Mar. 2014. Web. 29 Nov. 2015. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-26444655>.
“Romeo and Juliet: Lord Capulet | Publish with Glogster!” Glogster. Glogster © 2007 – 2012. Web. 29 Nov. 2015. <http://www.glogster.com/ariannakitching/romeo-and-juliet-lord-capulet/g-6kre5o549fbfps0agsha5a0>.