Who is Stanley Kowalski?
Introduced to the reader through the aggressive symbolism of raw meat, Williams seems to have a very clear intention of who we wants Stanley to be. Right from our opening scene, the playwright sets our location in hot, steamy New Orleans, where the first character the audience meets is the Stanley–in all his raw and uncivilized mannerisms–touting along a package of meat as though a lion after his hunt. He is powerful, savage, and fierce, driven by an “animal joy” that is indicative of a man in control. What one must note is the decision to have Stanley open the play, as though the playwright is offering a blatant foreshadowing of who will control the ultimate fate of the plot. One can almost imagine this beginning scene substituting the end scene, for it has all the elements that bring the story full circle; the master is bringing home the head of the victim under his shoulder, in control of his life, his wife and everything around him. The reader can almost see his self-confident, arrogant, swaggering walk as he saunters to his bowling alley, walking with his head up and his shoulder’s drawn back. That an audience can so clearly imagine Stanley’s persona within the first few lines of the play indicate an independent ferocity that it makes it seem like Williams is documenting rather than writing Stanley. One can imagine Williams chasing Stanley around with a pen, writing down his actions.
Now, while there are those who argue that the character of Stanley is rife with insecurity, I must wholeheartedly disagree. Williams details Stanley as being “at the peak of [his] physical manhood,” an idea that suggest that he is of the age where his success is limited only by how violently he is willing to hunt down a course of action and his powerful physicality gifts him the title of alpha male. One cannot downplay the importance of physicality throughout Williams’ piece, seen in the sexual roots that permeate throughout the play, or the violent actions that begin the battle, and it is because of this dominance of physical strength that Stanley is so completely in control. His primal strength and bodily ferocity allow him to dominate the physical spectrum of any scene, which means that, psychologically, the lack of any opposition create the “god-complex”: the notion that his actions are always and completely justified. Further this with the socio-economic status that limits his worldly horizon to the city limits and you have created a territory where this lion is truly king. Therefore, his raw masculinity and animal carelessness should not be confused with insecurity, but instead understood as a genuine ferocity that is rooted in his lack of failure with women, lack of powerful male opposition and lack of status-driven patronization from a richer character. Understanding this initial state of mind is vital to understanding Stanley’s actions as the play unfolds, as his loss of control is not something he has ever encountered nor something he imagined possible.
With the entrance of Blanche, her obvious juxtaposition to her setting makes the audience is privy to the change that will inevitably take place in the character’s lives, and yet this is not something that Stanley takes notice of. A product of his own sense of control, Stanley cannot even conceive of anyone, much less a woman, who is capable of challenging his control over his world, and as result, he sees Blanche as simply an attractive annoyance. Herein lies a great revelation into his character: Stanley is not simply an arrogant, self-assured masculine figure, but is a comment on the human illusion of control! Stanley as a character represents the part of the human condition that refuses to accept change, not as a product of fear, but as an inability to understand that change is occurring. Stanley’s own sense of complete control blinds him to the new dynamic Blanche brings to his world, and so he does not consider that she will oppose him. Evidently, when he challenges her new-found wealth in scene two, he does not rate her as a threat to his lifestyle, but regards her a means to better his own. That he brings up the Napoleonic Code showcases that he feels if he makes himself seem wise and learned, he can intimidate Blanche into answers, for he does not for one moment think that she capable of refusing him. On a closer analysis, Stanley’s reference to this code also reveals his inherent sense of ownership to Stella’s way of life. By associating himself with Belle Reve by some ancient law, we see an element of his desire to live up to that status, and his belief that he has a right to it by marriage. This sense of complete ownership to all elements of his own life as well as the life he aspires to is reflected in his inability to see change.
So, when Stanley realizes that his kingdom is in danger after Scene 3, we see a very palpable turn of personality wherein his motivation is no longer to stay in control, but to destroy that which has taken him out of control. This is a vital distinction that serves to motivate his new actions, as we see when he purposefully holds back in scene 4. If Stanley was driven by a need to be in control, he would have waltzed in and created a ruckus right there; neither Blanche nor Stella are fierce enough to combat him. However, he holds back. He is akin to the creeping lion that stalks behind the grass in order to catch his prey off guard. Here, Williams makes clear that Stanley is no fool driven by a passionate and blind need to keep Stella “the wife” for himself, but he is an intense man of aspiration that will not allow Stella “the dream” to be stolen from him. Stanley’s motivation is not rooted in his love for Stella, it is rooted in his love for the way of life he has created for himself, (of which a central element happens to be Stella).
Stanley Kowalski is not simply a reflection of the hot, steamy surroundings that Streetcar takes place in, but is in many respects, an almost contrast to it. Surrounded by a sense of absent-minded, passionate, drawling mediocrity, Stanley is a man driven by raw and powerful objectives that are linked to the preservation of his complete control over this slow, sensual palace. He is in control of everything because he is aware of everything and is not ever worried by what goes on, because it does not threaten his superiority, be it the fights between Steve and Eunice, or the Negro performers around the block. It is the ultimate advent of Blanche, a character who is just as cerebral and self-aware, that sets the alarms off in Stanley; a new lion challenges his pride. And as the only acceptable response, he must destroy it. Williams creates a multi-layered character in Stanley, one who seems a natural part of the world he occupies, but is, on closer inspection, only part of it because he has carefully studied and moulded a life around the circumstances and fit himself into role where he is in complete control of everything.